Food in Osaka: Where You Should and Should Not Eat

Food in Osaka: Where You Should and Should Not Eat

Food in Osaka:

Did you know that as of December 2016, out of the top 18 cities with the most Michelin stars, 4 of them belong to Japan (Nara, Kyoto, Osaka, and Tokyo), with Tokyo taking first place (you can see the full list here)?  On top of that, Osaka is known as a huge gastronomic city, especially for street foods and cheap eats. As you can imagine, I had a long list of places I wanted to try in Osaka, but I don’t even think I was able to try 1/10th of the list. Several factors prevented me from fulfilling my culinary dreams: 1) time constraint, as I only had 4 full days in Japan, with only 2 full days in Osaka due to day trips to Nara and Kyoto; 2) traveling in a large group as it was my in-law’s family reunion; 3) distance from sight-seeing and tourist attractions to restaurants; and 4) my stomach’s limited capacity, although I have to say that it’s much bigger than others’ (hehe).

Despite the obstacles I had to face, I still managed to eat some amazing food during my trip. See below for what I ate, loved, and recommend!

*Disclaimer: It was difficult to find addresses in a uniform matter, as online research rendered a mixture of English and Japanese addresses, and some places only had the address in Japanese. My apologies.

Breakfast/Brunch:

  • Belle-ville:
Address: Yubinbango 530-0017 Osaka-shi, Osaka, Kita-ku, Kakuda-cho, Umeda underground shopping center North Mall 1
Phone: +81 6 6311 5139
http://www.sunpark.ne.jp/store/belle.html
Hours: daily breakfast 7:00-11:00, lunch from 11:00-15:00; dinner 15:00-23:00

While searching for an easy breakfast place near our hotel, I came across Belle-ville on Yelp with good reviews. As we had planned to visit Nakazakicho shortly after breakfast, Belle-ville fit the bill as according to the address and map on Yelp, it was on the way to Nakazakicho. What was meant to be an easy, quick bite turned out to be quite the opposite, as the address listed on Yelp was completely incorrect. It took us almost an hour of wandering around, walking back and forth, asking locals, etc., etc… Finally, my husband was able to locate the place, which happens to be inside Umeda/Whity shopping center, on floor B1.

The ambiance and decor seemed a bit dated and cleanliness questionable, as smoking is allowed inside the restaurant. I almost wanted to walk right out as I cannot stand cigarette smoke/smell, but I was determined to get their breakfast sandwich and pancakes after the whole ordeal we went through trying to find this place. I’m glad that we decided to stick around, as both the breakfast sandwich and pancakes were delicious and very affordable. The egg, cheese, and ham sandwich brought my husband to a nostalgic mood and while simple and somewhat small, was very tasty. I had to stop him from ordering another one as we were about to go get udon in less than an hour. The pancakes were very fluffy, moist, soft, and neither overly sweet nor heavy. I think the huge scoop of butter on top is unnecessary, although I’m sure my husband would disagree. I do not recommend the hot tea that comes as part of the combination set. Service was good and English menu was not available. Take note that breakfast is only served until 11 AM and breakfast menu is cheaper than the lunch menu.

 

  • Terrace Sweets & Meal:
Address: 鶴野町3-17 ファーストNレジデンス Osaka, 大阪府 〒530-0014, Kita Ward
Phone: +81 6 4802 6666
http://www.terrace-cafe.com/shopinfo/
Hours: daily 10:00-20:00

We happened to choose Terrace Sweets & Meal for our last meal of the trip on a whim, as the line at A Happy Pancake restaurant was too long and we didn’t want to miss our flight. Terrace Sweets & Meal happened to be right next to the pancake place and was able to seat a party of 5 right away, so instead of Japanese pancakes, Japanese style French toast was our brunch menu of choice. This happened to be a blessing in disguise, as I enjoyed Terrace very much.

