We can all agree that one of the best things about Japan is its food. And Kyoto has lots to do with that! It is the city with the third most Michelin stars in the world, behind Tokyo and Paris. It is also the birthplace of kaiseki ryori, an elaborate multi-course meal that’s the pinnacle of Japanese cuisine. When it comes to the best restaurants in Kyoto, we know that the best is subjective. Well, for today’s article, the restaurants here are all approachable and in convenient areas that’s easy to visit. There are certainly better restaurants in Kyoto, but they can be difficult for foreigners to reserve or enter. To us, the best restaurants in Kyoto are places that anyone can go to enjoy. Let’s get into it!
1. Menya Inoichi Hanare
A Bib Gourmand ramen restaurant, Menya Inoichi Hanare is a cosy ten-seater spot that is totally worth the wait. Can’t read Japanese? Don’t worry, there’s an English menu complete with descriptions for each item. There’s a selection of ramen, rice bowls and sides, but do note that every customer has to order a bowl of ramen at the minimum. After all, that’s the reason why you’re here isn’t it? The ramen joint serves two different choices when it comes to the broth: bonito and white soy or mackerel and dark soy. White soy is for those who prefer a lighter flavour, while black soy will appeal to those who prefer a more robust taste. Pair your ramen with some additional toppings such as roasted pork chicken or grilled A4 wagyu beef!
Since its opening in 1946, Chihana has been a fixture in Kyoto’s Gion district. This three-star Michelin restaurant specialises in kaiseki ryori, Japanese haute cuisine. Once inside, you are surrounded by minimalist aesthetics overflowing with authenticity. Take a seat at the eight-seat counter or in a private room and let chef Katsuyoshi Nagata lead you through a gastronomic journey. Chihana uses only the finest ingredients and utensils. The food is served in fine bowls and plates, including real antiques. Every dish is an explosion of flavours, and each one is better than the last. A meal at Chihana is sure to be an unforgettable memory.
Botan nabe, or wild boar hotpot, is a dish usually found in cold, mountainous, rural regions of Japan today. However, you might be surprised to learn that it was actually invented here in Kyoto by the founder of Hatakaku nearly 100 years ago. Located close to the Imperial Palace, you can try the very original botan nabe recipe and eat it around a traditional Japanese hearth. The slices of boar meat are beautifully arranged in the shape of a flower, and the soup is made with Kyoto’s famed ‘Saikyo’ white miso and dashi stock. Especially if you’re here in winter, Hatakaku is definitely one of the best restaurants in Kyoto to go to.
While kaiseki ryori has its roots in upper class Japan, shojin ryori came from the Buddhist monks. Shojin ryori is strictly vegetarian, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t be satisfying. Inside the grounds of Tenryu-ji Temple, Shigetsu is a great place to try shojin ryori. It is also a Michelin Bib Gourmand spot, and you can enjoy great garden views while you dine. In line with Buddhist ideals, meals are made from fresh seasonal vegetables, herbs, and wild plants which sustains the body and provide a taste of Zen.
5. Den Shichi
One of the most approachable sushi bars and best restaurants in Kyoto, Den Shichi serves mouth-watering sushi. Expect all the elements of a classic sushi bar: a long counter, masterful sushi chefs, reliably tasty sushi and sashimi, along with a few more dishes to round out the menu. And the best part? It’s a lot cheaper than places like Tokyo! The only catch is that the locals are well aware of this too, so there is usually a wait to get in. Try to arrive early, or if you have to wait, believe us when we say that it will be worth it!
Wondering what to do at night? Wadachi is a foreigner-friendly sake bar with sake from all over Japan. There is an English menu, the prices are incredibly reasonable, and there are also small dishes such as chicken karaage and sashimi. Whether it’s your first foray into the world of sake or if you’re already well-acquainted, you’re sure to enjoy the recommendations by the bar’s staff. There are also sake bottles and a chart on display to help guests better understand the different flavors of sake.
You can’t visit Kyoto without visiting a teahouse, and one of the most atmospheric ones is Kasagiya. You have to stop by for a hot cup of matcha tea and a sweet treat, or get an uji-kintoki (shaved ice with sweetened green tea) in summer. Just a few steps from the top of Sannen-zaka, Kasagiya is easy to miss. It’s a tiny shop with an old-world look, weathered wooden exterior and plants growing unhindered. The sign is in Japanese, so if you can’t find it, ask some of the friendly local shopkeepers to point you the right way.