Wednesday, 30 October 2019

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Vegan Restaurants in Kyoto


Last updated: September 2019 

Welcome to Kyoto


Kyoto is the vegan capital of Asia. It has over a dozen purely vegan restaurants, and, unlike Tokyo, most are within walking distance of the common visitor attractions. And while shojin ryori (Buddhist temple cuisine) is a must-eat at least once in Japan -- and Kyoto the best place to do it -- many other vegan restaurants are surprisingly inexpensive. A simple, healthy set meal often costs as little as a thousand yen -- less than a comparable meal would be in most of the world's historic cities.

This summary of vegan restaurants in Kyoto, which I originally wrote several years ago, is being updated with information from my upcoming Japan Travel Guide for Vegans. It will include not just food (that's here on this blog, and of course on Happycow) but also sights, attractions, and travel practicalities necessary to get the most out of a trip to Japan for a vegan (or vegetarian) foreign visitor. It has more in common with a traditional travel guide (eg Lonely Planet, Rough Guide) than it does with other vegan guides, most of which only cover restaurants.

Kyoto's Best Meals at a Glance

Links stay in this page.  

Best Shojin Ryori (Buddhist Temple Cuisine) Kanga An
Best Non-Shojin Ryori Fine Dining Little Heaven
Best Western Comfort Food Vegans Cafe and Restaurant, Morpho Cafe
Best Japanese, Best MacrobioticPadma
Best-value Simple, Healthy Meals  Sujata, Veggie Cafe , Kitten Company
Best International Food Sujata (Indian), Veggie Cafe (Middle Eastern), 
Work/Study/Hangout Space Cafe Choice


Kyoto Districts

In my guidebook (and on this blog post) I divide Kyoto up into five sections: Kyoto Station Area, Central Kyoto, Higashiyama and Arashiyama. These are based on travel practicalities and are not formal city districts. I recommend spending one day in northern Higashimaya and one day in southern Higashiyama, and one day in Arashiyama. Most travellers to Kyoto choose only a few of the sights and attractions around central Kyoto, but everyone should at least visit Gion (and the nearby Shirakawa Minami Dori) and Kinkakuji (the famous Golden Pavilion). 




Kyoto Station Area

These three restaurants are all suitable for a quick meal after arriving or before leaving Kyoto Station. I present them in order of preference, the least convenient and best meal, to most convenient and 'worst' meal, though all serve reasonable food.

Organic House Salute ($$, Macrobiotic, Vegan, オーガニックハウス サルーテ)

Fri-Tue 11:30-14:30, 17:00-18:45; closed Wed-Thu
Five minutes' walk northwest of Kyoto Station (Central Exit)
 〒600-8216 京都府京都市下京区東塩小路町600-31
Shimogyo Ward, Higashishiokojicho 600-8216
Delicious, inexpensive vegan food within a short walk of Kyoto Station. 
Unreliable hours, little English spoken makes calling ahead difficult




Vege Deli Kanna ($, Ramen, Curry)
11:00-23:00
Enter the Kyoto Tower building (opposite Kyoto Station), and take the escalators down to the basement food court.
京都タワービル
075 353-2399
Quick, inexpensive, long, reliable hours.
Unimaginative food, small portions, foodcourt dining.




At first sight this deli in the food court is a little like the famous T’s Tantan in Tokyo, and at first I thought it was a new branch using a different name. Unfortunately, while it serves similar food, it has much less flair and flavour than T’s, and costs a lot more. A small bowl of ramen costs at least YY1,000, and won’t be your favourite or most filling in meal in Kyoto – a hungry gaijin might need two whole meals. But if you need a meal beside the station, perhaps late after a day exploring the city, this place will be here, and probably open. It appears that the menu is all vegan, but some dishes contain onion and garlic, which is not considered ‘pure vegetarian’ in many Asian vegetarian communities; I think this has led to it being sometimes listed as not being vegan.


