Over the course of our time in Kyoto, we’ve spent a lot of time “researching” the best places to eat. This list focuses mainly on cheap and authentic Japanese cuisine, with a clear emphasis on value for money rather than fine dining. From that perspective, it’s probably the best restaurants in Kyoto for value, but we’re assuming most English-speaking tourists aren’t going to have the time or resources to book reservations at Kyoto’s Michelin-starred or multi-course kaiseki restaurants.
Additionally, rather than focusing on the absolute best restaurants at which we’ve eaten in Kyoto, we are going to represent each of the different districts of Kyoto. In so doing, we will feature places within walking distance of our favorite temples and other attractions. Oh, and this single ‘best of’ list will also be a series (we’ve eaten at a lot of great restaurants in Kyoto), so eventually we’ll get to everywhere that belongs in a comprehensive ‘best of’ list. (Is that enough caveats for you?)
Before we get into the list, let’s talk methodology. In determining where to eat, we mainly consulted three resources: Google/TripAdvisor, Tabelog, and Michelin’s Kyoto & Osaka list. Each of these resources had its strengths and weaknesses. Honestly, knowing how to use these in tandem is probably as essential as the list itself, since this will empower you to find good restaurants in Kyoto beyond those we have listed here…
The most obvious one that travelers will consult is Google and TripAdvisor reviews. We’re lumping these two together since there’s a ton of overlap between them (there tends to be a negligible difference in scores between the two resources), and the reviews are likely written by the same demographic: foreign tourists.
The upside to these reviews is that they are written by regular tourists and crowd-source a high quantity of reviews, making for a solid sample size in terms of opinions. Most of the top restaurants in Kyoto on TripAdvisor have over 100 reviews each.
The downside is that tourists are hardly professionals, and this is doubly true when they are reviewing restaurants in foreign countries. The top restaurants skew towards places near popular points of interest, and also overwhelming favor crowd-pleasing comfort food.
In most cases, top 10 restaurants on TripAdvisor were good neighborhood eateries, but potentially with food no better than top 200 eateries. (Literally every ramen restaurant on TripAdvisor will have reviewers proclaiming it the “best ramen in all of Japan!”)
Usually, the detail that put the top restaurants over the top per TripAdvisor users was service. While almost all restaurants in Kyoto offer good to great service, these restaurants took omotenashi to the next level, with many being husband and wife teams that were incredibly friendly and accommodating to foreign tourists. This is true with TripAdvisor scores all over Japan.
By contrast, many of the best restaurants in Michelin’s guide are more serious eateries, and are thus uninterested in catering towards foreigners (a fact reflected in disgruntled TripAdvisor reviews). Without question, Michelin is the best resource for actual good food in Kyoto, and we leaned on it heavily when dining in Gion and the city-center (where 95% of the Michelin-rated restaurants in Kyoto are located).
We dined at a number of restaurants receiving Michelin’s Bib Gourmand designation of great food at great prices, and found almost every single one to be exceptional. The downside was the aforementioned lack of a desire to accommodate English-speaking guests (not that we blame them), and also the difficulty of scoring reservations or the necessity of standing in line.
Given that time is a precious resource while in Kyoto, we hesitate to recommend some of the more popular restaurants on the Michelin list as a result. If food is a priority for your visit to Japan, we’d recommend foregoing all other resources–even this list–and consulting the Kyoto & Osaka Michelin list directly, as they didn’t steer us wrong once. (On occasion, they’d overrate a restaurant, but we never had a bad meal at one of those restaurants.)
The final resource we consulted was Tabelog, which is basically Yelp for Japan. The big plus of this site is that the reviews are almost exclusively by those who write in Japanese (in other words, locals). From our perspective, this provides added credibility.
Tabelog’s weakness is you won’t be able to read any of the reviews (without translation, which is often garbled), so you can forget about anything beyond the score. We always like to read some reviews to get a feel for the qualitative takes instead of just the raw scores.
