She’s Not Here is serving up imaginative Asian-inspired dishes and playfully delectable signature cocktails.
By Chantal Rice, Photos by Nicolai McCrary
In the heart of downtown Austin, there rests an oasis. Amid the cobblestones, concrete, traffic and electric-scooter-littered sidewalk, this haven might not be readily obvious, though the mural depicting lush tropical flowers festooning the facade of the space hints at the delightful diversion within. This is She’s Not Here, the new Pacific Asian cocktail bar and kitchen located in the Second Street District.
But to say this haven is just another downtown eatery is to belie its magic. She’s Not Here is nothing if not a breath of fresh air. If the embellished exterior of this breezy retreat casts the spell that lures eager patrons in, the interior is the enchanted snare in which they happily acquiesce.
Dark wood floors juxtapose white brick walls and columns, while tasteful wicker adornments, splashes of aqua blue and sink-into-them leather banquettes, chairs and settees beckon visitors to ease in and hang loose. And if the strategically placed orchids, low-hanging and languid ceiling fans and natural light bathing the sweeping space don’t transport guests to a 1920s art deco hotel lobby in the tropics, the wall-sized mural of an island girl—complete with a sultry look in her eye and a hibiscus flower tucked into her hair—amid a backdrop of lush greenery and a mountainous Pacific island, created by local street artist Mez Data, is certain to do the trick.
The concept of She’s Not Here, developed by Austin restaurant veterans Ben Cachila and Chris Romero, was inspired by the Japanese notion of irusu, a slang term evoking the idea that when someone knocks on your door while you’re basking in the comforts of home, you don’t answer because you’re escaping from the outside world. She’s Not Here is indeed an escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
But while the bewitching décor and the warmth of the staff comprise the foundation of this setting’s charm and relaxed ambiance, it’s the eclectic, almost indefinable menu that truly mesmerizes and is sure to keep patrons coming back.
The food menu, inspired by traditional Asian recipes accented with modern flair, features a variety of sushi selections expertly handmade onsite in the sushi bar, as well as hand rolls and unexpectedly diverse plates. Every dish, whether of the appetizer variety or entree distinction, is delightfully presented and almost too beautiful to eat—almost! The appropriately named Crab Butter, a hand roll loaded with kani and radish sprout and served with king-crab butter (butter that’s had king-crab shells steeping in it), is particularly spectacular. Every nigiri and sashimi selection is melt-in-your-mouth tantalizing. The ume shiso, a hand roll of Japanese plum, perilla and cucumber, though perhaps an acquired taste, will keep even skeptical eaters taking another bite. And the Pacific wings, two whole tempura-fried chicken wings served atop a unique and hauntingly delicious pineapple gastrique and alongside seasonal pickled veggies, is a must-try dish. She’s Not Here even offers a Daily Fish Box with fresh selections flown in from Japan.
Whether visiting during happy hour, dinner or for late-night nibbles, it is absolutely essential to partake of She’s Not Here’s imaginative cocktail selection. A great assortment of beer (in cans and on draft) and wine is also available, but the cocktails are where Tiki-meets-modern-mixology sorcery happens—and they are truly worthy of indulging in. While riffs on classic cocktails like the mai tai, the Painkiller and the Singapore Sling are quite lovely, it’s the signature cocktails that are exceptionally sublime.
“We wanted to focus on flavors and ingredients that complement the dishes our kitchen is putting out, with aromatics that transport you to somewhere tropical,” Romero says of the signature cocktails. “[They’re like] little vacations, some sweet and bright, some earthy and smooth.”
Each is named after its dominant palate note: hibiscus, rose, matcha, ginger and smoke. While the less experienced imbiber may dismiss these cocktails as too mysterious to take a chance on, this would be a monumental mistake, as each is a dazzling display of what can be created with quality liquor, curated ingredients and an untamed imagination.
The hibiscus, featuring Rittenhouse Hibiscus Rye, coconut sugar and Tiki bitters, is delectable and goes down dangerously easy, while the rose cocktail, with Aviation Gin, grapefruit, rose water and Peychaud’s Bitters, is subtly pleasant. The matcha, with its Pau Maui Vodka, coconut milk, honey, matcha and lemon verbena, is a creamy, citrusy island-style delight. And the ginger, with Batavia Arrack, fresh ginger, honey, lemon and Smith & Cross Rum, smacks of ginger in all the right ways. Perhaps the most enticing cocktail is the smoke, a blend of applewood-infused mezcal, Plantation Pineapple Rum, lime and orgeat, rimmed with sweet and salty ground almonds. It is quite possibly the perfect cocktail for any island-loving romantic daydreaming about toes in the sand and spectacular tropical-beach sunsets.