Kyoto, Japan’s Imperial (and government) capital until 1868, moves at a far slower pace than Tokyo. The city’s many shrines, a deeper connection to nature, and less overt reliance on technology, allow for more relaxing meandering. Learn about 10 of my favorite places to eat well in Kyoto, based on a trip from November 4-8, 2016.
Numbers on the map correspond to listings below and appear in alphabetical order instead of order of preference.
Bake’s popular downtown outpost features a surprisingly effective grey and black Lego counter topped with tray upon tray of bronzed cheese tarts with rich, oozing cores and firm shells. This brand is so popular that each tart is limited to 12 pieces per person. Continued popularity is another sign of their prosperous brand, with locations spanning Asia. They also serve ultra-creamy soft serve in thin, crispy cones that rival the tarts.
MUST ORDER: Cheese Tart, Soft Serve Ice Cream
Chaochao Sanjō Kiyamachi is a hard rock izakaya near the Kamo River with wood tables and bar, textured cream colored walls, and a wide variety of dumplings. Signature Chao Chao gyoza tout two rows of thin-skinned, pan-fried dumplings with crispy edges and soft pork-centric fillings. Kujo Welsh Onion Gyoza sport green wrappers and the same soft filling. Long Stick Gyoza of Crab and Shrimp are lean, with similarly thin skins and sweet seafood filling. Deep Fried Chicken Wing Gyoza proves that you don’t need flour wrappers to form dumplings; golden brown chicken wings also work.
MUST ORDER: Chao Chao Gyoza, Deep Fried Chicken Wing Gyoza, Kujo Welsh Onion Gyoza, Long Stick Gyoza of Crab and Shrimp
Gontaro Kinkakuji Store has been in business for over 100 years and has three Kyoto locations and specializes in soba and udon made at their factory.. I visited the branch three blocks from Kinkaku-ji Temple, with a big red paper lantern signaling your arrival. The dining room features views of tree-lined grounds and ozashiki seating, low tables on traditional tatami mats with blue cushions. Springy udon is available with many different proteins and vegetables. I opted for nishin udon co-starring pleasantly oily marinated herring, scallions, and nori. Soba rolls are a fun starter or side dish that involve deep fried noodles wrapped in nori, with onion in the middle, and a shishito pepper sidecar.
MUST ORDER: Nishin Udon, Soba Rolls
Izuu is well known for saba sushi and other oceanic Kyoto specialties that are made-to-order and packed in elaborate boxes. The space features low wood tables with cushioned bench seating, screens over sliding doors and windows, hand-painted fish, and a 3-D jaguar sculpture near the register. I’m pretty sure the same woman in the blue bandanna runs front of house and makes the maki rolls. A printout features a detailed history: Izuu stands for “Izumiya Uhe,” first established in 1781. In the past, mackerel (saba) arrived in Kyoto through Mackerel Road (Saba Kaido) which started in the Wakasa area of Fukui. Rice comes from “Go-syumai” in Shiga Prefecture, kelp from Hokkaido.” You don’t need a refrigerator, since the fish is cured with kelp, and rice hardens in cool, dry environments. My box contained a combo of 2 Saba Sushi, 2 Futomaki Sushi, and 3 Hako Sushi, which might be too pungent for some sushi newbies, but impressed me.
MUST ORDER: Kyoto Sushi Assortment
Nishiki Market is one of the world’s great markets, three blocks lined with an incredible array of stalls under a peaked red, yellow and green glass panel roof. Vendors sell pickled vegetables by the barrel, tamago, sesame, fish cakes, dried fish, and tofu products galore, plus chicken and seafood stalls that prepare value added hot food items. Tako Tamago was one of my favorite tastes, with a cooked quail egg tucked in the bulb of the baby octopus and skewered. I’d also recommend a sea scallop skewer pan-fried with coral attached. Nishikiichiha is a tea specialist with matcha and roasted green tea soft serve, matcha, hojicha, and genmaicha popcorn, and roasted green tea lattes. Gomaje crafts goma (sesame) treats, including sesame cubes (kingoma) and black sesame cubes with honey (kurogoma). They also sell black sesame pudding, sesame oil, bagged seeds, crunchy black monjju with black sesame filling, and black sesame ice cream. Sawawa Okoicya & Warabi sells “full flavor” matcha ice cream extruded into a spiral, along with matcha-coated mochi that are so delicate, they melt in your mouth. Combine both treats in a sugar cone and continue walking the market.
MUST ORDER: Gomaje Black Sesame ice Cream, Gomaje Monjju, Sawawa Okoicya & Warabi, Sea Scallop Skewer, Tako Tamago