Anyone Can Enter! 6 Inviting Restaurants at Ponto-cho (Hanamachi, Kyoto)

Kyoto's streets form a well-arranged grid, with North-South streets crossing through East-West streets. Each of these streets gives off a unique character, and all of them are bustling with tourists every day. This series gives some tips on how to effectively explore the area, and also points out some shops within it. The second part of the series features Ponto-cho. The narrow alley, filled with a traditional Japanese ambiance, is lined with izakaya (Japanese bars) and restaurants on both sides. Although it exudes a mature adult atmosphere, this article introduces 6 inviting restaurants that anyone can visit without feeling intimidated.

Gion/Kiyomizu/Higashiyama

Food & Drink

What is Ponto-cho?

Ponto-cho is an 500m-long alley stretching between Sanjo Street (Sanjo-dori) to the north (or one street south of it, to be exact) and Shijo Street (Shijo-dori) to the south. It runs parallel to Kamo River (Kamo-gawa). It has a strong atmosphere, with rows of Kyoto-style machiya (traditional houses) characterized by exotic lattices (building fixtures made by combining strips of wood or bamboo into crisscross patterns that are often used for doors and windows). Since it is one of the best-known hanamachi (geisha and other entertainment districts) areas in Kyoto, you may be lucky enough to get a glimpse of a maiko (apprentice geisha) walking in the street.

The alley is lined with tea houses (establishments where geisha are invited to entertain customers) and many other eateries offering a wide range of cuisine, from traditional Kyoto cuisine and sushi, to Chinese. Many of these places appear high-class or extremely local, but there are some restaurants that anyone can easily enter as well.

During the months of May – September, many restaurants along Kamo River will build temporary platforms called “Kamogawa Noryo-yuka” (a raised platform over Kamo River) for the purpose of enjoying the cool breeze of the summer evening.

How enchanting it is to dine outside while taking in the view of Kyoto's symbol, the Kamo River!

Here are the top recommendations!

Here are some highly recommended restaurants in the area. These casual eateries are recommended for all types of clientele, especially younger ones.

The list will start at the north end of the alley, working southwards in order!

Pontocho Robin

Pontocho Robin is situated in a 150-year-old Kyo machiya, and serves authentic Japanese cuisine prepared with fresh, seasonal ingredients.

There are many alleys, big and small, in Ponto-cho. This restaurant is located in the Niban-roji (Second Alley). Look for the numbered chi-dori (plover-patterned signs) that mark the entrance of each alley.

The specialty of this establishment is the Seasonal Kamameshi (from 2,300 yen) – a Japanese dish consisting of seasonal ingredients cooked in broth. Other dishes include seafood cuisine like the Fresh Seafood Sashimi Plate (2,500 yen) featuring the catch of the day, meat dishes like their Salt-Grilled Wagyu Beef (3,240 yen), and other dishes like the Nama-fu Dengaku (950 yen) (raw gluten with miso paste) and Yu-dofu (1,080 yen) (hot tofu cooked in broth). They also have an impressive lineup of carefully selected Japanese sake (alcohol) from all over Japan.

The average cost for lunch is around 3,500 yen, and dinner is around 6,000 yen. You can make use of their noryo-yuka during the summer season, and English menus are available.

Manzara-tei Pontocho

Next is Manzara-tei Pontocho, which is situated in a renovated 120-year-old machiya. Patrons can casually enjoy a wide range of inventive Japanese fusion cuisine inside the building, which has a traditional Kyoto ambience.

The dish recommended by the restaurant is the Daikon-mochi Pork Kakuni Ankake (radish cake with braised pork belly in a sticky sauce) (680 yen plus tax). The radish cake, made with grated radish and cooked to a soft, mochi-like texture, is topped with sticky sauce that has braised pork. The pork is so tender that it literally falls apart and melts in your mouth! It is a great dish to go with a nice drink.

The Kujo Leek Rolled in Pork Loin Teriyaki (780 yen plus tax) is also a must-try. Kujo negi (leek) is one of the most famous Kyo-Yasai (special vegetables produced in Kyoto, often used in traditional Kyoto cuisine), and for this dish, it is rolled inside strips of pork loin and cooked teriyaki-style. The kuro-shichimi (black seven spices) adds a nice zesty accent to the dish. Manzara-tei is stocked with a lineup of seasonal local sake to go perfectly with their menu offerings.