This is a lot on our methodology, but our hope is that it’ll be helpful in providing you with a framework for finding places to eat on your own in case you’re not near one of the spots listed here at meal time. With that said, here are some of our favorite restaurants in Kyoto, Japan…
Menya Inoichi – This Michelin Bib Gourmand restaurant is the best ramen shop in Kyoto, and we’ve tried a lot of them. This is hardly a secret among locals, as Inoichi has long lines no matter when you visit this downtown Kyoto location. We visited before the dinner rush on a rainy evening, and had “only” a 30-minute wait, but we’ve heard of people waiting 60+ minutes.
The time passed quickly, with the staff from Inoichi checking on the line regularly, and being very conversational and friendly. While this is a serious ramen joint with some rules inside, it’s not a no-nonsense, hear-the-drop-of-a-pin ramen shop, either. The staff is incredibly friendly and the service is strong even by Japanese standards.
What’s most interesting and unique about the broth here is that it doesn’t use any animal ingredients, and is a clear stock. You have a choice of white or dark soy sauce bases, with the latter being a bit richer. I knew going in that the broths were not meat-based (there are signs indicating as much outside), and I was worried this would result in bland or less robust flavor.
That couldn’t be further from the truth. The broth is balanced and has a nuanced flavor, which can be further customized with a variety of seasonings and condiments at the counter. Sarah did this and had good success; I was so happy with the broth as-is that I let it stand on its own. I ordered the wagyu ramen (mostly to hedge my bets on the broth) and while the meat was excellent, the regular pork ramen would’ve been perfect. We’ll definitely be back, even if it means an hour-long wait.
Arashiyama Yoshimura – As the name suggests, this restaurant is located in Arashiyama. Its location is incredibly convenient, being along the Hozugawa River in the heart of this tourist area, and a 5-minute walk from Kyoto Monkey Park. The two-story location has an upstairs counter with windows that overlook the river, bridge, and mountains.
That’s the main reason to dine here (that, and the fact that the other options in this part of Arashiyama are either overpriced or sub-average), so we’d strongly recommend that you request a seat at the window. In terms of the menu, highlights are the soba and tempura, with our preference skewing towards the latter.
While this is a good chance to try the traditional hot and cold soba preparations, we favor more inventive takes on the dish. The tempura here is quite good; it’s not the best you can find in Kyoto, but between the location and the food, it’s an excellent choice for lunch after a morning of temple touring before you ascend the mountain to play with some monkeys.
Ramen Hiwamatanboru – Also known as “Sleepy Time Ramen” (well, just to us), this ramen joint is roughly 5 minutes from Fushimi Inari, and specializes in tonkotsu ramen. The broth here is made of pork and chicken bone, and the end result is something heavy, rich and oh-so-delicious.
Unlike many of Kyoto’s best ramen restaurants, there’s nothing subtle or nuanced about this: it’s ramen as comfort food. It’s the kind of dish that’ll put you into a ramen-induced food coma. A good option after a long day at Fushimi Inari, but not the ideal dish before you plan on hiking to the top.
During our extended stay in Kyoto, Ramen Hiwamatanboru was dangerously close to our apartment, prompting us to eat here many times. Every single meal was followed by a 2-hour nap. For a glorious deep-sleep, my go-to dish is the large tonkotsu with extra noodles, and a side of fried chicken. (The fried chicken is excellent and an incredibly cheap add-on.)
Pizzeria Napoletana da Yuki – Okay, so maybe “authentic Japanese cuisine” does not strike you as the best way to describe Neapolitan pizza. However, few things are as distinctly Japanese as iterating upon another country’s culinary style, and finding ways to present an idealized, romanticized version of that. Just look at all of the French pâtisseries dotting Japan, many of which surpass what you’ll find in France.
In the case of this Michelin Bib Gourmand pizzeria, the owner trained for years in Napoli, Italy to be a chef (because of course he did) and his authentic pizzas are baked in a wood fire Napoli pizza oven. All of this might seem like overkill for a small restaurant that seats around 15 people, but the experience is intimate and the environment welcoming. We ordered two pizzas, and afterward regretted not getting a third. The Margherita is very good, but the Quattro Stagioni (pizza of the four seasons) what we’d recommend–it’s one of the best pizzas we’ve ever had.
