Cheap Eats · Japanese · Kyoto · Restaurants

Kyoto – Random Eats

If I had to decide between Kyoto and Tokyo for food, I’d pick the latter. I know L prefers Kyoto for its natural scenery, but I found Tokyo more foreigner-friendly and the options for eating out were endless. Plus, it seemed like Kyoto residents were more annoyed with the huge influx of tourism than Tokyo residents. Below are some of the places we checked out in Kyoto. Let’s start with my favourite bowl of ramen in Japan.

Vending machine

L and I found this gem last year in the town of Otsu, near Zeze station. We returned again in 2018 to see if the ramen was as good as we remembered. From the outside, there’s no obvious signage. I don’t know the name of the shop, as it’s written in Japanese characters.

ramen

A basic bowl of tonkatsu ramen will you cost 780 Yen. I didn’t realize I had to order the egg in addition to the ramen. By the time my bowl came out, it was too late. Dang it.

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The broth was served steaming hot. The broth was rich and velvety. The noodles were silky but still had a bite to it. I tried my hardest to not drink any of the broth. I had to save my calories for the chicken karrage.

karage

This restaurant also serves up some of the best chicken karrage I’ve eaten ever. And I’ve consumed a lot. It’s cheap too – we received four huge chunks of juicy, marinated chicken still sizzling from the fryer for only 500 Yen. The batter was golden brown, not greasy and so crunchy the skin crackled into tiny shards in my mouth.

tea

I took L to the famous Ippodu Tea House. We shopped in the store for gifts to bring back home. We also ventured into the tea room to try matcha and green tea with roasted rice. We each tried two teas and dessert for 790 Yen. There was a group of Japanese locals that offered to take our picture.

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Not sure if I’d bother to have another tasting as it wasn’t my cup of tea, but I’ll return next year to stock up on tea to bring back as gifts. The tea bags were light in my suitcase, and help to protect my valuable cargo of sake.


Pastamore is located in Kyoto Station. This was our first western meal in 18 days. The food here is tasty and well-priced. Nothing fancy,  much better than the Spaghetti Factory but not nearly as good as Cotto Italian Comfort Food in Calgary.  The deal here is you pay for one price, but you can get a medium, large or extra-large portion of pasta. I figured out by looking at the dishes coming out of the kitchen that the cook uses the same amount of sauce for each order. So if you order an extra large dish of pasta, it has the same amount of sauce that a medium or large order would contain.

L and I each ordered a large because we were hungry and our server told us that generally, only women ordered the medium size. Well I don’t eat like a woman, particularly not a dainty Japanese lady. L picked fried eggplant and bacon. I ordered the lobster bisque with shrimp. Our dishes were around 1200 Yen. The pasta was al dente. I liked my pasta over L’s fried eggplant. His dish was larger and heartier but I thought the flavour of the bisque was superior to his tomato sauce. If you have a lighter appetite, get the medium size dish. I was starving and the large size was too much for me.

I also ordered a small Japanese style Caesar salad for 200 Yen. The egg was semi-solid and when I broke it open, the yolk mixed well with the lettuce. The dressing was delicious. I didn’t like the use of iceberg lettuce as I think the texture of romaine would have tasted better with the dressing. For 200 Yen though, I can see why iceberg was used.

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Ginza Hageten Kyoto is located in the Cube, which is the basement Kyoto Station. L and I ordered tendon (1070 Yen). I should have ordered tempura a la carte like the other customers. If you order a la carte, each piece is brought to you immediately after each piece is individually cooked.

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Compared to Tenya, Ginza Hageten’s tempura is more delicate and not nearly as battered. The sauce was more sophisticated and the rice was superior as well. The battered egg was not as good as I thought it would be. The egg yolk was hot and squirted out as I bit into it, but the flavour of the yolk was bland.

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L and I liked to have a drink at Yeisu Bar’s patio. Located by Kyoto Station under the Yodobashi camera building, located on a trendy strip.  If you’re a fan of Yeisu beer, you need to check out this bar for its large selection of beers on draft you won’t be able to find anywhere else.  I like sitting on the patio for people watching. There’s even a section of the patio that’s non-smoking.

