The food industry can be rather difficult to break into, and for California restaurant hopefuls, the Golden State proves even more challenging than other areas across the nation. With the pressures of launching a restaurant including long hours, financial strain, marketing, and more, many foodie dreamers may find themselves hesitant. This isn’t the case for San Gabriel Valley’s Jon Yao, a Taiwanese-American chef and owner of Los Angeles-based Kato, which was recently named as the recipient of the Resy One To Watch Award 2024 from The World’s 50 Best Restaurants.

Originally established in a nondescript strip mall on the west side of L.A., Kato opened in 2016, with Yao serving up a tasty menu selection of Asian-American cuisine. This natural-born cook is taking the flavors from his childhood with his Taiwanese immigrant parents and interpreting them into fragrant, modern dishes. When describing Kato’s mission, Yao expressed, “The food we do at Kato is our way of speaking up for young Asian-Americans. There’s a cultural reference behind every dish, but we try to make sense of it in a modern context.”

Since founding Kato, Yao has worked with sommelier Ryan Bailey, who is the Director of Operations. In 2022, the team relocated Kato to a newly expanded, fully licensed location at the ROW DTLA in the Arts District of Los Angeles, where long-time general manager Nikki Reginaldo was promoted to managing partner. This move also saw Kato bring aboard a seasoned bar director, Austin Hennelly, who is already serving up stunning cocktails like Mandarin Garibaldi and The Paloma that look almost too good to drink. 

Kato’s new industrial-luxe home is reimaging the fine dining experience, with Yao’s dishes creating the perfect harmony between classic Taiwanese cuisine and the contemporary edge trending throughout the food industry. Already making a name for himself in the food world, Yao channels childhood favorites, like his mother’s fish fragrant sauce that is commonly used in Yao’s meat and vegetable stir-fries, filling the senses with its garlic, ginger, and doubanjiang (Sichuan chile bean paste). 

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Kato customers can enjoy a tasting menu of 12 standout courses, served from a custom wood-fired hearth and grill that anchors the kitchen and helps Yao curate dishes such as caramelized sablefish with abalone and basil, grilled lobster with lobster toast and a sauce of roasted shells, and Dungeness crab custard with fish maw and crab vinegar.

For those desiring something sweeter to tickle their taste buds, Kato’s desserts include dishes such as a boniato yam boba with fresh cheese and sable, as well as roasted Taiwanese pineapple mille feuille. 

Recently, this restaurant was named the recipient of the Resy One To Watch Award 2024 from The World’s 50 Best Restaurants, an award that recognizes rising-star restaurants that are serving up some serious international waves in the gastronomic scene. Director of Content for The World’s 50 Best Restaurants, William Drew, stated, “Kato is blowing diners away with its blend of original flavours and old-school hospitality and this award will bring Yao’s cooking to a wider international audience. We are delighted to reward the team’s dedication, passion, skill, and originality with this hugely deserved accolade.”

Thriving in their Southern Californian scene, Kato, despite the upgrades and beverage debuts, remains a poetic expression of bringing the past and present together, creating a dining experience that is worthy of the splurge.