Veg Out ($$, Western, Vegan)

Wed-Mon: 8:00-11:00, 12:00-17:00, 18:00-20:00; closed Tue
Veg Out is on the west side of the Shichijo Bridge, on the north side of the road.
600-8133 京都府京都市下京区 七条通加茂川筋西入ル稲荷町448 鴨川ビル
600-8133 Kyoto, Shimogyo Ward, Shichijō, Naricho 448, Kamogawa Building.
Open early; Beautiful spot beside the Kamo River.
Expensive, small portions (even by Kyoto standards).






This sister café of Tamisa Yoga Café has two great things going for it: it’s open early, and it has a prime location right on the Kamo River, beside the old bridge. Much like the nearby Café Choice (which is also open early - see below) this café can be a lifesaver when you need it (or if you really appreciate the beautiful river more from your café chair than a pleasant walk along it). If you’re just going for the food, however, you’ll probably be unimpressed by the quantity of food you get relative to the price you pay. This is a cchoiceafé to enjoy a coffee and snack, but not somewhere to come for a filling meal.
I suggest starting with Veg Out before you get to Higashiyama.  An alternative, especially for anyone who eats gluten free, is Choice.

Central and Northern Kyoto

This section includes all restaurants north of Kyoto Station and in between Arashiyama to the far west, and the Kamogawa River to the east. I recommend choosing only a few of these restaurants and the attractions in this area, and then fitting them around visits to Higashiyama and Arashiyama.

Gion and Around

This central area has several restaurants which don't work in perfectly with any itinerary but can easily be reached before or after a day's exploring. They work best for exploring the historic neighbourhood of Gion (famous for Geisha) and are also good for starting or finishing an explore of southern Higashiyama, or for an evening meal after northern Higashiyama. 


Ain Soph Journey ($$, Fusion, Vegan) 

Two minutes’ walk from Kawaramachi Station on the (private) Hankyu Kyoto Line.
Fifteen minutes’ walk from Yasaka Shrine.
通四条上ル中之町, 新京極, 538-6 中之町 中京区 京都市 京都府 604-8042
Shijo Street,上ルNakanocho, Shinkyoko Street, 538-6 Nakanocho, Nakagyo Ward, Kyoto, 604-8042
Website, Happycow, Facebook (shared page for all branches)
Fast, healthy, reasonably priced food.  
You’ll probably try the same food in Tokyo, and there are more alternatives around here.




Ain Soph, one of Tokyo’s earliest vegan institutions which now runs several branches, opened here in place of one of the city's vegan pioneers, Matsuontoko. Ain Soph serves healthier food than its predecessor, but what’s most important is that this spot lives on as the go-to place for food in the cultural heart of Kyoto. True to its reputation from the capital, this branch also serves healthy, satisfying meals, at a surprisingly low prices for this location, at around YY1,000 for a small meal.


Veggie Café ($$, Middle Eastern, Macrobiotic, Vegan,  ベジカフェ)

Thu-Tue: 17:30-20:30
20 minutes northwest of Kyoto Station by bus 市営206, 乙市営26 or 市営28.
Half an hour (or less) by several bus routes from Kinkakuji - see directions link below.
A pleasant hour's walk southeast of Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion Temple). 
〒604-8363 京都府京都市中京区錦猪熊町537
537 Nishikiinokumacho, Nakagyo Ward, Kyoto, 604-8363, Japan 
Happycow (Yes, Happycow IS his social media, and where most of his visitors come from.)
(075) 366-3979 (Owner speaks English.)
Macrobiotic AND Organic AND Middle Eastern food in one.


Pita pockets are the Veggie Café staple, but the alternative macrobiotic concept has been extended to other dishes. This one: Spanish Omelet – 700 Yen

The owner of this charming little café is very passionate about healthy, organic food, particularly the use of agrochemicals in food, and he introduced me to the Fukuoka Method of Natural Farming, a system far better for the environment and its flora and fauna than organic farming. He returned to Japan from the USA to open the Veggie Cafe, which originally applied macrobiotic principles to Middle Eastern foods, particularly falafel, as he wanted to apply a familiar healthy food concept to something different to the regular curries and fake meat served at macrobiotic restaurants all over Japan. His menu now extends well beyond its falafel-and-hummus beginnings to include a range of soups, burgers and mexican dishes. During my visit he was experimenting with vegan baking using organic, whole grains.

