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May 31, 2010 07:24 PM

Best Kyoto restaurants

We will be travelling to Kyoto in 2 weeks arriving Tues June 15 and staying for 4 nights. We will be staying at Kanamean Nishitomiya ryokan, where we will be ahving breakfast every day and dinner at least onc eif not twice.
We are interested in trying other excellent restaurants and in fcat it was becasue of the flexibilty of this ryokan that we chose it over Hiragiya.
I have read the controversial posts on Hyo-tei and it seems the riveies of KikunoiHonten are favourable.
Any other suggestions: what about Tsuuruya, Mizai, Kitcho Arashiyama?
And what about non-Michelin rated ones as I understand some very traditional restaratuers have boycotted the Michelin rating.

Any help would be VERY Much apprecated!!!!
Domo arigato.

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  1. I've eaten in a few of the Kyoto kaiseki places, and it strikes me that the enormous price differences between them is down to things like age of the tableware (tap 5,000 yen on to eat from dishes handmade by some old bloke you've never heard of), quality of the calligraphy on the wall, and now, of course, Michelin stars. If it were me, I'd go to Nishiki in Arashiyama rather than Kitcho - it's just as beautiful, more fun, and a fifth of the price. Harise was pretty great value too:
    If you're trying to tick off the famous places, buy their bento lunches.

    22 Replies
    1. re: coldicott

      Thank you for your suggestion. I read about Nishiki in some of the other posts.Thank you for the suggestion ofharise, I will look it up. Yes I think we willbe having a bento box lunch at Hyo-Tei.

      1. re: coldicott

        I just returned from a 3-day trip to Kyoto and we ate at Nishiki after reading Chowhound recommendations. The setting is gorgeous (get a 7:30 reservation and arrive a bit early to wander as the sun sets; most shops will be closed but there is a pretty park and bridge over the river). The meal was absolutely wonderful, and great value as everyone says. I recommend Nishiki's house sake, cold, as an accompaniment!

        1. re: sabrina0

          Kikunoi is a unique experience but I can't say it was my best meal in Japan. But Nishiki, these days, is not in the same category. I think they're resting on the laurels and michelin stars rather than doing anything of any interest. It was by far my most annoying and average meal in Japan. The town it is set in is beautiful, however.

            1. re: hong_kong_foodie

              oops, my error. I wonder how it is I ended up there. Anyway, they're definitely resting on a certain reputation.

              1. re: epop

                What did you dislike about your meal?

                1. re: hong_kong_foodie

                  it was totally uninspired. Nothing on the menu was even remotely unusual. Had it been an inexpensive hotel meal I would not have noticed but we made a big effort to get there and had higher hopes. Now I remember how we found it, in the book OLD KYOTO.
                  I'm guessing it was a lot better once upon a time.

                  1. re: epop

                    Curious to know what you had at Nishiki. I'm guessing you've been there a few times. How has your recent experience differed from your previous visits? And wonder what you mean by uninspired? Seems like a misplaced word for a place doing pretty classical cuisine.

                    1. re: E Eto

                      First and last time.
                      Agedashi type of tofu. Sashimi plate. Vegetables in dashi broth. Pressed sushi, greens, pickles, Miso stuffed huge inedible daikon, veg. tempura and something that seemed like rice krispy treats, and one other thing I can't remember.

                      I believe even the traditional can be inspired.

                      1. re: jem589

                        What I had was the 9800 yen PP tasting, not exactly cheaper than some of the great lunches I had all over Kyoto.

                        1. re: epop

                          No, I take your point. I would have been disappointed if I had had that level here. I had the lowest level. 9800 is what I paid for the top level lunch at Sakurada, which was some of the best food I've ever had.

                          1. re: jem589

                            yeah, sometimes it comes down to value. I wish, from the sound of things, I'd gone to Sakurada.

                            But I did like going to this town. There isn't enough green, in the Japan I visited.

                            1. re: epop

                              Green? Japan is 90% green, and getting greener (except in winter, when much of it is sheer white).

                              1. re: Uncle Yabai

                                As in forests. It was also quite urban where I was.

                                1. re: Uncle Yabai

                                  Grumpy? Someone's 90% grumpy today!
                                  It's worth going to Arashiyama to see the bamboo and stuff. If you spend a bunch of time in Gion or Koalamachi there aren't enough trees, just like the areas around just about every station just about everywhere.