I liked the decor and the casual ambiance of the restaurant, with plenty of greenery climbing the yellow painted walls. Service was excellent as was the food. Everything we ordered was very tasty and presented well. There are two types of French toast, and we ordered the premium French toast to share, which I highly recommend. I also recommend the egg and bacon plate (sorry, I can’t recall the exact name, please see pictures below). Everyone in my party liked his or her order and left happy and satisfied. Before leaving, I saw that Terrace sold soft serve vanilla ice cream in a special cookie cone, so of course, I had to try it. Well, my fellow travelers, unless you have a crazy sweet tooth or passion for ultra creamy dairy, I say you can save your 500 yen and skip on this ice cream cone. On the upside, it looks very cute in photos. Also take note that the restaurant has an owl that is chained on one foot  and sits near the entrance/exit. I didn’t notice the owl upon entrance, but unfortunately, I fully became aware of it before exiting and froze in my place. When someone opened the door, the owl, longing for freedom and fresh air, tried to make a mad dash (or flight) for the door, but got pulled back to its perch by the chain. I almost had a heart attack right then and there, but I also felt sorry for the poor owl. It seems Japanese people have a thing with owls, as evidenced by many owl cafes I passed by in every city I visited.

 

  • Convenience Stores:
Family Mart, Lawson, 7-11: Hours vary by store, with some open 24 hours.

If you don’t have enough time in your itinerary to sit and enjoy a full meal for breakfast, do not fret, you are in Japan, the country with a highly advanced convenience store food culture. Many Japanese people stop by convenience stores during their commute to choose from a myriad of onigiri (rice balls, more like rice triangles), pastries, bread items, fried food, oden (fish cake), cold or hot drinks, snacks, etc., to fill their bellies before going to work. Almost (I say almost, because there were some fails, like the melon bread with sugar crystals) everything I tried at convenience stores was really tasty, although I’m not too sure how nutritious convenience store food items are. Sorry, no pictures, as we were too excited and scarfed everything down before I came to my senses.

Ramen:

  • Ichiran Ramen:
Address: 〒530-0012, B1F, 1-3-1 Shibata Kita-ku Osaka-shi Osaka-fu
Phone: +81 6 6359 4006
ichiran.co.jp/index_hp.html
Hours: 10:00-23:00 daily; closed: third Sunday (February, April, June, August, October), January 1- 2.
Ichiran Ramen is a chain and there are other locations in Osaka that are open 24 hours. This one happened to be closest to and easy to access from our hotel.

I’m a bit bummed that I didn’t have the time to eat more ramen on this trip (as with many other things), but I’m thankful that my ramen experience was at Ichiran Ramen. This is a chain ramen place with various locations throughout Japan and even in other countries, but nevertheless, their ramen deserves all the rave reviews. The set up at Ichiran Ramen is interesting, as it caters to people who want or have to dine alone sans the embarrassment or stigma that may be pervasive in some Asian cultures. Human contact is kept at a minimal, with ordering done through a vending machine (common practice in Japan), eating in a single cubicle, and speaking to a server’s mid section rather than his face. The only time I saw staff member’s full face and being was when the host had to assign seats or cubicles to our party.

Service was great, English was available for menu and instructions, ramen was made perfectly, price was right, as was the portion. There was no line when we arrived as it was a late night snack for us and near closing time for this particular branch. The best ramen I had was at a stand-up ramen bar at Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo, but Ichiran Ramen ranks high as well. Highly recommended!

Udon:

  • Sanuki Udon (うどん屋きすけ):
Address: 〒530-0014 Ōsaka-fu, Ōsaka-shi, Kita-ku, Tsurunochō, 4− 1
Phone: +81 6-6375-5656
Hours: Sun-Mon, Wed-Sat 12:00-21:00; closed Tuesdays

After trying Kunitoraya Udon Bistro in Paris, the bar for udon had been set pretty high, but after Sanuki Udon in Osaka, that standard has been set even higher, way higher. This was the best udon I have ever had in my life. There are no English menus, no tourists (my husband, brother-in-law, and I were the only tourists), no gimmicks. Just friendly service and amazing, affordable udon. What else would you need at a udon place? It was clean, simply decorated, crowded but not overly so (we did not have to wait, though we were stuck with the very back corner table with poor ventilation), although we saw that a line had started to form after we were seated. I got the most popular cold udon, which came with poached egg, green onions, oden, grated ginger, and a wedge of lemon (sprinkle the lemon juice on your udon–this added a very interesting and refreshing dimension to the taste). The udon noodles were cooked to perfect chewiness and the sauce was neither too salty nor lacking in any taste. It was perfection. I have no clue what it is called and do not know how to even order this, but I asked for their “number one cold udon” and that is what I received. The guys got udon with beef, one hot and another cold, and while they both highly enjoyed their udon, I was told that my udon was better. All of us wished to return to Sanuki Udon during our trip, which sadly did not happen this time.

