Kyoto is a city with a fascinating food culture. The city is not traditionally synonymous with sushi, as it’s so far away from the sea. The people did not come by fish easily in the olden days. When they did, they would cure the fish to preserve it and create their own sushi specialty: kyozushi and sabazushi. You can still try them today at traditional Kyoto sushi joints! And thanks to growth and demand, Kyoto also has its own fair share of Michelin-star and really exclusive restaurants now. The old and the new all come together to shape the Kyoto sushi scene and here are some of the ones we love!
1. Izuju いづ重
Directly in front of Yasaka Shrine in Gion District, Izuju specializes in Kyoto-style sushi. They have over 100 years of history and still use the same traditional methods to make their kyozushi. You must try the sabazushi – the sourness of the cured mackerel cuts through the fat of the fish, creating a mouthwatering combination. Other specialties to try include guji sushi, a type of tilefish native to the north coast of the Japanese Sea and inarizushi, rice stuffed into fried tofu.
2. Sushi no Musashi 寿司のむさし
Sushi no Musashi is hands down the best kaitenzushi in Kyoto. Best of all, this conveyor belt sushi joint is incredibly affordable. Prices start at just ¥146 (US$1.30) a plate! They’ve very conveniently located and have two restaurants in Kyoto. Apart from what’s on the conveyor belt, you can also order from the menu. It mostly consists of nigiri sushi, but you can also find ‘Western-style’ sushi like California rolls here.
3. Sushi Gion Matsudaya 寿し 祇園 松田屋
A one-Michelin star restaurant, Sushi Gion Matsudaya is one of the best (and most expensive) Kyoto sushi restaurants. Chef Matsuda Kazunori specializes in edomae sushi, and the menu changes daily according to what’s available in the fish markets. The most famous dish? Caviar sushi! There are only seven seats in the restaurant with two omakase sessions daily, which means only 14 people can dine in the restaurant everyday. Try to make your reservation early ahead!
4. Sushi Matsumoto 鮨まつもと
Another one-Michelin star restaurant, Sushi Matsumoto is on the same street as Matsudaya. They also share other similarities, for example, both owners studied the art of edomae in Tokyo. Specialties include kohada (vinegared gizzard shad) and kanpyo-maki that’s made with dried gourd. Choose from two set menus: one nigiri-only option, and an omakase that includes small plates. Be sure to make a reservation as there are just seven counter seats and one table.
5. Gion Mametora 祇をん 豆寅 祇園店
At Gion Mametora, try the unique mame-zushi – a bite-sized sushi that’s smaller. They are called maiko-zushi, as they were originally designed for maiko (apprentice geisha) so they could eat without opening their mouths too wide and messing up their makeup. Gion Mametora is in Hanamikoji-dori, in front of Kaburenjo where geisha schools practice their performances. It’s a great spot for fresh, authentic, seasonal Kyoto delicacies, and plus points for how beautifully the sushi is placed in a box!