                                  1. re: jem589

                                    Funny, Jem. You should see me when I'm really grumpy, most of all
                                    about bad meals.

                                    I meant that Arashiyama was refreshing after days in Kyoto and Tokyo, without much green. A park by Tsukiji was seriously disappointing, the "nature walk".

                                    1. re: epop

                                      Funny. I always thought Arashiyama was *in* Kyoto. If you think of Kyoto as an inverted "U", with the Station at the bottom of "U", pretty much everything inside the "U" is missable urban sprawl (except for gems like the Nishiki food market) and the "U", which includes Arashiyama, Sagano, Kita-kyo (Toriimoto, Atago, Ohara, Kibune, Hiei-san) and Higashiyama is all "green" and some of the most amazing sights in the planet.

                                      1. re: Uncle Yabai

                                        You're right. It is a burb of Kyoto's. Now I have a problem. I miss being in Japan a bit too much.

                      2. re: epop

                        A note on Diane Durston's Old Kyoto book. It is, to me, an indispensable guide to "Old Kyoto" and has been mostly a collection of hits and a few misses. Most of her misses have come in the food area. Her focus is on the atmosphere and the traditional approach to things more than the food. The older the restaurant (and the proprietor) the better, even if the food isn't all that. Her biggest weakness is in kaiseki, but she's usually spot-on in picking places that are more casual or more focused on a basic menu, such as tofu or teahouses.

                        The only high-end place that I picked from her book that I found a real winner was Hyotei (and that gets a lot of flack here, so you get the drift). On the other hand, her recommendations on more mid-range Hiranoya, Sagano Tofuya, Okutan, Aunbou, and Shigetsu were spot on.

                        1. re: Uncle Yabai

                          I wish I knew your opinion sooner, Uncle. I did get a nice pair of chopsticks out of having the book with me. Also, an entry on a simple sushi place, whose name escapes me, was spot on.
                          Boy oh boy do I miss being there.

                          1. re: epop

                            After reading a few recent comments regarding Diane Durston's book and Kyoto restaurants I asked Diane what she thought of all this. She replied that when she first wrote the book some twenty-five years ago it was meant as a way to introduce people to the traditional culture of Kyoto through its old (at least 100 year and three generations) shops and businesses. It was never intended to be a restaurant guide, especially when if you want to compare restaurants with price points as different as those between Kitcho and Nishiki. But it is nice to see her book is still popular and of use.

                            1. re: edozanmai

                              If you guide people to restaurants and foods then it is what it is. The write-up for Nishiki was kind of a joke, describing its location on an island, how brook fish are served. It sounded like a place out of another era. The island isn't much of an island (and nobody really notices it for that) and the food is no more traditional and old than anywhere else in Kyoto.

                              Ms. Durston wrote a beautiful book, especially in spirit. I too hope that old Japan doesn't disappear.

          1. I highly recommend Kitcho's branch in Gion, Hana Kitcho. We were very disappointed in Kikunoi Honten. We enjoyed Hyotei, but we understood that we were paying for a museum as much as a restaurant. To see our five Kaiseki meals in Kyoto, go to:

            1. I was in Kyoto last month.
              We ate at both Kitcho Arashiyama and Misoguigawa (French Kaiseki).
              It was our second time at both of these.
              And I'll go to them again every time I'm in Kyoto, if my wallet permits.
              They are exquisite.

                1. re: vpg

                  What dishes do you recommend at Kyoto Spoon? We are interested in going there for a bite after dinner. Thanks.

                  1. re: hong_kong_foodie

                    a portion of the menu is posted here:


                    We had many dishes. I recall the pork, the sashimi, and salmon with egg dishes being wonderful. Have a great time.

                2. Sorry to resurrect an old thread, but I've done a pretty thorough search, and I can't find any threads that directly answer this. We'll be in Kyoto in a couple months, and we're trying to decide among Kitcho Arashiyama, Hyotei, and Kikunoi Honten. Since I don't think we'll be back in Kyoto for awhile, thought we might as well splurge for this. Mizai was our first choice, but they're booked until November (!!!).

                  Can anybody who has dined at those three give us some advice on which one to try? I think a poster (Uncle Yabai) posted that he has been to all of them, and he liked Hyotei the most. However, I've read several other reviews stating that Hyotei is fairly boring and bland (or maybe too subtle?) , so I'm having doubts about it.

