20 Popular Lunch Places for Those Times When You Feel Lost in Kyoto
The ever-present traditional air of Kyoto captivates countless visitors every year, but with so much to see and do it's no wonder people feel lost with all the choices available. Here are 20 places that you can visit to take a breather and choose your next destination, while also enhancing that Kyoto vibe! Subdivided into the four main areas of Kawaramachi, Sanjo, Ohara and Arashiyama, you can use this handy reference for places to eat over the course of your visit to Kyoto.
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Vestiges of an Older Japan: 5 Recommendations for Lunch in Kawaramachi
Miyakoyasai KAMO Kawaramachi Shijo Branch
The restaurant name Miyakoyasai, or literally vegetables of the old capital (Kyoto served as the capital of Japan from 794 to 1868), refers to their various dishes prepared with vegetables grown by the hands of Kyoto farmers. At KAMO, fresh, organic vegetables are picked every morning by an in-house sommelier, who prepares an all-you-can-eat buffet.
Cost is another factor that contributes to their popularity, especially considering that you can opt to add special daily obanzai (Kyoto traditional home cuisine) dishes and even shabu-shabu (sliced meat parboiled with vegetables) for just 950 yen on weekends and holidays.
All of their vegetables are locally grown, and the restaurant takes the extra effort to regularly go out to the farms where they're grown to speak to the farmers and survey the condition of crops, so they can truly draw out the best flavor from each vegetable. There are over 15 different obanzai dishes, each of which has been subtly improvised upon by the head chef. They also serve soups, steamed vegetables, rice, curry, and desserts to complement the many vegetables.
Chinchikurin is a restaurant built in a kominka (traditional Japanese house) with a view overlooking the nearby Takase River. The quirky name (a pun on the word chinchikurin, meaning midget) emblazoned across the storefront sign is said to be one of the impetuses for curious people who find themselves subconsciously stepping inside. Though the restaurant doesn't carry the air of solemn opulence that you’ll find in a ryotei (traditional high-end Japanese restaurant), their obanzai dishes can be enjoyed in a warm, down-to-earth atmosphere.
The restaurant carries a quaint, old-fashioned mindset that resembles its atmosphere, and they have a policy of not using synthetic seasonings to prepare their fresh, traditional, handmade Kyoto-style lunches.
Their specialty ozosui (a Japanese rice soup) is made with an original dashi (broth) and local ingredients that are simmered slowly in a superbly nutritious dish. All in all, you can enjoy a leisurely meal in the nostalgia of old Kyoto at Chinchikurin.
Mochitsukiya is a mochi specialty store, and they utilize the bestselling mochigome (short grain glutinous rice) in Kansai, called Habutaemochi, to make their mochi.
They also serve an udon (thick noodles) made with mochi, called chikara udon, and a special assorted lunch made with ingredients sold in Kyoto's Nishiki Market, called the Nishiki Market Bento.
At the storefront, you can find freshly pound mochi, namako mochi (a long, flat mochi shaped like a sea cucumber) and kirimochi (rectangular cuts of mochi). The workers take great pride in their craft, and the mochi treats are not only delicious, but they also happen to be the perfect size to eat while walking. Try stopping by for a light snack when you're feeling peckish.
Omo cafe undoubtedly has an old-town Kyoto vibe about it. The chefs at the cafe are all trained in French cuisine, and are known for their Japanese confectionery, cafe-styled meals, and other original rice dishes. The intricate, adorable side dishes are served in tableware of various designs, and are frequently seen in guests’ Instagram posts.
The exterior of the cafe projects a traditional Kyoto ambiance while the interior is comfortably rustic, resulting a lively stream of guests on a daily basis. It's also located near Nishiki-Koji Market, so you can stop by for a snack after working up an appetite perusing the traditional Kyoto ingredients.
Mumokuteki is a term meaning “without purpose”, and this cafe is designed under a concept of envisioning life through the simplicity of elements that include eating, cutting, building, utilizing, knowing, and feeling. Mumokuteki also has a “wear” clothing department and a “farm” department, and the cafe is a new addition to their growing brand. They are known for their all-natural and healthy lunch plates, and their rice is fielded from farms managed by their own company, called Mumokutekimai.
