Birthday Bash

10 Reasons Why We Love Kata Robata

And how the acclaimed sushi restaurant has stayed vital to Houston's food scene for 10 years.

By Timothy Malcolm June 4, 2019

From left, Blake Lewis, Kata Robata general manager; Rosie Puccio of Azuma Group; Takahisa “Taka” Onishi, Kata Robata sushi chef; Manabu Horiuchi, Kata Robata executive chef; and Yun Cheng, owner of the Azuma Group.

IN HOUSTON, THERE NOW EXISTS a young generation of chefs skilled in Japanese culinary techniques yet happy to stray from convention. Sit down for an omakase dinner helmed by Mike Lim at Tobiuo Sushi & Bar, or order up some sashimi from Naoki Yoshida at Shun Japanese Kitchen—these pros were born to make noise, helping to lead a fresh local revival of Nippon cuisine.

But before them—before izakayas came to town and Roka Akor gilded up the experience—there was Manabu Horiuchi. Chef Hori, as we know him, has been the steady presence in a strip center at the corner of Richmond and Kirby. Kata Robata remains a force in Houston's food scene, both a godfather and willing participant in the movement to elevate Japanese food while infusing it with local flash.

As Kata celebrates its 10-year anniversary, we look back at 10 reasons the restaurant has remained a vital part of the city's culinary DNA.

1. It Has Led The Charge

Yes, those new sushi chefs would thrive otherwise, but Chef Hori and Kata Robata helped change how people in Houston eat and speak sushi. "People have become more adventurous eaters," he says. "At the beginning, most people ate very conservatively, and now every time we bring in something they have never seen or heard of, we sell out."

2. The Staff Stays

One of the hallmarks of a great restaurant is how long staff members stay around. Chef Hori attributes his restaurant's success to that very aspect: "Consistency of quality, service, flavor," he says. "We are very lucky to have had the same staff for over eight years."

3. A Convenient, Affordable Lunch

Kata might be a place to visit to celebrate that job promotion. Maybe it's even an anniversary spot. It's definitely a date night. But just as much, Kata is that place you can visit for a quick bento box lunch. With most priced at fewer than $20, the bentos at Kata remain good mid-day deals, and they're so much better and healthier than what you're currently eating. 

4. It's The Pasta (Seriously)

If you haven't heard of it by now, the miso lobster mac 'n' cheese is a stunner. From 2017:
With a cheese sauce concocted of Parmesan, Marieke Gouda and Veldhuizen cheddar mixed with panko and miso, this is not your ordinary mac-and-cheese. Available only on the dinner menu, for $19, this dish makes a great starter to share or an entrée for one.

5. They Can't Stay Away

Azuma Group—which operates Kata Robata—recently announced that Jean-Philippe Gaston, who worked at Kata before heading out on his own (most recently executive chef at Izakaya), is back with Chef Hori to help him run the show. But that isn't crazy: Gaston told us a few years ago that "by far" the best sushi in town was at Kata. 

6. You Never Know What's Coming

From fugu to icefish (a transparent smelt with eyes) to A5 wagyu, there's always something unique coming into the kitchen, and for a very limited time. 

7. The Omakase Is a Must

Leave it to Alice Levitt, as she wrote about the restaurant:
Sitting at chef Manabu Horiuchi’s counter and ordering the omakase—Japanese for “I’ll leave it to you”—is an experience that every serious food-lover should have at least once. Chef Hori-san will dazzle you with whatever is freshest that day and create a personalized menu that will make buying grocery-store sushi rolls an incredibly tough proposition in the future.

8. Everyone Knows It's Great

Chef Hori has been nominated for James Beard awards, while annually it seems he's getting another honor from around the city. Consistency has been the key.

9. Everyone Includes JJ Watt

The future Hall-of-Famer has stated previously his love of Kata. When someone of that stature professes how much he stans for Chef Hori's food, the chef can't help but stay humble. "What can I say?" he says. "I am incredibly honored."

10. You Can't Go Wrong at Kata Robata

Whether you're doing the bento box, looking for a couple maki rolls, perusing the robata menu (with Texas wagyu), or coming in for dessert alone (chocolate mousse with marshmallow ice cream, anyone?), there's an experience awaiting everyone. "Our doors are open to all. Everyone deserves to eat the best quality food," says Chef Hori. "From a very simple ramen to the highest grade cut of beef in the world, we have it all." 
Here's to 10 more, Kata.
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