 

Sushi:

  • Toyo Sushi:
Address: 3 Chome-2-26 Higashinodamachi, Miyakojima Ward, Osaka, Osaka Prefecture 534-0024
Phone: +81 6-6882-5768
Hours: Tues, Wed, Fri: 15:30-21:00, Sat 14:30-20:00

Toyo Sushi was one of the places I had really looked forward to visiting after lusting over the Yelp pictures of their generous heaps of uni (sea urchin) for weeks. We took a train out of our way just to fulfill my dreams of satiating my uni and toro (fatty tuna) desires. Toyo Sushi is an outdoor stand-up joint where you might share a table with strangers and although we arrived shortly after opening time, the place became packed by the time we left.

Service was good, and the menu is in Japanese, English, and Korean. The server was able to communicate with us in English relatively well. Here is what we ordered: half order of ikura (generous heaping of salmon roe on top of rolls), 5 slices of toro, shellfish and green onion dish, unagi, maguro cheeks, oolong tea (up to 3 refills, self-serve). To my utter disappointment, they did not have uni that day due to the poor weather. L L L That was one of the main reasons I wanted to visit Toyo’s. My uni dreams were crushed to pieces, but at least they had toro, so it should have been okay, no? Well, toro dreams were a bit squashed, as the toro seemed too frozen and needed some more time for it to be thawed, but as soon as it hit my tongue, the texture got somewhat better. Shellfish dish was very tasty, with yuzu and shiso leaf slices adding brightness to it. Ikura on top of rolls was also good, but nothing out of this world. The cooked maguro cheeks were tasty, but the highlight of our meal was Mr. Toyo himself and his incredible bare handed cooking of the maguro cheeks over open flames and a torch. With a cigarette casually hanging in his mouth and manhandling the maguro cheeks and fire, Mr. Toyo was so gangsta and bad-ass, but also very friendly and fun to talk to. Take note that this place is cash only.

 

  • Harukoma:
Address: 5 Chome-5-2 Tenjinbashi, Kita Ward, Osaka, Osaka Prefecture 530-0041
Phone: +81 6-6351-4319
Hours: Sun-Mon, Wed-Sat 11:00-22:00; closed Tuesdays

Harukoma, which is in Tenjinbashisuji Shotengai, is a popular sushi spot for locals and tourists alike, and although we arrived later at night, we still had to stand in line for about 20-30 minutes. They have menus in Japanese, English, and Korean, and a wait staff handed us a menu, a piece of paper, and a pen, and told us to write down what we wanted (indicated by numbers) and quantity. Every sushi order comes in two pieces, unless otherwise indicated. Once we got close to being seated, the server handed our order list to the sushi chef, and as soon as we got seated and settled down, they had our sushi ready for us. Service was good and quick, sushi was tasty, and the price was very reasonable. Cash only. Damage: about 40 bucks for about 10 orders of different types of sushi, including blue fin tuna toro, sea bream 3 ways, and uni.

 

  • Koyoshi Sushi:
Address: 〒530-0012 Osaka Prefecture, Osaka, Kita Ward, Shibata, 1 Chome−3−12
Phone: +81 6-6372-5747
Hours: Mon-Tues, Thurs-Sat 18:00-23:00; closed Sundays and Wednesdays

Koyoshi Sushi, ladies and gents, is definitely a must, a MUST, if you are ever in Osaka. Dare I say it might be the best sushi dining experience ever… This was better than eating at Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo, better than super expensive sushi exeriences that cost 4 times more than what we paid for here… This tiny hole in the wall sushi restaurant run by the cutest couple ever seats 12 people only. Even when we arrived before opening time, there was a line and because of my brother-in-law joining us, we couldn’t make the first group. We stood in line for almost an hour in the rain. We asked for the premium omakase, which turned out to be 15 sushi pieces per person and ordered 2 large bottles of beer. The damage for three of us was only 20,000 yen total, which is less than 200 bucks. The charming elderly couple running the show with the husband as the sushi chef and the wife as the sous chef worked magic in the tiniest kitchen I have ever seen. Everything was so good, fresh, and generously portioned. At the end of the meal, I was moved to confess my love for the sushi chef, who prepared each sushi piece with much care, pride, and passion. Absolutely recommend Koyoshi Sushi!

