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Kato Chef Wants to Open a New Tasting Menu Restaurant That’s Even More Ambitious

Jon Yao’s eponymous restaurant does not yet have a location

jon yao
Chef Jon Yao
Farley Elliott is the Senior Editor at Eater LA and the author of Los Angeles Street Food: A History From Tamaleros to Taco Trucks. He covers restaurants in every form, from breaking news to the culture, people, and history that surrounds LA's dining landscape.

Celebrated chef Jon Yao is starting to gear up for his next great adventure. The young, award-winning mind behind the recently Michelin-starred West LA restaurant Kato is setting his sights on a high-minded tasting menu place that keeps the chef’s Taiwanese roots, while expanding more into what is possible at the upper end of dining in Los Angeles.

News of the chef’s next project, to be called simply Yao, comes by way of food writer Jordan Okun’s podcast Air Jordan. The show focuses on the Los Angeles dining scene and its many chefs and operators, ranging from Wolfgang Puck to Jeremy Fox of the brand new Birdie G’s. In the most recent episode, Yao digs deep (at around the 48 minute mark) into the plans for his next big restaurant, though Eater has confirmed he does not yet have a space attached to the project.

So what will Yao actually be? “It’s the restaurant we want to open,” Yao tells Okun. “I don’t want to compromise on certain things anymore... We’ve come to the point where we do need that next restaurant to move forward.”

The podcast lays out the broad strokes for the place, calling it a “modern interpretation of Chinese and Taiwanese food.” The idea is to have one primary dining room, as well as a chef’s counter. “On one side we want to do an 18 to 22-seat tasting menu, something that looks like Ko or Atomix or Blanca,” says Yao, naming other high-end tasting menus across the States, “And then on another side do cocktails and snacks and a lighter version of a tasting menu, something like 30 seats.”

He continues:

We want to be able to do something where a diner can come in, grab a drink and some food, and be able to leave, on a weekday, for under $30.

As for the food itself, Yao says the more casual side could have heartier fare like the Kato fried chicken sandwich, which has made occasional lunchtime appearances over the years. The finer dining side would include a good amount of raw preparations and luxury ingredients.

While Yao certainly sounds as though his idea is well-formed in his mind, that’s still a far cry from actually bringing the place to life. Yao the restaurant is still looking for an actual address, so don’t expect an opening anytime in the near future.

Meanwhile, Los Angeles has continued to see a resurgence in fine dining overall, thanks in part to names like Dialogue and Vespertine. The return of the Michelin Guide has helped, and now with Joshua Skenes’ pristine seafood operation Angler up and running, there may well be no better time for Yao the chef to actually try to make Yao the restaurant a reality.