Japan is commonly thought to be an expensive dining destination not ideal for foodies on a budget. Although that is certainly true when compared to the incredible bargains found elsewhere in Asia, it is still possible to eat well in Japan without depleting your travel savings. Kyoto may be home to some of Japan's finest (and most expensive) restaurants, but there are also plenty of tasty hole-in-the-wall spots where you can feast for $12 or less. Here are some of our favorites!
This katsu chain serves up some of the best pork katsu that we tried in Japan. The Sanjo location is hidden down a narrow little alley off of a busy shopping street and can be tough to find at first. Look out for the menu sign with pictures of katsu and head down the tiny alley right behind it. There are multiple menu options with different cuts and varieties of pork, but the basic tenderloin will only set you back about 1200 yen. It comes with all you can eat cabbage, rice, and miso soup. And while you wait for your food you can grind up sesame seeds to combine with the multiple sauces on the table to create your perfect katsu dip.
Tiger Gyoza Hall
A popular restaurant that specializes in gyoza but also has a full menu of other tasty dishes worth checking out. The gyozas are to die for and there are a variety of different options, including “overstuffed” gyoza that are 2-3 times the normal size. We also ordered a bowl of spicy ramen that was easily one of the spiciest things we have ever tried. I mean look at it. It’s basically just a gigantic pile of hot chili flakes. Best part is its all affordable, with an order of gyoza and ramen coming in around 1200 yen.
No Name Ramen
We are shocked that there aren’t more tourists at this amazing ramen place. It is right around the corner from the jam-packed Sanjo area, its got a really cool, hip concrete interior, and the ramen is excellent. True to it’s name, there is no sign for the basement location. You go down some unlabeled stairs to the basement of a canal-side building and enter into the stylish and leafy interior. There are only 10 seats or so at the counter so there might be a wait, but people eat quickly. A bowl of ramen will set you back about 800 yen.
This strange and popular restaurant in Gion is a great place to try Okonomiyaki, a staple dish of the Kansai area of Japan. It is basically a savory crepe stuffed with all kinds of ingredients including eggs, green onion, meat, and seafood. Don’t go expecting choices because the signature okonomiyaki is literally the only thing on the menu. It’s delicious though, and for only 700 yen it makes a filling meal. The restaurant is also worth visiting for its hilarious and strange décor. There are crude cartoons all over the walls and manikins sitting at some of the tables.
Although there are plenty of new, hipster coffee shops in Kyoto serving great brews, we recommend checking out this classic kissa, one of the old school Japanese cafes. The dim, wood-paneled interior looks like it hasn’t changed since the 70’s, with cushy vinyl seats and ash-trays on every table. This place gets busy with locals who come in to chat over cake doughnuts and coffee served in china cups. This is definitely not the place to come get some work done on your laptop. The owner specifically doesn’t offer wifi because he wants people to enjoy their drinks and talk with those around them. Coffee and a donut will be about 600 yen.
Tenzan no Yu Onsen
Although it is located in Kyoto’s best bathhouse, many people come just to eat at this tasty restaurant. The extensive menu offers everything from sashimi, to ramen, to spaghetti bolognese at affordable prices. Most dishes are less than 1200 yen. Every table even has its own little television so you can watch some sumo wrestling or Japanese cartoons while you eat. The only downside is that it is not in the most convenient location. We recommend eating here after a morning exploring Arashiyama because it is an easy half hour walk from there.
One of Kyoto’s most popular conveyor belt sushi chains, Kura's claim to fame is that most dishes are only 100 yen. Like most conveyor belt restaurants, you can just grab dishes off the belt or order something off the menu if you don’t see it. The sushi is pretty delicious considering its dirt-cheap price, and there are some other affordable side dishes available (like udon or tempura) if sushi isn’t your thing. Kura also has some nice high tech touches like iPads to input orders and keep track of your plates, as well as a high-speed belt above the regular one that delivers your ordered dishes.
Sake Bar Yoramu
Ok, this one is technically a bar, but it’s awesome, and it does operate as a soba restaurant by day, so we are going to count it! The friendly owner hand picks all of the sakes and is always on hand to make recommendations and walk you through tastings. The three sake tasting is only 1200 yen, which is super reasonable for the quality of the sake you get to try. There are only 8-10 seats and they don’t take reservations so be sure to arrive when they first open for the best chance of getting in.