- Takao Kinsuitei
- Honke Owariya Honten (Main Branch)
- Tosuiro (Main Branch)
- Giro Giro Hitoshina
- Daitokuji Ikkyu
Find the best restaurants in Kyoto, Japan, serving its iconic dishes.
As the former capital of Japan, Kyoto benefits from a unique culinary culture that has developed over hundreds of years. Although the country is perhaps best known for its tantalizing seafood caught in its surrounding bountiful oceans, Kyoto’s distance from the coast meant that its cuisine went in a different direction.
Situated close to the center of the Japanese archipelago, Kyoto’s culinary traditions result from its specific climate and geography. Set about 100 kilometers from the ocean, the region experiences both coastal and inland climates that foster a myriad of regional herbs, vegetables, and legumes that serve as essential ingredients in numerous local dishes.
With this peculiar produce crucial to the region’s cuisine, the term kyōyasai is used to describe the 19 officially recognized heirloom vegetables native to the area. According to some studies, kyōyasai vegetables offer more vitamins, minerals, and fibers than other Japanese greens, ensuring traditional Kyoto cuisine is outstanding for health and wellbeing.
Alongside its distinct ecology, a storied past has significantly influenced Kyoto dining. The seat of the Imperial House of Japan for over a thousand years, Kyoto benefited from the flow of produce, spices, and delicacies from distant lands. Meanwhile, the noble classes developed their own dining traditions, such as kaiseki tea ceremonies.
However, it wasn’t just Kyoto’s high-born that developed its dining culture. Kyoto also became Japan’s spiritual heartland for Zen Buddhism, with vegetarian temple food – shojin ryori – still widely consumed today. Likewise, the samurai class – who seized control of Japan from the aristocrats in 1185 – preferred simple meals centered on nourishment rather than decadence.
With each of these factors contributing to the present-day nature of Kyoto cuisine, dining on these age-old flavors, and their modern interpretations, is an incredible way to learn about the local culture.
To inspire your foodie journey, we’ve highlighted some of the area’s most compelling cuisines and dishes. Meanwhile, we’ve also recommended our favorite Kyoto restaurants where you can experience the best examples of local cuisine.
Following Buddhism’s arrival in Japan in the fifth century, about 2,000 Zen temples sprung up across Kyoto. With monks who still live in these temples developing their own culinary style known as shojin ryori, travelers to Kyoto can enjoy these plant-based dishes in monasteries and eateries across the city.
According to Buddhist traditions, shojin ryori food also avoids strong flavors such as garlic and onion. Instead, this cooking style uses dried and fermented soybean-based foods like tofu to create balanced and nutritional meals. If you book accommodation at a Buddhist temple, you’ll most likely be dining on shojin ryori cuisine.
Kyoto has some of the softest water in Japan, making it perfect for creating tofu products like yuba. Forming on the top of heated soymilk, this thin delicacy is usually served fresh with soy sauce. However, it’s also frequently dried for several days, then deep-fried and added to soups and noodle dishes.
Yudofu is another simple dish that sees silken tofu heated with warm water. Then, it’s customarily served with dried seaweed and freshly chopped scallions. While this dish might sound basic, capturing the delicate flavors relies on the highest quality ingredients. Try these tofu side plates to experience fundamental Kyoto dining.
Invented in Kyoto in 1882 by Yosakichi, an inquisitive chef working at the Matsuba restaurant, nishin soba is a widely enjoyed local meal. With access to fresh seafood still problematic in the 19th century, the chef replaced this crucial component with Pacific herring preserved in soy sauce and sugar.
Providing a precise example of how the region’s cooks adjusted to their geographical surroundings, this dish is served in a hot tsuyu broth alongside buckwheat noodles, mushrooms, and sauces. Although nishin soba is now eaten across Japan, the founding restaurant is still open today, meaning you can taste the most authentic version available.
Kyoto’s culinary traditions aren’t typically associated with sushi, considering the city’s inhabitants struggled to keep fish fresh before modern conveniences arrived. However, that hasn’t stopped the region’s gastronomic masters from developing their own interpretations of this classic Japanese dish.
Kyozushi is made from fish that has been cured with salt or vinegar. Although there are several variations to discover in eateries across the city, the most well-known option is definitely saba-zushi. Using mackerel as the headline ingredient, this rich Kyoto-style sushi is prepared ready to eat on vinegar-sweetened rice.
Obanzai is a philosophical cooking concept central to Kyoto-style cuisine. Comprising numerous small plates, this particular home cooking method is about respecting your ingredients and minimizing waste. In fact, to qualify as an obanzai meal, at least half the ingredients eaten must have originated from within Kyoto Prefecture.
