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Kyoto is undoubtedly the pioneer of high-end cuisine in Japan, with 98 Michelin-star restaurants and culinary institutions that have been open since the 15th century. However, it is easy to miss out on the best the city has to offer. While the internet and booking platforms have been game-changers for restaurateurs, Kyoto remains profoundly traditional in its ways, and many hidden gems stay concealed even from the most tenacious internet search.

Here are my top 5 local restaurants in the city:


This family-run restaurant is located in the south of the former imperial palace. Fujitei opened its doors in the early Meiji period and continues to serve traditional Kyoto-style bento boxes to this day. The lunch menu offers three set options: Unagi-ju, Kyoto-style bento, or Tempura. Personally, I have a soft spot for the うな重上 (Grilled eel on rice with sansho pepper), but you can’t go wrong with any choice here. Fujitei has built a strong reputation as a bento-box catering institution, delivering high-quality meals while keeping prices very reasonable. It’s an all-time favorite of mine and a local gem all around.

  • Closed on Monday. Lunch 11:30 a.m – 2:00 p.m. Reservation recommended.
  • ¥1,500 – ¥2,000 (cash only)
  • Speciality: Grilled eel, Tempura, Kyoto style bento. A la carte.


This is my go-to soba restaurant in the city, another hidden gem located south of the imperial palace. Sarashina has been family-owned for over a century, and their soba noodles continue to satisfy my cravings on a regular basis. The restaurant, situated on the first floor of an old machiya, sources its water from Shimogoryo Shrine just a couple of minutes away. Their dashi (broth) is perfectly balanced and serves as an unbeatable hangover remedy. I highly recommend trying the Ten-zaru (Tempura and cold soba set) during spring and summer, or the steaming hot Yakinabe soba during colder seasons. If you’re feeling particularly hungry, you can add a mini oyakodon (rice bowl with egg and chicken) on top of your soba order – it’s always a nice treat.

  • Closed on Friday. Lunch 11:30 a.m – 4:40 p.m
  • ¥1,500 – ¥2,000 (cash only)
  • Speciality: soba, donburi. A la carte.


This restaurant opened its doors over a century and a half ago, which is a recurrent story in the city’s culinary scene. Their specialty is Kaiseki for most of the year, but what I look forward is their winter season menu. Hatakaku is the birthplace of Botan-nabe, or wild boar hot pot, which is only available from December to late March, marking the end of the boar hunting season. What makes Botan-nabe so special is the quality of the ingredients and the broth. Wild boar has a naturally sweet flavor and, at its peak in February, is abundant in mouth-watering fat. Alongside the meat, a variety of local vegetables of the highest quality are served, all cooked in white miso and radish stock. Don’t miss out on this unique experience.

  • Closed on Monday. Lunch 11:30 a.m – 2:00 p.m & Dinner 5:00 p.m to 8:00 p.m.
  • ¥15,000 – ¥20,000 (credit card payment and cash accepted).
  • Speciality: botan nabe (winter only), kaiseki. Course only.

Fukumatsu Kitaoji

A dear friend of mine and owner-chef at Les Deux Garcons where I used to work, invited the entire team for an end-of-year dinner at Fukumatsu. It created a fond memory and an exceptional culinary discovery. The cuisine at Fukumatsu is generous and honest, without any fuss—just beautiful products served with refinement. Despite working in the industry, I have never been fond of kaiseki cuisine (probably because I have always had the palate of a 5-year-old), but Fukumatsu is always my top recommendation for Japanese food lovers. You will enjoy great food, a relaxing atmosphere, and kindhearted service. I cannot recommend it enough.

I suggest starting with the dinner course and add a la carte items on top!

  • Closing days variable. Dinner 5:00 p.m to 10:30 p.m. Reservation recommended.
  • ¥5,500 – ¥8,000 (cash only)
  • Speciality: Washoku. Course menu at ¥5,000 & a la carte.

Okonomiyaki Jin

This restaurant has always puzzled me. Jin serves hands-down the best okonomiyaki I have ever had and has managed to remain under the radar for most people for a long time. I stumbled upon this hidden gem by chance, as it is one of the few late-night eateries in the neighborhood. The entrance is quite discreet and unassuming, but it holds one of the most well-kept culinary secrets in town. I’ve tried and failed to find an item on the menu that doesn’t meet my standards – honestly, everything is delicious. The beer is perfectly cold, and the yakisoba and okonomiyaki are a must-try. Add the Kimchi buta (pork belly with kimchi) to the mix as well, you won’t regret it. Expect bold flavors and a casual atmosphere as this place is all about late night food and drinks.

  • No closing day. Dinner 5:30 p.m to 2:00 a.m.
  • ¥3,000 – ¥5,000 (cash only)
  • Speciality: Okonomiyaki. A la carte.
Julien Doukhan

Founder of Makasete

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