Top 10 Must-Try Local Restaurants in Kyoto, Japan

Around every corner in Kyoto youll find a culinary treasure to suit any taste
Around every corner in Kyoto you'll find a culinary treasure to suit any taste | © Francesco Bonino / Alamy Stock Photo
Catherine Phillips

Figuring out where to eat in Kyoto offers a glimpse into the immense cultural heritage of Japan’s former capital. With close attention paid to giving you the finest ingredients and service, the best restaurants in Kyoto offer everything from high-end kaiseki cuisine to ramen, tempura and trendy cocktail bars. Read on for 10 of the best Kyoto restaurants, from the geisha district of Gion to the home of the Imperial Palace, Kamigyo.

1. Sou

Restaurant, Japanese

Sou offers an incredible gourmet experience. Nestled in the lively quarter of Gion, but set away from the hustle and bustle of the city, this cosy yet elegant restaurant features high-quality food. One of the most popular dishes is the Wagyu A5. In Japan, only the highest-quality beef can attain the prestigious grade of A5. The owner and head chef at Sou has mastered the art of cooking this Japanese delicacy. The restaurant has an excellent selection of wines and a team of skilled sommeliers ready to offer advice on the best bottles.

2. Chihana

Bar, Restaurant, Japanese

Chihana opened in 1946 in the district of Gion and, since then, has become a prime destination for Japanese foodies. Founded by Motoo Nagata and now managed by his son Katsuyoshi Nagata, this little restaurant is hidden in a side street of one of Kyoto’s busiest districts. Chihana specialises in kaiseki, which is Japanese haute cuisine. With a menu that showcases the inventiveness of the chef, each course is more delicious than the last. Guests can reserve a tatami mat or sit at the bar and enjoy the chef’s culinary prowess. Chihana prides itself on using only the finest ingredients and utensils to prepare unassuming and delicious dishes. The meals are served to guests on a counter of unfinished wood, which should bring out the essential beauty of both the dish and the dishware on which it is served.

3. Hafuu

Bar, Restaurant, Japanese

Located in one of Kyoto’s best residential areas, Hafuu combines the tradition of Japanese cuisine with a modern atmosphere. The restaurant pairs delicious wagyu steak with succulent seafood to deliver an unforgettable culinary experience. The wagyu served at Hafuu comes straight from Kyushu and, more specifically, from the Kumamoto region. This region is known to be one of the few remaining in Japan where cows can graze freely, producing some of the most succulent meat in the world. The wagyu at Hafuu is famous for having an intense buttery flavour and tenderness. For the meat lovers out there, Hafuu is an unmissable stop on Kyoto’s culinary trail.

4. Sfera Bar Satonaka

Bar, Japanese

Thanks to the expertise and professionalism of bartender and owner Michito Satonaka, Sfera Bar Satonaka offers an incredible mixology experience. This bar was built to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Sfera Building and, due to its stunning design, has been featured in Wallpaper* magazine. The service is impeccable and the drinks menu surprises with its variety and innovation. An impressive range of Japanese whiskies and champagne cocktails are available, as well as other beverages. The decor is elegant and modern, with black lacquered walls and a beautiful wooden bar that is the focal point of the room. Sfera Bar Satonaka is the ultimate spot for a cocktail experience in Kyoto.

5. Hatakaku

Restaurant, Japanese

Located just a short walk from the Imperial Palace, Hatakaku is the birthplace of one of the staple dishes of rural Japan. Botan nabe is a traditional boar-based dish. Although it is now wildly popular throughout Japan, it was humbly invented more than 100 years ago by Hatakaku’s former owner. Not only does this restaurant serve the original recipe but it also offers its guests the chance to eat while sitting around a traditional Japanese hearth. The slices of boar that make up this unique dish are arranged in the shape of a flower. For those who visit Kyoto during the winter, Hatakaku is a mandatory stop.

6. Nishiki Warai

Market, Restaurant, Japanese

Nishiki Market is a narrow street filled with more than 100 food stands and restaurants. It is an excellent place to sample many of Kyoto’s culinary delights. One of the best venues to visit at the market is Nishiki Warai. This little restaurant serves some of the best okonomiyaki in Kyoto. Okonomiyaki is a traditional, savoury Japanese pancake that is cooked directly at the table. While many restaurants have the DIY approach and bring raw batter to the table, Nishiki Warai serves freshly cooked okonomiyaki with a wide choice of toppings. Although mostly known for its signature dish, Nishiki Warai also serves excellent yaki-soba (fried noodles).

7. Kagizen

Bakery, Cafe, Tea Room, Japanese

Although found among the international chain restaurants and coffee shops of Gion, Kagizen offers a traditional Japanese tearoom experience. It stands out especially for its delicate wagashi, the traditional Japanese sweets usually served with tea, and its incredible mochi, rice cakes filled with red or white bean paste. The tea, prepared according to traditional recipes, is uniquely flavourful and thick. This delightful tearoom is a favourite among Kyoto-ites for the delicious pastries and tea as well as for the tranquil atmosphere that offers repose from Gion’s bustling activity. For a true Japanese tea experience, Kagizen is definitely not to be missed.

8. Ain Soph Journey, Kyoto

Restaurant, Vegan

For a vegan restaurant in Kyoto, look no further than Ain Soph Journey. Opened in 2018, it has long-standing sister stores around Japan, and serves vegan food that is accessible to even the most sceptical meat-lovers. Featuring mouthwatering vegan-beef and -chicken burgers, fluffy pancakes topped with fresh fruit, and fusion food like taco rice, there’s sure to be something for everyone. The old-fashioned space can cater to large groups and even wedding parties.

9. Yoshikawa Tempura

Restaurant, Diner, Japanese

What used to be a tearoom is now one of Kyoto’s finest kaiseki tempura shops, as well as a lovely hotel. Yoshikawa Tempura’s restaurant is built in the traditional sukiya-zukuri style. The decor is simply magnificent, from the traditional Japanese furniture and artworks to the elegant futons and wooden tables. In fact, the venue gives the impression of having travelled back in time to old Kyoto. Each dish is created with high-quality, beautifully arranged ingredients. There are various sets to choose from and each one is a selection of different types of sushi, tempura and other Japanese delicacies. For those who don’t like sushi, the chef will gladly prepare a succulent roasted duck as an alternative.

10. Sumibi Torito

Restaurant, Japanese

Yakitori is one of the many staple dishes of traditional Japanese cuisine. Due to the simplicity of this dish, which is basically a type of skewered chicken, the restaurants that serve it are, more often than not, very basic (and very smoky). With its stylish decor, Sumibi Torito offers a different type of experience, transforming this traditional dish into an haute-cuisine delicacy. The selection of the meats is meticulous, as the owner of the restaurant makes weekly visits to a poultry farm in the nearby mountainous area in order to choose the very best chicken. But the secret to the delicious yakitori lies in the cooking method. The restaurant has a beautiful grill and each dish is cooked on a charcoal fire to seal in the juices and preserve the flavour.

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