                  As an aside, after our stay in Kyoto, we'll also be going to Hakone (staying at the Hakone Ginyu ryokan and having a kaiseki there) and then heading to Tokyo for several days. Right now, I think 2 kaiseki dinners in one week (one in Hakone + 1 in Kyoto) is plenty for me. But I keep reading that Ryugin is a meal that can't be missed. Should I skip out on kaiseki in Kyoto and go to Ryugin instead? I can't skip the Hakone meal, as we are going not just for the food but for the ryokan experience.

                  Thanks so much in advance!

                  9 Replies
                  1. re: NYAngeleno

                    Hi there, as the personwho started this thread I feel compelled to respond even though I will not be answering your question. We stayed as I mentioned in the only 3 Michlen star ryokan in Kyoto. The experience was AMAZING!!! Although we had booked at the second lowest entry point...we ended up bumped upto the second highest at the same price by the time we arrived in Kyoto. We had chosen this ryokan as we were not penalized if we didn't eat the other we paid for the dinner regardless of whether we ate there that night or not. In the ned we ended up eating dinner at our ryokan every night. Having a different type of meal each night. So the first night we had a traditional meal wiht the the toro I had asked for and the Kobe beef I had asked for. The second night we wanted something lighter as frined had taken us out to a 2 michelin star tofu restaurant in we asked for a tempura dinner...we still had I guess left ovr toro and leftover Kobe beef and delighful tempura. The nect night we had a sushi was great....this ryokan is a few blocks form the Nikishi market and it was great but we had been spolied by the fact that we had had lunch at Suzhi Daiwoo just off the Tsukjii Fish Marke while in Tokyo ( we got in at 12;15 after waiting only 10 min and were allowed to stay until closing....whihc was a much better experience than what i had read about wiht the long waits and only 15-20 min allowed to sit there ). At any rate after 3 melas at the ryokan..the last night we had a traditional chabu-chabu ( sorry I may spelling it the worng way) any rate....the entire experience was phenonemal. We were so tired because of the rain and difficultied in getting places...that we felt we didn't need to go beyond this ryokan....we may have missed out....but in my mind we had a once in a life time experience.
                    So I don't think Ihat I have helped in your decision between restaurants....but my understanding is that you can book dinner at this ryokan even if you do not stay there...and from my woudl be well worth it.
                    Have a great trip.

                    1. re: NYAngeleno

                      Ryugin isn't bad, but you feel like you're in a very nice japanese restaurant in the US. For a one time visitor / tourist, i think there are better choices.

                      fwiw, my favorite upscale japanese dining experiences are super-high-end tempura (7chome kyoboshi), and super-high-end blowfish (tsukiji yamamoto), but maybe just because both are so different from anything i've had in the US.

                      Of the three kyoto kaisekis you mention, i've only been to Kikunoi. It wasn't bad, and i chose it because i liked their book, but i'd lean towards one of the other two. Hyotei if you want to pay to eat in a Museum. Kitcho if you don't mind the price.

                      Question: Do you know how long ahead Mizai takes reservations?

                      1. re: Dustin_E

                        Thanks for all the input so far!

                        @Ikomar - did you end up staying at Kanamean, Hiragiiya, or a different ryokan?

                        @Dustin_E thanks for the input, sounds like I can skip Ryugin. Plus I just read that they have a walk in a la carte menu these days, so maybe I can go try that apple on a random night.

                        I was pretty intrigued by 7 Chome Kyoboshi, but I couldn't stomach the price so went for Kondo instead. Hopefully that gets me 80% of the way there.

                        I had read some good press on Kikunoi (for example, Rene Redezpi from Noma named it his favorite meal of 2009 or somesuch) but when I read food reviews (including a post you made a while back on CH) , they have been lukewarm. Re: Mizai, I am not sure how far out they take reservations, but I asked my Kyoto hotel concierge to book early this week, and they gave me the November date. Sounds like they allow reservations more than six months in advance, and you have to plan far, far ahead.

                        1. re: NYAngeleno

                          I've been to all three. I was disappointed at Kikunoi. Meal was fine, but it was just not that inspired, and nothing stands out materially. Kitcho stands out for the price, although the food was really top notch. But you're paying for other things, including exclusivity, whatever. My favorite was actually Hyotei. If you don't want to get reamed with the price, go for lunch, they have this excellent bento which is 5,000 yen or something, and it is served in the old house, not the teahouse garden. I actually prefer that to all other high-end kaiseki dinners in Tokyo. After a while, they aren't that much different from each other.