The average cost for a meal is around 4,800 yen. The restaurant is not open for lunch. English menus are available.

Rokuden-ya Ponto-cho Branch

Rokuden-ya Ponto-cho Branch can be easily spotted, thanks to their noren (store curtains), which are designed with the illustration and lettering of “suppon” (Chinese softshell turtle). It is a popular establishment that serves mainly Chinese cuisine.

Please try their Dote Yaki (from 150 yen plus tax), which uses a blend of 5 different types of miso, including Kyoto's white miso, to simmer and season beef tendon, pork belly, vegetables, tofu, nama-fu, and other ingredients. The umami-rich and nutrient-packed Suppon Hot Pot (from 2 people, 2,980 yen plus tax per person) is also popular.

Their Tantan-men (from 880 yen plus tax) is available in 10 different variations, such as white miso, black sesame, and no soup. It is worth a try as well.

The average cost for a meal here is around 2,000 yen for lunch and 3,000 yen for dinner.

Ponto-cho Kappa Sushi

Next up is Ponto-cho Kappa Sushi, where you can enjoy Edomae (Edo-style) sushi without having to break your bank. It is a popular sushi spot amongst locals, too.

You can order nigiri-zushi (hand-formed sushi) of your choice, starting from 120 yen per piece. Assorted plates are also available for your convenience, like the Jo Nigiri (1,500 yen) or the Chef's Omakase (Chef's Choice) Nigiri (3,000 yen).

The restaurant also offers a variety of a la carte dishes, such as Sashimi (from 700 yen), Kumiage Yuba (850 yen) (fresh tofu skin), Kaisen Chawan-mushi (650 yen) (steamed egg custard with seafood). In the summer – the season of Noryo Yuka – patrons can enjoy the Sushi Kaiseki (from 5,000 yen) (traditional banquet course with tea) while overlooking Kamo River.

The average cost for dinner is around 4,000 yen. Lunch is available only on Saturdays, Sundays, and public holidays during May.

Kyo-no-Izakaya Ponto-cho Ponto

This extremely casual izakaya is situated in a renovated traditional tea house. It offers table seats overlooking Minamiza Theater, famous for their kabuki performances, as well as tatami seats on the second floor where you can delight in many local dishes and specialties of Kyoto. 

The Nama-fu Dengaku (620 yen plus tax), served with a homemade dengaku miso (sauce made by reducing a mixture of red miso with sugar and mirin), and the Grilled Manganji Green Pepper (580 yen plus tax), which is a dish of Manganji green pepper (a type of Kyo-Yasai) that’s been grilled and seasoned with yuzu-flavored ponzu (citrus-based sauce), are highly recommended.

The restaurant offers an array of special dishes made with Kyoto's finest ingredients, such as yuba sashimi, lightly seared Tanba chicken, and pickled vegetables. You'll find anything – from grilled dishes to fried dishes, and even rice dishes. Alcoholic drinks are also available in many variations, including a great selection of sake from Kyoto.

The average cost for dinner is around 3,500 yen. Lunch is not available. English and Simplified Chinese menus are available, and English and Chinese speaking staff are at your service.

Bar Rinto

Last but not least is a hideaway bar that you'll feel like visiting after a nice dinner. Slip under the noren and make your way down a narrow stairway, and you'll be greeted by a dashing young bartender.

Japanese elegance and ambience can be found in this bar, inspired by traditional tea rooms. There is an 8-person counter and 1 table for two people. Private rooms are available to accommodate small groups.

The bar is situated on the basement floor, but you will still be able to take in the view of the Kamo River from their counter seats. What a way to enjoy the evening! Sip some cocktails or whiskey into the late hours of the night in Kyoto.

Highly recommended are the fresh seasonal fruit cocktails, bursting with juiciness from the fruits and the fragrant liqueur.

The average cost to dine here is around 4,000 yen.

 

Find any establishments to your fancy? Ponto-cho is one of the most atmosphere-filled areas of Kyoto, but don't end your trip with a simple tour! Go on and satisfy your palate with an amazing gastronomic experience as well!

The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.

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