The popular tofu hamburg here is a highly recommended option to go with. Crunchy on the outside, but soft and moist on the inside, the tofu gives has a soft touch of flavor that’s both delicious and light on the stomach.
While elegantly furnished, the restaurant also has a separate family room, and overall, the restaurant has a comfortable atmosphere apt for bringing your kids along as well.
A Selection of 5 Lunch Locations in Sanjo with Remnants of Retro Meiji Architecture
Uneno is an old-fashioned udon (thick noodles) restaurant with a reputation for their especially savory, additive-free dashi (broth) the udon noodles are served in. The noodles are soft in texture and thinner than conventional udon noodles, and are said to complement the broth nicely. The popular restaurant has also been covered extensively by media outlets, and the bright, relaxed atmosphere is another very enticing facet.
Authentic dashi is made by gradually simmering bonito and kombu (kelp), and Uneno takes great pride in serving truly exquisite dashi. Each katsuo (bonito) fish is steamed in a seiro (a basket used for steaming foods), then carefully shaved into flakes while adjusting for the back, belly, and meaty areas of the fish.
In addition to the bonito, ingredients like Rishiri kombu, Oita Shiitake mushrooms, Kumamoto sardines and mackerel are also used to prepare the dashi. If you like savory but mild Japanese soups, you’ll definitely appreciate this udon soup.
A Nameless Chinese Soba Restaurant
Perhaps you may find yourself a little confused with the title of this establishment, but this is in fact a restaurant without a name. The eccentric anonymity doesn't stop there, as the restaurant also lacks a storefront sign and phone number as well. Upon finding the place, you’ll see a building with a refined exterior, and a simple minimalistic interior where you can enjoy your food without flashy distractions.
Considering the restaurants’ lack of various conventions, you may be wondering if the flavors could be lacking as well. However, this is far from being the case. The ramen is filled an assortment of vegetables, and the dashi is made with both chicken and meat for a clear, healthy ramen broth. The popular restaurant draws long lines before they even open, and is well worth the wait if you're visiting Sanjo.
Tousuiro Kiyamachi Branch
If you're somewhat acquainted with Kyoto cuisine, perhaps you know yudofu, or boiled tofu, is a specialty of the Kyoto area, and Tousuiro is a restaurant that specializes in serving an assortment tofu dishes.
The interior has been left in its Taisho era (1912-1926) furnishings, and the restaurant's furnishings project a tasteful, old-fashioned vibe that gives you a sense of an older Japan.
The recommended choice to go with at Tousuiro is the tofu kaiseki cuisine (traditional Japanese course cuisine), in which each dish is concocted to draw the best flavor out of soy beans.
The kaiseki dishes differ depending on the ingredients that can be freshly procured each season, and any two visits between different seasons will give you a sense of the flavors particular to the time of year.
8Garden Miyako’s Kitchen
8Garden Miyako’s Kitchen is located on the 8th floor of the “mina Kyoto” commercial building. The standout characteristic of this restaurant are the 25 terrace seats. The scenic views and fine interior are especially well-received, and the cafe promotes healthy living through a nutritious selection of foods.
At 8Garden, a carefully filtered selection of natural produce is used to prepare exceptional obanzai (Kyoto traditional home cuisine) dishes. The manager is a licensed nutritionist who makes full use of the organic vegetables grown on Morita farm in Kamigamo. The cafe offers a dining atmosphere that embodies an elegant, modern Kyoto.
Shiunsen is a restaurant that serves kappo (traditional Japanese) soba cuisine. Both the refined characters on the storefront sign and the simple, but aesthetic shop curtains exemplify a suave luxury from before you even set foot inside. Once inside, you’ll find dishes made with vegetables from Ohara and fish from Wakasa, as well as expertly fried tempura and the store’s specialty soba. The soba is a type of soba called ju-wari soba, which refers to the fact that it is made with 100% buckwheat, and the grainy flavor pairs unanimously well with other seasonal Japanese ingredients.
