I learned something fundamental about traveling after my experience at Tempura Matsu, and that is, if you're completely dependent on guidebooks or travel sites, you'll miss out on so much. Tempura Matsu was recommended to us by my good friend James. His wife is Japanese, had been there, and highly recommended it. I don't think I would have discovered it any other way. For that, I'm eternally grateful.

Tempura Matsu is a 40-year old family establishment owned by the Matsuno's. The mother is the Maitre d, the daugther Mariko, the main host, and the son, Toshio, one of the leading chefs. (I know the father is among the head chefs, but he wasn't present the night we there.)

Aside from the food being spectacular, the staff were so accommodating to us. They didn't overly pamper us, but simply made us feel incredibly at home. We ended up chatting with Toshio and Mariko during the meal, and we quickly became friends. When we told them where we were staying in Kyoto, they were so shocked at how far we would have to walk to get to the station, that they offered us a ride. I gracefully declined, because I was afraid of the cab fare, but when our ride pulled up, it was Mariko, in her personal car, insisting that we jump in. So, that's what we did--the hostess of the restaurant gave us a ride home! That's unheard of. These are some of, not only the most talented people in hospitality, but also some of the kindest you'll ever meet.

(We hung out with Toshio the next day, too. He took us out for some fancy drinks and gyoza. I'll post about that adventure soon.)

I've eaten at Ryugin; a 3-star Michelin restaurant; under the Top 50 of the World's Best Restaurants list by San Pellegrino; and widely regarded as Japan's absolute best. And it was amazing. One of the best dining experiences I've ever had. This was better.

Tempura Matsu will never get 3-stars. No restaurant like this would. It's not pretentious enough, honestly. At the end of the day, that's all it really is. Do they deserve it? Hell yeah. But it won't ever meet Michelin's strict and enigmatic criteria, most of which are not dependent on the actual food. Which is a shame, because while the chefs put on a stellar 3-star performance, the casual interaction we had with the staff, and the positive energy and noise in that restaurant was unlike any 3-star restaurant I've ever been to. And what if that's what I wanted? What if to me, that was perfect? What if I didn't want that awkward interaction with the server every time I got up to use the bathroom; their obligation to push in my chair and fold my napkin? What if I wanted to push in my own chair, and fold my own napkin? A perfect 3-star rating wouldn't agree with my idea of perfection. That's okay, because even though they might be a bit elusive, there will always be restaurants like Tempura Matsu, and that's perfect for me.

Tempura Matsu, Kyoto, Japan

21-26 Umezuonawabacho Ukyo-kuKyotoKyoto Prefecture 615-0925Japan

+81 750-8810-9190

Chef Toshio Matsuno


Ami ebi - sweet shrimp, also known as spot prawns. 

Daggertooth pike conger eel (Hamo) 

Yomogi - Japanese mugwort

Kaeshi - soup base typically served with cold udon and soba. Made from mirin, soy sauce, and sugar.