Sendai is a city of culinary adventure. Home to grilled beef tongue and incredible sushi, it’s relatively untraversed by the regular visitor to Japan, meaning there are plenty of secret local hangouts to explore, and no crowds to battle for a seat at the table.
Sendai’s restaurant scene has no strong unifying theme, which is a large part of its appeal. Other pockets of Japan specialise in particular cuisines, but in Sendai, there’s an atmosphere of anything – and everything – goes.
The city’s culinary community is home to chefs that like to innovate. This mentality of invention and challenging of the status quo can be seen in the city’s most famous dish, gyutan (salt-grilled beef tongue), which was invented as a way to cut back on meat waste.
Flanked by snowy mountains on one side and a rugged, bountiful ocean on the other, it’s near impossible to run out of food options in Sendai. Whether it’s high-quality Japanese beef, fresh-caught sushi, fancy French dishes or classic Italian fare, Sendai’s got it.
While calling it a restaurant may be a bit of a stretch, if you’re serious about getting a real taste of the city, then you have to visit the Sendai morning market. Known around town as ‘Sendai’s kitchen’, it’s where the chefs go to pick up their supplies and the locals go for a chat. The market has been running for over 70 years now, and you’ll find all sorts of goodies here, from seasonal fruits to freshly caught sushi. One of the highlights is the food stall Crokke-ya, which sells deep-fried potato, mackerel and pumpkin croquettes for less than ¥100 (£0.70) apiece.
Sitting not far from the untamed coastline of Tohoku, Sendai is a city filled with excellent seafood options, and Kokorozukushi Inase (心づくし いなせ) is a great place to begin. The shop serves seafood caught around the Sanriku coastline and seasonal vegetables in a traditional setting. Kokorozukushi Inase’s main motivation for doing business is to showcase the bountiful produce of the Miyagi region, and its dishes are served like delicate edible works of art. The restaurant feels upmarket, but at an average price of ¥6,000 (£43) per person, it’s far more affordable than it feels.
While in general, craft beer has taken a little longer to catch on here than the rest of the world, places like Craftsman Sendai (クラフトマン 仙台) are making up for lost time. This establishment is a fusion of local ingenuity and international influence. It’s a combination Italian restaurant and craft beer barn where guests can sample some of the country’s most exciting small-batch brews while enjoying world-class Italian cuisine made with locally produced seasonal vegetables.
When Sendai folk want dinner with a view, Restaurant Symphony in The Westin Sendai hotel is one of their top picks. Located on the top floors of the landmark Sendai Trust Tower, Symphony serves up French-style and internationally inspired cuisine with excellent panoramic views of downtown Sendai. Perfect for a romantic dinner or an upscale lunch, the restaurant has both buffet and à la carte options and cocktails to match.
Tucked on the unassuming seventh floor of a commercial building in central Sendai, Datenari is a cosy izakaya (Japanese-style pub) that specialises in high-quality local beef known as sendai-gyu. Sendai-gyu is so highly regarded in the area that it can only be bred by licensed farmers. If you’ve had kobe and wagyu beef, then the next level up is Datenari’s ‘Black Date’ sendai-gyu beef. A course serving of this high-class delicacy costs around ¥10,000 (£72), but you can’t put a price on quality.
Excellent pizza, craft beers and an atmosphere that’s very laid-back, Dumbo Pizza Factory ticks all the boxes for an easy night out. The restaurant serves authentic neapolitan pizzas as well as Western-style sides and has a craft beer menu that’s at least 20 beers long and rotates regularly. If you’re the indecisive type, you can always opt for the banquet deal, which for ¥3,500 (£25) Sunday to Thursday (or ¥5,000 (£36) on Fridays and Saturdays) gets you a menu-wide rage of dishes and three hours all-you-can-drink alcohol.
While eating upmarket is well and good, if you want to get out like a Sendai local, you’ve got to hit one of the intimate smokey izakayas like Gyutan Yakisuke Nagakecho. As per the name, Gyutan Yakisuke Nagakecho’s main speciality is yakisuke, a simple but delicious dish of salt-grilled beef tongue that’s been masterfully roasted over hot coals that is best enjoyed with a tall frosty ‘nama’ (tap) beer. If you’re a big drinker, consider booking the 150 minute-long all-you-can-drink pack that offers free-flowing booze for ¥2,100 (£15).