Their sudachi (a small, round, green citrus fruit) oroshi soba is highly recommended. Round slices of sudachi and grated daikon are decoratively arranged atop the soba. The mild flavor of dashi is spruced with the fresh citrus aroma of the sudachi with a foundational base of buckwheat soba. The soba is a refined dish symbolic of Kyoto, and is served at room temperature. The tempura is also made with the very best of available ingredients, and its contents are coated in a crisp, crumby exterior.
5 Recommended Lunches in Ohara with Nature Aplenty
Kirin is a riverside cafe in the rural town of Ohara, nestled in the tranquility of a grand natural scenery. This particular restaurant was built by renovating an old traditional home, and the old aesthetic exterior and interior elements have been blended into a modern sense of comfort.
Their large, bite-sized rice balls are made with ingredients from Ohara’s agrarian communities, and the fresh vegetables are used in both obanzai dishes and as different choices for the salad buffet. From French toast made with eggs from local farms, to delectable delicacies like handcrafted, picture-perfect sweets, to specialty cheesecakes made in collaboration with a nearby coffee shop, Kirin is an ideal pit stop on a visit to Sanzenin Temple.
Tanbajaya can be found in a building that appears like a traditional Kyoto home along a path leading to Jakkoin Temple. Incredibly, the restaurant has kotatsu (a low, wooden, heated table) seats for lunch. You can also opt for the seating available outdoors to get closer to Ohara’s bountiful expanse of nature.
The cuisine sports warm, homely flavors in their soba and nabeyaki udon (a kind of udon stew served in a hot pot). They also have a jelly made with red shiso (a herb that Ohara is known for), as well as other dishes that demonstrate the possibility that exists in creative combinations of flavors. The restful ambiance offers a brief respite amidst your travels.
Rogawajaya is a tea house where the soba and udon are especially recommended. Inside, you can find zashiki (a low table on tatami flooring) seats and rooms separated by paper shoji screens, both of which were standards of traditional Japanese homes. Background music of a koto (traditional Japanese stringed instrument) add an extra layer to the rustic Kyoto atmosphere.
The udon at this location is a little bit different from your typical udon, being vegetable-flavored. The different kinds of udon include carrot, Ohara’s specialty shiso, and even pumpkin. It might be a good idea to sample each beforehand to decide on a preferred flavor.
Fertile eggs from Ohara chickens are used to prepare tamago kake gohan (raw egg and soy sauce served on rice). The restaurant has a tasteful, quaint appearance and the location is marked by a lantern with the characters for Hanji written across it.
Their tamago kake gohan is a frequent hot topic, and the freshly gathered eggs and piping hot rice enhance this customary Japanese cuisine into a delicacy. Even people who typically dislike the dish have written that this location's tamago kake gohan is an exception. Their soba and miso soup are also filled with warm, homely flavors, and even if you’re not feeling up for egg, every other dish is still just as filling.
Gyozanen—with its patches of moss growing along the stairs leading to the restaurant—is in a location that embodies the Japanese aesthetic of wabisabi, or an appreciation of the intrinsic, impermanent beauty of natural objects. The fresh faces of budding green in the spring flush crimson in the fall, and the location is a perfect space to immerse yourself in the outdoor elements.
One of the recommended choices is the Ohara ladies bento (lunch box) ajisai set. It's a bit of a pricey option at 4,000 yen, but the 3-tiered jubako (a decorative box for serving traditional foods) includes a delicious assortment of sashimi made with fish from the nearby river, along with other cooked side dishes. A meal also comes with a complementary soak in their natural hot spring facility right next door in a two-for-one deal that's very enticing.
A Hotspot of Sightseeing Attractions! 5 Recommended Places to Grab Lunch in Arashiyama
Saga Tofu Ine Main Branch
Arashiyama is a district on the outskirts of Kyoto known for its quaint, historic temples and vivid transformations of seasonal scenery. Ine can be found right by one such temple in Tenryuji, where they specialize in serving Saga tofu (the name of soft-textured white tofu in Kyoto) and sakuramochi (a Japanese rice cake with red bean paste).
