Where to Eat in Kyoto, Japan: Best Restaurants & Dining Guide

Kyoto, Japan has some of the world’s best restaurants, great teahouses, coffee shops, and more. This dining guide covers where to eat in Kyoto, listing the top spots for a variety of price points, from cheap ramen to high-rolling kaiseki multi-course dinners. This includes the best izakaya, tempura, soba, udon, ramen, katsu, unagi, sushi, and okonomiyaki restaurants throughout Kyoto.

Being a traditional city brimming with culture, Kyoto has a multitude of dining experiences that range in variety from luxurious kaiseki ryori course dinners to the simple and cheap home-style cooking. You can have great meals for under 1,000 yen (~$10) or drop several hundreds of thousands of yen on a private experience.

In “researching” the city’s top foods, we’ve dined at nearly 200 restaurants in Kyoto to come up with this ‘best of’ list. Before we get to specific restaurants or types of cuisine, let’s narrow down some areas of Kyoto that visitors should seek out for good food. You’ve probably heard of some of these if you’ve started researching Kyoto, as they’re fairly well known…

The Pontocho dining area, a narrow alley running from Shijo-dori to Sanjo-dori, one block west of Kamogawa River is one of the best spots for variety. Here you can find everything from traditional home-style cooking to ramen to modern fusion restaurants.

To the east of Pontocho, the Gion district (which we cover separately in this post) offers the city’s best high end dining (this is the heart of kaiseki and private dining). Here you’ll also find a scattering of less expensive offerings, including some of the absolute best places for desserts and sweets in Kyoto.

To the west, you’ll find Downtown Kyoto and Nishiki Market. The latter is known as “Kyoto’s Kitchen” (or “Japan’s Pantry”) and serves two purposes. There’s the visitor-facing market that sells small bites of a variety of food and has retail shops with souvenirs and specialty items.

The other side is the more utilitarian suppliers that provide seafood and seasonal produce to restaurants around Kyoto and as far away as Tokyo.

Nishiki Market can be a very mixed bag. If you don’t know what you’re looking for, don’t like street food, or go during peak tourist seasons (or times of day), it can be a congested nightmare of people posing for selfies with food. If you go earlier in the day (or later), you can avoid crowds, try Kyoto specialties like as pickles, dried seafood, and seasonal vegetables. My strong recommendation is to try fried ayu (sweetfish), a local specialty.

If that doesn’t look appealing to you, or you’re not an adventurous eater, we’d recommend just skipping Nishiki Market. This is not ‘conventional wisdom,’ as most Japan planning resources consider it a cool place to visit. Due to ever-increasing crowd levels in the last couple of years, we disagree. Nishiki Market is simply too much of a hassle and headache if you’re just going to window shop.

Instead, head to nearby Downtown Kyoto and the adjacent covered shopping streets. These don’t really specialize in anything, per se, but there are a variety of tourist-friendly options at a variety of price points, along with some local restaurants that are tucked away on quiet side streets.

Finally, there’s Kyoto Station. This massive complex contains the 13-story Isetan Department Store and Porta underground shopping mall, which connects to Kyoto Tower and its complex, plus so much more. I have no clue how many restaurants you can access from Kyoto Station without ever stepping outside, but I’d hazard a guess it’s over 100.

Many of these are fast casual chains of varying degrees of quality. In the sea of safe-but-decent options, you’ll find some high profile eateries. Some noteworthy names include Inoda Coffee and Ippudo, the latter of which we highly recommend. Even though Ippudo is a chain, it’s some of the best ramen in Kyoto.

Obviously, food can be found throughout Kyoto, beyond these main areas. Higashiyama and Arashiyama both have some great restaurants, including Michelin-star options.

Same goes for Northern, Southwest, and every other district of Kyoto–it’s just that no other parts of the city have established ‘dining scenes’ that are quite as consolidated as these main areas.

Now, let’s take a look at specific types of cuisine with some recommendations for each…

Ramen – As certifiably crazy ramen heads, this is what we eat in Japan more than anything else. We cover our favorite options with specific recommendations in our Best Ramen Restaurants in Kyoto post, which is the result of “research” at over 50 ramen shops in Kyoto.

Tempura – Kyoto has a really strong lineup of tempura restaurants. This includes a number of highly-regarded (and expensive) tempura restaurants we’ve never tried. With that said, our top pick by far is Tempura Kitenya, which is a Michelin Bib Gourmand option. We also love Gion Tenshuu, and Teramachi Dori Tendon Makino Kyoto is an inexpensive guilty pleasure (it’s not great, but there’s a lot of it).

Udon – Much like ramen, Kyoto is a great option for Udon. We’ll have a full list of udon options soon, but far and away our favorite is Udon Sanshiki, which is on the walk from the train station to Kiyomizudera. We’ve eaten there several times and have never had anything but great meals. We also love Niomon Uneno, but it’s more of a hassle. Both of these are Michelin Bib Gourmand restaurants.

Yakitori – Kyoto has a thriving yakitori scene, and it’s possible to drop a lot of money on these grilled meat (and sometimes seasonal vegetables or, better yet, cheese). Our favorite yakitori spot is Yakitori Hitomi, but it’s not cheap and reservations can be tough. Torito and Tarokichi are decent and less expensive consolation prizes.

Okonomiyaki – There’s no such thing as bad okonomiyaki (or at least we haven’t found it yet), but we’d also warn that the gap between good and great okonomiyaki is not significant. Our favorites are Kyo Chabana, Okonomiyaki Katsu, and Okonomiyaki Zen. All three are incredibly good, but we wouldn’t go out of our way to eat at them–discovering something on your own is likely to be even more satisfying.