Sleeves of beers range from 600 – 1200 Yen. I think the name Yebisu translates to god of Japanese mythology. The brewery dates back to the late 1800s and the founding Japanese brew master was a German-trained brewer. Note how much head is left on Japanese beer.

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I preferred the grapefruit vodka soda. I was pleasantly surprised to see a glass cost only 500 Yen. Refreshing. It’s hard to find a good grapefruit vodka soda at a restaurant that actually uses freshly squeezed fruit.

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We tried some bar bites. The portions are small and pricey and the quality is something you’d get at American chain restaurant. Like all metropolitan areas, you pay for the privilege of sitting down in a prime real estate to people watch.

curry close up

One of the most disappointing meals I had in Kyoto was a place TJ frequented. She visited CoCo Ichibanya four times in a week. She likes this place because it’s right across from our hotel and the food is fried. Most of the dishes are around $12 US. CoCo specializes in curry dishes with fried food like tonkatsu (pork), chicken, and shrimp. Personally, I think my Japanese curry is superior. The fried chicken was dry and the breading was overcooked.

curry

I should mention my disdain for this chain restaurant didn’t prevent me from demolishing my huge plate of food. I should also add that despite being quite tipsy, I could still tell the food here was lacklustre. That’s the ultimate Hitting the Sauce litmus test.

Ebi breakfast

There’s a chain grocery store by our hotel called Daily. I call it the breakfast of chubbsters. This store differs from 7/11 and Family Mart by offering freshly made breakfast goods. Daily sells heavy, fried breakfast items like croque monsieur,  curry buns, and katsu sandwiches. I enjoyed my breakfast of fried shrimp patty with egg salad.

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The bakeries in Japan have awesome pastries. I veer to the buttery, heavier items for breakfast. For example, the croque monsieur (239 Yen) at local chain bakery Sizuya. The bread is warm and crusty.  In between two slices of warm, airy bread sits a layer of fine tasting ham, covered with a baked slightly sweet cheesy topping. TJ would get a whole baguette, a brick of butter and crusty croissants for breakfast. She’d use a tiny bit of bread to go with her thick wedges of butter. At first I thought she was cutting into cheese. It wasn’t until I asked what type of cheese she purchased did I realize she was cutting into butter. It was then that I realized TJ and I have something in common. We love butter.

I like walking through Nishiki Market. It’s not like Tsukiji Market at all, but it’s cleaner and prettier. I went to Tsukiji Market last year and I wasn’t a fan. I didn’t like how dirty everything was and I found some of the people working at the market (understandably) grouchy. Nishiji and Tsukiji aren’t really comparable because the former doesn’t have an international fish warehouse or the surplus of sushi restaurants. However, if your goal is to admire seafood, flowers and eat fresh food from stalls in a convenient and charming corridor for an hour or so, I prefer Nishiki.

L and I weaved our way through food stalls and shops until I found a busy izakaya. I picked this restaurant because it was packed with regulars. After I ordered the chirashi and L ordered takoyaki, I noticed how dirty everything was. If I went to the washroom before I ate, I would have left. Absolutely vile.  L was worried I’d get sick after we ate here.

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The food wasn’t cheap either, which was why I was surprised this place was so busy with locals. So much for betting on a busy restaurant being a good restaurant. I should have used Yelp. L’s tako was better than my chirashi. But that’s not saying much.

Partly because I don’t have a good way of ending this post, I’ll tack a couple more random pictures. Below is a sparkling sake with gold flakes! I’m tempted to make a crude joke here, but I don’t have the golden touch.

This is one cookie I’ll bring back next year. You can buy these small boxes of cookie and vanilla biscuits from 7/11 (239 Yen). It tastes much better than it looks. I normally avoid unattractive sweets but L told me to try it. The flavour reminded me of cookies and cream ice-cream.

I’ve been to Japan twice, so my standard will be higher next year. Tokyo and Kyoto, we had a blast. Sayōnara Japan, see you next year.

Cheap Eats · Chinese · Dim Sum · Fast Food · Kyoto · Restaurants

Kyoto – 551 Horai Umeda Hanshin

I noticed 551 Horai when we were about to exit Kyoto Station. 551 Horai is a takeout dim sum stall that is always lined-up. For this post, let’s listen to Dim Sum by CouCou Disco.