Organic Means Organic, but Not Expensive For many "organic" restaurants in Japan (and Taiwan, and probably most countries) the namesake food standard is little more than an aspiration to use organic foods "where possible", which generally means "when not much more expensive" which generally means that very little of the food is actually organic. At the Veggie Cafe the owner lists the ingredients of his entire menu, stating which are organic, and virtually all are (eg "organic flour, yeast, organic sultanas...". I think the food at the Veggie Cafe is among the healthiest and certainly the best value in Kyoto, which is especially rare for a restaurant which uses mostly organic food.


These delicious pancakes were made from organic, whole grains.

Kinkakuji  (金閣寺)

The Veggie Cafe is a beautiful walk from Kinkakuji, the famous Golden Pavilion. 

Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion) is perhaps Kyoto's most famous landmark, but has no notable vegan restaurants nearby. A good option is to go to Morpho Cafe and take bus 12, or alternatively it makes a great walk back to central Kyoto.



Smoothie Etc @ Tamisa Yoga Cafe ($$, Smoothies, Baked Goods, Vegan, スムージーエトセトラ) 

Mon-Fri: 10:00-16:00; Sat-Sun: 9:30-16:00
Last order is half an hour before closing. 
Seven minutes’ walk west of Sanjo Station on the Keihan Line.
Three minutes’ walk south of Kyoto Shiyakusho-mae Station on the Tozai Line, which is of little use in this itinerary.
About fifteen minutes north of Kyoto Station by Bus 市営205甲, 市営急行104, or 市営4 from outside Kyoto Station (¥230).
〒604-8082 京都府京都市中京区天性寺前町532-2 北原ビル
Japan, 〒604-8082 Kyoto, Nakagyo Ward, Tenshojimaecho, 532-2, Kitahara Building. 
(075) 212-0776
Directions 
Nice interior above a yoga studio.
Limited menu and tiny portions. 


These quiches have recently been discontinued, and there is now more of a focus on baked goods, but the photo is an indication of what meal size and style. 


This little café used to serve a delicious lunch plate, but now focuses on its namesake smoothies, and healthy cereal bowls. They appear to have moved most of their more restaurant-like offerings to Veg Out, their other venue which focuses more on food (see above). Tamisa serves the perfect food for a yogi, and is a nice place to spend some time sipping a smoothie, but is perhaps not ideal for someone who is about to spend a long day walking Higashiyama. In that case, try Veg Out of Choice, though neither of them offer big meals either.

Tamisa Organic Cafe is a small cafe attached to a Yoga Studio and alternative health / culture shop. With only three small tables the cafe appears to be very much a side business mostly serving the steady stream of yoga clientelle, but walk-in customers are also welcome. Basic lunch sets start at around 1,000 Yen, and it had a very peaceful, relaxing vibe. It needn't make your 'must visit' list, but it's one of the better simple lunch sets in this price range, and definitely worth stopping in for a meal and drink if in the area. It doesn't specify how much of the food is organic.

Gomacro Salon ($$, Sesame, Honey, ゴマクロサロン)

Tue-Sun: 11:00-19:00
〒604-8207 京都府京都市中京区神明町67−3
Japan, 〒604-8207 Kyoto, Nakagyo Ward, Shinmeicho, 67−3
Unique focus on sesame.  
Vegan branch of a non-vegan company.




Open Sesame? It's said that this saying from the Syrian classic Arabian Nights has its origins in the powerful health benefits of sesame. True or not, you probably never realised how many ways seasme can improve a meal until you dine at Gomacro  -- literally sesame in Japanese. Here simple vegetable dishes (which in Japan are always cooked to perfection and delicous in themselves) reach a new level thanks to the addition of sesame products.
The restaurant is one of two owned by a major supplier of sesame to the Japanese market; Unfortunately the other one is not vegan. The two restaurants showcase the sesame products; they are also sold in a small shop inside the restaurant. I often find food disppointing at vegan branches of non-vegan chains, but that is not the case here, though of course by dining here we are supporting a non-vegan enterprise.


