The city of Kyoto is one of the top destinations in the world for both travel and fine dining. This ancient former capital of Japan is known for its luscious scenery, countless historical sites, and excellent dining scene. Kyoto particularly specializes in washoku, or traditional Japanese cuisine, which has been declared a UNESCO intangible cultural heritage treasure, but offers a wide range of restaurants for any cuisine. Read on to discover 14 restaurants in Kyoto that demonstrate why it is truly a culinary capital.
Cherry blossom season in Japan begins each year in early spring, lasting until around Golden Week in May. During that time, swaths of pink and white sakura blossoms burst into full bloom starting from the Kyushu area in the southwest and moving in a northerly direction. During this season hanami, or cherry blossom viewing parties, are common in Japan. Sakura viewing first began during the Heian period, the historical peak of the Japanese nobility and a period in which culture and the arts flourished in Japan. The Heian emperor would host extravagant feasts beneath the cherry blossoms at the imperial palace in Kyoto, which set the tradition for hanami picnics. Today, hanami parties can take place either during the daytime or at night among family, friends, and coworkers.
One of the most popular travel destinations in Japan for both domestic and foreign tourists alike, Kyoto is an ancient city with over a thousand years of history. Kyoto Station, the city’s main transportation hub, was revamped to commemorate Kyoto’s 1,200 year anniversary in 1997. For such a historical city, one might expect the station to be a hallmark of traditional architecture; however, the building’s sleek design of curved glass and exposed steel beams—the second-largest station building in Japan, containing a hotel, movie theater, two shopping malls, several museums, and a department store—reinterprets the city’s traditional aesthetic in a modern way.
Teppanyaki is a style of Japanese cuisine cooked on an iron grill top which originated in Japan following the introduction of modern iron manufacturing. With the spread of teppan cooking plates, dishes such as okonomiyaki (a Japanese savory pancake) became popular in Kansai, the western region of Japan. Later, during the post-war period, a new type of teppanyaki emerged. This new style of teppanyaki cuisine—also known as “hibachi” outside of Japan—is often described as Japanese dinner theater, with a personal chef grilling up meat, seafood, and vegetables in front of dinner guests with dynamic yet graceful culinary flair.
A city renowned for its spiritual and artistic tradition, Kyoto is also home to a storied culinary history—including a unique sushi culture unlike any other. As a landlocked city, Kyoto traditionally did not have access to fresh fish, which fostered an inventive Kyoto style of sushi emphasizing preserved and pickled ingredients. Following the Great East Japan Earthquake of 1923, however, displaced sushi chefs came to Kyoto and brought with them the familiar Edo-mae (Tokyo) style sushi of fresh fish atop a ball of rice. Kyoto sushi has since evolved to incorporate aspects of both traditional Kyoto dining—with its emphasis on high-quality, local, seasonal ingredients—and Edo-mae sushi techniques. Here are 8 must-try Kyoto sushi restaurants that combine the peerless tradition of yesterday with the tastes of today.
Kaiseki is the quintessential Japanese haute cuisine, a tasting course characterized by the perfection of its preparation and elegant presentation. Originally a meal of small dishes meant to accompany the bitter green tea of Japanese tea ceremonies, kaiseki has become a dazzling culinary tradition unto itself. Kaiseki eschews strong sauces or overly complex arrangements, instead presenting every dish with stark simplicity around natural themes that highlight the superior quality of seasonal ingredients. This absence of artifice means that every ingredient must be selected at the height of freshness and then carefully prepared to showcase its true flavor.
Steeped in rich history, delicious cuisine, and incredible views of the flowering cherry blossoms, West Japan is also a region that features around two dozen historic castles, many of which are surrounded by picturesque sakura-filled gardens that are perfect for a day of leisurely relaxation. Furthermore, these famous attractions, when paired with the beautiful weather of March and April, can make for an amazing springtime sojourn from the city din of Tokyo and Osaka. If you would like to include hanami, history, and haute cuisine on your itinerary, then be sure to visit these five West Japan restaurants—each offering seating with lush views of sakura as well as nearby proximities to popular castles and sakura groves.
Over 1,200 years old, Japan’s most historic city and former capital is a top travel destination not only for its UNESCO world heritage sites but also for its amazing culinary delights. Kyoto has a vibrant nightlife, and the gastronomically inclined on an evening outing should look no further than one of Kyoto’s many izakaya. An integral part of Japanese food culture both high and low, izakaya have long been the place where Japanese people go to unwind after a long day. For good food, good drinks, and a heavy dose of traditional Japan, here are 10 Kyoto izakaya that are sure to more than satisfy your epicurean desires.