Over the course of a nine days, I tried almost everything. Steamed pork buns (650 Yen/2 buns), pork dumplings (650 Yen/10 pieces), shrimp siu mai (600 Yen/12), gyoza (300 Yen/10), and sticky rice (380 Yen). All the food is freshly made in the back and served to you hot, in takeout boxes.

551

The best of the bunch were the pork buns. The bun itself is soft and fluffy. The meat mixture was incredibly juicy and flavourful. I kept burping up onion and garlic breath afterwards, so I’m guessing there’s a lot of it. I give the pork buns a perfect score – 5/5.

pork bun

551 Horai sells three types of sticky rice. I picked the option with pork. I liked the rice to meat and mushroom ratio. This is better than what I can get in Vancouver or Richmond. The little packets of spicy mustard kicked it up a notch. I thought it was little pricey for the portion, but I know how time consuming it is to make sticky rice, so I’ll give it a score of 4/5.

rice

The pork and shrimp siu mai dumplings were bland and greasy, even with the mustard. No discernable flavor or texture, just soft and squishy. I’d give them 2/5. I wouldn’t order this again.

sui mai
The gyoza was also not memorable. Like the other dumplings, the wrapper would stick together and had no discernible texture or flavor. 2.5/5. Don’t bother.

When I get back in 2019, L and I will just stick to the buns. Though small in size, these buns are densely packed and filling. One makes for a hearty snack. Two for a meal. Three to make ready and four to go.

Japanese · Kyoto · Restaurants · Seafood

Kyoto – Random Izakaya

L was on his anti-Yelp mood so I decided to kick it back old school. We wandered around until we found a busy izakaya packed with locals. For this post, let’s listen to something that harkens back to an era when tourists used physical maps and pay phones. L, this one is for you – Grandpa, tell me about the good old days by The Judds.

I’d be able to find this restaurant again. The exterior was yellow and the restaurant itself was quite small. This restaurant was about a 10 minute walk from our hotel, Sakura Inn.

inside

When our server found out that we didn’t speak Japanese, she brought over an English menu. We sat down and ordered a bowl of chirashi (800 Yen), potato salad (500 Yen), ahi tuna (700 Yen) and a potato croquettes (300 Yen). The best of the bunch was the chirashi. We should have ordered what we saw everyone eating – sashimi and a heaping plate of karrage.

chirashi

The fish was very fresh. One piece of fish still had the silvery skin on, which is a bit of a turn off for me. It was actually one of the best pieces. The rich egg yolk made the rice creamy and mellow. I would order this again.

potato salad

The potato salad was below average. This has to be one of the worst versions I’ve ever tried. Bland, no texture, no flavor. If I served this up at home, I’d be embarrassed. But that would never happen, because I make a killer potato salad.

tuna

The ahi tuna was battered. I enjoyed the wasabi relish but I wouldn’t order this dish again. It just wasn’t as good as the chirashi or the potato croquettes. Too much batter for the amount of fish.

cutlet

The croquettes were very tasty. The interior was soft and creamy and filled with chunks of vegetables. For the price, worth it. I’d return for the chirashi, sashimi and to try the karrage.

Korean · Kyoto · Restaurants

Kyoto – Nikuya no Daidokoro

L and I found one of our best meals by accident. Initially, I found a yakitori bar in Pontocho by Kamogawa River. We entered the restaurant and a server confirmed there were two seats available. By the entrance, there was a table of salary men smoking. L was so irritated by the smoke he didn’t even bow and say sorry in Japanese to the hostess before abruptly leaving. L told me we would find somewhere better. I didn’t believe him and I threw a bitch fit (BF) a la White Chicks. After walking around for 15 minutes, I told L to follow the couple ahead of us. For this post, let’s listen to Bitch by Meredith Brooks.