Morpho Cafe ($$, Fusion, Vegan, モルフォカフェ)

Wed-Mon: 11:45-14:30, 17:00-20:30; closed Tue
 Fifteen minutes' walk southwest of Imadegawa Station on the  Karasuma (subway) Line.
Fifteen minutes' walk north of Nijo Castle (Nijo Palace). 
Twelve minutes' walk (one kilometre) west of Kyoto Imperial Gardens, Hamaguri Gomon (west) Exit. 
〒602-8242 京都府京都市上京区皀莢町309
309 Saikachicho, Kamigyo Ward, Kyoto, 602-8242
Happycow, Website, (Japanese only)
(075) 432-5017 (staff speak English.)
One of Kyoto's oldest and best vegan cafes. 


This new curry noodle dish is an impressive and certainly unusual fusion of Thai and Japanese tastes. I was told to add the rice after finishing the noodles, which worked well.

Morpho Cafe is, in my opinion, one of Kyoto's best inexpensive vegan restaurants. The food is not quite as good as at the legendary Vegans Cafe and Restaurant, nor is it as inexpensive as Sujata or the Veggie Café. But if you're looking for a delicious, fairly inexpensive meal in central Kyoto, Morpho Cafe strikes a good balance of all of these, and it's also not far from Gion. The staff are friendly and welcoming, and those I spoke with were clearly knowledgeable and passionate about healthy food.  

Morpho Cafe serves a fairly typical mix of western, Japanese and a good range of fusion foods, including an authentic green curry and some great desserts. Main dishes start at around 1,000 Yen, and drinks and desserts are reasonably priced.





Yama Shokuon ($$, South Indian, Vegan) 

Mon, Thu-Sat: 12:00-15:00, 18:00-20:30; Sun:12:00-16:00; closed Tue-Wed
Five minutes’ walk southwest of Demachiyanagi Station on the Keihan Line.
Ten minutes’ walk northeast of the Seiwain-Gomon (east) Gate of Kyoto Imperial Gardens.
Fifteen minutes’ walk east (along the north perimeter of the Imperial Gardens) of Imadegawa Station.
〒602-0841 京都府京都市上京区梶井町448-13 清和ビル 2F
Japan, 〒602-0841 Kyoto, Kamigyō-ku, Kajiichō, 448-13 Seiwa Building, 2nd floor.  
Happycow, Facebook
Directions
South Indian food at good prices.  




Yama Shokuon is nothing if not unique: How often will you have Japanese chef prepare you a South Indian meal inside a mountaineering store? The space is a joint venture between Plant Lab, who previously served authentic Tibetan and Vietnamese dishes, and the Yamatomichi hiking store. Plant Lab serves the only vegetarian south Indian food in the city (Sujata focuses more on north Indian dishes, such as curries and roti), and some of the best of this cuisine I have ever eaten in Japan. Staff speak English, and are clearly passionate about promoting vegan food, and in my experience, they were happy to offer advice about travelling in Kyoto and Japan in general.

Northern Kyoto

These two restaurants are north of Kyoto, and can be visited after northern Higashiyama or any time. 

Kanga An is close to the botanical gardens. During the sakura (cherry blossom) season I highly recommend walking there from Demachiyanagi Station, along the Kamogawa River, which is lined with blossoms. 

It's necessary to take public transport to Stardust, but it's worth it for such a fine meal for such a low price. 


Zuishizan Kanga An ($$$, Shojin Ryori, Vegan, 瑞芝山 閑臥庵)

Open lunch and dinner strictly by appointment only.
Three minutes’ walk from Kuramaguchi Station on the Karasuma (subway) Line.
Twenty minutes’ walk (1.6 kimometres) up the Kamo River from Demachiyanagi Station (highly recommended during the cherry blossom season). 
606-8202 京都府京都市左京区田中大堰町168-2
168-2 Tanaka Oicho, Sakyo Ward, Kyoto, 606-8202
(075) 256-2480
Best traditional meal out in Kyoto, if not all of Japan.  
Most expensive meal out in Kyoto, if not all of Japan.


