Hozenji Yokocho is a hidden marvel. Named after a nearby temple, this famous cobbled alleyway is tucked away in the middle of downtown Osaka. Here are the best places to eat and drink during your pilgrimage to this fabled place.
The neon lights and gaudy displays of the surrounding Namba and Dotonbori entertainment districts disappear on this quiet, historic alley. Filled with delightfully local bars and restaurants, Hozenji Yokocho is a must-do in Osaka. Though renowned, Hozenji Yokocho and the associated temple of the same name manage to remain serene and picturesque most nights. Eat and drink like a local at one of these great venues.
Japanese-style barbecue, or yakiniku, is the focus of this delicious and renowned Hozenji Yokocho restaurant. The main meat served is Matsusakagyu, one of the three major types of wagyu (Japanese beef), which is sourced directly from a farm in Matsusaka City in Mie Prefecture. Guests are shown into their own private room and sat at tables with built-in grills before choosing from various meats, seafood and vegetables. Reservations are recommended.
Specializing in okonomiyaki, one of Osaka’s signuature dishes, is Hozenji Sanpei. Okonomiyaki is a mixture of cabbage, flour and egg plus the diner’s choice of meat and vegetables grilled into a patty topped with sauce. While sitting either at the bar – with a direct view of the kitchen – or in a private booth, guests can watch their meal prepared by the chefs on the grills in front of them. It’s a tantalizing experience.
Kushikatsu are basically deep-fried skewers of meat and veg – and they’re something you should not leave Osaka without trying. Guests all share the same sauce at kushikatsu restaurants, so there is a strict rule against double dipping. Of the countless kushikatsu restaurants in Osaka, local chain Daruma is the most renowned. There is often a queue to get in, which is usually a sign of a good restaurant.
Robatayaki Mizukakechaya is a classic izakaya (Japanese pub). Known for their friendly, laid-back atmosphere, izakayas are the perfect place to experience a number of Japanese dishes and customs in one place. The food at Robatayaki Mizukakechaya is better than the average Japanese pub’s. The place offers delicious dishes like buttered scallops and tofu salad, and most of it is only 300 yen ($2.75) per serving. Smoking is allowed, and the bar has English menus.
Katsudon Hozenji Yokocho is a cosy shop specializing in katsudon, a Japanese dish of rice topped with deep-fried pork cutlets, egg, vegetables and sauce. The blend is both savoury and sweet, featuring caramelised onions and umami sauce. While many Japanese restaurants simply have one version of katsudon on their menus, this restaurant has multiple versions of the beloved dish – it even offers a katsudon curry. The restaurant has counter seating only and an authentic, retro atmosphere.
Meoto Zenzai is a popular sweets restaurant with a bit of folklore behind the signature dish of the same name. Back in the Meiji Era (1868-1912), a restaurant used to serve red-bean soup with sweet rice cakes (meoto zenzai) in two bowls instead of one, to make it look like a larger portion. Meoto Zenzai still serves its dessert this way. The “meoto” in the name actually means “married couple” since the pair of bowls is reminiscent of two lovers. It’s bad luck to share the bowls, however, so each guest must eat both. Thankfully, the servings are fairly small.
It might come as a surprise that a Michelin-star restaurant exists in the backstreets of Namba among local izakaya, but that’s exactly what Wasabi is. Tiny but elegant, this restaurant specializes in kushikatsu – but a more upscale version than at places like Daruma. Each skewer is visually appealing and made of the finest seasonal ingredients. The batter is extra crispy and less oily than standard kushikatsu. The second floor houses AWA, a champagne bar. Nothing about this kushikatsu restaurant is typical, and that’s exactly what makes it so appealing.