                          If you want something high-end, different, and outstanding, go to the restaurant at the Hoshinoya. But you have to stay there to eat there. But at least you'll get lodging for your 1,000 USD.

                          1. re: NYAngeleno

                            @ NYAngeleno:

                            We stayed at 3 ryokans back-to-back a couple years ago: Tawaraya, Hiiragiya, Kanamean.

                            Tawaraya was my favorite, but it was also the most understated, and had some annoyances, like old piping which made the sink water burning hot, and it was difficult to communicate with them to ask for medicine after we burned ourselves. They were also strangely kinda rude at times -- perhaps another mistranslation. I liked the food here a lot, but it was very traditional (fish and vegetables only) and the preparations weren't elaborate.

                            Hiiragiya is probably your safest bet, though if you stay in the old wing, the rooms feel kinda musty. Our garden view wasn't much to speak of, but we were in one of the lower priced rooms.

                            Kanamean is nice, though certainly felt like it had the least history. It also had some tacky details.

                            For the money, I think the food is a lot better in a dedicated restaurant. Overall, i'd consider a ryokan a fun experience if you can easily afford it, but not something to bend over backwards to do.

                            I kinda wondered if the value was better in some lower-end ryokans, where you are sleeping on the floor and using a communal bath to be economical.

                            1. re: NYAngeleno

                              Sorry I was celebrating Easter ( on the Julian calendar) and did no pick up email. To answer your question we stayed at the Kanamean. It was a wonderful experience. It was costly but I think it was worth it., it is not likely that I will ever have the experience again. We were supplied with kimonos to wear in the ryokan as well as those special Japanese socks. We had an amazing wooden tub. Whatever we asked for was supplied. But then I did promise and deliver Canadian icewine, so maybe that helped us get a little bit of special service. Not sure. They are really JAPANESE. There was really only one hostess that was assigned to us as her English was the best. I actually had emailed back and forth with the proprietor/manager before it was almost like meeting a friend when we got there. I have to say we almost felt like their "pets". they were quite emotional when we were leaving.

                              1. re: NYAngeleno

                                For the record, no, you should not skip Ryugin.

                              2. re: Uncle Yabai

                                I was not going to comment initially but I could not disagree more with Dustin about Ryugin. I've been twice, and Ryugin is on my permanent list. Unless they suffer some horrible slide, I will go there every time I visit Tokyo. The food is sublime, the sake pairings amazing, the service wonderful, the experience glorious. True, the decor is modern, but even so I believe all those dragon plates on the wall are the result of years of collecting.

                                For tempura I need to bring up Mikawa once again. I love the place. True, I have not tried Kondo and can not compare.

                                As for Kyoto Kaiseki, I've been to Kitcho twice now (not tried kikunoi or hyotei). yes it's expensive but there is simply nothing else like it in my experience.

                                1. re: Dustin_E

                                  >> Ryugin isn't bad, but you feel like you're in a very nice japanese restaurant in the US.

                                  I should rephrase / clarify this. Ryugin is a very good, very modern japanese restaurant. The decor and service are not traditional understated japanese, more western style tables and chairs with a chinese-style dragon motif decoration. Some obscure details i've read about and noticed in other more traditional japanese places (impeccible lacquerware in perfect condition) were missing at ryugin.

                                  The food is very good, but it is modern in the sense that they incorporate some western ingredients and some western techniques, which to me made it feel like it could be served at a modern restaurant in San Francisco -- some of the dishes were not too far from something i might get at Manresa or Saison.

                                  In contrast, some of the traditional japanese places i've been to in Japan serve food that doesn't appeal to western taste buds as much -- often dishes appearing extremely simple but at very high prices -- and for that reason you can't find them in the US. I've enjoyed trying these places and seeing how they were different from what i've found in the US.

                                  My sole experience at Ryugin was a little bit disappointing, perhaps because of all the hype. But we went on new years eve, which had a more expensive and different menu. The other meals i've seen reported online look a lot better, and are at a much lower price point.

                                  If you go, i'd strongly recommend the sake pairing, which i've heard is very good and makes the meal much more enjoyable. We tried a lot of their teas (which they are also supposedly known for) and were less impressed.

                                  Anyway, if you're into cutting edge food from around the world, i'd agree ryugin is a necessary stop. And besides, you can't really go too wrong with any of these places -- they're all top rated for a reason.