Where To Eat in Japan - some amazing restaurants in Tokyo, Kyoto and further afield
Japan is one of those countries where it feels like it is almost impossible to have a bad meal.
Every plate of food, from the humble ramen bowl to the most exquisite and expensive kaiseki dinner, feels like it has been prepared with the utmost care and dedication.
It would also be nigh on impossible to create anything resembling a comprehensive list of the best restaurants in Japan. And in any case, there are many websites and blogs dedicated to highlighting great eating options around the country, which do a great job of recommending good food.
For our part, during our 3-week visit to Japan we had some amazing meals, ranging from those restaurants that we had researched in advance to some establishments which we had randomly wandered into, and we have put together a list of our favourite places to eat here below.
Happy Japanese Travels, and Happy Eating!
Ramen - There is certainly no shortage of tasty ramen restaurants in Japan (trust us, we had A LOT of ramen over the course of 3 weeks, and it was almost without fail delicious!). In this strong field one bowl of ramen really stood out for us though - perhaps the best bowl of ramen ever is served at Afuri Roppongi Crossing Gate in Tokyo, just outside Roppongi station.
Enter the unobtrusive doorway, then pop your cash in the vending machine and make your meal selection. Find a seat at the long counter overlooking the chefs diligently at work, and hand your meal tickets to the staff. Then sit back and wait for the arrival of the most delicious, creamy, zesty bowl of ramen noodles ever!
There is a handful of other branches of the Afuri chain dotted around Tokyo too, for anyone not passing through Roppongi.
Soba - For some delicate handmade soba in a sophisticated traditional atmosphere, seek out Honmura An in Roppongi. The noodles are delicious, and the service is impeccable.
Book in advance though, or come early, as this restaurant is a popular choice.
Tonkatsu - Everyone loves a bowl of katsu curry. And Japan is the country that invented this popular dish. So for one of the best pieces of pork tonkatsu you will ever eat, head over to Imakatsu, also in Roppongi just outside Tokyo Midtown! Once again, booking recommended.
Department Store Food Halls - These glorious temples to all things food are a Japanese institution, and an absolute must for any visitor to the country.
One of the best is the lower ground food hall at the Isetan Department Store in Shinjuku. The array of culinary options is seemingly endless, from typically Japanese cuisine like bento boxes to more western options or sandwiches, and a vast selection of the finest gourmet pastries, chocolates and desserts.
Browse to your heart's (or stomach's) content, then make your way from the basement up to the rooftop and the open air garden, where you can sit down with Japanese mothers and their toddlers to consume what is sure to be a foodie feast.
Tempura - If you do one restaurant in Kyoto, try to make it this one! Listed in the Michelin bib gourmand - which features the best restaurants offering great food for good value - the tempura at Kitenya just outside Shijo station is of the highest quality.
Prepared right in front of you, the batter is as light and crispy as any you will ever taste, and the ingredients ensconced in this delicious pastry are varied and interesting. The chef does not speak much English though, and the restaurant is popular, so ask your Kyoto accommodation to make you a reservation. The restaurant only serves 3 tasting menus (prices ranging from YEN5,000-9,000) so ordering is easy. Make sure to take cash for payment.
Pastries - Japan is possibly not the first place that comes to mind when looking for fine French boulangeries. But surprisingly, we came across quite a few amazing ones during our travels. One of the best examples is the Boulangerie Shinshindo in Kyoto. Having a Frenchman for a husband, who was raving about the pastries at this bakery, means that I am comfortable recommending this for anyone looking for more familiar (if calorific) breakfast options while visiting the city.
Okonomiyaki - Osaka may be the city best known for this particular Japanese omelettey-pancakey food invention.
But our favourite okonomiyaki experience during our trip was in Kyoto. After having worked up an appetite wandering around the gorgeous golden Kinkaku-ji and spiritual Ryoan-ji temples, we found ourselves at delightful nearby restaurant Okonomiyaki Katsu.
Run by a husband-and-wife team and popular with students at the local university, this lovely couple were happy to chat to us over the sizzle of the huge griddle as they churned out pancake after savoury pancake.
For one of the best truly authentic and inexpensive meals, we highly recommend a visit to this charming little establishment.
Udon - Perfectly located for a visit to the Silver Pavilion and the Philosopher's Path, is Omen Ginkaku-ji. However, this restaurant is very well-known for doing some of the best udon noodles in Kyoto, and so is popular. Add your name to the waiting list on arrival, then join the queue.
eCute - Ideal for picking up snacks for a typical hanami picnic in Ueno Park, is this mega-deli situated inside Ueno train station.
Grab a beautiful bento box (during the hanami season you can even have cherry blossom flavoured rice!) and one of the store's instafamous panda donuts, then head to the park and a spot beneath a cherry blossom tree for the full Japanese experience.
Traditional Japanese – In Arashiyama there are loads of informal food options, although they can be very touristy. To escape the crowds between visits to the bamboo grove, snow monkeys and the many Arashiyama shrines, try Kumahiko. The traditional Japanese food is gorgeously prepared and super tasty – go for the good value lunch set menus or splash out on the kaiseki options.
Pastries - Another really good boulangerie doing amazing sandwiches and french pastry options is the Gout Boulangerie and Cafe in Osaka.
There are 2 of these cafe bakeries in Osaka, both in the Chuo ward, and handily located for a visit to the Osaka Castle.
Ramen - For another delicious bowl of ramen, head to Ramen Igei! Just a few minutes' walk from the Umeda Sky Building, this authentic restaurant does an amazing bowl of noodles. Pay at the vending machine, then seat yourself at the counter and tuck in to what is sure to be a memorable bowl of ramen, surrounded by Japanese locals and businessmen on their lunch break.
Bakery & Table – A popular choice in Hakone, the queue snaking out the doorway of this ground floor bakery is testament to its wares, and is perfect for anyone wanting a grab-and-go meal. On the first floor is a relaxed cafe serving many of the bakery options, and on the second floor is a top-notch restaurant serving great food with amazing views over the lake. A perfect option for anyone following the Hakone Loop.
Kaiseki - At the summit of the Japanese food hierarchy, kaiseki meals are some of the best Japanese food you will ever have.
They are a feast for the eyes as well as the taste buds, and are an experience well worth-it for those able to splurge, but can be potentially budget-busting.
For an alternative way to indulge in a kaiseki meal, consider booking into a traditional Japanese ryokan which serves these meals as standard. One of these is the lovely Gora Hanaougi ryokan in Hakone, where the kaiseki dinners are a special experience.
More 'Where to Eat in Japan' food options
Convenience Stores - The ubiquitous Japanese konbini (7-Eleven, Lawson, and the like) are found literally everywhere in the country, and no visit to Japan is complete without (preferably multiple) visits to pick up anything from travel snacks to entire meals as well as daily essentials. (You can even send your luggage on to your next hotel from here!). And unlike in most other countries, the food in these convenience stores is top-notch tasty, extremely affordable, and a great way to try out some of the local delicacies.