From casual chargrilled chicken restaurants to full course menus of the very best Nara cuisine, there is something to suit every taste in Nara. Here are the ten most popular eateries in Nara city that are all within walking distance of local transport and the main tourist locations.
1. Washoku to Osake Yamatoan
Yamatoan is a classic Japanese dining restaurant serving beautifully presented set meals with generous portions in a traditional but comfortable setting. The varied menu features tempura, sashimi, deep fried chicken, pork cutlets, hamburger steak, and udon noodles. They also have a great range of sake (rice wine) to choose from and the friendly staff can recommend the best drink to complement your meal. Located on Sanjo Dori Street the restaurant is just 3 minutes’ walk from JR Nara Station and 10 minutes from Kintetsu Nara Station, which makes it a handy spot for lunch or dinner.
Lunch: 11.30 – 15.00 (Last orders: 14.30)
Dinner: 17.00 – 24.00 (Last orders: 23.00)
Open: every day
Tel: 0742-26-3585 Map
2. Tori Tamura
Tori Tamura is a cozy little restaurant that specializes in yakitori – skewered chunks of juicy chicken charcoal-grilled and flavored with rose salt. The menu is not limited to chicken cuts however, beef, and pork are also available as well as a variety of rice dishes, salad options, and side dishes. To complement the aromatic meats there is also an extensive grilled vegetable selection: eggplant, yam, spring onions, green peppers, shiitake mushrooms, and tomato skewered with scamorza cheese. To wash it all down there is a choice of draught beer, wine, local sake, fruit liqueurs, and Japanese spirits. The restaurant interior is a stylish, contemporary take on traditional wood and earth themes with both table and counter seating available. Tori Tamura is a 3 minute walk from JR Nara Station and 10 minutes from Kintetsu Nara Station.
Dinner: 17.00 – 24.00 (Last orders: 23.00）
Open: Tuesday to Sunday
Tel: 0742-26-7739 Map
3. Café Cojica
Café Cojica is a family friendly café with a relaxed atmosphere set in a beautifully restored 120 year old machiya wooden townhouse. Set meals are meat-based, with grilled pork, hamburger steaks, and chicken tempura among the options. Save some space though for dessert. Among the specialty sweets and parfaits on offer are a sweet potato and soy milk cake, a yoghurt, honey and pumpkin cake, and sweet sesame tofu in a dish of adzuki beans. The drinks menu features an extensive range of tea, coffee, and healthy herb tea options as well as ginger ale and fresh fruit juices. Beer, wines, spirits, and cocktails are available in the evening. The restaurant is located on a side street to the south of Sanjo Dori, and there is a sign on the main street pointing the way. From JR Nara Station it is a 4 minute walk and to Kintetsu Nara Station it is a 9 minute walk.
Lunch: 11.00 – 16.00
Dinner: 18.00 – 23.00
Open: Tuesday to Sunday
4. Kichiza Den-Emon
Kichiza Den-Emon specializes in authentic Japanese style fine dining with a huge range of choices including karaage-style deep fried chicken, sashimi, tempura, shabu shabu, and nabe-style hotpots. Lunchtime set meals include an array of obanzai style side dishes served with red miso soup, pickles, and rice mixed with mushrooms and vegetables. In the evening kaiseki style multi-course dinners are an option, or you can order a la carte from the English menu that comes with helpful pictures. All meals are beautifully arranged and can be complemented with wine, sake, or Japanese spirits. This restaurant is recommended for its welcoming atmosphere, as well as being great value for money. Kichiza Den-Emon is just south of Sanjo Dori on Yasuragi-no-michi Street. It is a 6 minute walk from Kintetsu Nara Station and an 8 minute walk from JR Nara Station.
Lunch: 11.00 – 15.00 (Last orders: 14.30)
Dinner: 17.30 – 23.00 (Last orders: 22.30)
Open: every day
Tel: 0742-24-4700 Map
5. Kakinoha Sushi Honpo Tanaka
Kakinoha Sushi is a regional specialty of Nara prefecture and something you should definitely try when you visit. Vinegared rice is topped with mackerel, salmon, or bream and then wrapped in fragrant kakinoha persimmon leaves to keep it fresh. You can eat in the store, or buy a box of sushi to take out and have it for a picnic or take it home as a souvenir. A set meal in the store will include a sushi selection, with side dishes, and soup. The main branch of this store is located right outside Kintetsu Nara Station at the entrance to the Higashimuki Shotengai shopping arcade. It is a 14 minute walk from JR Nara Station.
