The Best Restaurants in Kumamoto

Kumamoto ramen
Kumamoto ramen | © nekotank / Flickr
Lucy Dayman

Kumamoto, one of Kyushu’s major city centres, is an understated yet very foodie-friendly destination. Featuring unique Japanese cuisine and drawing inspiration from nearby Korea and China, there’s never a shortage of new culinary adventures in this diverse castle city. From local Kumamoto ramen to raw horse sashimi, to vegan and vegetarian fare, here are seven excellent restaurants in Kumamoto worth checking out.

1. Yokobachi

Restaurant, Japanese

The island of Kyushu is famous for its unique local cuisine. From rich, flavourful hakata ramen, to spicy and sweet chicken nanban to the eye-wateringly hot karashi renkon (a combination of mustard and lotus root), the best place to try it all is here at Yokobachi, a relaxed traditional-style izakaya (Japanese tavern). Perfect for larger groups, the restaurant’s long tables can easily fit groups over six without too much hassle, and there are English menus available.

2. Keika Ramen

Restaurant, Japanese

For those who like ramen with a bit more body, then Kumamoto’s ramen could be the one for you. Thick and creamy with a fatty, mellow soup broth, Keika’s take on Kumamoto ramen has become so popular that there are now locations dotted across the nation. Although you can try classic Keika ramen in Tokyo, it’s not quite the same as experiencing it in its home city.

3. Baniku Kyodo Cuisine Kenzo

Restaurant, Japanese

Baniku is Japanese for horse meat, which for Westerners may sound like a rather stomach-churning dish, but it’s actually one of the Kumamoto area’s main specialties. Sometimes referred to as sakura-niku thanks to its pink, supposedly sakura-like colouring, baniku is a sweet, lean, protein-rich meat definitely worth trying at least once, and this is one of the best places to give it a try.

4. Tengaiten

Restaurant, Japanese

If one ramen hotspot wasn’t enough, then pay a visit to Tengaiten – arguably one of the city’s most in-demand ramen joints. Its heavy combination of tonkotsu pork broth, chicken stock, and thick noodles make it the ultimate local comfort dish. The restaurant offers three different dishes: the basic ramen, a spicy version and the char siu ramen, the latter of which draws culinary inspiration from nearby China.

5. Amasuka

Restaurant, Japanese

If you’re in the mood for some of the best seafood in Kumamoto, be sure to pay a visit to Amasuka, a popular local sushi hangout. The city’s positioning close to the coast means that there’s no shortage of world-class seafood on offer. Amasuka offers all the typical sushi classics like tuna and shrimp, but for something a little more unique, order the uni (sea urchin) – a strangely delicious combination of sweet and savoury.

6. Isokko Shoten

Restaurant, Japanese

If you can’t choose between izakaya classics and fresh-off-the-boat sashimi, then book a table at Isokko Shoten, the Kumamoto culinary icon that has both. Probably best for the more adventurous eaters, some of the menu specialities include basashi, aka raw horse sashimi, and sugata-zukuri, a squid sashimi that’s been cut to retain its original shape.

7. Private Lodge Cafe and Diner

Restaurant, Japanese

If you’re a vegan or vegetarian, or just need a little bit of a culinary change after exploring the heavy world of horse meat and Kumamoto ramen, head on over to Private Lodge Cafe and Diner, the almost secretive little vegetable-loving oasis just down the road from the Kumamoto Castle grounds. As well as offering a broad selection of vegan and vegetarian fare, the peaceful, laid-back café and restaurant regularly hosts yoga and cooking classes.

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