A feast at Kanga An includes several meals like these ones.

There are more Shojin Ryori places than I could possibly review in Kyoto, however most visitors dine at only a few owing to the high price tag. Kanga An is perhaps the most traditional, or the ‘real deal’, and at around ¥10,000 yen per person, so it should be. Each of several servings is exquisitely prepared and presented, more like a work of art than a meal, and staff are happy to explain each (in Japanese). As with all Shojin Ryori, it should be vegan, however it never hurts to check, as there have been cases of dishes containing milk and egg appearing, in fitting with the oversimplified Buddhist view that animals are not killed to produce them.


Stardust ($$, Fusion, Vegan, スターダスト)

Open for lunch, usually until 18:00, with meals strictly by appointment only
Twenty minutes' walk or ten minutes by bus (市営北3) northwest of Kita-Oji Station on the Karasuma (subway) Line.
41 紫竹下竹殿町 北区 京都市 京都府 603-8412
41 Shichiku Shimotakedonocho, Kita Ward, Kyoto, 603-8412
Feels like dining in heaven.  
Must be reserved in advance (but this adds to the experience).




While it's normal to reserve a table for peak dining hours at busy restaurants, in Japan restaurants which require a reservation days in advance are usually upmarket places which offer an unparalled cultural and culinary experience. Most serve shojin ryori (Buddhist vegan cuisine), the best of which is Kanga An, but Little Heaven in Arashiyama serves a similarly exquisite meal in more of a Western dining arrangement.
Stardust takes an element of this, with the personalised meal prepared for the diner, so you turn up to find a meal prepared for you. I chose to eat in a beautiful garden, making it one of the most serene dining experiences I have had in Japan, not unlike shojin ryori but in a simplified way. And that's exactly what Stardust does: it offers a personalised, charming dining expeirence, but with a simpler meal for a fraction of the price tag. But that is not to say the meal isn't anything special: the meal was healthy, delicious and satisfying even by Japanese standards, and the staff were incredibly welcoming.
If you have the time and can plan far enough ahead, I highly recommend reserving a meal here.

Higashiyama (東山)

entrance to Kiyomizu Dera, one of Kyoto's most famous temples,  on a rare snow day

Higashiyama has the highest density of famous tourist spots in Kyoto, if not in all of Japan. As I explain in my soon-to-be finished travel guide (on which this update is based) I strongly recommend visiting Higashiyama on a weekday that is not a national holiday. This is especially important during the sakura (cherry blossom) season around April and the koyo (falling leaves) seasons around November.

In my guidebook I recommend, if possible, visiting Southern Higashiyama in one day and Northern Higashiyama the next. They can also be combined in one very long summer's day (when there are longer hours of daylight) but are best spread over two days. Maruyama Park makes a good place to finish one and start the other.

Southern Higashiyama

In my guide I recommend starting at Kiyomizu Dera (possibly via the Kyoto National Museum and/or Sanjusangendo) and finishing at Maruyama Park and the adjacent Yasaka Shrine, which is especially beautiful at night. Unfortunately, there are no good vegan (or even vegan-friendly) restaurants in Southern Higashiyama, so it's necessary to go back into central Kyoto. I recommend eating well in the morning (perhaps at Veg Out) and then walking back towards central Kyoto for lunch. After Yasaka Shrine there are plenty of good vegan restaurants for dinner (or lunch if doing all of Higashiyama in one day).


Ninen Zaka, Higashiyama at dawn, the only time it's free of crowds. 

Northern Higashiyama

Northern Higashiyama is one of my favourite districts in Kyoto. Its most famous part is the Path of Philosophy, which leads to the famous Ginkakuji (Silver Pavillion).  There are several vegan restaurants at the beginning and end of this itinerary.


