You may only know Kyoto as a city of tradition and zen, but it’s also a city with a rich culinary tradition. With an abundance of information on Kyoto restaurants available, choosing one can be overwhelming. To remedy this, I’ve compiled a list of the top 13 restaurants in Kyoto based on quality, price, and accessibility. From matcha desserts to top class Wagyu beef steak, whatever you crave, I’ve got a restaurant for you.
1. Yoshikawa Tempura Inn
What once used to be a tearoom is now one of Kyoto’s finest kaiseki tempura shops, as well as a lovely hotel. Yoshikawa Tempura Inn’s restaurant is built in the traditional sukiya-zukuri style; the decor is simply magnificent, from the traditional Japanese furniture and artworks to the elegant futons and wooden tables. In fact, the venue gives the impression of having traveled back in time to old Kyoto. Each dish is created with high quality, beautifully arranged ingredients. There are various sets to choose from and each one is a selection of different types of sushi, tempura and other Japanese delicacies. For those who don’t like sushi, the chef will gladly prepare a succulent roasted duck as an alternative.
Yoshikawa Tempura Inn, Tominokoji, Oike, Kyoto, Japan, +81 75 221 5544
2. Hafuu Honten
Located in one of Kyoto’s best residential areas, Hafuu combines the tradition of Japanese cuisine with a modern atmosphere. The restaurant pairs delicious wagyu steak with succulent seafood to deliver an unforgettable culinary experience. The wagyu served at Hafuu comes straight from Kyushu and, more specifically, from the Kumamoto region. This region is known to be one of the few remaining in Japan where cows are still allowed to graze freely, producing some of the most succulent meat in the world. The wagyu at Hafuu is famous for having an intense buttery flavor and tenderness. For the meat lovers out there, Hafuu is an unmissable stop on Kyoto’s culinary trail. PS. GET THEIR GYUKATSU!
Hafuu, 471-1 Sasayacho, Nakagyoku, Kyoto, Japan, +81 75 257 1581
3. Nishiki Warai
Nishiki Market is a narrow street filled with more than 100 food stands and restaurants. It is an excellent place to sample many of Kyoto’s culinary delights. One of the best venues to visit at the market is Nishiki Warai. This little restaurant serves some of the best okonomiyaki in Kyoto. Okonomiyaki is a traditional, savory Japanese pancake that is cooked directly at the table. While many okonomiyaki restaurants have the DIY approach and bring raw batter to the table, Nishiki Warai serves freshly cooked okonomiyaki with a wide choice of toppings. Although mostly known for its signature dish, Nishinki Warai also serves excellent yaki-soba (fried noodles).
PS. Be sure to also visit the Owl Cafe that is located inside Nishiki Market! They allow you to take pictures and pet them too.
If fine-dining restaurant with 3-michelin stars is what you’re looking for, then look no further! This little restaurant is hidden in a side street of one of Kyoto’s busiest districts and has become a prime destination for Japanese foodies. Chihana specializes in kaiseki, which is basically Japanese haute cuisine. With a menu that showcases the inventiveness of the chef, each course is more delicious than the last. You can reserve a tatami mat or sit at the bar and enjoy the chef’s culinary prowess. Chihana prides itself on using only the finest ingredients and utensils to prepare unassuming and delicious dishes. The meals are served to its guests on a counter of unfinished wood, which should bring out the essential beauty of both the dish and the dishware on which it is served. Reservations are a must and it doesn’t come cheap, but it’s definitely a once-in-a-lifetime kind of meal.
Although found in the heart of the Geisha district Gion, among international chain restaurants and coffee shops, Kagizen offers a traditional Japanese tearoom experience. It stands out especially for its delicate wagashi, the traditional Japanese sweets usually served with tea, and its incredible mochi, rice cakes filled with red or white bean paste. The tea, prepared according to traditional recipes, is uniquely flavorful and thick. This delightful tearoom is a favorite among Kyoto-ites for the delicious pastries and tea as well as for the tranquil atmosphere that offers repose from Gion’s bustling activity. For a true Japanese tea experience, Kazigen is definitely not to be missed.