I could sense this couple knew where they were going. I felt that they knew we were following them when we entered the elevator and didn’t press any button. They looked nervously at each other and then the gentleman turned around to say something to me in Japanese. When the doors opened, we discovered we were at an all-you-can-eat Korean BBQ Restaurant – Nikuya no Daidokoro.

menu

For about $27 US, we could eat an array of chicken, pork, one type of beef, vegetables and a huge salad bar with soup and dessert. For an extra $3 US, we enjoyed unlimited draft beer. The quality of the meats and vegetables were very good. Far superior to the Korean buffets in Vancouver and Calgary.

meat before fired

L ordered all the meats and took care of grilling all the food. We didn’t stink too bad of meat after we left, because the fan did a great job of sucking up all the smoke.

meat

We tried most of the meats on the menu. The only one I didn’t like was Pope’s Nose, as it was too fatty and hard. The wiener was particularly delicious – once you crunched through the casing, it popped with sausage juice.

weiner

I ate several plates of banchan – Korean side dishes. Soybean sprouts, cold spinach, watercress tofu salad, cabbage and soybean paste, and edamame. I put the edamame on the BBQ and then sprinkled it with salt. I realized that everyone else eats them cold when the servers and other customers would give me a double take.

edanmae

There aren’t a whole lot of vegetables and fruits readily available in Kyoto, at least not in our area. So I filled up on vegetables. I grilled peppers, mushrooms, onions, cabbage, eggplant and shiso peppers. There were also a ton of sauces and salts to choose from.

charred veg

I felt remorse for my BF earlier so I tried to pay for supper. L wouldn’t let me which made me feel even worse. I liked this place so much, I insisted on taking him out later on in the week and splurging for the wagyu beef. When we returned on a Saturday night without reservations, our server informed us that they were booked up for the next two hours. I must have looked crestfallen because the server looked at me pityingly.  In any case, L and I will be back next year.

outside

Cheap Eats · Kyoto · Pizza · Restaurants

Kyoto – Colors and Kaya

Our first night in Kyoto! I wanted to visit L’s old stomping grounds. We hopped on a train and headed to Otsu, a sleepy little town just a few stops away from Kyoto Station. For this post, let’s listen to Journey – Don’t stop believin’ (Small Town Girl).

As we walked around, L pointed out everything that was either brand new or a place he use to frequent. He wanted to check out Colors – a hole in the wall bar on the main street. When L lived here, he use to hang out at Colors with his other foreigner buddy.

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He warned me not to use the washrooms, as it was a traditional one, a squat. There are a lot traditional washrooms in Japan. I have yet to use one. I’m just not there yet. Inside, a customer was smoking, but L was willing to tolerate this occasion because it was his idea.

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We were charged 400 Yen for some candies and wasabi potato chips. L said it’s common for a bar to drop off bar snacks for a small surcharge. L’s sleeve of beer was 600 Yen and my orange vodka was 800 Yen. My drink barely had any booze in it.

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L said customers often stay for hours and the ongoing conversation with the owner is part of the experience. Early in the morning, as in 6 or 7 a.m., L would see customers stagger out.

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L chatted with the owner and found out he just bought the bar. Another customer practiced his English with L and asked us if we were married.

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We only stayed for one drink. You could tell the owner and customer were surprised that we left so quickly. I informed L that I was taking him out for pizza and wine at Kaya Bar in Kyoto Station.

red wine

I remember Kaya Bar being a lot better last year. I’m not sure if the quality went down or if my standards went up. I suspect it’s the latter. You can tell the employees are tired of tourists. This place attracts them in droves. Foreigners were excited to come in and order something familiar like pizza and pasta at inexpensive prices.

pizza

The drinks are dirt cheap. 300 Yen for house red or white wine. 500 Yen for a small sleeve of beer. Pizzas start at 600 Yen. The pizza is fine for the price. The house wine was so bad, at one point I almost gagged. I just stopped drinking because I found it so unpleasant. I found it difficult to get a good quality glass of wine at a price I was use to paying for in Canada, which is about $16 a glass. The selection of wine is also not impressive at the department stores in Japan.

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The anchovy cabbage was vile. The texture of the cabbage was limp and soggy. The sauce just didn’t jive with my taste buds. The pizzas are thin and have a good ratio of cheese to dough. This place was a hit with our group. There’s nothing wrong with Kaya. Just avoid the house wine and you’ll do fine.