Intentionally uncomplicated, obanzai meals often use seafood and vegetable elements that would normally get thrown away. While the term obanzai only originated in 1964 when local writer Shige Ōmura described Kyoto dining in a newspaper article, the term has risen to prominence across Japan.
On the other end of the spectrum to obanzai, kaiseki-style cuisine emerged from Kyoto’s noble legacy. Based on the Japanese principle of washoku – or harmony – this sophisticated cuisine unites highly seasonal local ingredients with artistic presentation. Although visiting an authentic kaiseki restaurant can be quite costly, this dining experience is simply unforgettable.
Drawing similarities with French haute cuisine, kaiseki is thought to have originated from Edo-period banquets where aristocratic diners would gather over extravagant meals. With these degustations presenting both visual and flavorful delights, indulge in an opulent feast by booking in for a kaiseki-style meal during your stay in Kyoto.
Japan is recognized around the globe for its love of green tea. However, Kyoto has a special connection to this versatile beverage, with the charming southern city of Uji producing especially high-quality matcha ground down into a fine powder. Although it’s popular to drink, it’s also commonly found in sweet desserts and savory dishes.
Matcha grown in Uji has been used in traditional Buddhist tea ceremonies for hundreds of years, with monks at Zen monasteries known to brew the beverage as a sacrifice to Buddha. Meanwhile, it was also a common drink for the city’s nobles. As matcha green tea was enjoyed by people at every level of Kyoto society, its widespread popularity cemented its place in the modern ages.
If these local foods from Kyoto sound incredibly appealing, now you just need to know where to find the restaurants that serve the best cuisine. Below, we’ve selected some of the top eateries in Kyoto that present local flavors at the highest possible standard.
Takao Kinsuitei offers charming accommodation and cuisine overlooking the serene Kiyotaki River. With the area’s guesthouses and restaurants hosting the Noryodoko festival for a month from June 10th, this event encourages visitors to embrace ‘kawadoko’ – a style of summertime dining where the restaurant is positioned directly above or next to a river stream.
The venue also celebrates autumnal beauty with its Kawadoko for Momiji event. Translating to ‘Maple Floor’, this special Kyoto dining experience runs from October 1st until the end of November. For the best possible visit, consider completing the two-hour hike along the Tokai Nature Trail, which traverses through Arashiyama and Kiyotaki before reaching Takao.
How to get to Takao Kinsuitei: Catch the Takao Keihoku Line Bus to the Makinoo stop. The restaurant also offers a seasonal shuttle service, departing for lunch at 11:00 AM from JR Nijo Station West Exit (May 1st to the end of November) and dinner from several major hotels (June 1st to the end of September).
• Address: 40 Umegahata Tonohatacho, Ukyo-ku, Kyoto city, Kyoto prefecture 616-8293
• Operating Hours: Daily from 11:30 AM to 3:00 PM and 5:30 PM to 9:30 PM
• For Noryodoko: Lunch is from May 1st to the end of September, and dinner time is from June 1st to the end of September.
• For Kawadoko for Momiji: Open only for lunch from October 1st to the end of November
• Contact Details: +81-75-861-0216
If there’s one restaurant in Kyoto that knows about traditional local cuisine, it’s undoubtedly Honke Owariya. Founded in 1465 as a confectionary store, this historic restaurant began specializing in soba dishes around 300 years ago. Today, the 16th-generation owner Ariko Inaoka continues to evolve the culinary techniques devised by her ancestors.
Close to many of Kyoto’s most popular landmarks, including the Kyoto International Manga Museum and Nijō Castle, Honke Owariya is the ideal spot for sampling authentic soba noodles backed by centuries of experience. Although the family has opened another Owariya restaurant in the city, head to the original location for the most satisfying trip.
How to get to Honke Owariya Honten (Main Branch): Using the Karasuma Line or the Tōzai Line, ride the train to Karasuma Oike Station and then walk for 2 minutes to your destination.
• Address: 322 Niomontsukinukecho, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto city, Kyoto prefecture 604-0841
• Operating Hours: Daily from 11:00 AM to 3:00 PM
• Contact Details: +81-752-313-446
Tosuiro is one of the best-known Kyoto restaurants for kaiseki-style cuisine, with its tofu dishes held in exceptionally high regard. Situated down an enchanting alleyway lined with shops and eateries, this high-end affair ensures you discover why local foods like yuba and yudofu are considered so special.
When it’s time to order, you can choose from five stunning meal sets that capture the essence of Kyoto cuisine. Featuring a variety of seasonal tofu dishes, some options add sumptuous seafood small plates alongside assorted sashimi. For a kaiseki dining experience, Tosuiro is bound to be an incredible choice.