Open: every day 9.30 – 19.30
Tel: 0742-81-3651 Map
6. Kamameshi Shizuka
Kamameshi Shizuka is a popular restaurant close to Nara Park which serves a traditional Japanese rice dish, similar to a pilaf, called kamameshi. The rice is flavored with soy sauce and other seasonings and then cooked in an iron pot with vegetables, mushrooms, and either meat or fish. Prawn, crab, chicken and oyster are all options on the Kamameshi Shizuka menu. Set meals include soup, pickles, and other side dishes along with your individual kamameshi pot. This restaurant has an English menu with pictures, friendly service, and meals are filling but reasonably priced. However, because the restaurant has limited seating and is extremely popular, there is almost always a long line of people waiting to get in, so hour-long waits are common. To avoid waiting too long, we recommend going on a weekday and getting there before the shop opens. Even so, you should be prepared for a wait. This restaurant is convenient for Todaiji Temple which is just 6 minutes’ walk away. Kintetsu Nara Station is a 13 minute walk away, and JR Nara Station is a 23 minute walk away.
Open: 11.00 – 19.00
Tel: 0742-27-8030 Map
7. Sobadokoro Kitahara
Sobadokoro Kitahara is a charming little restaurant serving the very best soba (or buckwheat) noodles. These noodles are made almost completely from buckwheat flour which is freshly ground every morning on the premises. However, some wheat flour is used in the kneading process so these noodles are not suitable for the gluten-intolerant. The noodles can be enjoyed hot or cold, and shrimp and vegetable tempura, tofu, seasoned herring, and pickles can be ordered too. The drinks menu includes beer, local sake, oolong tea, and citrus sodas. This restaurant has a homey atmosphere, with very friendly staff and both an English menu, and illustrated English instructions for how to eat your noodles! The restaurant is a 2 minute walk north of Isuien Garden, a 13 minute walk from Kintetsu Nara Station, and a 25 minute walk from JR Nara Station.
Open: 11.00 – 16.00
Tel: 0742-22-0448 Map
Omoya is an elegant Japanese and French fusion restaurant in a refurbished machiya townhouse with tables overlooking a traditional Japanese garden. The menu consists mainly of fixed multi-course meals, but there is a cheaper lunchtime set, with a main dish, rice, soup, pickles and side dishes. Courses feature either fish or meat as a main dish, with roast duck and wagyu beef as the house specialties. The presentation is beautiful, the service hospitable, and the atmosphere is old-world Japan. Omoya is located in the Naramachi old town district and is a 4 minute walk from Gangoji Temple. It is a 15 minute walk from Kintetsu Nara Station and a 19 minute walk from JR Nara Station.
Open: Tuesday – Sunday
Lunch: 11.30 – 14.30
Dinner: 17.30 – 20.30
Tel: 0742-21-7500 Map
9. Shunsai Hiyori
Shunsai Hiyori serves kaiseki style multi-course meals that heavily emphasize fresh, seasonal, locally-grown, vegetables. Among the creative and colorful courses are options that include, beef-steak, pork, chicken, or trout, but there is also a simple lunch-time “Yasai-biyori” set that has no meat or fish except for the bonito-based soup stock. This set features 7 different vegetable dishes, rice, miso soup, pickles, and dessert. Service is friendly and an English menu is available. Shunsai Hiyori is a 4 minute walk from Gangoji in the Naramachi area. It is an 11 minute walk from Kintetsu Nara Station and a 15 minute walk from JR Nara Station.
Open: Wednesday – Monday
Lunch: 11.30 – 14.30 (Last orders: 14.00)
Dinner: 17.00 – 22.00 (Last orders: 21.00)
10. Awa Naramachi
Awa Naramachi serves traditional Nara cuisine in a renovated 140 year old townhouse. The kaiseki style full course meals feature Yamato beef, local sake, and plenty of fresh vegetables, fruit, and grains from local farms. “Awa” in fact means “millet”. In particular, this restaurant seeks to promote Nara’s food culture using only locally grown ingredients, with many vegetable varieties that are unique to this region. Staff can explain each course’s ingredients in detail, and even have a pictorial record of the farm the vegetables came from. Because of its reputation for tasty, healthy, and beautifully composed meals, Awa Naramachi is one of the most popular restaurants in Nara, so you have to make a reservation in advance. This restaurant is a 3 minute walk from Gangoji Temple, an 11 minute walk from Kintetsu Nara Station, and a 15 minute walk from JR Nara Station.
Open: Wednesday – Monday
Lunch: 11.30 – 15.00 (Last entry: 13.30）
Dinner: 17.30 – 22.00 (Last entry: 20.00)
Tel: 0742-24-5699 Map
Article and original photos by Michael Lambe. All rights reserved.