I know, I know—everybody in Austin says the exact same thing, but I'll say it anyway: One of the best meals I've ever had was at Uchi. Even though the place is imperfect (yes, too loud), it never disappoints. Chef/owner Tyson Cole, who was named the James Beard Best Chef Southwest 2011, has been the golden boy of the culinary scene across America for some time now, with accolades from every major culinary magazine you can name. After Cole's visually arresting Uchi cookbook hit bookstores, he became a household name in foodie circles. For once, here's a chef who truly deserves all that praise. Chef Cole's gift is the way he takes familiar ingredients to create extraordinary, unexpected Asian-style dishes. If you can afford to splurge, order the chef's 10-course tasting menu for two, a surprising selection of hot and cool small plates. My favorites are the “sear-it-yourself” wagyu beef, cooked on hot river rocks, and grilled baby octopus tako pops—perfection on a stick. Because this place is über-popular, be sure to make reservations well in advance. Sure, you can go and wait by the bar, but there's not much room, and it will take forever to get a table. The place is set beneath a canopy of big shade trees in a 1930s bungalow on South Lamar. Its narrow dining room is lined with red wallpaper, and seems to glow with a pleasant vibe, augmented by wonderful scents from the kitchen. Still, it can also be so completely crammed with happy, shining people that conversation is nearly impossible, which is the only downside I can see to this great restaurant. If you like Uchi but can't get in, try Chef Cole's North Lamar restaurant Uchiko, which is larger and a bit more casual.