Lately Nara has been hosting more and more tourists and this means more and more dining opportunities. While the majority of Nara restaurants still focus on ultra-healthy Japanese cuisine (Japan has the highest life expectancy of any country in the world) visitors will discover other options including Chinese, French, Israeli, and Italian food.
Not all Nara restaurants serve outrageously expensive food. Tourists on a tight budget can enjoy good meals at many downtown venues that serve good value set lunches. Please note that tipping is not expected in Japan.
For those who’ve never had the dubious pleasure of eating sushi from a conveyor belt, here is your chance. Visit Totogin located inside Higashimuki Shopping Arcade and enjoy more than 100 different types of sushi.
Opening Hours: Daily from 11:00 – 22:00
Location: Higashimuki Shopping Arcade in central Nara, about a minute walk from Kintetsu Nara Station.
Tel: +81 (0)74 220 1010
Cuisine: Conveyor-belt sushi
Tousenbou is famous for tofu dishes and traditional Japanese sweets. It is amazing to see how one can create so many different dishes from it. Tofu has long been an important ingredient in the Japanese diet and is one of the healthiest ones too. Check out many of Tousenbou’s set menus that allow you to sample from six to 10 different types of food in one meal.
Opening Hours: 11:00 – 20:00, Café open from 14:30 – 16:30
Location: On the south side of Sanjo, 50 metres north of Mochiidono Shopping Centre
Tel: +81 (0)74 226 0633
Cuisine: Tofu & traditional Japanese
A typical lunch set here will include about eight items but this does not mean that each of them come in large servings, leaving you uncomfortably full when done. The beauty of Japanese cuisine is that you get to enjoy many items per meal but each is served in small portions. Try one of their locally brewed sakes. Major credit cards accepted.
Opening Hours: Lunch from 11:00 – 15:00, dinner from 17:30 – 23:00
Location: On the east side of Yasuragi no Michi, south of Sanjo, across from Isagawa Shrine, Central Nara
Tel: +81 (0)74 224 4700
Cuisine: Authentic Japanese
If you find yourself on Sanjo Street in central Nara, stop by at Shima-Shima Café for a good-value lunch or light snack. Don’t forget to try the parfaits.
Opening Hours: 11:00 – 17:00, closed on Saturdays & Sundays
Location: On the second floor opposite Nara City Tourist Center on Sanjo
Tel: +81 (0)74 226 8805
Classy Kikusuiro Ryokan is conveniently located adjacent to Nara Park in a well-preserved vintage home. The two main restaurants here serve Japanese and western cuisine and the Bekkan Kikusuiro (Annex) Restaurant offers traditional Japanese food. If you are looking for a unique experience, they also can organize a geisha performance featuring traditional dance and music. Currently there are fewer than 15 geishas in Nara, so the experience can be something very special. Advance booking is required. Major credit cards accepted and prices are not necessary cheap.
Opening Hours: Daily
Location: Adjacent to the Nara Park, close to Nara’s major landmarks
Tel: +81(0)74 223 2001
Mangyoku is an attractive neighborhood restaurant popular with the locals. If you could only eat at one restaurant in Nara Mangyoku is probably the best place to choose. On top of the fine cuisine, you will also have chance to admire the simple but elegant architecture dating back to 1742. Mangyoki once was an okiya (a boarding house of geishas as well as maikos or apprentice geishas) and some of the restaurant’s furniture was actually used by those ladies back in the old days. English-language menus available and prices are reasonable.
Opening Hours: 18:00 – 23:00, Closed on Mondays
Location: In the old Naramachi district, near Sarusawa Pond
Tel: +81 (0)74 222 2265
Cuisine: Traditional Japanese
Harishin is famous for serving delicious kaiseki or Japanese set meals usually consisting of soup, rice, pickled vegetables and a few side dishes. For the Japanese, the presentation of the meal itself is as important as its freshness and ingredients. Though the food might be well prepared, if it is not beautifully presented the meal is considered incomplete and a dining experience at this restaurant is a good example of this belief. Harishin is one of the well-preserved traditional wooden houses and shops that line old narrow lanes in this part of Nara and it offers traditional tatami mat dining with a view of a traditional Japanese garden. Major credit cards accepted.
Opening Hours: Tue - Sun 11:30 – 14:30 and 18:00 – 20:00
Location: Near Gangoji Temple and Sarusawa Pond
Tel: +81 (0)74 222 2669
Cuisine: Japanese set meals
Noh is an unusual because of its location inside the Nara Prefecture Public Hall in Nara Park. Noh offers both Japanese and European food such as Japanese lunch box (bento) and pastas. English-language menu available. Major cards accepted.
