It is hard to visit Japan without giving more than just a passing thought to the country’s culinary traditions. As a foodie’s paradise, you can find sumptuous things to eat in just about every street corner, shopping mall and train station. Walking down these mazes and alleys makes me feel like gulping down everything in sight every single time. The meticulous preparation just makes the food hard to ignore.
Like other major cities, Osaka and Kyoto has its share of specialties as well as must-try restaurants and eateries. If you are visiting the Kansai region for around 5 days as I did during my collaboration with Hotels.com, it is probably not feasible to visit all the good restaurants. Here, I recommend some of the best food in Osaka and Kyoto that I tried. Check these out on your next trip and let me know what you think!
Recommended Eats in Kyoto
While there is no lack of sushi restaurants around Japan and particularly in Kyoto, Awomb which has three locations around town is noted for its DIY sushi. The chain now has three outlets with each outlet specializing in different kinds of sushi preparation. I visited the Gion Yasaka outlet which was near my hotel. Here, you create your own chirashizushi from an impossibly picturesque plate of raw fish and condiments. The whole plate costs 2,970 Yen and diners are free to mix and match however they wish. End it with a refreshing bowl of tofu soup. The matcha and white sugar jelly dessert costs extra.
Address: 405 Nanbacho, Shimogyo Ward, Kyoto, 600-8027, Japan
Opening Hours: 11:30AM to 3:00PM, 6PM to 8PM
Gion Uokeya U (Unagi)
Kyoto has a number of Michelin-starred restaurants specializing in unagi. The most popular seems to be Unagi Hirokawa located in the main tourist street of Arashiyama. After learning the queue was going to take two hours, I decided to move elsewhere. Gion Uokeya U is also a Michelin-starred restaurant sans the outrageous queue. The Unaju (eel rice – I paid 4,250 Yen for a large sized bowl) is fantastic but a bit different from the type that one is used to outside Japan. Instead of the typical sweet sauce, the eel here is slathered in a savory sauce. This serves to enhance the smoky flavor brought about by the charcoal-grill preparation.
Address: Gion Nishi Hanamikoji Shijo Sagaru, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto 605-0074, Kyoto Prefecture
Opening Hours: Tuesdays to Sundays, 11:30AM to 2PM; 5PM to 9PM
Phone: +81 75-551-9966
Where to begin? The beef at Otsuka was probably the best I’ve ever had. Otsuka is located in the Arashiyama area which makes it popular among both locals and foreigners. While there are queues, it was not outrageous when I went and I waited for only 15 minutes before being shown to my seat. The restaurant is most well-known for its Murasawa sirloin steak which comes from Nagano. However, it was already sold out when I went so I opted for the Wagyu A5 Sirloin Steak which was so good and had a melt-in-your mouth quality. Otsuka is definitely a must-try in Kyoto.
Address: 21-3 Sagatenryuji Wakamiyacho, Ukyo Ward, Kyoto, 616-8371, Japan
Opening Hours: 11AM to 2:30PM daily except Sunday
Phone: +81 75-864-7989
A trip to Kyoto is not complete without having a cup of coffee at %Arabica. Founded by Kenneth Shoji – a Japanese who grew up in the United States – the café has become a must-try for coffee lovers when in Kyoto. In the stores, customers can also buy beans from several countries including from the coffee farm in Hawaii that Shoji owns. The location also could not be more apt for travelers. The original coffee shop is just steps away from Hokanji Temple in Gion although two other outlets in Arashiyama and Shijo-dori have opened in recent years.
Address: 87-5 Hoshino-cho, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto, 605-0853 Japan
Opening Hours: 8AM to 6PM (Higashiyama outlet)
Nishiki Market (Street food)
Nishiki Market is a traditional food market in Kyoto that is located one street north and parallel to Shijo-dori in downtown. The market is roughly six blocks long and within it, you’ll find all sorts of Japanese snacks that are prepared fresh for the day. I would say it’s a challenge to walk from one end to another without trying something to eat! There are so many wonderful things to have here that I don’t even know where to begin. There are plenty of fresh seafood such as oysters and sea urchins but what caught my eye are the grilled unagi on sticks. If you’ve missed out on Kyoto’s famous unagi restaurants, this is not a bad alternative. For folks with a sweet tooth, you can also try the mochi around here including the matcha warabi mochi. Come hungry!