The characters, “Saga Tofu Ine” run down across the lantern in front of the restaurant, and from the second floor, you have a picturesque view of Arashiyama's abundant nature.
Kyoto cuisine utilizes dashi (broth) with a base of bonito flakes extensively for adding flavor, and dishes like their tofu and yudofu (boiled tofu) are made with selective plant-based ingredients. The yudofu goes especially well with a mildly sour kombu (kelp) mixed with ponzu (citrus-seasoned soy sauce), and draws out the umami (Japanese savory taste) of the dashi. For scenic views and a nutritious, flavorful lunch, Ine has you covered.
Kyoto vegetables are a primary component of any Kyoto cuisine, and Gyatei makes full use of them in a popular buffet of obanzai dishes. Be sure to try their specialties of obanzai sushi and nigirizushi (hand-pressed sushi).
The bottom line at Gyatei is a huge selection of over 30 different obanzai dishes at any given time. Each dish has an aesthetic quality about it as well, and the colorful mosaic of vegetables is something you can savor visually just as much as you might enjoy eating them. The restaurant is especially popular among women from a dietary standpoint, and Gyatei is often teeming with guests during weekends.
Daizen's Kyoto sushi adds a twist or two to their sushi that differentiates it from Edomae sushi, or sushi that originated in the city now called Tokyo. The restaurant interior exhibits a retro, Taisho era feel with a warm, nostalgic vibe.
The most popular dish is the saba sugata sushi (sushi in the shape of mackerel). The dish is prepared by cleaning out a whole mackerel fish, then stuffing it with vinegar sushi rice. The entire fish is wrapped in kombu (kelp) to allow the flavors to set in, and the fish has a firm texture that goes exceptionally well with the rice. At the same time, their excellent reputation isn’t limited to the taste of the food and the atmosphere of the restaurant, and their thorough and amiable sense of hospitality leaves a strong impression on guests who have visited. All in all, you can enjoy some sumptuous sushi in a very comfortable, relaxed atmosphere at Daizen.
A significant aspect of Yoshimura's novelty is their practice of making their soba from scratch every morning with wheat flower that's ground up using a millstone. The restaurant is also situated in a wonderful scenic location with a view of Togetsukyo Bridge, one of the major sightseeing attractions of Arashiyama.
The soba made by the seasoned craftsmen at Yoshimura is simply exquisite. The soba noodles are made uniformly and repetitively into a precise and immaculate thickness and firmness, which is only made better with a specialty dipping sauce. The addition of varying amounts of green onion and wasabi can change the complexion of the flavor, giving you some amount of flexibility to tender the dish to your tastes.
You can swing over just to try the soba, or you can also stop by when you want to stop to enjoy the scenery without having to trek around.
Tenzan no Yu Dining
The chef prepares meals according the season, only using the freshest ingredients at the given time of year. The restaurant is built alongside the hot spring facility, “Tenzan no Yu”, and a cold bottle of beer with a filling meal after a hot soak is sheer bliss.
The restaurant is characterized by its abundant selection, with a primary focus on Japanese cuisine. The repertoire of available dishes is especially diverse, including different dishes like Ikesu (made with fresh fish from the restaurant's fish tank) cuisine, kushiyaki (grilled skewers), other cooked dishes, fried dishes, teppan (grilled on a cast iron griddle) dishes, and even noodles and meal sets. They also offer western dishes if you're that much of a fan of Japanese food, and no meal would be quite complete without a bit of dessert to top it off.
Enjoy a Hannari Lunch in Kyoto While Immersing Yourself in an Air of Cultural Traditions in the Old Capital
Kyoto is a city that strongly retains vestiges of Japan's storied culture, and is one of the best places to try traditional Japanese cuisine. Trying dishes local to the region is a novelty in itself, but many of these locations also offer scenic views of Kyoto's vast natural scenery. "Hannari" is a term used in the southern, Kansai region of Japan to describe a something that is both refined and vivacious at the same time, and the old capital is very embodiment of the word.
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Translated and republished with permission from: SPIRA (formerly known as Relux Magazine)
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The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.