(not to self, make this page pretty)
Kyoto, What’s the Deal?
Let’s talk about Kyoto. If you are reading this, I sent it to you personally, or maybe the internet just found this page. Either way, these are my highly personal opinions on the most visited place in Japan and my views on how to approach it from a tourism point of view.
I should note, I kinda hate Kyoto. Sometime around 2015 I made a personal rule to never visit Kyoto again. I’ve been to the ramen shops. I’ve been to a handful of the famous high-end restaurants. I’ve been to the same tourist-ridden bars that everyone knows about. I’ve been to the bamboo forest. I never want to go back, and apart from the ramen shops, I for the most part didn’t have a good time.
Because it is god damn jam-packed with tourists. You can’t escape the madness. During covid I went back and it was nice, but once October 2022 rolled around and the floodgates reopened the whole place was done for me. In March of 2023 I was there and you couldn’t get a taxi. On top of that, the buses were filled and every stop had a line of 15 tourists trying to get on. Kyoto doesn’t have a great public transport network. If you can cycle, this is the way to enjoy Kyoto.
With that out of the way, here are some spots I enjoy going to. Oh, my work forces me to go to Kyoto a few times a year so I’m not here by choice!
Monk is great but I don’t think you can book it easily. I blame every hipster food writer. This is basically the Alice Waters Japan pizza shop. Fantastic, simple meal. Dude smashed cucumbers for a salad with a prehistoric stone tool and then kills you with some rad pizza pies.
十五 juu-go. This soba shop is rad. The owner will make the noodles fresh in front of you from the soba flour he grew. He’s also a crazy eccentric person which is a bonus. It is way up at the Philosopher’s Path, so most people find it too far to go to. You can also reserve a spot, so you know you’ll get in. If you couldn’t, the line of tourists would be a few hours. Some people say Noma ruined this place when Rene Redzepi recommended it to literally everyone at their Kyoto Popup, but I think this actually helped. When you go, the shop will likely be empty because a bunch of Noma fans decided not to trek uptown for their 1500 yen reservation. Get the soba, skip the sobagaki.
粋 SUI Fine Dining Restaurant. I like this kaiseki spot. It’s easy to book and decent. No, it isn’t Ida or Dojin or Ogata, but it is nice and chill.
ザ 洋食屋 キチ・キチ Kichi Kichi Omurice. Lol jk. But not really jk. I liked it. This is THE TikTok Instagram spot for omrice. You need to book but if you show up when they open you can sometimes snag a no-show’s seat.
Lorimer Kyoto for breakfast. Fish, rice, pickles. Well-executed Japanese-style yums from 8am.
JR Kyoto Isetan. Before you leave Kyoto, go into the basement food court of Isetan at the station. They sell some bento boxes. There’s one with meat on rice and it is so good. If you buy an “ekiben” station bento you have my condolences, they are all bad all over Japan (though make for a nice IG photo). This bento place in Isetan sources its stuff from famous restaurants in Kyoto. Enjoy your bullet train back to Tokyo in style.
FYI, don’t go to Kyoto without some reservations. During busy tourism times, it is very hard to just wander into some good shops.
wife & husband. Up on the north side. This cute little coffee shop is neat. You get a picnic with a thermos of great pour-over coffee and then rent chairs and old-timey straw hats and take it to the nearby river for a perfect date. It’s cute. If you go here you MUST buy some warabi mochi from nearby 洛叉庵 Rakushan. You gotta call the day before and specify the time to pick up, but this is the best warabi mochi in Japan (I’m not an expert don’t quote me).
Walden Woods. In the Gojo area, this all-white shop has a weird 2nd floor. I liked it.
Cigar Bar 「SUI」. Kind of a “members” bar, though anyone can go. You’ll have to buzz in from the street. Fresh fruit cocktails, an excellent collection of rum and whiskey, and cigars. You can order food from downstairs, and that food is very nice.
DIG THE LINE BOTTLE & BAR at the Ace Hotel is nice for craft beer.
komorebino natural wine bar is a nice spot for a glass of Radikon, Sancerre, or other natural wine. Nice owner.
There are a ton of really nice, hidden bars but I don’t know the names I just know where they are. Sorry. Try the 7th floor of every random building in Gion and you’ll find them (just kidding don’t do that).
Ok, so I don’t really hate Kyoto. That said, if you want to visit and see the sights, count me out. I’ll be smoking a cigar or cycling along the river far away from the center of town.