Mention Kyoto and Kaiseki Ryori immediately comes to mind. Although the imperial cuisine deserves a bulletin of its own, Kyoto's very varied local staples cannot be overlooked as they convey the very evolution of the city's longstanding culinary heritage. Here are some of the newest, oldest and most popular (read - super long queues expected) dining establishments that serve Kyoto's Best Soul Food.
Nippon Ramen Rin Kyoto
Address: 653-1, Bandoya-machi, Nishiki-koji sagaru, Higashitoin, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto
Hours:11:00 – 15:00 / 17:30 – 21:30
Closed: Tuesday Tel: 075-277-0402
The star find of Kyoto's inaugural Gourmet Bulletin, Nippon Ramen Rin Kyoto is the Kansai extension of Hokkaido's 'Japanese Ramen Noodle Lab Q' and the new entrant to Karasuma's burgeoning ramen scene, having opened only in April 2022. If newness is a thematic attraction, then Rin has scored on many fronts. This counter seats only diner only serves ramen of the salt and soya varieties, which are imbued with refined techniques and presentation that point to a new dawn for ramen's evolution. We've sampled both the shio and shoyu ramen at Rin and prefer the former for its clean flavoursome stock over the slightly richer black broth imbued with 'karakuchi', which is still nonetheless excellent. The best combo is the charshu, wanton and chicken bowl, with an additional braised egg of course. The noodles are soft with a bite, and absorb the stock's flavour very well, and the charshu slices are thinly sliced with great texture. It is the wonton however, not traditionally a part of Japanese ramen, that had managed to steal the show. The skin is perfectly firm and silky and harbour a filling that complements, not complicate the mélange of tastes and textures thoughtfully assembled in the bowl. Every morsel so so perfectly in place that even the sliver of yuzu, decorative presumably, contributed to the perfect ramen moment at Rin.
Address: 16, Ishibashi-cho,Teramachi-higashi-iru, sanjo-dori, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto 604-8036
Hours (Weekday, Sun) 11:00 - 21:30 (Last Order 21:00) (Sat) 11:00 - 22:00 (Last Order 21:30)
Open everyday Tel +81-75-212-3581
Although tonkatsu, the ever popular Japanese crispy pork cutlet, is not widely thought of as a Kyoto delicacy (the best varieties very likely hail from Kyushu, the home of Japan's famed Kurobuta pork), it would be a tough task to resist the wonderful renditions here at Katsukura Honten, the elegant original restaurant in Kyoto's Teramachi area that spawned a famous chain all over Japan, with even an overseas branch in Bangkok. The main attraction here is the fried pork of course, and the loin cut is the more indulgent cut, with the softness of the fat and pork well balanced by the aromatic crispiness of the panko crust. There are also many other dishes to choose from, like the wonderful kaki furai (oyster fritters), yuba croquette and one of the most masterfully rendered chawanmushi (steamed eggs) we've sampled in Kyoto.
Address: Nishi-iru, Teramachi, Nishiki-koji, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto
Hours: 12:00 – 17:00
Closed Wednesday Tel +81 075-221-5927
A nondescript diner with barely a dozen tables, Nishikoji Maruki is a culinary address boasting an over 7-decades long history that routinely opens to queues determined to sample its earthy udon, soba and signature Oyakodon, a most soulful and gut-warming dish of rice, chicken and egg. Although these are simple Japanese staples that could be found everywhere in and outside Japan, the authenticity of Maruki's versions shine through not just with their honest subtle flavours and unpretentious plating, but also from the look of enjoyment on the faces of diners we've met, who comprise mainly of locals craving both nostalgia and contentment. These are the simple treats that the mightiest restaurants cannot conjure, for they are steadfastly tied to our food memories of yore that that are tied to both craving and satisfaction.
Kome Ryotei Hachidaime Gihey
Address: 296 Gionmachi-kitagawa, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto
Hours: 11:00 – 14:30 / 18:00 – 21:00 Tel +81-75-708-8173
Kome is the Japanese word for uncooked rice and the Japanese remain adamant that only the best kome can produce the most flavoursome rice. Gihey, purportedly established by a rice merchant in 1787, has been impossible to get in without a considerable wait for as long as we can remember. Situated right across from the famous vermillion gates of the Yasaka Shrine, Gihey is a rice restaurant famous for its claypot cooked rice made from the best gome. With no confusion over the star attraction, the menu is merely a simple selection of traditional dishes like grilled mackerel, sashimi or Daisen chicken complementing the steaming serving of fragrant Japanese white rice. For a pre-meal initiation, the Bungo no Ibuki', rice served with raw Miyama eggs with amber-hue yolks, is really the simplest and best way to sample 2 of Japan's choicest ingredients.
Kyoto Meat Restaurant Hiro
Besides seafood, the most popular culinary attraction in Japan is probably beef and in Kyoto one is proffered a large selection of beef dishes, from yakiniku to steaks and shabu shabu. At Kyoto Meat Restaurant Hiro, one is treated to beef in some of their simplest and most alluring forms, from steaks to hamburg and croquettes to raw cuts to take home. The concept cannot be simpler enough; all the prime beef served at Hiro are meticulously selected from all over Japan and prepped by a man named, you've guessed it, Hiro. The chain started as a butchery in the 70s and now has eight outlets across Kyoto. We sampled some of the juicy roast beef at the chain's Nishiki outlet and are impressed with both the quality of the beef and the down to earth prices of the menu.