How to get to Tosuiro (Main Branch): Using the Tōzai Line, travel to Kyoto Shiyakusho-mae Station and walk 5 minutes from the eastern exits. You can also head to Sanjo Station on the Keihan Main Line, Ōtō Line, or the Tōzai Line and cross over the Kamo River.
• Address: 517-3 Kamiosakamachi, Sanjo Agaru Kiyamachi-dori, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto city, Kyoto prefecture 604-8001
• Operating Hours: Monday to Saturday from 11:30 AM to 3:00 PM and 5:00 PM to 10:00 PM, Sunday from 11:45 AM to 3:00 PM and 5:00 PM to 9:30 PM
• Contact Details: +81-75-251-1600
Set in the heart of Kyoto’s old city, Izuju is another local restaurant that has stood the test of time. This beloved sushi restaurant opened more than a hundred years ago, ensuring it has played a defining role in the city’s contemporary culinary traits.
Izuju is celebrated for its mackerel sushi, featuring thick-cut strips wrapped in kelp with vinegared rice. With the restaurant believed to be the only sushi restaurant in Kyoto that still uses a traditional Japanese furnace called a Okudo-san, this provides visitors with a supremely tasty product.
How to get to Izuju: Head to Gion-Shijō Station on the Keihan Main Line, then walk east to find the restaurant opposite the Yasaka-Jinja Shrine Nishiromon Gate.
• Address: 292-1 Gionmachi Kitagawa, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto city, Kyoto prefecture 605-0073
• Operating Hours: Friday to Tuesday from 10:30 AM to 6:00 PM
• Contact Details: +81-75-561-0019
* Due to ongoing restaurant renovations, Izuju is currently only open for take-away. Find the entrance at the same location in the back alley. Business hours and service patterns may change without prior notice.
Kyoto offers many kaiseki-style dining experiences that combine food with art, but there’s no denying it can be a rather formal affair. This is where Giro Giro Hitoshina stands out. By pairing this traditional cuisine with a laid-back atmosphere, approaching these impressive dishes feels much less daunting.
Situated in Gojo along the Takase canal, this converted warehouse is a popular spot for locals and tourists looking to spoil themselves with upscale kaiseki creations. Here, you’re invited to sit at the counter and chat with the chefs as they piece together these curious dishes. However, consider booking weeks ahead to secure your spot.
How to get to Giro Giro Hitoshina: Head to Kiyomizu-Gojō Station on the Keihan Main Line, then walk north along the Takase River for 5 minutes.
• Address: 420-7 Nambacho, Matsubarasagaru, Nishikiyamachi-dori, Shimogyo-ku, Kyoto city, Kyoto prefecture 600-8027
• Operating Hours (No regular holidays): From 5:00 PM to 11:00 PM (until 11:30 PM on Sundays)
• Contact Details: +81-75-343-7070
If you’ve traveled to Kyoto, you’ve probably spent at least part of your visit roaming age-old Buddhist temples across the city. You can continue this exploration of the ancient world by organizing a visit to Daitokuji Ikkyu – a restaurant serving shojin ryori cuisine for over 500 years.
With visitors seated in private dining rooms surrounded by lush gardens, it’s hard to imagine a more serene setting for your meal. Featuring ever-changing seasonal dishes that highlight a variety of local vegetables, this multi-course feast offers a fascinating glimpse into Buddhist culinary traditions that date back hundreds of years.
How to get to Daitokuji Ikkyu: Ride the Karasuma Line to Kitaoji Station, then walk west for 15 minutes along Kitaoji-dori Street. You can also catch the No. 205 or No. 206 Kyoto City Bus to the Daitokuji-mae bus stop.
• Address: 20 Daitokuji Shimomonzencho, Murasakino, Kita-ku, Kyoto city, Kyoto prefecture 603-8215
• Operating Hours (No regular holidays) : Shop - From 9:00 AM to 6:00 PM, Restaurant - From 12:00 PM to 9:30 PM (last entry 6:00 PM)
• Payment: Cash only. Credit cards are not acceptable.
• Contact Details: +81-75-493-0019
Ready to explore Kyoto’s enduring culture and cuisine? If you’re coming from Tokyo, the easiest way to visit is by flying into Osaka International Airport. Then, catch the Osaka Monorail to Minami-Ibaraki Station before transferring to the Hankyu-Kyoto Line bound for Kyoto. With this simple journey taking about one hour, you’ll arrive keen to explore the sights.
To access special fares for 30 cities across Japan Airlines’ domestic network, make sure you book your trip with the JAL Japan Explorer Pass. This helps international travelers experience the very best of Japan for less, meaning you can add even more destinations to your itinerary. Plan your next adventure today and get ready to depart.
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