It's hard to recommend any particular place to eat in Japan. Since everything is so good, we dined based on our mood, and what was around us when we were hungry. We rarely trekked far for food, and unfortunately, didn't take pictures or write down the names of everywhere we ate, so there's a lot missing off this list. We just went with the flow, which is what I recommend everyone do. Don't be too dependent on Yelp or guides, as there are just so many local favorites that are left off those lists.
Just remember these two phrases : 'eigo no menyu arimasu wa?' and 'osusume wa nandesuka?' which mean 'do you have an English menu?' and 'what do you recommend?' respectively, and they'll take you anywhere.
tempura matsu : arashiyama, kyoto
Address: 21-26 Umezuonawabacho Ukyo-ku, Kyoto 615-0925, Kyoto Prefecture
Phone: +81 75-881-9190
This list is in no particular order, but I'm starting with Tempura Matsu because it was, by far, our best dining experience. That's saying something considering we also went to Ryugin, purportedly the best restaurant in all of Japan. Click here for the full review of Tempura Matsu.
little shop : shibuya, tokyo
Address: Japan, 〒150-0044 東京都渋谷区 円山町10-16 1F
A tiny shop of five seats that serves curry. I had no idea what this restaurant was about, but the fact that there were no pictures, no English menu, and a fat line of locals just outside, meant we had to give it a shot. This started us on a rewarding trend of diving into restaurants blind because the curry here was really good.
You'll see patrons ordering a massive plate to themselves. This is because the Japanese are experts at eating freakishly large amounts of food in one sitting. Don't do this. Definitely split an order with a friend.
rokurinsha ramen : chiyoda train station, tokyo
Address: Tokyo Station Ichibangai B1, Tokyo Ramen Street, OGGI JR東京駅構内店 1-9-1 Marunouchi, Chiyoda, Tokyo 100-0005, Japan
Rokurinsha's tsukemen is probably the most popular in Tokyo right now. It's incredibly delicious, but so was every other tsukemen shop we went to. The difference, at least from my experience, was that the noodles were more firm. So firm, that flail wildly like thick ropes, slapping your face as you slurp them. Luckily, they provide bibs.
After you're done with your noodles, they dilute your dipping broth and add yuzu powder so you can slurp on it as a soup.
butagumi : minato, tokyo
Address: 2-24-9 Nishiazabu, Minato, Tokyo 106-0031, Japan
A restaurant that specializes in tonkatsu. They provide a list of different pork breeds. Choose a breed, and a muscle off of that breed, and they deep fry it. I recommend the belly over the loins and tenders. Get the iberico breed, if available.
horumonyaki : shibuya, tokyo
'Yakiniku' is grilled meat, whereas 'Horumonyaki' is specifically grilled offal. I didn't catch the name of the restaurant I went to, but horumonyaki is very popular in Shibuya, so it's hard to go wrong anywhere you decide upon.
I met up with a friend of a friend, Yoshimi, for the first time, and she recommended that we try a horumonyaki place that was coincidentally right across the street from our AirBnB.
anzukko : sanjo, kyoto
Address: 442-1 Ebisucho, Nakagyo Ward, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture 604-8005, Japan
I went to three gyoza places in Kyoto, but Anzukko stood out as the strongest. Their gyoza is extra crispy with a hint of five spice.
yakitori : sanjo, kyoto
Wish I remembered the name of this place. The chefs were really friendly, and held a conversation with us all night. They had horsemeat, which was incredible.
If you're trying to find this place, it's on the left side of Sanjo walking from the train station. There's a giant poster of fried chicken wings for 600 yen outside that you can't miss.
takoyaki booth : nishiki market, kyoto
Don't remember the name of this booth either...but it was located in the middle of the market, and out of all the takoyaki places we tried in Japan, this was our favorite. These takoyaki were made with mochi, which is different from traditional takoyaki. The result is a super gooey, cheesey octopus ball.
saga-tofu ine : arashiyama, kyoto
Address: 46-2 Sagatenryuji Kitatsukurimichicho, Ukyo-ku, Kyoto 616-8374, Kyoto Prefecture
Phone: +81 75-864-5313
A shop specialized in fresh hand-made tofu and fresh yuba. This yuba is served cold, in the soy 'whey' in which the yuba was derived. Back home, the yuba I'm familiar with is this plasticky sheet of tofu used in mostly vegetarian dishes. This was an education on what yuba is supposed to be--silky, soft, and subtle. This wasn't amazing, but it was different enough to recommend.
taishoken ramen : kyoto station
Address: 1 Karasuma, Shimogyo-ku, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture, 10F
Phone : number+81 75 365 5066
The home of tsukemen. Online reviews of this place weren't great, especially compared to the more popular, Rokurinsha, but I personally preferred Taishoken. Their noodles were slightly thinner, and softer, so it didn't feel so heavy as you tried to eat them. Also, the broth wasn't nearly as salty as Rokurinsha's. Overall, the bowl at Taishoken just went down easier than other tsukemen that I've tried.
sushi : kyoto station, top floor
Again, I wish I took a moment to catch the name of this gem, but we stumbled upon it in a hungry stupor, but this was a sushi restaurant very inconveniently located at the very top floor of Kyoto station. Worth the walk up as this was the best sushi we had in Japan. Get the omakase with the larger selections of sushi; they are very well-priced.
We made small talk with a fellow patron sitting next to us. He told us we had to try the chutoro here--so he bought each of us a portion to taste--another example of the unparalleled hospitality we were greeted with virtually everywhere in Japan.
sukiyaki ichiban : nipponbashi, osaka
Address: Japan, 〒542-0073 Osaka Prefecture, Osaka, Chuo Ward, Nipponbashi, 1 Chome−4−16, オーガストビル 1F
My sister and I were eyeing this spot for awhile, allured by the A5 grade kobe beef in the display window, but intimidated by the upscale atmosphere. After almost passing it for the third time, we decided to just give it a try, even if it meant hurting our wallets. Turns out, it didn't--at all. The entire meal cost $50 US, between the two of us. One of the most seemingly expensive meals on our trip, turned out to be the most well-priced, and incredible deals.
We picked the cheapest option on the menu, of course, thinking we were only gonna get a tease of what a real sukiyaki experience would be, but they hooked us up, big time. We got an amuse set of three items and ahi tuna sashimi before even getting to the beef. Check out their generous spread below.
orange, fresh fruit cocktail : shinsaibashi, osaka
I can't find information about this bar anywhere! It's located in a sketchy alley near a bunch of bars/clubs, and is several blocks away from Shinsaibashi and Dotombori. It's definitely worth seeking out, though. These were among some of the best drinks I've ever had.