Kazigen, 264 Gionmachikitagawa Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto, Japan, +81 75 525 1818
Yakitori is one of the many staple dishes of traditional Japanese cuisine. Due to the simplicity of this dish, which is basically a type of skewered chicken, the restaurants that serve it are more often than not very basic and very smoky. With its stylish décor, Sumibi-Torito offers a different type of experience, transforming this traditional dish into a haute cuisine delicacy. The selection of the meats is meticulous, as the owner of the restaurant takes weekly visits to a poultry farm in the nearby mountainous area in order to choose the very best chicken. But the secret to the delicious yakitori lies in the cooking method. The restaurant has a beautiful grill and each dish is cooked on charcoal fire to seal in the juices and preserve the flavor.
7. Unagiya Hirokawa
if you’re around Arashiyama, be sure to have lunch at Unagiya Hirokawa! This restaurant attracts unagi lovers from afar though it doesn’t accept any reservations. All dishes are recommended by regulars: Unajyu, fluffy freshwater grilled eel over rice, shirayaki, plain grilled eel without seasoning served with soy sauce and wasabi (both costs from 4300yen), or other side dishes such as uzaku and umaki.
Sushi-lovers, Instagrammers, squealing girls, and people who just want to try something new, will all definitely get their money’s worth at Kashiwai in Kyoto. Their Temari Sushi is perfectly round and garnished beautifully – the assortment of colors and the mini-size makes you feel like you’re looking into a jewel box, we girls gush over this kind of stuff, and it doesn’t hurt that it taste delicious too! Grab a box and enjoy it on your Shinkansen ride.
9. Kichi-Kichi Omurice
This omurice gem is found hidden along Kyoto’s Pontocho Alley, and is worth every penny. Customers flock to Kichi Kichi not so much for the dish itself but for the show put on by the chef – the chef swishes, flicks, and basically creates the best omurice you will ever see (and even taste, too!) The small establishment only seats 8 people at any one time, so do make reservations to secure your spot. The moment when he slices the egg open – ah, it’s gastronomic porn, to say the least.
If there was an Olympic event called “Making Food in the Most Amazing Way Possible,” this omurice master in Kyoto would be a gold medal contender. Watch as Kichi-Kichi chef Motoyoshi Yukimura slice open his infamous omurice and the creamy omelet spill out over a piping hot fried rice. So if you aren’t planning to seek out omurice for lunch today, you’re making a big, big, mistake. 😝 See more of this beauty on my snapchat: HUNGRYNYC #hungrynycjapan #hungrynycvideo🎥 #hungrynyc🍳 #kichikichiomurice #hungrynyckyoto
10. Knot Cafe
If you know me at all, you probably know how much I love tamagoyaki. What is just a simple rolled egg with a dash of sugar can make for one delicious treat. In northern Kyoto, a retired textile warehouse is now a hot spot for coffee, chocolates, and of course, tamagoyaki. In this case, it is called dashimaki, and it is housed inside a sliced bun from a nearby Kyoto bakery. The saltiness of the bun is perfect with the sweet egg, and is great when paired with the cafe’s other sandwich offering, a sweet red bean bun! Top that all off with coffee straight from Cafe Grumpy in Brooklyn, NY, and you’ve got one awesome meal. Coffee ranges from 500~600yen and the sandwiches are 300yen each. If you’re still hungry they also serve great chocolates and brownies, all locally sourced!
One of the best of the tonkatsu chains, Kyoto-based Katsukura offers specialty menus, such as tonkatsu, wagyu katsu (highly recommend this one), oebikatsu (prawn cutlets) or yubakatsu (tofu-skinned cutlets). Katsukura’s signature style is its ‘DIY tare sauce’ – you can grind your own sesame seeds and mix them with sauces provided while waiting for the crispy mains.
13. Gion Kinana Honten
When I read that Gion Kinana serves up what could be the best ice cream in the city, I simply had to check it out myself. And boy, am I glad I did. Kinana makes some of the softest, smoothest, creamiest, yummiest fresh soy bean (kinako) ice cream I have ever tasted. While the kinako ice cream, made daily, is definitely the star at this cool, discreet ice cream shop and cafe, diners can also choose from a variety of parfaits, all of which are amazing.