Read other installments:
From A Foodie: Tasting Japan & Its Shokunin Spirit 🍙
From A Foodie: Tasting Taipei — worn, but lovely 🍹
From A Foodie: California Dreamin’ 🌴
From A Foodie: Singapore Chinatown Hawker Adventure!!! 🥟
From A Foodie: Favorite Eats around Harvard & the Best of Boston 🦞
My travel itineraries are planned around food. What I do is inundate my Google Maps list with pins, and then identify the top-rated food spots near every location I’m going within walkable radius and fit in as many as my stomach can handle. Exhilarating for my tastebuds, catastrophic for my waistline.
I also like to diversify and make sure I try as many genres of a cuisine as possible so that no meal feels repetitive. NOTE: I don’t eat raw stuff so no sushi/sashimi places here, sadly. Otherwise, YUM.
Ten You (Tempura): My ryokan owner said it’s his favorite restaurant in Kyoto. This was my first official meal (not counting the bento on the shinkansen) and it made a mark. Best tempura I’ve had. Just get the omakase, sit back, and let the light batter accentuate the freshness of the ingredients.
Okuniya Manbei (Unagi): a bit pricy (70 bucks for four pieces of grilled eel) but sooooo flavorful. Very different from the Hitsumabushi style. If you’re an unagi lover like me, this is worth crossing off your list — no need to go to other hitsumabushi places in Kyoto if you’ve already been to Nagoya.
Kanamean Nishitomiya (teppanyaki): splurged on this since it was operated by our ryokan but super worth it!!! Basically it was just the chef and me and my mom, and the meal felt like a communion. He baptized us with his food. It’s not exactly bang for the buck so I wouldn’t say it’s a must-go, but it is one of the best teppanyaki experiences I’ve had in my lifetime. I had no idea what I was eating since there was no menu, so I just kept gasping at the gentle unfurling of sensations on my tastebuds.
Maccha House: Okay, so someone told me apparently you can find this in Singapore. I have zero idea how it tastes in Singapore but when I had it in Kyoto the MATCHA TIRAMISU was TO DIE FOR. Please order it. Just please. My mom and I fought over it. It was that good.
Tatsumiya: what better than matcha kaiseki in Uji, the cradle of matcha? Every course is matcha inspired — matcha soba noodles, matcha salt, matcha miso sauce. The restaurant is an ancient little wooden house several floors high, perched by the banks of Ujigawa. Outside the window the river flows by, just the way it must’ve been centuries ago when Murasaki Shikibu once pondered at the currents. MY FAVORITE MEAL OF THE TRIP. I would’ve paid double the price for the sheer quality of food and the vibes.
Kyozuan: tofu soft serve!!! YUMMY. Have it with the piping hot soy donuts. Best of both worlds. You can find this in loads of places, but anyways I had mine in Arashiyama, where the path from the bamboo forest meets the main street.
Nakamura Tokichi: one of the Big Three matcha stores in Kyoto (the other two are Ito Kyuemon and Tsujiri). Honestly I don’t think you can go wrong, but in my humble opinion Nakamura >> Ito >> Tsujiri. Especially don’t buy that Insta-worthy popsicle from Ito — it’s gorgeous but really doesn’t taste that great.
NOTE: If you’re thinking of buying matcha-flavored souvenirs like langue de chat, buy them from Malebranche! Also definitely get the matcha senbei from Ito, which is fabulously crunchy and addictive.
Birdland (yakitori): Open kitchen, lots of chefs (or sous-chefs), feels like a yakitori cult the way they recite orders — in a good way. The omakase is half the price of that in NYC and twice as good. Go for the atmosphere too. Literally nothing tasted anything less than stellar.
Random fact: it’s right opposite Jiro’s sushi store (the Jiro from Jiro Dreams of Sushi).
Ushigoro S. (yakiniku): ooh lala. Beef has never tasted so good. We tasted all sorts of weird parts from the beef, like tongue and heart and god knows what. But once they’re barbequed they somehow just all taste superb. Some were unseasoned and needed us to choose pickles/condiments to accompany them with — which I’ve realized is a very Japanese thing. The ingredient always comes first.
Ichiran (ramen): love of my life, light of my belly. I eat this in every city I can find it in. My go-to customization is hard noodles, light saltiness and normal oiliness. I think it wins the battle against Ippudo hands down, sue me hehe.
Rigoletto Bar & Grill: the only Western restaurant we went to on this trip. It’s a nice bar with fantastic views in the Roppongi Hill towers with an open-kitchen concept. Perfect for cocktails and a meal right before going to Mori Art Museum. Must-order: Paella!!!
Tír na nÓg: gorgeous speakeasy in Ginza. Also I am a sucker for pretty and dessert-like cocktails. We had one with macarons and one with this cotton candy concoction. One sip of liquor, followed by one bite of sweet heavenly clouds. I demolished this whole fluffy thing. (Also cute bartenders.) (Also magical interior.)
Tetsuyaki (yakisoba): tiny humble restaurant run by a couple. It’s unassuming and homely but the food is CHEAP AND DELICIOUS. I honestly think the yakisoba tasted better than any rendition I’ve ever had anywhere in the world. And it was like ten bucks. The wife even gave me a discount because she said I was kawaii T_T If you’re around Lake Kawaguchiko and you’re starving, just go here. Seriously. One of those places I’ll remember for a while and go back to years later.