Café Choice ($$, International, Vegan, Gluten Free) 

Mon-Fri 8:30-15:00, 17:00-20:30, Sat-Sun 8:30-20:30
Two minutes’ walk from Sanjo Station, Exit 9, on the Keihan Line. Turn left, walk past the Family Mart, and Choice is one building before the first intersection.
Fifteen minutes’ walk from Maruyama Koen (beside Yasaka Shrine), a common start or end point for exploring Northern and Southern Higashiyama.
605-0009 京都府京都市東山区 大橋町89 鈴木形成外科ビル
Higashiyama-ku, Ohashi-cho 89-1, Kyoto 605-0009
100% gluten free, large dining area, workspace, reliable opening hours, convenient location for Higashiyama, near Sanjo Station.
Small, sometimes bland portions.


Besides being gluten free, there’s nothing very special about this pasta, and at ¥1400 it’s not nearly as good value as comparable meals at other restaurants.  Go here when you have a special reason to, and there are plenty of those reasons.

Being open early, Cafe Choice is also a good option for breakfast when exploring northern Higashiyama, or for lunch if doing all of Higashiyama in one long day. It's also a reasonable option (perhaps second after Ain Soph) for a dinner before exploring Gion in the evening, but portions may seem a bit small for a hungry traveller after a day of walking Higashiyama.

Like T’s Tantan in Tokyo, it's somewhere most visitors end up sooner or later. It boasts what’s probably the largest interior of any vegan restaurant in Kyoto (if not in all of Japan), and its extensive menu is not just healthy but also completely gluten free. And best of all: it’s open for breakfast (from 8:30), from which it’s an easy walk from Higashiyama. It’s the best place in Kyoto to get a coffee and get some work done, or just chill out, and it’s large enough that it shouldn’t be a problem to stay a long time. It also sells its own vegan cheese, and some alternative health and body care products.


A Place to Get Work Done? 
As a large restaurant with a range of table arrangements, they're unlikely to be full, so while I'd recommend not staying longer than it takes to eat your meal if customers are waiting for tables, they advertise themselves as an "eat and study space" and offer free wifi, so if you need to hang out or get some work done, Cafe Choice makes a good alternative to Starbucks. Restaurants like this generally expect customers to order a drink if staying a long time, even after eating a meal.
No tables? The nearby Hobodo Café also has a small bar table for individuals to read or go online.


Order a coffee and get some work done, using the free wifi. There are also plenty of individual tables in the large restaurant.
 
My suggestion: Go to Choice for a variety of reasons: it has reliable hours, is open for breakfast, is gluten free and has a large space for both dining and café-style seats for reading or doing study/work. But don't come without any of these reasons if there are other options around, as food is better value elsewhere, and you'll probably end up here soon enough anyway.


Padma ($$, Macrobiotic, Vegan, 平和的ごはんパドマ)

Fri-Wed: 12:00-19:00
Five minutes' walk southest of Jingū-Marutamachi Station on the Keihan Ōtō Line.
〒606-8396 京都府京都市左京区下堤町82 恵美須ビル 2階
〒606-8396 Kyoto, Sakyo Ward, Shimotsutsumicho, 82 Yebisu Building, 2nd Floor
Happycow, Website (Japanese only)
Directions
Best macrobiotic food in Japan. 

You might be sick of macrobiotic food, no matter how good it is.




From here, most travellers walk the famous Philosopher's Path to Ginkakuji, the famous Silver Pavillion, possibly stopping at Heian Shrine on the way. After Ginkakuji there are several good vegan options for dinner along Imadegawa Dori, on the way to Demachiyanagi Station.  From Demachiyanagi Station, most visitors travel to Gion-Shijo Station, to wander the streets of Gion, the famous Geisha District. The best place for a late meal there is Ain Soph Journey. Be sure also to walk down the historic Shirakawa Minami Dori, which is arguably the most beautiful street in Asia.

Ginkakuji (銀閣寺)

Ginkakuji (Silver Pavillion), Northern Higashiyama

Ginkakuji is Higashiyama's answer to the more-famous Kinkakuji, the Golden Pavilion (see Central Kyoto, above). It even offers the same experience of walking up a small mountain and seeing the temple from behind, with a vew of Kyoto City in the background. It's not as popular or as spectacular as Kinkakuji, but being located at the northern end of the Path of Philosophy, it is well worth the experience and entrance fee.


