Must-not-miss food and restaurants in Kyoto
February 12, 2010 3:32 AM   Subscribe

Recommendations needed for must-try restaurants and food in Kyoto!

I will be spending about a week in Kyoto at the beginning of March and though I have a pretty good idea of what temples, shrines, sites and museums I want to go see, I could do with actual human recommendations on what restaurants and specific foods I should not miss while in Kyoto. Most of our food will probably be acquired by wandering into restaurants (shokudo?) that we happen upon, but I would really appreciate recommendations of places that are worth a trip in and of themselves.

Extra details:
1. I and the people I'm travelling with are completely omnivorous, adventurous and appreciate quality when it comes to food.
2. None of us speak any Japanese though I'm trying by best to learn a little before we go, so a place that will accomodate/tolerate 4 confused Finnish people would be great.
3. Any price range will do: from haute cuisine (kaiseki?) to soba/udon noodles.
4. Unagi restaurant recommendations would be especially appreciated.
5. Even if you can't recommend a specific restaurant, please do tell me what food must be had while in Kyoto.
6. One of my main reasons to go to Japan is the food, so we are unlikely to go to places that specialise in food from other countries, no matter how excellent.
posted by slimepuppy to Food & Drink (14 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Tofu preferably from the street vendors near the major temples.
posted by roofus at 3:45 AM on February 12, 2010

A lot of people can give you lots of recommendations for o-banzai, the traditional home cooking of Kyoto, such as, well, O-banzai, but these days there are o-banzai buffet restaurants springing up here and there.
The one upstairs at Kyoto station building was quite good, as was Gyatei on Arashiyama's main street. (I'll look it up for you)
Ganko Takasegawa Nijo is in a garden setting and can help you in English. Lots of different types of cuisine.
Kyoto is also known for Yudofu, boilded tofu, and a very austere monk cuisine called shojin-ryori epitomized by Ikkyu-an at Daitokuji Temple. But, my favorite is saba-zushi. I have a lot more I can say on this topic at a later time.
posted by planetkyoto at 4:00 AM on February 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

I just mentioned this in the other Kyoto thread, but Okariba (075-751-7790), on the north side of the Sunflower Hotel is a great izakaya (Japanese style pub). The owner is a hunter, and much of the food you eat, he killed. When I took my friends, we had grilled skewers of boar, miso paste grilled on a large leaf, bear jerky (surprisingly good), fried bees, fried grasshoppers, raw horse, and raw deer. The deer, the bees, and the grasshoppers weren't bad, just not that great. It was more of "the host is providing food, don't be rude, smile and eat kind of thing." I'd definitely go back. The owner speaks a little English, and since my cousin was the only smoker, and he didn't want to smoke at the table (a friend was pregnant at the time) the owner took him aside and they smoked and drank together, and seemed to have a great time.

Other than that, A-Bar near Pontocho was a great little izakaya. They have a menu in English, and the price is really low.

As you may have noticed, I'm a bit of a sucker for izakaya food. Both of these places were listed in Lonely Planet. If you don't have it, you could always check out the maps.

As for unagi, if you are coming through Narita Airport, the town of Narita is rightfully famous for unagi. The main street that runs to the temple is lined with restaurants. On the hill before the temple, right hand side, there are a couple of places with live eel that they prepare for each order.
posted by Ghidorah at 5:30 AM on February 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh, and as planetkyoto mentions, yudofu and tofu. If you can find it, try some tonnyu nabe, which is basically hotpot, but with soymilk. I had it recently for the first time, and it was absolutely delicious.
posted by Ghidorah at 5:31 AM on February 12, 2010

On the expensive side:
Misogi Gawa is French Kaiseki, and was quite nice.
Kikunoi was the best meal I've ever had in my life.

There was also a sushi restaurant on Pontocho Dori that my girlfriend and I loved both for the sushi as well as the fun (but difficult) conversation in English with the chef. Unfortunately, the name escapes me at this point.

We also loved the bakeries, to grab a quick to-go meal en route to the various tourist destinations.

This site may also prove helpful.

(Regarding tourist destinations, one off the beaten path is the moss temple. We weren't able to go due to poor planning... try and get a look at it as it's supposed to be amazing!)
posted by jangie at 6:00 AM on February 12, 2010

Yuba-- fancy yuba restaurant near Kawaramachi, if I recall. Yuba is a byproduct of the tofu making process. Every dish they serve features yuba. It's expensive.

Nishin soba-- A sweet smokey chunk of fish in a bowl of steaming hot noodles. Look for sobaya near the big temples or ask locals for recommendations. Cheap, filling lunch. Not for people with buckwheat (soba) allergies.

Both of these are unique to Kyoto.
posted by vincele at 6:56 AM on February 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

When I was in that area, my group and I really enjoyed Okonomiyaki, both the tasty food and the fun of grilling it yourself. Sorry I don’t know of any specific restaurants, but it was pretty common in the area so I’m sure it won’t be hard to find a good place.
posted by Widepath at 9:43 AM on February 12, 2010

I'm told that there are many good restaurants at Pontocho Dori, as mentioned by Jangie and Ghidorah above. During my last trip there my martial arts sensei took us to a restaurant there that had a fine (and expensive) multi-course meal. I fortunately took pictures of each course and the front of the restaurant, pictures #57 to 65.

If you aren't already planning on it, you must try okonomiyaki at some point.
posted by zompus at 9:51 AM on February 12, 2010

Figured it might be worthwhile to add the pics i took.
Misogi Gawa
Sushi restaurant on Pontocho Dori (I believe the last picture in the set is the sign for the restaurant; we were trying to find out what it was called for posterity's sake but I'm not quite sure if this is exactly the restaurant, it was very close to here.)
posted by jangie at 11:06 AM on February 12, 2010

Yaoya no Nikai, in the Nishiki Market, does a fabulous vegetarian set lunch. Here's a set from 2006 and from 2008.
posted by Gortuk at 11:40 AM on February 12, 2010

It was a couple years ago, but one of the highlights of my trip was eating at Tempura Yoshikawa (not my website). It's a small place, like 12 seats. I don't speak any Japanese but still had fun trying to talk to the chef about the food, very friendly.
posted by minimal at 11:56 AM on February 12, 2010

You didn't mention drinks, but Sake Bar Yoramu is great - a tiny bar (half of which is taken over by an indoor zen garden) run by an Israeli man fluent in English and Japanese. He'll ask what you like to drink in 'other' alcohols, then serve you tasting flights of sakes and serve simple but delicious nibbles prepared on a hot plate behind the counter.

I spent an evening there on my first trip to Kyoto, the two of us sampling so much sake that we were gently cut off, along with several tasty dishes (I still remember a cheeselike aged or marinated tofu). Served fantastic sakes custom selected by an expert and knowledgeable bartender, I had no idea how much it would cost. I thought, even if this is a hundred dollars or more, it has been worth it. Steeling myself for the final bill... 6000 yen ($60). No tax, no tip.

I love Japan.
posted by Gortuk at 4:23 PM on February 12, 2010 [3 favorites]

Ashiya Steakhouse was quite tasty. Eggsellent Kobe (not Wagyu!) beef. Be prepared to spend a pretty penny - but it was well worth it. The evening my friends and I went there was a Maiko performance as well that was quite spectacular as well.
posted by herrtodd at 1:00 AM on February 14, 2010

Response by poster: You are all wonderful human beings! I'm going to try as many of these places and foods as possible and report back after the trip.

Thanks a lot!
posted by slimepuppy at 3:22 AM on February 14, 2010

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