Pizzeria Napoletana da Yuki is located in Okazaki Museum District, which also includes a park and Heian Shrine. English menus are available at Pizzeria Napoletana da Yuki and reservations are recommended. Take out is also available if the restaurant is fully booked.
Teppanya Tavern Tenamonya – A short walk from Choinin Temple and Maruyama Park, this intimate steakhouse has a laid back atmosphere that I guess you could say is somewhat like a tavern. (Not really, but close?)
We sampled and shared a variety of teppanyaki options here, all of which were reasonably priced. The unequivocal highlight was the A5 Wagyu beef, which was divine. It was also, shockingly, fairly priced.
Teppanya Tavern Tenamonya is very welcoming to English-speaking tourists, and the chef is friendly. Seating is limited and this restaurant is popular, so reservations are ideal.
Shirakaba Sansou (Sapporo Ramen) – Kyoto Ramen Street (also known as Kyoto Ramen Koji) is a corridor of ramen shops on the 10th floor of the Kyoto Station. The easiest way to find it is by walking up the illuminated “Daikaidan” Grand Stairway and entering the door on the left side for the 10th floor. We should do a full post on Kyoto Ramen Koji at some point, as we tried them all and would highly recommend this ‘national tour’ of Japan’s regional variations of ramen.
Our favorite of these was Shirakaba Sansou, which is the representative from Sapporo. This ramen’s broth is a blend of shirokoji miso and white miso, mixed with sesame oil, oyster sauce, garlic, and other seasonings. It’s a hearty dish with a variety of other toppings, almost akin to a winter soup, which is fitting given Hokkaido’s snowy, cold weather.
While Shirakaba Sansou touts its ramen as being “rich but light” we would say this is most certainly a rich and heavy ramen. Almost debilitatingly so. Still, it’s a style we enjoy, and the broth here was quite flavorful without being overly salty. We’ve dined here 3 times (so far) and every single time the pork has been perfectly-cooked with a nice amount of fattiness. One of our favorite aspects of this ramen shop is that each table has a basket of hard-boiled eggs, and you can help yourself to as many of them as you’d like.
Musashi Sushi – Plain and simple, Musashi Sushi is the place to go in Kyoto if you want inexpensive but good quality conveyor belt sushi. With three locations in the city (most notably downtown and in the basement of Kyoto Station), it’s a convenient option, too. You’ll recognize their locations as the busy restaurants with the moving conveyor belt in the window.
We like Musashi Sushi not just because the offerings here are inexpensive, but because they are fresh and prepared with care. Unlike other conveyor belt spots serving <200 yen sushi, there’s tremendous menu variety (~50 choices) and the sushi actually tastes good–not like glorified convenience store sushi.
If you were to rank the best sushi restaurants in Kyoto in absolute terms, Musashi would probably be lucky to crack the top 25. Even as compared to the best conveyor belt offerings in Tokyo, it wouldn’t rate in the top 5. However, as far as budget sushi options in Kyoto go, Musashi cannot be beat. Our favorites here are the tuna and fatty salmon, both being delicious and inexpensive options.
Manneken Waffle – This post is already getting long, so we’ll end with a quick option in Kyoto Station. This is located right near the entrance for the JR Nara line, which we take regularly. After weeks of passing this sweet, intoxicating smell, we finally stopped for waffles.
They are cheap, freshly-baked, and delicious. Of course, we had to stop a few more times to sample the entire menu for the sake of “research.” From our experience, Chocolate and Maple were the best (and most popular), and we’d recommend grabbing one of each plus whatever the seasonal variety is before catching your train. They’re small and light, making them easy to eat on the run.
This is only Part 1 in what will likely be a 4 or 5 part series (or more, if we keep eating at new places in Kyoto!); as the next installments won’t have to focus so heavily on methodology or how to find a good restaurant in Kyoto, we’ll get down to brass tacks in those and include more restaurants. In the meantime, hopefully this provided you with the resources to choose a good restaurant in Kyoto, along with a list of some of our favorites.
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 places on part 1 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!