Cacao Magic ($$$, Raw Chocolate, Vegan)

Sat-Mon: 12:00-17:00; closed Tue-Fri
One minutes’ walk from the northern end of the Path of Philosophy
Three minute’s walk from Ginkakuji (Silver Pavillion)
606-8406 京都府京都市左京区浄土寺石橋町41-1
41-1 Jodoji Ishibashicho, Sakyo Ward, Kyoto, 606-8406
(075) 757-8914 (Staff speak English; Please call if coming from further than the Path of Philosophy.)
Best chocolate of your life.  
Most expensive chocolate of your life.



This boutique raw chocolate factory spends most of its time as a factory, churning out prized chocolates which are sold online; however, during less-busy times (times I’ve never managed to visit during, despite several attempts over several years) it also functions as a small café, serving up delectable raw vegan desserts. Its owner discovered raw food while living in the USA, and after various attempts to bring the diet and lifestyle back to her native Japan, she found that chocolate was the most effective way to reach the masses with the raw message. The café sits at the end of the Philosopher’s Path, where visitors might be so elated from the beauty of the path (and thus so detached from their bank balance) – or so ravenous from walking it – that they might be willing to part with ¥2000 for a box of four small raw, organic, vegan chocolates.


Gorey Cafe ($, Italian, Vegetarian)

Tue-Sun 11:00-23:00
10 minutes’ walk (700 metres) west of Ginkakuji.
10 minutes’ walk (800 metres) northeast of Yoshida Shrine. 
京都市左京区浄土寺西田町82-1
82-1 Jodoji Nishidacho, Sakyo Ward, Kyoto, 606-8417
Website, Facebook, Happycow
Directions
(075) 203-6296 (staff speak English)
Large, satisfying meals at incredibly low prices.
Long, reliable opening hours.  
Very simple food, befitting for the price.




Natural Food Village ($$, Fusion, Vegan)

Tue-Sun: 12:00-15:00, 18:00-24:00; closed Mon.
Ten minutes’ walk northeast of Chayama Station on the Eizan Main Line, two stops northeast of Demachiyanagi Station on the Keihan Line.  
Fifteen minutes by bus from Ginkakuji (several bus routes – please use directions below).
Twenty-five minutes’ walk (two kilometres) north of Ginkakuji.
606-8175左京区一乗寺築田町95 第一メゾン白川202
95 Ichijōji Tsukidachō, Sakyō-ku, Kyoto, 606-8175
Facebook, Happycow, Website (Japanese only, not much here)
Directions
Good vegan food until midnight; chill vibe.
A bit of a hike from central Kyoto, but close to Ginkakuji, and always worth it for a late meal.

The most authentic Pad Thai I have had outside of Thailand. 

Reportedly the oldest vegetarian (now vegan) restaurant in Kyoto besides the temple kitchens, Village has the vibe to match its age. The talented owner plays the roles of chef, barman, waiter and dishwasher, but he has such a chill, zen vibe about him that you wouldn’t know he was filling all these roles. Limitations in space and time still apply, however, and he can only prepare your meal when he isn’t attending other jobs, so orders can sometimes take a while to arrive. Dishes tend to be small (but still good value) so it’s usually best to order a few (except for the excellent-value, ¥1200, Daily Plate for lunch) and the first will usually arrive quite soon. The menu features a range of Japanese, Indian and Western dishes, mostly from ¥1000-1500. A filling meal for two hungry Higishiyama explorers is likely to come to around ¥2000-4000.
This is really a bar, at which there is an expectation in Japan that customers will order at least one drink. While the owner alludes to it with a gentle request in the menu, he is ‘too Japanese’ (too polite) to say so directly, especially to his customers’ faces. This expectation is built into the menu’s pricing system, however, as profit is made – and rent paid – on the drinks more than the food. The natural Cola is delicious, but does contain caffeine.


Practicalities
The website has little information, Facebook is an old one dating back to before businesses could have “pages”, and the ‘unofficial’ listing on Google Maps has more information than the official one. It appears that the owner here doesn’t need to market or even update his profile at all to stay in business. If coming by bus, please watch your location carefully and get off if the bus turns away; I have had buses veer off course from Google Maps, as some buses use the same number but take different routes out of the city and Google doesn’t know which are which because they don’t run to strict times. After the last stop follow signs to the restaurant on the second floor.