Opening Hours: Tue - Sun 11:00 – 18:00, closed an hour early during December – February
Location: Inside the Nara Prefecture Public Hall at the east end of Nara Park
Tel: +81 (0)74 227 0620
Cuisine: Japanese and western
This lovely café is located in a charming old house and is an ideal place for a relaxing lunch. The menu is not extensive but it covers the basics such as fish, chicken and vegetarian set lunches. The tea and snacks section features organic coffee, Ethiopian coffee, Japanese green tea, green tea cheesecake, persimmon cake and more. For dinner, advance booking is a must.
Opening Hours: 11:00 –18:00, occasionally closed on Tuesday
Location: 13-1 Takamikado Nara (near Naramachi Museum)
Tel: +81 (0)74 226 4455
In the old days, it was hard to find a non-Japanese restaurant in Nara but things have changed a lot lately as a fair number of visitors are willing to spend more time in Nara and not just treat it as a one-day destination. As a result, new eateries are opening to cater for these diners. Here are some choices of other Asian and European eateries in Nara.
Beautifully decorated with a warm wooden feel and many Chinese arts and crafts items, China Dining Hiten is a stylish and popular Chinese restaurant. Enjoy a variety of well-known dishes ranging from Canton noodles to dim sum with many choices of set lunches such as rice with chili shrimp served with soup, pickled vegetables and small salad. If you feel like only drinking, ask for the cocktail menu at the bar; it features more than 30 choices. China Dining Hiten has a separate seating section for smokers and non-smokers.
Opening Hours: Lunch from 11:00 – 15:00 and dinner from 17:00 – 22:00
Location: 26 Higashimuki Minami-machi, near the covered shopping arcade, east of Kintetsu Nara Station and not far from Nara Park
Tel: +81 (0)74 226 1777
Falafel Garden serves traditional Israeli dishes and has been a success story since first opening in Kyoto in 2004. Falafel has been doing well with their second branch in Nara too, featuring interesting dishes including falafel (deep-fried chick pea balls flavored with various spices, regarded as one of the most important dishes in Israel), baba ganoush (a dish made primarily of eggplant and tahini), humus, and another must try is the all-time favourite baklava sweet. Falafel Garden is a great choice for vegetarian and vegan diners too.
Opening Hours: Daily 11:00 – 20:30
Location: In the Higashimuki Shopping Arcade, on the east side (across from McDonalds)
Tel: +81 (0)74 224 2722
Cuisine: Authentic Israeli
Monsieur Pepé Café is popular for its down-home cooking style. Yasuko Nishikawa, the owner and head chef was trained at a Le Cordon Bleu school, a famous French culinary institution that has branches both in France and abroad, including a few locations in Asia. Don’t leave the restaurant without trying one of their tarts for dessert but you may find it hard to choose between the apple and blueberry – both are equally good. Monsieur Pepé is also open for dinner but they require two days booking in advance and only with a group of five or more people.
Opening Hours: Lunch from 11:00 – 14:00, dinner is from 18:00 but by advance booking only. Closed on Mondays
Location: Across from Nara National Museum
Tel: +81 (0)74 226 7709
For some people the longer they go without a burger the better it tastes. Japanese hamburger chain MOS is the answer to all fast-food lovers’ cravings. They offer a good variety of burgers and some people claim that MOS cheeseburgers are simply the best. The MOS burger chain has outlets everywhere in Japan and also runs some overseas operations such as in the US, Singapore and Taiwan. MOS even serves vegan burgers. English-language photo menu available.
Opening Hours: Daily
Location: Near all major Nara landmarks
Cuisine: Fast food
Ragamala serves up delicious all-vegetarian Indian food with atmospheric music in the background. It is located off Mochiidono-dori in a rather difficult-to-find location. Check out the many interesting handmade goods on sale at the restaurant. Some of the profits go to support less fortunate children in India.
Opening Hours: Lunch from 11:00 – 15:00, Dinner from 17:30 – 20:00, Sat & Sun open until 21:00, closed on Tuesdays & Fridays
Location: 31-1, Ganriin-cho, Nara (off Mochiidono-dori, a 5-minute walk from Kintetu Nara Station)
Tel: +81 (0)74 224 3445
Cuisine: Indian & vegetarian