People travel to Japan for all sorts of different reasons. Many are seeking a taste of tradition and history, and plan visits to the country’s most important shrines and castles. Some are drawn by Japan’s natural beauty, heading for its mountains and forests, while still others come to throw themselves into its neon-soaked urban entertainment centers.
But no matter what’s on your itinerary, at some point you’re going to need to get something to eat, and when your stomach starts growling, you can rely on the experience of those who made the trip before you with TripAdvisor’s list of the 10 best restaurants in Japan.
This year’s list, compiled from non-Japanese user reviews left on the TripAdvisor website, highlights how the international community’s image of Japanese cuisine has expanded beyond just sushi. While the beloved morsels of vinegared rice and fish do make multiple appearances on the list, the top 10 include enough variety in dishes and price points to accommodate a range of palates and price points.
10. Ichiran – Shibuya Branch (Tokyo)
Ichiran is famous for two things: its delicious tonkotsu (pork stock broth) ramen, and its unique single-occupant booths that isolate you from other diners so that you can concentrate on the flavor. The chain’s first location was in Fukuoka, but the Shibuya branch is particularly convenient for anyone shopping, drinking, or clubbing in the trendy Tokyo neighborhood.
9. Kiji – Umeda Sky Building Branch (Osaka)
Should you find yourself in Osaka, you should definitely go to the Umeda Sky Building and check out the awesome view from the rooftop. Then you should take the elevator all the way down to the basement and try this okonomiyaki restaurant.
8. Kobegyu Kaiseki 511 (Tokyo)
Yes, you can eat Kobe beef in Tokyo, and if you do, this classy restaurant in the Akasaka neighborhood is the place to do it, according to TripAdvisor’s users.
7. Kyubei – Ginza Main Branch (Tokyo)
Sushi in Tokyo’s high-rent district doesn’t come cheap, but travelers say Kyubei’s is worth it, comparing a meal here to “a cultural experience” and making it their number-two pick for sushi in the entire country.
6. Sushi Bar Yasuda (Tokyo)
The highest ranking for a sushi restaurant went to this establishment in Minami Aoyama. It’s not just the food that got high marks, but the owner as well. The English-speaking Chef Yasuda’s friendly personality stands in stark defiance to the misconception that sushi masters must be grumpy, taciturn old men.
5. Matsuzaka Yakiniku M – Hozenji Yokocho Branch (Osaka)
Kobe beef may be better known internationally, but Mie Prefecture’s Matsuzaka beef gives up nothing to its more famous rival. Just as they have in years past, TripAdvisor named Osaka’s M one of their very favorite places to eat in Japan.
4. Heianraku (Takayama, Gifu)
If you’re after good honest grub, the reasonably priced Heianraku can set you up with numerous varieties, such as stir-fried noodles and fried chicken. What people really rave about, though, are Heianraku’s gyoza (pot stickers) which are a hit with tourists and locals alike.
3. Hafuu – Main Branch (Kyoto)
TripAdvisor’s Japan restaurant rankings tend to get pretty beef-heavy towards the top, and this year’s third-highest-ranking restaurant was Kyoto’s Hafuu. Hafuu describes itself as a “meat specialist,” which means you’ll find steak, beef stew, and cutlets on the menu.
2. Tapas Molecular Bar (Tokyo)
With only eight seats and a location inside the Mandarin Oriental luxury hotel, this is a decidedly exclusive dining experience. Those who have eaten here describe the view from the 38th floor of the building as “spectacular,” and the chefs explain each course of the meal while preparing it in front of their guests. Still not enough to convince you to go? There’s also the fact that each of the 15 courses is paired with a different wine.
1. Otsuka (Kyoto)
In most ways, Otsuka is the polar opposite of the Tapas Molecular Bar. Attached to a private residence at the end of a narrow street in Kyoto’s Arashiyama neighborhood, Otsuka interior is unassuming and its prices reasonable, with set meals starting at 1,100 yen (US$9) and steaks at 2,000 yen.
Don’t let the lack of formal ambiance fool you, though, as TripAdvisor users have almost unanimously given Otsuka the site’s maximum five-star ranking on the strength of its delicious beef. The menu promises that diners will “taste this in your dreams,” and travelers seem to agree that the best dreams aren’t sweet, but beefy.