Kyoto cuisine, known as Kyo-ryori, is linked to Kyoto's long history and to seasonal foods produced in the surrounding region. Among the various types of Kyo-ryori available, most famous are probably the vegetarian dishes, which were created to serve the needs of Zen Buddhist priests and pilgrims making the rounds of Kyoto's many temples. Called shojin ryori, these vegetarian set meals may include yudofu simmered in a pot at your table, filmy sheets of yuba (soy milk curd), and an array of local vegetables. Kyoto is also renowned for its own style of kaiseki called Kyo-kaiseki, originally conceived as a meal to be taken before the tea ceremony but eventually becoming an elaborate feast enjoyed by the capital's nobility with its blend of ceremonial court cuisine, Zen vegetarian food, and simple tea-ceremony dishes. Today, Kyoto abounds in restaurants serving both vegetarian tofu dishes and kaiseki meals fit for an emperor (Kyoto's better ryokan also serve kaiseki as the evening meal). Simpler restaurants specialize in obanzai, home-style Kyoto cooking using traditional seasonal ingredients. Otherwise, any restaurant advertising that it serves Kyo-ryori generally offers a variety of Kyoto specialties.
Remember: Last orders are taken 30 to 60 minutes before the restaurant's actual closing time, even earlier for kaiseki restaurants (which often require a reservation). Bus information to each restaurant is from Kyoto Station.
Around Kyoto Station
In addition to the restaurants listed in this guide, a good place for inexpensive dining is Kyoto Station, which houses approximately 70 restaurants in underground arcades, at major exits, at Isetan department store (there are more than 20 outlets here alone, mostly on the 11th floor), and at Hotel Granvia. For fast, inexpensive sushi, try Kaisen EkiBiru Ichiba (tel. 075/341-1001), a conveyor-belt sushi shop in Kyoto Station open daily 11am to 10pm.
The heart of Kyoto's shopping, dining, and nightlife district is in Nakagyo-ku, especially on Kawaramachi and Shijo Dori and along the many side streets. In summer, restaurants on the west bank of the Kamo River erect large wooden outdoor platforms that extend over the water and offer open-air dining.
Inexpensive -- In addition to the choices here, there's a branch of Ichiba Coji in the Teramachi covered shopping arcade (on the west side about halfway down), with a modern, hip decor and pub food that goes well with beer, sake, and spirits. There's also Pizza Salvatore Cuomo & Grill, in the heart of the nightlife district on Kiyamachi canal at 90 Nakajima-cho (tel. 075/212-4965), offering pizzas for ¥1,500 to ¥2,000 and set pizza or pasta lunches for ¥1,000. With pleasant outdoor seating, it's open daily 11am to 4pm and 5 to 10:30pm.
In addition to the selection in this guide, there's a branch of Gontaro, serving noodles, at Hinomiyashiki-cho 26 (tel. 075/463-1039), with the same English-language menu as its main shop. It's located about halfway down the street that runs between Ryoanji and Ginkakuji, on the west side; look for the red paper lantern. It's open Thursday to Tuesday from 11am to 10pm.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.