Kyoto Gion/ Kodaiji
Affordable kaiseki: Kikunoi, Minoko
Italian: Il Ghiottone
Exotic meats: Okariba
Heian Shrine area
Au Temps Perdu has a grand location - Higashiyama to the east, Heian-jingu to the north and the Shirakawa River out front. They serve no coffee, but an extensive range of teas as well as sherry, cava, and wine by the glass. [See FULL REVIEW
Okazaki Enshojicho 64-1. Open 11am-8pm. Closed Mon, 1st, 3rd Tues.
Cafe Cube, inside the Hosomi Museum, serves nice Italian food at lunchtime, with a Y1500 set menu that includes appetizer, salad, pasta, bread and tea or coffee. The museum itself houses a private collection of Japanese antiquities, and the museum shop sells refined but inexpensive gifts such as ceramics, hand-dipped candles, bamboo and lacquerware.
Okazaki Saishojicho 6-3, Hosomi Museum. Open 10:30am-6:30pm. Closed Mondays.
Black tea from Uji, the renowned tea-growing region south of Kyoto, is served in an array of pots and cups from throughout Japan. It's serious pleasure at a leisurely pace. A double pleasure is to have a cup of tea and cake while Hirofumi Nakanishi, master chef and creator of fresh Kyoto Nama Chocolat, packages your order to take away. [See FULL REVIEW
Okazaki Tenno-cho 76-15. (one block east of Okazaki-michi, a two-minute walk south of Marutamachi; look for the big sign on the right hand side) Open noon-5pm. Closed Mondays, Tuesdays.
The owner-chef of this rustic izakaya is also a hunter who bags much of the game served here. The menu includes unusual meats like wild boar (barbecued or stewed), bear stew, and sashimi of horsemeat and venison, along with novelties like bee larvae and grasshopper. Budget around Y4000-5500 per person with drinks.
Okazaki Higashi-Tennocho 43-4, Residence Okazaki 1F. (down the road from Hotel Heian no Mori) Open 5-10:30pm. Closed Mondays.
The dynamic menu at the Tranq Room is testimony to Yukihide Hirata's quest for the exotic. He hit that target recently with his all-organic Nama-yuba Donburi - shimeji mushrooms and fried tofu in a konbu-katsuo broth topped with raw tofu skin. The Indian curry set menus are the staple here - available all day for Y800, plus an extra Y200 for a drink. [See FULL REVIEW
Jodoji Shinyo-cho 162-2, Hirada Bldg B1F. (go west (away from the mountains) at the sign for Otoyo Jinja (the one with the stone mice) until you reach Shirakawa-dori; turn right - Tranq Room is north of the pedestrian overpass on the west side of the street; in front of Shinnyodo-mae bus stop, by bus from Kawaramachi station) Open noon-midnight. Closed Tuesdays.
Another very famous, very expensive Kyoto kaiseki restaurant with top-class food and service. Located near Heian Shrine, they're known for their more-lavish-than-usual gardens, which can be viewed while you're dining. Dinner menus start at Y38,000, but you can try their non-kaiseki seasonal lunch sets for around Y8000, a relative bargain. (Regular kaseki lunch is Y15,000).
Okazaki Higashi-Tennocho 30. (on Marutamachi Street, a few min. E of Heian Shrine and just E of Okazaki junior high school) Open 11:30am-2, 5-7pm (LO) daily.
South from Sanjo Keihan Station
(Liquor shop). 075-525-6050
A wine specialty shop. The big selection here is strongest in French and Italian wines.
Benzaitencho 15, Space Shimbashi 1F. (W side of Nawate, 2 blocks north of Shijo) Open 2pm-midnight. Closed Sundays.
Apparently udon noodles come in 45 different variations depending on where you are in Japan. This unusual food-themed museum lets you see what they look like, and you can take home any of dozens of different dried noodles as a souvenir. Better still, the attached udon restaurant offers a couple dozen different types of udon for your dining pleasure, in small and medium-size bowls ranging in price from Y600-1000.
Gion Kitagawa 238-2. Open 11am-10pm daily.
Dozens of varieties of craft sake are ready for tasting at this small sake bar and cafe attached to the Jam Hostel. They also offer umeshu (ake "plum wine") and several other sake-based fruit liqueurs
Tokiwa-cho 170. Open 5pm-midnight (Sat, Sun noon-midnight) daily.
