In Local Late-Night Dining, Kojo is King

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Pictured: The chashu braised pork belly bao buns at Kojo offer an elevated late-night snacking experience that is flavorful without being overly filling. Photo by: Kevin Allen

It’s no secret that Sarasota’s late-night dining choices have been traditionally … sparse. That’s started to change in recent years, and we owe Kojo, along with a few others, thanks for that.

I love Kojo for many reasons: its friendly, knowledgeable staff; its wood-accented, calming interior; its clever cocktail menu, to name a few. But what I truly look forward to with every visit to Kojo is its menu versatility.

There’s menu versatility like the Cheesecake Factory offers — a mind blowing volume of choices that requires a kitchen roughly the size of an airplane hangar. And then there’s the versatility that Kojo offers: no matter how hungry you are or the inspiration that brought you to try it’s Pam-Asian delicacies and standards, Kojo has the perfect menu combination for you.

Such was the case on a recent Saturday following a show that my friends and I had just performed at Florida Studio Theatre. I was admittedly sheepish as we walked up around 11 p.m. (Kojo lists its Friday and Saturday hours from 4 - 12 p.m.) As a former bartender and server, I’m sensitive to the feeling of being ready to call it a night only to have a group roll up just as I’m looking to cash out. That wasn’t the case here. We were warmly welcomed, and our server was more than happy to offer helpful suggestions to a couple of the first-timers in our group.

So versatile is Kojo’s menu that I often find myself suffering FOMO for the dishes I won’t be ordering.

I know that I can’t go wrong with any of the bao buns that Kojo offers, but the pork belly is always a standout. The generous portions of chashu-braised pork belly are topped with roasted peanuts, fresh jalapeño slices, and sprigs of cilantro. It’s the rock sugar, though, that pulls the flavors together for something truly special. And the bao buns themselves? Pillowy, yet firm — the perfect complement to hold it together until the last bite.

No trip to Kojo for me is complete without the miso soup. So often at Japanese restaurants, the miso soup is a bland facsimile — watery and disappointing. At Kojo, the broth is rich and smoky, the chunks of shiitake are big and earthy, the green onions are always brightly flavorful and the strips of wakame lend a pleasing texture and flavor kick. It makes for a spectacular, balanced soup that is unlike that of any Kojo competitor. If they put this much effort into a $5 starter, you can imagine the care they put into their sushi dishes and entrees.

In my younger years as a food writer, I would judge a city’s dining scene by its late-night sushi options. It was naive, as I’ve grown to learn that a city’s dining scene does not need a spectacular late-night sushi option to be great … but it sure helps.

Kojo, 1289 N Palm Ave., Sarasota, FL 34236, 941-536-9717.

Pictured: The chashu braised pork belly bao buns at Kojo offer an elevated late-night snacking experience that is flavorful without being overly filling. Photo by: Kevin Allen

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