 

  • Big Beans Gourmet Market:
Address: 2 Chome-8-4 Yoshino, Fukushima Ward, Osaka
Phone: +81 6-6441-7616
Hours: daily 9:30-20:30

After a beautiful meal at Sobakiri Karani, I wanted to try korokke from a meat specialty store called Dai Ichi in Fukushima-ku that was supposed to be nearby, however, after our search for Dai Ichi came up dry, the owner of Sobakiri Karani informed us that it closed last year. When we asked for korokke recommendations, he recommended Big Beans, where I had made a mental note to stop by when we walked past it on our way from the train station. Yay!

Now, I know I had mentioned that we had already had a meal at Sobakiri Karani, but all of the glorious food at Big Beans was so enticing that we basically had a second meal there. They were selling A5 for less than $15! Imagine how upset we were that we didn’t have a kitchen to cook the marbled beauty in. After looking around and practically drooling over everything, here is what we settled on: toro sushi (880 yen for 4 toro sushi pieces and maguro roll), beef korokke, corn korokke, mentaiko pasta, and custard pudding. Everything was so good!

 

Soba:

  • Sobakiri Karani:
Address: 2 Chome-11-26 Sagisu, Fukushima Ward, Osaka, Osaka Prefecture 553-0002
Phone: +81 6-4796-2286
Hours: Sun-Tues & Fri-Sat 11:00-14:00, 17:00-20:30 PM; closed Wednesdays and Thursdays

I came across Sobakiri Karani from an article I read regarding cool Osaka neighborhoods, especially on Fukushima-ku. Michelin awarded Bib Gourmand to Sobakiri Karanai, and rightfully so, as they serve “exceptionally good food at moderate prices” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michelin_Guide#Bib_Gourmand). We were expecting a line, so we hurried along for lunch on a rainy day, but to our pleasant surprise, there was only a couple of women who were finishing up their meal and getting ready to leave. They confirmed that this place was the best place for handmade soba and left, making this meal an unexpectedly private dining experience.

Décor was cool, homey, warm, casual, and trendy all at the same time. The owner prepared and served our meal, and the service was friendly, polite, and attentive, without being overbearing. There are no English menus and the owner’s English is limited, but we made do by using Google Translate and body language. Here is what I ordered, relying a lot on the article mentioned above: saiboshi, ginger tempura, duck soup, and both types of soba (the regular soba and one that is more coarse). Everything we ordered was delicious and I absolutely relished every dish that came out. Both types of soba and the dipping sauce were also perfect, but I preferred the coarsely grated buckwheat noodles more. The hot soba-yu (soba broth) at the end was a beautiful finish to a fantastic meal. I could sense that the owner/chef is a master of hand crafted things by his amazing food, soba (made in-house daily), and hand-shaved chopsticks (which you can take home with you) and toothpicks. This dining experience was such a special one for me, with great food, cozy ambience, light rain, and lovely company all lending a hand to make me one happy woman. The damage: about 45 bucks for 3 orders of soba and 3 appetizers.

 

Donkatsu/Tonkatsu:

  • Nadai Tonkatsu Katsukura Umeda Chayamachi or Tonkatsu Katsukura:
Address: 〒530-0013 Osaka Prefecture, Osaka, Kita Ward, Chayamachi, 19番19号 アプローズタウン (Applause Tower B1)
Phone: +81 6-6486-3751
Hours: daily 11:00-22:00

This donkatsu restaurant happened to be on the ground floor of a building right next to our hotel and got glowing reviews on Yelp. I believe Katsukura is a chain with multiple branches throughout Japan, and it seems like all of them get glowing reviews as well. I also would like to chime in and add to the collection of glowing reviews for the expertly fried, juicy pork loins with delicately crispy crust.

