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Compliments to the Architect

Food tastes better in restaurants designed by Michael Hsu.

Michael Hsu at Uchiko, one of the many popular restaurants he has designed in Austin

If Austin architect Michael Hsu designs your restaurant, chances are good that rave reviews will start pouring in. The architecture and interior design will be praised to the skies too because, right now, Hsu is at the top of his game when it comes to creating a dining experience that’s more than just a place to see and be seen.

Give Hsu credit for some of Austin’s most memorable restaurants: Uchi, La Condesa, P. Terry’s, the Cedar Door, Uchiko and Sway have stood the test of time because the architect has bestowed each with an irresistible sense of place. The list grew to include Uchi in Houston, which GQ magazine touted in 2013 as one of the top 12 restaurants in the country. Accolades for Hsu-designed restaurants started rolling in back in 2003, when the James Beard Foundation named Uchi Austin’s chef Tyson Cole Best Chef in the Southwest, an award he won again in 2011.

Michael Hsu Office of Architecture specializes in restaurants and bars, but the architect’s other love is residential design. There’s a connection: “Hospitality and residential architecture inform each other,” he explains. “My restaurants always have something domestic in them.” It’s a Proustian approach to design that’s enriched with emotion and memories of food and eating.

“In our office we don’t talk about architecture as shape and mass,” Hsu says. Instead they ask, “What is the mood? What is the atmosphere?” The answers to those questions can only be discovered in architectural suggestion—with a gesture, with lighting, with materials used thoughtfully. Hsu is the master, whether he’s designing a burger joint such as the California midcentury-themed P. Terry’s or a colorful Thai-Australian hangout like Sway.

Up until now, Dallas has been left out of the fun. But that’s about to change: Look for a third location of Uchi to open in late winter on Maple Avenue near the Stoneleigh Hotel. The news gets better. “It’s a double concept, which means another—completely different—restaurant will be upstairs,” Hsu says. What it will be is still top secret, but whatever it is will be worth the wait.

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