|1303 S. Congress Ave.
Austin, TX 78704
2900 W. Anderson Ln., Ste. #250
Austin, TX 78757
3423 Guadalupe St.
Austin, TX 78705
Technically, Zen, a small locally-owned group of restaurants, could be described in restaurant jargon as fitting into the “fast casual” concept. But if there was a category for “quick and inordinately healthy and tasty Japanese,” that would be more appropriate.
Some of you may have noticed that this reviewer has lost some weight over the past year. There is a distinct correlation between that and the proximity of the Zen location on South Congress to my office. The reason is that I can choose from a variety of tasty and healthy dishes that satisfy my still considerably active appetite and walk away with a smile.
They’ve added a number of new items at Zen which have made it a bit more user friendly for the average gaijin. But let’s start with my favorites. I begin with a double order of fresh stir-fried Tiger shrimp, then choose a veggie mix (I prefer the Soto with cabbage, white and green onions, and shitake mushrooms) add the sugar free ginger lime sauce, mix in some brown rice and away we go. This has amazing flavors and wonderful texture. Another favorite is the Wild Salmon with the Thai Coconut sauce and Buddha vegetable mix with yellow squash and onions, edamame, and broccoli. Again, a lovely nuanced taste profile and wonderful textures. And I really enjoy the spicy chicken Budget Bowl. This features chicken, crisp won tons, and green onions. We’re talking serious flavor.
The sides at Zen can be a meal unto themselves. The Thai Sunomono is a crispy and crunchy paean to all that’s healthy. The blend of pickled cucumbers, onions, carrots, cilantro and Serrano peppers is irresistible. Likewise the Soba Noodle salad. The noodles are made of buckwheat and come in a zesty peanut dressing. And the 7 Pepper Ahi tuna is very fresh and has wonderful flavors. Of course there is always a variety of sushi with crisp California rolls for the novice and the Spicy Tuna Roll for the more seasoned palate. All are quite good.
And the new items at Zen are a bit irreverent but still very tasty and with the consistent nod to healthy choices. I like the “East meets Southwest” wraps. The Chuck Norris Chicken features marinated steak, caramelized onions, a boatload of crunchy veggies and wasabi aioli on a flour tortilla. This is a blast and a great deal at only $3.50. And the Redneck Sushi (how’s that for an oxymoron?) absolutely rocks. You fry Philadelphia and spicy tuna rolls, mix with seaweed salad and ginger scallions, and drizzle on teriyaki sauce and wasabi aioli. I’m not sure if this is really Bubba’s bowl of miso but I get a kick out of it. Very creative.
For those of you on the low-carb battle front, Zen is a Godsend. You can get for example my favorite shrimp bowl, the sugar free sauce, and then hold the brown rice and add extra veggies. Adios blood sugar spikes and hello flavor.
Zen has multiple locations around Austin including their newest store on the UT campus.