I liked the restaurant’s clean-lined and modern décor, casual yet intimate ambiance, and the best service I received during this trip. The staff was very polite, friendly, and patient. They were able to communicate in English relatively well and there were English menus and descriptions of the different sauces. Also, my apologies, but I cannot remember what I ordered. I believe it was one of the special pork loins, in the regular/medium size. Take note that there are different types of pork and different cuts, sizes, and if you order the set, it includes unlimited refills of rice, salad, and soup. The price is on a slightly higher side for donkatsu, around $20-25. Highly recommended!

Snacks:

  • Hankyu Department Store Food Hall (B1):
Address: 8-7 Kakuda-cho,Kita-ku,Osaka 530-8350, B1
Phone: +81 6-6361-1381
http://www.hankyu-dept.co.jp/fl/english/honten/
Hours: Sun-Thurs 10:00-20:00; Fri-Sat 10:00-21:00

While looking for Belle-ville Restaurant for breakfast, we came across Hankyu Department Store’s ground level food hall. We stopped by after breakfast, and had it not been for our plans to eat udon in less than an hour, I would have tried everything right then and there. Nonetheless, it was still fun to browse through aisles of different types of food, snacks, and desserts. It was pretty busy and crowded when we went due to it being the full moon festival (October 4th). Due to the crowd and long wait, we didn’t get to try the famous Nenrinya or the Patisserie Moncher. B2 continues to carry more food items, which we did not have time to check out. What we purchased: Cororo, overpriced fruit jelly that is only sold here at the Osaka Hankyu Dept. Store in all of Japan, and a slice of fig tart from Patisserie à la Campagne Nous Venons de Kobe. I don’t think I’ll be returning to Cororo, although it seemed to be very popular amongst the locals, but I definitely recommend the fruit tarts.

 

  • Manneken Belgian Waffle:
Address: Hankyu Sanganbai, 1 Chome-1-3 Shibata, Kita Ward, Osaka, basement.
Phone: +81 6-6346-0350
http://www.h-sanbangai.com/language/english.html
Hours: daily 10:00-21:00

After a less-than-stellar experience at our first meal in Osaka, we were lured by a dreamy scent of butter and pastries wafting through the air. When I followed the smell, we found ourselves in front of this Belgian waffle place. As we were full from the so-so dinner, we just got one butter waffle (I think that’s what it’s called; there’s a picture of a cow on the name tag) to share. It was really tasty, but I don’t think I can finish the whole thing on my own unless I were very hungry.

 

  • Convenience Stores:
Family Mart, Lawson, 7-11: Hours vary by store, with some open 24 hours.

I love Japanese convenience stores and all the food items and drinks they carry. Some of the snacks that stood out were the peach flavored “ice cream balls,” korokke, fish sandwich that tasted very similar to filet-o-fish, dojima roll, and last but definitely not least, Horoyoi peach “beer.” These fruit flavored “beers,” more like carbonated juice with 3% alcohol content, are not sold in the States, so I made sure to finish the night with these drinks every night. 😉 I tried several different flavors, and I have to say that the peach one and the Asian pear one are my favorite.

 

Café:

  • Enjoy! Café: 
Address: 3 Chome-4-1 Minamihorie, Nishi Ward, Osaka, Osaka Prefecture 550-0015
Phone: +81 6-6541-8232
https://tabelog.com/en/osaka/A2701/A270206/27012083/
Hours: daily 9:00-23:00

We stopped by Enjoy! Café to rest our tired feet and to research where to eat for dinner. I can’t comment on the food, but the drinks were decent, albeit overpriced, and service was decent. Décor is eclectic with a mix of American pop culture and Hawaiian influence. It was a cute place to stop by and hang out, and if I were to return, I would want to try the food.

 

Airport Souvenirs/Snacks:

I’ve read a lot about must-purchase snacks when leaving Japan, and at Kansai International Airport, there were a few shops that sold these popular snacks where you can sample some of them before shelling out your yen (or dollar).

We tried Royce Chocolate, which lived up to its fame, but due to our long flight/distance, we were unable to take any on the plane for fear of melting. We also tried products from Tokyo Milk Cheese Factory, which were a too bit creamy and heavy for my taste. After trying out other items, we actually ended up buying Tokyo Banana and Ginza Strawberry Cake without sampling them. These were delicious, but if you are planning on getting them as gifts, take into consideration that they have a short shelf life/expiration dates.

