Sun, just south of Sannomiya Station, is one of my favorite places in town (http://www.bento.com/kansai/rev/9037.html ) - it's sort of an upscale izakaya with good sake and creative, original dishes and a lovely setting.
Ume no Hana (http://www.bento.com/kansai/rev/9007.html ) down on the waterfront has fairly conventional but well-prepared tofu dishes. Tsuki no Shizuku (http://www.bento.com/kansai/rev/9081.html ) a few blocks south of Sannomiya has more modern menus and decor, also with an emphasis on tofu as well as grilled chicken.
Ippudo (http://www.bento.com/kansai/rev/9017.html ) just north of Motomachi station has great Kyushu-style ramen, with raw garlic that you can add yourself. Tako no Tsubo (http://www.bento.com/kansai/rev/9018.... ) is a good choice if you want to try the local version of takoyaki (octopus balls), which is called akashiyaki.
Hey Simon, how's life in Asia treating you? I'm back myself but this time in the Philippines for a few days for a friend's wedding. Afterwards a couple of days in HK and then possibly 2 weeks in Japan - I really want to go to Ice Festival in Sapporo in early Feb, would also give me the chance to eat in Hokkaido which I really want to do.
I was in Kobe last Jan for 2 days and 2 nights. We did the obligatory kobe beef dinner which was good rather than exceptional and I remember an enjoyable sushi lunch in the quirky shaped hotel we stayed at in Kobe Bay where I was complimented on my use of hashi!!
One tip I will pass your way is to go to the Nada district and check out some of the sake breweries, some of the better known ones are user friendly for random visitors (and gaijin) and Kobe is highly regarded for its sake production (in large part due to the quality of the local water I believe). I'll try and track down more specific details for you although may be tricky as I'm on the road.
We were also there for onsen and whilst we didn't find a particularly good one (crap travel companions organised this leg of the trip!), I'm sure that they exist in the vicinity and some may even be part of ryokans with very good culinary options.
Hi! Thanks for the thoughts. I just got back from a week in Udon Thani, in Isaan, NE Thailand, where i had some great grilled fish (crusted w/ salt and stuffed w/ banana leaves) and nice fishy somdam. Now back in BKK before i head to Japan for about ten days. Will be in Nara, Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe, and Fukuoka.
i'll keep the Kobe brewery suggestion in mind, though i'm more of shochu drinker.