Welcome to the second installment of our ongoing series highlighting the best restaurants in Kyoto. In these posts, we share our favorite dining options from around the city that offer good food at great prices. While we’re big fans of ramen and udon, we also highlight other cuisine like tempura, steak, Matcha, etc. If you missed part 1, you can read that here.
Note that most of these restaurants are located near popular temples and point major points of interest in Kyoto. While we enjoy hole-in-the-wall restaurants that primarily cater to locals rather than tourists, this is a planning site aimed at helping foreigners travel to Kyoto, and it’d be sort of pointless to name a bunch of restaurants that aren’t near tourist hotspots.
We rambled on about our methodology and how you can find great restaurants in Kyoto in part 1, so I won’t rehash all of that here. In a nutshell, we chose highly-ranked restaurants from Michelin’s Osaka & Kyoto Guide, TripAdvisor, and Tabelog, ate at a bunch of them, and now are writing about our favorites here. Pretty straightforward.
Anyway, let’s start with the restaurants. This time, we have locations primarily in Gion and near Fushimi Inari Shrine…
Tempura Kitenya – We’ll start this list with our favorite tempura restaurant in Kyoto. What Inoichi (from Part 1 of this list) is for ramen, Tempura Kitenya is for tempura. This is a Michelin Bib Gourmand restaurant for good reason: the food is exceptional and the price is more than fair.
In terms of service, our experience at Tempura Kitenya was top 5 in all of Japan. We tried to do it as a walk-up (bad idea), and were at first advised they had no availability. We began walking away, at which point the server chased us down and said they could seat us after maybe 30 minutes. We didn’t have anything better to do, so we enthusiastically agreed.
We were seated in about 15 minutes, and about the time we ordered, the restaurant started to clear out, leaving just us. After setting down each piece of tempura, the chef pulled up a photo of the fish with its English name on his phone to show us. We finished our meal and the chef and server talked to us for another 30 minutes, chatting about a range of subjects and even taking a photo with them.
You shouldn’t expect that type of experience (although there’s a chance it’ll happen somewhere–many restaurants in Japan are family-run and they love to chat with Americans), but it’s an idea of the level of service you might receive.
Kendonya – We’ve eaten at this udon noodle spot in Fushimi more than any other restaurant in Kyoto. The prices are often cheaper than a meal at the Lawson’s across the street would cost you, and the food is incredibly good. As a result, you’ll often see a line outside during the middle of the day.
Our favorite dishes at Kendonya are the pork cutlet and egg rice bowl or the karaage (fried chicken) set with hot udon. Additionally, our success rate with whatever the seasonal special is (it’s often on a sign only in Japanese, so you might have to order blindly) has been 100%.
While we really like Kendonya, we wouldn’t wait more than 10 minutes to eat here. You’re going here for hearty dishes of good food at great prices. Usually, it was a stop for us after a sunset or evening hike at Fushimi Inari Shrine, which is our recommended time to visit since there are rarely crowds at night. English menus are available (and also on their website).
Kyoto Takabashi Honke Daiichiasahi – This must be one of the most popular restaurants in all of Kyoto. Despite being open daily from 5 a.m. until 2 a.m. (!!!), this ramen shop just 5 minutes from Kyoto Station has a perpetual line. We passed it by on several occasions before finally lining up at 2 p.m. on an off-season weekday, and we ended up waiting only 20 minutes…and that was a short line.
The pork-bone broth base is flavored with soy sauce, and is rich despite being clear. While we both like the flavor a lot, we also thought it was a tad on the salty side. The noodles are cooked to the perfect consistency with excellent chewiness and thickness. Great taste, and great value.
Kyoto Katsugyu, Kiyomizu Gojozaka – If you’re walking from Kiyomizudera Temple to Kiyomizu-Gojo Station, you’ll pass Kyoto Katsugyu, Kiyomizu Gojozaka about halfway through your journey. They serve “katsugyu”or Kyoto-style beef, which is wagyu lightly coated and deep fried to medium rare. The beef is served with an exceptional wasabi soy sauce, sansho spice, Worcester sauce, and curry broth.