Another souvenir I had been searching for while we were in Osaka was special flavored Kit Kat. Whenever I had the chance, I tried to look for flavors that can only be found in Japan, but convenience stores, markets, and drug stores only carried green tea or strawberry flavors, which could be purchased in the States. It wasn’t until we stopped by a convenience store at the airport that I found Hokkaido Melon Kit Kat. I highly recommend this flavor and if you can get your hands on them, they make great gifts. The only negative is that the size of the Kit Kat is abysmal and the chocolate disappears very quickly as a result.

 

Not Recommended:

Due to travel fatigue, jetlag, pouring rain, being hangry (hungry + angry), and a family member’s stomach issues, we had to just settle for wherever was able to seat us quickly. We wandered around the ground floor (“gourmet alley”) of Hankyu Sanganbai (B2 North), and chose a place based purely on its looks (of the fake food display in the front). I have no clue what the place is called, as it was in Japanese, but I took a picture of the restaurant name, which you can find below. They have instructions in English on how to order from their menu. The food was decent/mediocre, nothing to write home about, but not terrible. The service was not what I would expect at a Japanese establishment—curt, unfriendly, unapologetic (they mixed up our orders), discriminatory (servers were friendly and courteous to the locals). We made sure to be polite and friendly to the servers, but we did not receive a single smile in return. With so many options to choose from in this “gourmet alley,” which is ironic as the quality of the restaurants is not gourmet at all, I would recommend you look elsewhere to spend your hard earned money, unless you are Japanese.

 

  • Kita no Hana: Applause tower B1, 19-19, Chayamachi, Kita-ku, Osaka-shi, Osaka, 530-0013; Monday – Sunday 11:00 – 14:00; Monday – Sunday & Day before holiday & Holiday 17:00 – 23:00(L.O.22:30)

This place has to be the worst restaurant we tried during this trip. A relative’s friend who has been living in Japan for over 20 years recommended this place, made reservations for a large group of 19 people, and joined us to interpret for us. We were told that we would be served an 11 course meal with unlimited drinks (alcohol and non-alcohol) for about $35 per person. 11 different types of food came out, alright, but some of the “courses” were one tiny piece of sashimi per person. They literally told us that we were to just take one piece of fish, tamago, one slice of duck, etc. And they kept on serving us less food or pieces than the number of people in our party, which caused a whole section of a table waiting around for food. The food also came out extremely slow (3+ hours), which I wouldn’t have minded if there were enough food to go around. Oh and the food was not tasty and quality was lacking. Alcoholic drinks were super watered down and they gave us only one glass at a time, so we were not allowed to have a glass for water and a glass for beer at the same time. We had to choose one or the other. Maybe this is a norm in Osaka, but it was not a good experience at all. Service was slow, unfriendly, and all of us left hungry and had to eat at another place after an 11 course meal. During this trip, I learned that not all Japanese restaurants are good or give good service.

 

  • Yakiniku & Horumon Susumu:  5 Chome-6-22 Tenjinbashi, Kita Ward, Osaka, Osaka Prefecture 530-0041, Japan; +81 70-5659-0993; Sun 16:00-24:00; Mon-Sat 17:00-24:00

My husband was craving meat and was persuaded to try this place after reading a glowing review on some blog. We cut our meal short and left very unsatisfied, and wondering if the blogger received either some sort of compensation or an entirely different set of meat stashed away for special people. This restaurant is a small, divey, standing only meat barbecue place where you order small amounts of meat and grill your own meat. There is no English menu and the server didn’t speak any English, so we just tried to guess by looking at the pictures. We ordered beef tartare, beef tongue, and a couple of other cuts of meat, and none impressed us. The meat quality looked nothing like the pictures on that blog that led us to this place, and my husband was convinced that we were served old meat with low quality because we were not Japanese. Haha. I didn’t share his sentiments, but the beef tongue was the toughest, thickest, most unappetizing, and driest beef tongue I have ever had. Beef tartare’s freshness was questionable, and it seemed that some of the cuts we ordered were drenched in sauce to cover up the lack of quality. Two glasses of draft beer, one beef tartare, two orders of beef tongue, and a couple of other cuts cost us about $40 for three people. We bolted out of there and stood in line at Harukoma for sushi.