Accessible Kyoto-style grilled unagi, in a popular little shop just east of the Minamiza kabuki theater. Unagi seiro-mushi (steamed eel) is one of their specialties. Eel over rice starts at Y1785, and omakase dinners range from Y7500 to Y16,000. Take-out is available, from Y2000.
Shijo-dori Minamiza-higashi 4-ken-me. (on Shijo 4 doors E of Minami-za theater) Open 11:30am-8:30pm (LO). Closed Thursdays.
This 100-year-old shop specializes in saba-zushi (mackeral pressed onto squares of rice), although they have other seasonal fish as well. A six-piece assortment of saba and inari-zushi is Y1340.
Gion-machi Kitagawa 292-1. (corner of Shijo and Higashi-oji-dori, across from Yasaka Shrine) Open 11:30am-8pm. Closed Wednesdays.
This no-frills counter shop has been here for more than 100 years, devoting themselves generation after generation to the mysterious art of gourmet oden preparation. Swimming in the konbu broth are some 18 varieties of oden, including octopus and seasonal items like ginkgo nuts and bamboo shoots.
Miyagawasuji 1-237. (on Kawabata-dori and Donguri-dori, just S of Shijo Keihan subway station) Open 6-9:30pm. Closed Wednesdays.
Kodaiji Temple area
This elegant old teahouse is a wonderful place to experience cha-kaiseki. Distinct from regular (banquet-style) kaiseki, this is a very formal style of meal associated with the traditional tea ceremony. The meal begins with a bowl of thick green tea, and progresses through a multitude of tiny dishes. Here the meal is served in private tearooms looking out onto a pretty garden. Cha-kaiseki menus at dinnertime start at Y15,000. At lunchtime you can order a bento box in the tatami room overlooking the garden - prices start at Y3500.
Gion Shimogawara-dori Kiyoicho 480. (1 1/2 block S of Yasaka Shrine on W side of Shimogawara-dori, across from parking lot) Open 11:30am-2:30, 5-8pm (LO) daily.
This venerable old traditional ryotei has three branches around town, but this is the most luxurious, with a gorgeous setting and world-class food. Lunch starts at Y15,000, dinners from Y25,000.
Kodaijikitamonmae-sagaru Kawarahigashi. (one block N of W end of Kodaiji Temple) Open 11:30am-2, 5-10pm. Closed Sundays.
The setting looks a lot like a typical traditional Japanese restaurant, with a gorgeous interior courtyard, but the food is first-rate Korean - high-grade yakiniku plus side dishes like tripe fritters, pine nut rice gruel and seafood chijimi pancakes. Drinks include premium Australian and Spanish red wines. Dinner is around Y6000-8000 with drinks.
Yasaka-dori Higashioji-nishi-iru. (on Yasaka-dori just W of Higashi-oji-dori) Open 5-10:30pm (LO) daily.
Chef Yoshihiro Murata is well known in Japan for his frequent TV appearances and his innovative cooking style, incorporating European influences for a new approach to traditional Kyoto-style kaiseki. Prix-fixe menus start at Y8000 at lunch; Y15,000 at dinnertime.
Gion Maruyama Makuzugahara. (on the N edge of Kodaiji) Open noon-2, 5-8pm daily.
First-rate kaiseki in a gorgeous traditional ryotei setting. One unusual feature is their "table kaiseki," where you get to sit in a regular chair instead of on a floor cushion and save a lot of money at the same time. Evening kaiseki menus start at Y9,000 for table service, Y25,000 for traditional tatami-room service. Lunches start at Y7,500 and Y16,000 respectively.
Kodaiji Masuyacho 353. (on a small side street about 3 min. S of Kodaiji) Open noon-3:30, 4-8pm daily.
The original, very modern Italian cuisine here takes full advantage of the high-quality vegetables and seafood that are locally available. Dinners average around Y5000 a la carte for food, while the wine list offers a number of decent choices under Y6000 per bottle. Lunch is Y3500-5000. The dining room is tiny, but in a very picturesque location, right next to Yasaka Pagoda.
Shimo-Kawaramachi-dori Tonomaesagaru, Yasakakamimachi 388-1. (just N of Yasaka Pagoda) Open noon-2:30, 6-9:30pm (LO). Closed Tuesdays.