My Favorite Eats in Kyoto
I'll admit, when I'm planning a trip, one of my top priorities is to scour guidebooks and other travel blogs to get recommendations on where to eat great local food. I get pretty excited on arrival to try these tasty places I've read about. So...if you're headed to Kyoto (and you should be), trust me, these establishments won't disappoint:
1. Katsukura - THE place (in my opinion) to sample tonkatsu in Kyoto. Tonkatsu is a breaded, deep-fried pork cutlet. Not only does Katsukura have the most succulent, juicy pork...their light and crispy breading is spectacular. While I believe there are two locations in Kyoto, the one located in The Cube Building at the Kyoto train station is the most convenient. While you'd think it would be easy to find, I did struggle finding the right elevator to take you up to the 11th floor. Skip the elevator and ride the open air series of escalators. When you get to the top, turn to your left and walk inside the building. There's usually a queue to get in, but the service is fast and you place your order before you're seated.
Now for my ordering recommendation. Obviously, I'd go for the one of the pork "Zen-Sets." You choose the size of your pork cutlet, and the set also comes with miso soup, barley rice, and a really nice cabbage salad...and a little dollop of potato salad! I always imagined potato salad to be an American thing, but was pleasantly surprised with Japan's version. Prior to your meat arriving, you'll be instructed to grind your own toasted sesame seeds and create a sauce to your liking with their sweet and spicy options. Both were delicious, so for the best of both worlds, combine a little of each.
Katsukura is open from 11:00 am - 10:00 pm.
2. Anzukko - Located near the popular Gion area, this little upstairs restaurant is the perfect place to dine before strolling the old streets and canals in the evening. This place is small, but oh so worth it.
My friend and I were seated at the bar and we ordered the set course. While all of the food was delicious, my definite favorites were surprisingly the tofu course, and the famous fried gyoza. These little ladies flip the gyoza over for serving and the fried bottoms create a beautiful lattice crust of deliciousness. Side note...there was another potato salad course! Maybe potato salad is more universal than I imagined!
Anzukko is open from 6:30 pm - 11:00 pm.
3. Omen - This restaurant is touted as the best place to get udon noodles in Kyoto. The most popular location is near the Ginkaku-ji Temple. You could wait for awhile for a seat right at noon as many tourists and locals love this place. I went around 2 pm for a late lunch and waited just around 5 minutes to get in.
Obviously I'm going to recommend getting the udon noodles, but be sure to order the tempura vegetables to go along with! It was a chilly, rainy day, so I went with the hot noodles. The server brought out several beautifully prepared, seasonal vegetables that you can add to your broth to create your own unique taste. And maybe you'll be lucky and be seated at a low table on the mats.
Omen is open from 11:00 am - 9:00 pm.
4. Menbakaichidai - a.k.a. FIRE RAMEN! Not only do you get tasty ramen here...you'll get a unique and incredible show! Order the ramen, it will literally be lit on fire before you eat it. Personally, I'd order the set with the gyoza and the fried rice, because you're on vacation. Indulge and enjoy it.
Hot tip: There are only 8 seats at the bar, and they will only serve you the fire ramen if you're seated there. I'd arrive an hour before it opens and be first in line. When I arrived about an hour early, there were already 4 people in line, and shortly another 4 showed up. The chef will happily take your phone to record a video, but you're given strict instructions (along with a hair tie and a bib) to sit on your hands and lean back when your ramen goes up in flames.
Menbakaichidai is open from 11:30 am - 2:15 pm, and 6:00 pm - 11:00 pm.
5. Family Mart - Go ahead and laugh now, but these great little convenience stores made for great breakfasts and snacks as needed. There's something about Japanese doughnuts, and I'm not ashamed that I ate one almost every single day for breakfast on my trip. Also delightful: the corndogs and gummy candies.
Honorable Mention: soft serve ice cream from almost any location. But, if you happen to be in Japan during the cherry blossom season, be sure to try the cherry blossom flavor!