Kyoto is well-known as a centre of Japanese culture, although fewer people recognise it as an exceptional foodie city. Kyoto offers a particularly excellent selection of vegetarian food, cultivated for the Buddhist pilgrims that frequent the city’s many temples. Pride in local cuisine runs deep so international restaurants are scarce and many restaurants specialize in one particular dish. Following our previous guide, we’ve returned to Kyoto to bring you 10 more must-visit restaurants.
Gion Karyo offers a gentle introduction to kaiseki, which is a traditional multi-course Japanese dinner. Set in an old Kyoto house, the setting is authentic and traditional without feeling overly formal. Seating is available along the counter, where diners can watch the chefs preparing their meal; or at traditional sunken floor tables for larger groups. True to the kaiseki-style of dining, each dish is beautifully-presented and full of rich, subtle flavors.
Honke Owariya is one of the best places in Kyoto to try soba (buckwheat noodles). Popular with locals for more than 500 years, the restaurant is also known to have served Japan’s imperial family and monks from Kyoto’s temples. Set in a lovely old wooden building, seating is mainly on tatami mats around low tables.
Kagizen is one of Kyoto’s oldest and most famous sweet shops. Inside this traditional tearoom, the walls are decorated with old pastry moulds, and diners are given hoji-cha (Japanese green tea) and rakugan, a snack made with powdered sugar and rice flour, to eat while looking over the menu. The shop is well-known for its kuzukiri, which are cold arrowroot noodles served with sweet black sugar for dipping.
Kikunoi is the pinnacle of traditional Japanese fine-dining. The restaurant is owned by Yoshihiro Murata, a Japanese celebrity chef known for his numerous TV shows and books. Awarded three Michelin stars in 2014, Kikunoi offers exquisite set menus of dishes inspired by seasonal ingredients. The dishes are innovative and surprising, even for connoisseurs of Japanese cuisine. Set on a hillside overlooking Kyoto, the atmosphere is extremely traditional, with private dining rooms, sunken bench seating, and views of the tranquil garden.
Lajolla offers a taste of California-style Mexican cuisine in the heart of Kyoto. Named for the city of La Jolla, California, which is located close to the Mexican border, the menu features a variety of salads, tacos, burritos, quesadillas, nachos, and grilled chicken or shrimp dishes. There’s also a special ‘chef’s recommendation’ menu which changes daily. This small restaurant can be a challenging to find, so keep an eye out for the cactus and Budweiser sign found outside.
Nishiki Market is one of the best places to try Kyoto’s many distinct dishes. This street is lined with more than 100 food stands and restaurants; however, one of the best eateries among these many choices is Nishiki Warai. This modest restaurant is known for its okonomiyaki, a traditional, savoury Japanese pancake. It’s the perfect place for newbies to try this dish because, unlike many okonomiyaki restaurants where diners cook their own meal, this restaurant prepares the okonomiyaki for you.
A favorite of Kyoto’s expat community, Omen is known for its fantastic udon noodles and welcoming atmosphere. The restaurant’s most popular dish is udon noodles served with hot or cold broth, along with a bowl of vegetables topped with roasted sesame seeds. Seating is offered along the counter, on tatami mats, or at tables on the restaurant’s upper level. Prices are reasonable and English menus are available. The restaurant now has other branches in downtown Kyoto and New York, but their original location is found near Ginkakuji, one Kyoto’s most popular attractions.
One of Kyoto’s trendiest cocktail bars, Sfera Bar Satonaka offers an imaginative cocktail menu courtesy of bartender and owner Michito Satonaka. The interior features dark woods and black lacquer, with a long bar in the centre serving as the focal point. The menu includes a superb selection of Japanese whiskies and 15 kinds of champagne cocktails. It’s a unique mixology experience, and the perfect place for a post-dinner drink.
Sumibi-Torito offers an upscale take on yakitori, a staple Japanese dish consisting of skewered meats. This restaurant takes this classic dish to new levels with carefully chosen meats cooked on a charcoal fire to help the meat retain its juices and flavor. It’s an excellent choice for adventurous eaters, with chicken skin, wings, neck and heart all on the menu. The restaurant is almost always busy, and attracts a younger crowd that tends to linger over their meals, in contrast to the fast in-and-out pace of most yakitori restaurants.
Yoshikawa Tempura Inn embodies Kyoto’s old-world atmosphere with its traditional Japanese furniture and beautiful futons. The setting is authentic yet casual, with seating around a small counter where the tempura is fried. The restaurant offers various sets, including different types of sushi and tempura, all of which are carefully-presented for diners. Each tempura house in Japan makes its own unique tentsuyu (tempura dipping sauce), and the recipes are typically closely-guarded. Yoshikawa Tempura Inn’s sauce is famous for being exceptionally delicious.