This is one of a handful of locations in Kyoto operated by this chain, and it’s easy to see why it’s so popular. The meat is expertly prepared inside, a tender cut of beef that’s cooked to perfection. The light crispiness offers the perfect texture and doesn’t act as a crutch for weak meat (to the contrary, this beef would be excellent without being fried). While the wasabi was incredible, we ended up using the sauces on our rice instead, since the beef didn’t need anything extra.
Gion Yorozuya – If you’re looking for a welcoming restaurant with nice ambiance and jovial service, look elsewhere. Gion Yorozuya (in Gion, obviously) is a noodle shop that means business. Actually, I’m not sure I’d go that far, but the approach is workmanlike and the food is the clear focus.
That’s for good reason. Gion Yorozuya is a Michelin Bib Gourmand restaurant, and its signature dish, the Kujo Negi Udon, is an exceptional and unique offering. This udon is topped with a generous portion of kujo negi (“Kyoto’s scallion”) and copious helping of ginger to give the dish hearty taste. The flavor is more refreshing than it is oniony, but it’s still a thick dish. I’d liken it to the udon version of a hearty “winter soup.”
There is no English menu, but everyone orders the same thing, so just point to the picture on the menu that looks like the one above. You can expect to find a modest line here, but it’s worth it, especially if you want a less-touristy meal in Kyoto.
Namaste Taj Mahal – One of our go-to spots when we stayed in Fushimi, this place goes by like three different names (also Partik Restaurant Kujo and Indian & Nepal Restaurant). It’s a couple of blocks north and around the corner from the main stretch of restaurants in Fushimi, but it’s still a very short walk and easy to access from Fushimi Inari.
If you’re looking for authentic Indian curry, with the flavor and spices that entails, look no further than Namaste Taj Mahal. If you are not looking for something spicy, that works too, as options like the butter chicken are perfectly mild (this is Japan, after all). The naan is huge and the curry is flavorful. Ordering one of the specials is the way to go, as individual curry dishes are a bit on the small side, and the cost of sharing a few of those can add up quickly. Service is exceptional; English menus are available.
Ramen Muraji Kyoto Gion – If ever there were a “trendy” place to get ramen in Kyoto, Ramen Muraji Kyoto Gion is it. The nondescript entrance is located down a quiet side street in Gion, around the corner from Gyoza Hohei. Inside, you’ll find beautifully-crafted communal tables, chic light fixtures, and elegant decor.
The menu likewise presents both traditional and modern, inventive takes on ramen. Ramen Muraji specializes in chicken broth ramen, with the black ramen having a richer taste from the soy sauce and the white ramen having a lighter, salty flavor. I found my bowl to be deep and nuanced–a great bowl of ramen. Sarah had the lemon ramen, which was surprisingly good and not gimmicky (as I worried it’d be).
You’ll definitely want to order the combo special, which includes delicious fried chicken and amazing green tea ice cream. We highly recommend going early (or late), as Ramen Muraji Kyoto Gion draws long lines during the dinner rush, and has a limited seating area. English menus are available.
Vermillion Cafe – Another spot in Fushimi, there are actually two Vermillion Cafes immediately adjacent to Fushimi Inari Shrine. Without question, you should go to the one that is near the exit to the shrine. The easiest way to do this is to go through the shrine, and visit upon exiting.
Even if you don’t take that approach and have to walk through the side streets, go to that location. The other is on the main road in front of Fushimi Inari, and is swarming with tourists. The other is a peaceful respite from the crowds, with a lovely outdoor seating area for quiet contemplation where you can unwind and reflect after a morning walk through the shrine.
As for what to order, the Matcha lattes are creamy and smooth, and the Matcha Ganache is divine. We also like the coffee, but it seems only slightly above average as compared to the latte and that dessert (which is the true standout).
If you’re planning a visit to the Japan that includes Kyoto, please check out my other posts about Japan. I also highly recommend the Lonely Planet Kyoto Guide to determine everything you should see and do while there.
Have you dined at any standout restaurants in Kyoto? Where do you recommend? Any questions about the dining spots on part 2 of our list? Looking for recommendations near a specific temple or other point of interest? Hearing your feedback about your experiences is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts or questions below in the comments!