Kakiya Nishiki Daiyasu
Address: 509 Nakasakanaya-cho, Takakura higashi-iru, Nishiki-koji, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto
Hours: 12:-00 – 18:00 / Sat, Sun & holiday 12:00 – 20:00
Open Everyday Tel +81 75-221-0246
Oyster is a very versatile ingredient but in Japan they are either eaten raw or deep fried as kaki furai. Not that we are complaining because in both forms, they are heavenly if well-prepped. 100 year old Kakiya Nishiki Daiyasu is an excellent oyster specialist that regularly procures the best oyster varieties from all over the country. Besides raw oysters and oyster fry, the menu here also features sashimi, Obanzai and tempura. We sampled a lovely pumpkin appetizer that is quite particular to Kyoto, a serving of kaki furai that is fresh, soft and irresistibly crunchy and quite frankly some of the best fried chicken we've even sampled in Japan. It is clear that from its genesis as oyster peddlar in the forgotten century, Kakiya Nishiki Daiyasu has progressed by leaps and bound and forged for itself a reputation as one of Kyoto's most excellent culinary address.
Address: 572, Nakano-cho, Shijyo-agaru, Urateramachi-dori, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto 604-042
Hours 11:30 - 22:00 (LO 21:00, 15:30 - 17:00
Closed Wednesday TEL：+81 75-211-0459
Sancho is a diminutive nondescript diner off the main artery of Shijo Kawaramachi that one wouldn't even really notice except everyday from 11am a queue forms without fail by crowds eager to get into the restaurant famous for its salads, grills and fried dishes. After many aborted attempts to visit the restaurant, we finally got a sitting one night and very quickly settled upon a combo plate of teriyaki steak and shiso-cheese chicken cutlet. We are very tempted to term the cuisine here Asian-Western but that would be relegating the cuisine to a particular genre to fit our understand of the genre. The lingering impression of the meal was formed mainly by the mountain of salad that was served, a tangy mélange of 6 different vegetables, which honestly is more impressive than the steak and the cutlet, which aren't bad but just not that memorable. Perhaps because these aren't the comfort food that we grew up with, we are hard-pressed to come up with reasons or desire to revisit.
Address: 30 – 3, Higashihashi tsume-cho, Higashi-iru, Gojo-ohashi, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto
Hours: 11:30 – 23:00
Closed: Sunday Tel: +81 75-533-0441
Benkei Udon has an entrenched presence in the higashiyama area for over 40 years, serving some of the best udon Kyoto has to offer. The restaurant is also famed for its oden selection, which usually comprises grilled beancurd, braised egg, daikon and konyaku. The lightness of the stock is surprising because its delicate flavours are still pronounced in the individual ingredients without conforming everything to 1 taste. The sweetness of the radish, the umami of soy in the tofu, the freshness of eggs and the blandness of the konyaku are thus as distinct as they are uniformly Oden. Let it be said that the home made Udon here is excellent par none - the comely white noodles are soft, silky yet firm to the bite, served in a dashi stock that is light yet flavoursome. This is by far the best udon noodles we have tried this side of Kansai. Our regret is that by the time we are through with the Onigiri, the Udon and the Oden, we have no more space for the curry Udon which is also reputedly quite delicious!
Tenjin, Roku Kyoto
The Kitayama region of Kyoto may be far from the tourist belt of Gion, but it is already a noted culinary district with a bevy of Michelin starred restaurant planted within its precincts. One of the newer openings there is the French inspired Tenjin, named after the graceful maple-lined Tenjin river the restaurant sits adjacent to. Tenjin serves elegantly conceived nouveau French entrees like Kyoto Duck, Veal Cordon Bleu and Tamba Venison, which are excellently paired with wines curated from both the continental vineyards as well as from Japan. A more elevated dining experience awaits at its Chef's Table where 10-course pairing menus featuring the most delectable Japanese ingredients are available according to seasons.
Trattoria Sette, Hyatt Regency Kyoto
A cherished spot for afternoon tea lovers and Italian cuisine connoisseurs alike, Trattoria Sette has been maintaining impossibly high standards for close to two decades dishing out some of the best sweet confections, pizzas and Italian classics the city has to offer. We remember a matcha cream cake we've had 10 years ago like it was yesterday, only to be delighted by a koori mont blanc designed for the winter season over our last visit. This is also the place to fall in love again with roast chicken, for the Daisen roast chicken here is simply out of this world, with perfect flavours and textures. Daisen chicken is a special breed of chicken reared at Mt Daisen of Japan's Tottori prefecture. The tenderness of this chicken is legendary with a sweet flavour that is unmatched by common poultry. Trattoria Sette first served this dish over a decade ago and momentarily took it off its menu for a few years. It is now back and let's hope it stays.