Northwest Austin restaurant serves Japanese dishes with a twist


In January 2018, Jerry Lai fulfilled a long-held goal when he opened Don Don Express, an Asian-fusion restaurant in Northwest Austin.

“This is my dream,” Lai said.

After spending 20 years working as a sushi chef in Austin, a friend of Lai’s who owns Hunan Chef in Cedar Park told him she was closing her second location in Northwest Austin. While Hunan Chef focuses on Chinese cuisine, Lai said when he took over the space at 11815 N. RM 620, Austin, he wanted to start his restaurant with his own ideas and “completely change the menu.”

Originally from Hong Kong, Lai said he is familiar with many different types of Asian cuisine, and he was excited to add them to his menu.

“Hong Kong is an international city where there is different food, so that is why I wanted to mix things and think of new ideas,” he said.

His menu ranges from fried rice to don or rice bowls, ramen and a type of Japanese omelet stuffed with fried rice called omurice. Although Lai finds inspiration from Japanese and other Asian cuisine, he said he also likes to experiment by putting his own spin on classic dishes. His creations include a curry-based ramen, a kimchi-based ramen and his “cheese ramen,” which incorporates Spam.

“You cannot find those at any other restaurants,” Lai said of his ramen recipes.

Lai said the first year of running his own business has been challenging; however, he has gained confidence from the positive feedback his customers give him.

“You can see that my food compared to other restaurants is a little bit different,” Lai said. “Some customers don’t like that, but mostly the reviews are very good, and it makes me feel better.”

Don Don Express
11815 N. RM 620, Austin
Wed.-Mon. 11 a.m.-3:30 p.m., 4:30-9:30 p.m.; closed Tue.

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Emma Whalen
Emma is Community Impact Newspaper's Houston City Hall reporter. Previously, she covered health care and public education in Austin.
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