Eating out in Kyoto offers a glimpse into the immense cultural heritage of Japan’s former capital. From kaiseki cuisine to ramen, tempura and trendy cocktail bars, this guide showcases 10 of the best authentic Japanese restaurants in Kyoto.
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 solid advice on the best bottles.
Bar, Restaurant, Japanese$$
Chihana opened in 1946 in the district of Gion and, since then, has become a prime destination for Japanese foodies. Founded by Motoo Nagata and now managed by his son Katsuyoshi Nagata, this little restaurant is hidden in a side street of one of Kyoto’s busiest districts. Chihana specializes in kaiseki, which is Japanese haute cuisine. With a menu that showcases the inventiveness of the chef, each course is more delicious than the last. Guests can reserve a tatami mat or sit at the bar and enjoy the chef’s culinary prowess. Chihana prides itself on using only the finest ingredients and utensils to prepare unassuming and delicious dishes. The meals are served to guests on a counter of unfinished wood, which should bring out the essential beauty of both the dish and the dishware on which it is served.
Meal service:Dinner, Lunch
Restaurant, Bar, Japanese, $$$$
Located in one of Kyoto’s best residential areas, Hafuu combines the tradition of Japanese cuisine with a modern atmosphere. The restaurant pairs delicious wagyu steak with succulent seafood to deliver an unforgettable culinary experience. The wagyu served at Hafuu comes straight from Kyushu and, more specifically, from the Kumamoto region. This region is known to be one of the few remaining in Japan where cows can graze freely, producing some of the most succulent meat in the world. The wagyu at Hafuu is famous for having an intense buttery flavor and tenderness. For the meat lovers out there, Hafuu is an unmissable stop on Kyoto’s culinary trail.
Meal service:Lunch, Dinner
Sfera Bar Satonaka
Thanks to the expertise and professionalism of bartender and owner Michito Satonaka, Sfera Bar Satonaka offers an incredible mixology experience in Kyoto. This bar was built to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Sfera Building and, due to its stunning design, has been featured in Wallpaper* magazine. The service is impeccable and the drinks menu surprises with its variety and innovation. An impressive range of Japanese whiskies and champagne cocktails are available, as well as other beverages. The décor is elegant and modern, with black lacquered walls and a beautiful wooden bar that is the focal point of the room. Sfera Bar Satonaka is the ultimate spot for a cocktail experience in Kyoto.
Meal service:Dinner, Late Night
Restaurant, Japanese, $$$$
Located just a short walk from the Imperial Palace, Hatakaku is the birthplace of one of the staple dishes of rural Japan. Botan nabe is a traditional boar-based dish. Although it is now wildly popular throughout Japan, it was humbly invented more than 100 years ago by Hatakaku’s former owner. Not only does this restaurant serve the original recipe but it also offers its guests the chance to eat while sitting around a traditional Japanese hearth. The slices of boar that make up this unique dish are arranged in the shape of a flower. For those who visit Kyoto during the winter, Hatakaku is a mandatory stop.
Meal service:Lunch, Dinner
Market, Restaurant, Japanese, $$$
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, savory Japanese pancake that is cooked directly at the table. While many okonomiyaki 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, Nishinki Warai also serves excellent yaki-soba (fried noodles).
Meal service:Lunch, Dinner, Late Night
Cafe, Tea Room, Bakery, Japanese, $$$
Although found among the international chain restaurants and coffee shops of Gion, Kagizen offers a traditional Japanese tearoom experience. It stands out especially for its delicate wagashi, the traditional Japanese sweets usually served with tea, and its incredible mochi, rice cakes filled with red or white bean paste. The tea, prepared according to traditional recipes, is uniquely flavorful and thick. This delightful tearoom is a favorite among Kyoto-ites for the delicious pastries and tea as well as for the tranquil atmosphere that offers repose from Gion’s bustling activity. For a true Japanese tea experience, Kazigen is definitely not to be missed.
Meal service:Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Restaurant, Japanese, $$$
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 décor, 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 takes 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 charcoal fire to seal in the juices and preserve the flavor.
Restaurant, Diner, Japanese$$
What used to be a tearoom is now one of Kyoto’s finest kaiseki tempura shops, as well as a lovely hotel. Yoshikawa Tempura’s restaurant is built in the traditional sukiya-zukuri style. The decor is simply magnificent, from the traditional Japanese furniture and artworks to the elegant futons and wooden tables. In fact, the venue gives the impression of having traveled back in time to old Kyoto. Each dish is created with high-quality, beautifully arranged ingredients. There are various sets to choose from and each one is a selection of different types of sushi, tempura and other Japanese delicacies. For those who don’t like sushi, the chef will gladly prepare a succulent roasted duck as an alternative.
Restaurant, Japanese, Ramen, $$$
Ramen, the typical Japanese noodle soup dish, can be served with a fish or meat-based broth and accompanied by a variety of vegetables and toppings. With as many varieties as there are chefs in Japan, Ippudo Nishikikouji is one of the best ramen restaurants in Kyoto. Although it had a humble start in Fukuoka, the quality and simplicity of its dishes ensured that the venue quickly expanded beyond the borders of Japan. Branches are now open in New York, Hong Kong, Sydney and Taiwan. Karaka Men is one of Ippudo’s special ramen dishes and is served with a special blend of hot spices and topped with pork chashu, sesame kikurage mushrooms, cabbage, onion, minced pork, and scallions.