When Food Is Art: Kyoto's Best Restaurants

Where to find the traditional kyo-ryori cuisine the city is known for, plus more refined takes on Japanese staples.

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What distinguishes dining in Japan’s cultural capital from dining in Tokyo is kyo-ryori, or Kyoto cuisine. Synonymous with kyo-kaiseki, kyo-ryori is all about local, seasonal ingredients (especially vegetables and tofu) and beautiful, delicate presentation, right down to the serving pieces used across several courses. Kyo-ryori’s roots date back more than a thousand years to when the city was the seat of Japan’s imperial court. This stateliness still permeates the culinary world today, which jibes with the city’s ambience. It also explains why Kyoto has been slow to embrace trends or outside influences in its food. But that resistance hardly matters, because it’s artful tradition that travelers come here to taste. DEPARTURES thinks these restaurants dish up the best of it.