Opening Hours: 9AM to 6PM
Weekenders Coffee Roastery
This barely-labeled cafe off Kyoto’s Kawaramachi offers wonderful barista style coffee. Do try out their cold brew if it happens to be available and relax in their atmospheric courtyard space while enjoying your cup. This particular outlet is open only during weekends but they have another outlet (sans the courtyard) that’s open on weekdays.
Address: 682-7 Ishifudonocho, Shimogyo Ward, Kyoto, 600-8047, Japan
Opening Hours: Saturday and Sunday, 10AM to 5PM
One of the few kaiseki restaurants in Kyoto’s Gion district that allows walk-ins, Gion Kirara serves delicious set meals. Expect a mix of sashimi, tempura as well as wagyu beef for the higher-priced sets.
Address: 570-232 Gionmachi Minamigawa, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto 605-0074, Japan
Opening Hours: Daily, 11:30AM to 3PM / 5:30PM to 10:30PM
Recommended Eats in Osaka
Takoyaki Wanaka (Takoyaki)
A Japanese snack that has made its way around the world, the ball-shaped batter filled with octopus and topped with mayonnaise and bonito traces its origins to Osaka. This street food is an ubiquitous sight in many street corners around town but most especially in the areas around Dotonbori and Shinsaibashi. I have tried quite a number of outlets serving takoyaki and while the taste does not really deviate that much from store to store, Wanaka is generally considered to be one of the best in town.
Address: Chome-7-24 Nanba, Chuo Ward, Osaka, Osaka Prefecture 542-0076, Japan
Opening Hours: 10AM to 10PM
By now, you would have guessed that food items made of batter and dough are a popular thing in Osaka. Another one of the city’s specialty, Okonomiyaki is a type of savory pancake (some call it the Japanese pizza). Aside from having the egg batter as the base, there is really no pre-determined filling. Beef, octopus, prawns, oysters – it can be as you wish – are wantonly mixed with sliced vegetables for a perfect serving. Top it with Ajinoya’s special sauce and you’ve got yourself an unassuming-looking but addicting dish!
Address: 1 Chome-7-16 Nanba, Chuo Ward, Osaka, Osaka Prefecture 542-0076, Japan
Opening Hours: 12NN to 10:45PM
Phone: +81 6-6211-0713
Ramen is probably the national dish in Japan. In every city and in every town, you can find ramen shops that operate via vending machines and are frequented by salarymen who frequently eat alone. Sakunosaku is one such store but it stood out for me because of the extra pork toppings. It is so generous that it literally covered my whole plate! Aside from that, the noodles were chewy and the broth highly savory. They have many types of ramen including a yuzu version but I recommend going for the Naniwa Tonkotsu Ramen.
Address: 1-1-1 Namba, Chuo-ku, Osaka, Osaka Prefecture
Opening Hours: 11AM to 8PM
Said to be on the best cafes in Osaka, Granknot is located in the city’s hip Tachibana-dori (Orange Street) . I ordered a latte during my visit which was one of the frothiest I’ve ever had. If the latte art is anything to go by, it is one of the most impressive I’ve seen with the graphic staying unperturbed even as I gulped down my coffee. The interiors are as attractive as the latte art. Copper pipes snake through the ceiling and the walls while the chairs supposedly come from a church in the USA.
Address: 1 Chome-23-4 Kitahorie, Nishi Ward, Osaka, Osaka Prefecture 550-0014, Japan
Opening Hours: Monday to Friday (except Wednesday): 9AM to 6PM; Saturday and Sunday (11AM to 6PM)
This unassuming teishoku restaurant at the edge of Osaka’s American Village looks like it came out of post-punk / CBGB era New York with its graffiti and poster-filled walls and shopfront. The main draw here is their Ceylon Curry which is among the best Japanese curry rice that I’ve tried thus far. Prices are highly affordable but do note that it’s cash-only here and there’s no English menu.
Address: 2 Chome-16-13 Nishishinsaibashi, Chuo Ward, Osaka, 542-0086, Japan
Opening Hours: Daily, 11AM to 7:30PM
Located close to the Tsutenkaku Tower in Osaka’s Shinsekai area, one often finds a snaking queue outside Okonomiyaki Chitose. This small eating joint is highly popular among travelers, particularly due to their okonomiyaki’s generous meat and/or seafood filling. For a relatively humble eatery, they surprisingly cater to vegan dietary requirements. For instance, they are able to replace with fake meat for vegans.
Address: 1 Chome-11-10 Taishi, Nishinari Ward, Osaka, 557-0002, Japan
Opening Hours: Daily, 12PM to 3:3oPM / 5PM to 8PM
Where to stay in Osaka and Kyoto
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