Sushi – Don’t eat sushi in Kyoto. It’s one thing that is done significantly better in Tokyo and Osaka, and you’re presumably going to visit at least one of those cities. With that said, Musashi Sushi is decent on the budget end and Tomisen is good for something nicer.

Curry – Most Japanese curry is mild and a much ‘safer’ dish for picky eaters than you might expect. Our favorite curry restaurant is Kara-Kusa Curry, followed by Arashiyama Curry. Both are laid back and inexpensive.

Coffee – We also have a full post on coffee coming soon, but for now we’ll mention that Kyoto has burgeoning independent coffee scene. There are a number of exceptional coffee shops in Kyoto, so don’t settle for Starbucks! Our favorites are Dongree Coffee Stand and Murmur Coffee.

Tea – Japanese teahouses serve a variety of teas, but what you should (exclusively) order is a matcha set, which is served with traditional Japanese sweets (wagashi). Sarah is a huge tea enthusiast, and we’ve scoured Kyoto and nearby Uji for the best teahouses.

Aside from private venues, the best teahouse we’ve found in Kyoto is Ippodo Tea, which is what pretty much everyone recommends. Another well-regarded but less frequented spot we love is Hiranoya, which is a hybrid teahouse and restaurant and one of Arashiyama’s most iconic buildings (pictured above). In this case, there are no hidden gems–go with the tried and true.

Tofu – Even if you’re not a vegetarian, we’d recommend trying tofu, which is prepared in a multitude of ways in Kyoto, and is the city’s main specialty dish. There are many dedicated tofu restaurants, and also ones that use tofu plus Kyo-yasai (Kyoto vegetables), which gives you two of the area’s specialty dishes at once. Our favorite spot for tofu is Yudofu Sagano.

Vegetarian – With a rich Buddhist tradition and many temples (and other locations) offering tofu fine dining, vegetarian restaurants are surprisingly plentiful in Kyoto. For other types of vegetarian cuisine, we’d recommend Biotei and Arash’s Kitchen. If you make it up to Kurama, Yoshuji is your best bet.

Kaiseki – If you have the time and money, consider kaiseki, which is a traditional multi-course Japanese meal that is as much about artful presentation and omotenashi as it is about the food itself. Kaiseki options abound in Gion, and typically start at over $100 per person.

Many kaiseki restaurants are Michelin-starred, and can be difficult to book. Our recommendation here would be to ease into kaiseki by booking a reservation at Giro Giro Hitoshina, a modern kaiseki restaurant, the first night of your trip (request the chef’s counter).

If you enjoy your experience there, try booking reservations at another spot. The most storied kaiseki restaurants in Kyoto are Hyotei and Kitcho Arashiyama. We’ve dined at neither of them, and we’d be suspicious of lists ranking the best kaiseki restaurants in Kyoto, because chances are that those authors haven’t, either. (Stick with the Michelin Guide for the best kaiseki options.)

7-11/Lawson – Finally, at the complete opposite end of the spectrum is convenience stores. Our “favorites” of these are 7-11 and Lawson. These convenience stores are everywhere and should be utilized. We recommend these two chains over Family Mart and others because both tend to have the best selection of prepared foods and also labels that are in English.

These grab and go foods are actually good (our photo above is not the best example), and you should definitely plan on a meal or two from 7-11 or Lawson. When we have a busy day planned, we’ll skip eating at a sit-down restaurant and just do something on the run from a convenience store. Consider this another “culturally authentic” experience, as many Kyotoites do the same.

In addition to these Kyoto restaurant recommendations, we have a series of posts that discusses some of the city’s best restaurants: Our Favorite Kyoto Restaurants – Part 1 and Part 2 posts. Look for Parts 3 – 28 at various points within…the next decade. We love to eat, and have had over one hundred very good to great meals in Kyoto.

Ultimately, this all just scratches the surface on the types of restaurants and cuisine you can find in Kyoto. As this is a bona fide world city, you can find just about any type of cuisine in Kyoto–from some of the best pizza you’ll ever try to traditional Indian food to French haute cuisine. Hopefully our list helps you narrow things down a bit. Failing that, explore and take your chances–the restaurant scene is so competitive and there’s so much local pride in dining that it’s tough to have a bad meal in Kyoto.

If you’re planning a trip to Japan that includes Kyoto, we recommend that you start by consulting our Ultimate Guide to Kyoto, Japan to plan all aspects of our vacation. You should also check out our other posts about Japan for ideas on other places to visit! 

Your Thoughts

If you’ve visited Kyoto, what are your favorite restaurants? Any other specific spots or types of cuisine you’d recommend? Anything you’d recommend avoiding? Any thoughts or tips of your own to add? Any questions about what we’ve covered here? Does dining in Kyoto interest you? Hearing about your experiences—even when you disagree with us—is both interesting and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!

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4 replies
  1. Yee
    Yee says:

    Thank you for another wonderful guide! And props for putting Giro Giro on the list. That was one of my favorite, most fun, and definitely most reasonably-priced, kaiseki meals that I ate. I don’t know if it’s still necessary to have a local make your reservations, but our AirBnB host was very sweet and made all my kaiseki reservations for me (wait, do they still have AirBnB in Japan? I can’t keep track of which countries have kicked them out).

    Reply
    • Tom Bricker
      Tom Bricker says:

      The laws regarding Airbnb changed in Japan last summer, but it’s still there–just some restrictions and all hosts must have a license.

      As for making kaiseki reservations, it’s definitely necessary at some and highly recommended at most others.

      Reply

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