Many Kyoto residents still live in Kyo-machiya, which is the term used for traditional wooden townhouses in Kyoto, to this very day. There are also many Kyo-machiya that are being used as guest houses or cafes. If you’re visiting Kyoto, you’ll want to see these traditional buildings for yourself! Here are 5 izakaya (Japanese pubs) in which you can enjoy delicious sake and food in a Kyo-machiya overflowing with Kyoto’s characteristic atmosphere.
1. koto koto Karasuma Oike Branch
This restaurant’s specialty is obanzai, which refers to Kyoto-style home cooking that is lightly seasoned and made using seasonal ingredients. You can taste over 12 types of this obanzai at their buffet-style obanzai bar, which is only available at lunch. If you order a set meal or rice bowl dish off their lunch menu, you’ll have access to the obanzai buffet for the incredibly affordable price of 972 JPY (incl. tax). At night, there is a set meal that comes with several kinds of obanzai (from 1,404 JPY (incl. tax)). At one glance, you’ll think it’s a high-class restaurant due to its tasteful appearance, but it’s actually a place where you can enjoy lunch and dinner at a very reasonable price.
At Renkonya, a restaurant listed in the Michelin Guide, you can enjoy delicious sake and Kyoto home-style cooking prepared by the shop owner. The building was once the home of a lower-class samurai, so you’ll feel the traditional deep history all around you. Make sure to try their Wakasa Karei (from 1,600 JPY (incl. tax)), in which you’ll feast on a karei (righteye flounder) that was dried for one evening and prepared in three ways: grilled, sashimi, and in a soup, which was made with its bones. Their signature dish is the Housemade Karashi Renkon (2 pieces for 700 JPY (incl. tax)), a popular specialty dish that matches well with sake and is made using the renkon (lotus root) that also features in the restaurant's name.
Zakoya serves up exquisite dishes of fresh fish shipped from all over Japan. These dishes are made with the knowledge of skilled fishermen who know the proper ways to eat delicious fish! You can tell from the casks of sake piled up in front of the stylish restaurant that they’re serious about the quality of their sake stock, too. Try their fish course (reservations required) (from 6,000 JPY (incl. tax)), which includes all-you-can-drink local sake, and can be enjoyed within a traditional private room of a Kyo-machiya. Rather than paying by credit card, you’ll get a better deal paying in cash. It’s a very popular place during lunch hours. Make sure to also try their superb Ryoshi Meshi (880 JPY for normal (incl. tax), 1,280 JPY for deluxe (incl. tax)) to enjoy a variety of ingredients in one dish.
The restaurant’s exterior was designated as a historic design building of Kyoto, and the garden in front is filled with the essence of Kyoto. Once you pass through the entrance, you’ll find yourself in a stylish and modern, Japanese-style atmosphere. You can indulge in fresh Kyoto vegetables and carefully selected cuts of meat in their all-you-can-eat shabu-shabu (sliced meat parboiled with vegetables) and sukiyaki (sliced beef and vegetables cooked table-top in a pan with a sweet and salty sauce). If you order Premium Beef (from 3,180 JPY (incl. tax)) or anything above that on the menu, you’ll have unlimited access to salad, fried foods, and about 30 kinds of obanzai. Enjoy local Kyoto sake with some delicious Kyoto cuisine! You’ll be so hooked on the obanzai that you might even forget about the meat that you ordered!
Just a short walk from Gion, this restaurant is located in a renovated Kyo-machiya that expertly utilizes the lighting to create a space with a fantastic atmosphere. You can enjoy Japanese cuisine made with carefully prepared ingredients in items such as their local Kyoto vegetable and Nanatani chicken dishes, seasonal tempura, and oden (ingredients simmered in broth). At the counter seats, you’ll see the staff grilling the chicken and deep frying the tempura right before your very eyes. The Special Seasonal Course (from 6,000 JPY (incl. tax)), which is packed with seasonal ingredients, is also highly recommended. Enjoy your meal with their selection of local sake from all over the country.
With their narrow frontage and deep, long interiors, Kyo-machiya are often referred to as an “eel’s bed.” These machiya were built with many clever designs: low visibility indoors from outside, the latticework makes it easy to see outdoors from the inside, and you can gaze out at the garden from the tatami rooms. Make a trip over to the Kyo-machiya to see these unique structures for yourself!
*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.
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