The world of Dallas sushi keeps getting more expensive and more exclusive. Omakase-style tasting menus are proliferating from downtown to Frisco. If you feel like you can’t go to a new sushi restaurant without spending $60 per person, you’re not alone.
That’s one of the reasons Kaiyo is so refreshing. Kaiyo, which opened on Greenville Avenue during the holiday season, is a relaxed sushi bar with chatty chefs, an affordable menu, and a spectacular mural running the whole length of the restaurant. It comes from the owner of one of our very best premium omakase spots—Jimmy Park of Shoyo—and it combines his high standards with a light touch. You can have a good, simple meal here, or fried bar snacks to go with your beer. If you prefer a few bells and whistles, they have those, too.
Kaiyo also inherits a space that is at the heart of Japanese food’s history in Dallas. This building was Teppo for 27 years, and it was the launching pad for the American career of Teiichi Sakurai, who went on to found Tei Tei Robata, Ten Ramen, and Tei-An. (To give you an idea of how much has changed in that time, and how much of that change Sakurai caused: he only knew of one other restaurant in the United States that served yakitori when he opened Teppo.) Sakurai sold Teppo and Tei Tei to friends from Japan over the years, bringing even more top talent to Dallas. But by the end of its tenure, Teppo was decidedly old-fashioned: quiet, traditional, with slightly too watchful service.
Kaiyo has a lighter touch. Its staff is good-humored, and its meals can be quick, if that’s what you choose. Food arrives as it is ready, so if you would like to linger over a meal, order slowly, a few dishes at a time, rather than asking for everything at once.
The mural by wife-and-husband team Yukiko Izumi and Ji Yong Kim features cresting ocean waves intermingled with cheery coral-pink octopus tentacles, against a Japanese landscape with rising sun and a view of Mount Fuji. It nods to the wave prints of artists like Hokusai, but then adds vibrant new colors, plus a woman in flowing robes carrying an empty plate. Park tells me that he met the duo on a walk with his baby in New York. They were in the middle of creating a mural there, and Park impulsively asked if they’d make one for his restaurant if he paid for the flights. I’d say the gamble paid off.
After I spent my December visiting premium omakase tastings downtown that were full of indulgences—uni, wagyu beef, bone marrow, caviar—it was something of a relief to get back to “normal” sushi. I don’t mean “normal” to be insulting. Our first impression was terrific. I ducked in during a quiet lunch service while the restaurant had a photoshoot for its social media. (Look out for my hand model debut, coming soon to your Instagram feed.)
I nibbled through a series of small appetizer dishes, starting with san ten mori, a trio of small-portioned dishes: salmon preserved and served cold, agedashi tofu, and thin slices of octopus tossed with fresh wasabi. I’m used to agedashi tofu being a rich dish, since the tofu cubes are deep-fried, but this was a light, delicate bite. All three parts of the starter were refreshing. There was some debate over the portioning: my party ordered one per person, but each of the little sampler dishes is two or three bites, so you can share if you like.
“Delicate” is a good word for a lot of the cooked dishes at Kaiyo. Oyster gyoza, which come in a set of five for $9, are generously filled and flavorful, but they won’t bowl you over with briny ocean funk. The seaweed salad is lightly, perfectly dressed, and comes with a variety of seaweed types. (It’s also garnished with more slices of octopus.)
We didn’t expect lightness from the Kaiyo roll, a sushi roll topped with umami butter. Your server will blowtorch the butter at your table so it melts into the fish. There are jalapeño slices involved, too. But despite those flourishes, you’ll also still appreciate the basics: the crisp cucumber inside, tight nori wrapper, and alternating (piece by piece) slices of darker tuna and lighter albacore.
At the end of our meal, we planned to order a couple of pieces of nigiri for dessert, but the chefs recognized me as a member of the press and sent out a whole platter. D never bases its recommendations on freebies or favors, but I left an outsized tip to advise you to try the blowtorched sushi. As with all the kitchen items we tried, Kaiyo knows exactly how to balance fidelity to the ingredients with a little touch of luxury. Our salmon belly was torched just enough to open up its fat, and no more. The just-barely-cooked scallop, touched with citrus zest and flakey salt, was exceptional. (My guest declared it their favorite scallop ever.)
There’s plenty more to try on Kaiyo’s surprisingly long menu. I’ll be back for more sushi—even the all-veggie Eat Your Greens roll—and cooked items like the mini curry bowl, pork jowl skewers, and baked mussels. It’s so very nice to know that, after Dallas went all-in on super-luxury restaurants in 2023, some of our best chefs are still focused on high-quality casual formats. If this year’s top story is casual neighborhood spots that get the fundamentals right, Kaiyo could be one of the trendsetters.
Kaiyo, 2014 Greenville Ave.