Sujata ($, Indian, Japanese, Vegetarian)

Mon, Tue, Thu, Fri: 12:00-18:00; Sat-Sun: 12:00-17:00
Sujata is on the way back from Ginkakuji to Demachiyanagi Station.
Ten minutes’ walk east of Demachiyanagi Station on the Keihan Main Line.
Fifteen minutes’ walk west of Ginkakuji and the north end of the Philosopher’s Path.
Several buses ply this route in both directions; use the the directions link below, but their times are not reliable on Google, so it may be faster and more pleasant to walk. 
〒606-8225 京都府京都市左京区田中門前町96-2
96-2 Tanaka Monzencho, Sakyo Ward, Kyoto, 606-8225
(075) 721-0789
Delicious, home-style Indian and Japanese meals; excellent value; kind vegetarian owner.
Irregular opening hours, but you’ll probably walk past it on your way back from Ginkakuji anyway.




Sujata is a charming little restaurant run by a devoted disciple of Sri Chinmoy, a Indian guru who taught his followers to be vegetarian (not vegan) and encouraged them to run vegetarian restaurants. She also serves some traditional Japanese foods, making for an unusual mix of flavours. While the occasional egg is offered in some dishes, virtually the whole menu is vegan by default, and she has a very good understanding of veganism.

If you like Indian food and/or are travelling on a budget I highly recommend Sujata. Her samosas, which are made from scratch, are the best I've ever tasted outside of Indian homes, and remind me of my Indian friend's mother's cooking from when I was a child.

Sujata closes for the occasional long period (often in January) and is now usually closed for dinner, so it's best to call first during the new year she is an absolute life saver. I recommend calling first, or just continuing on to Sunny Place and Padma. Don't be tempted by the Indian restaurants next door who capitalise on a stream of hungry vegetarians distraught over finding Sujata closed; there are far better options around here.

Not just Indian: This traditional Japanese New Years Eve dish was delicious.


Shirakawa Minami Dori

Kyoto Tip: After dinner in northern Higashiyama, most people head to the famous Geisha district of Gion. When you do, be sure to visit Shirakawa Minami Dori, the most beautiful street in Asia.

Shirakawa Minami-dori (Gion) during the sakura (cherry blossoms). 

Arashiyama

Arashiyama is a beautiful suburb to the west of Tokyo. It doesn't have the same density of temples or historic quarters as Higashiyama, but is at least as beautiful. While Arashiyama has many beautiful temples nestled into the mountains, its most famous site (and one of the most famous in Kyoto, if not all of Japan) is the Bamboo Grove behind Tenryugi Temple. Arashiyama is much more spread out than Higashiyama and, while still very popular, is much less busy than Higashiyama, so if you must visit one of these on a weekend, it's better that it's Arashiyama.

 Besides Kanga An (in northern Kyoto), most Shojin Ryori restaurants are in Arashiyama, so this is the place to reserve ahead and (if it's part of your plan and budget) spend up on dining.  



Tenryugi Shigetsu ($$, Shojin Ryori (Temple Food), Probably Vegan)


11:00-14:00; lunch by appointment only (though individual walk-in customers may sometimes be accepted during the low season).
Inside Tenryuji Temple, in front of the famous Bamboo Grove. 
〒616-8385 京都府京都市右京区嵯峨天龍寺芒ノ馬場町68
〒616-8385 Kyoto, Ukyo Ward, Sagatenryūji Susukinobabachō, 68



Most inexpensive shojin ryori (Buddhist cuisine) in Kyoto.  


Shojin Ryori (from Tenryuji Shigetsu, 3300 Yen + 500 Yen temple admission)

The kitchen of the famous Tenryuji Shigetsu (beside the even more famous Bamboo Grove) offers an excellent lunch deal at a comparatively low price of 3300 Yen (plus the 500 Yen entrance fee for the temple).  This food is clearly made on a production line, and customers eat on a tatami floor with other guests coming and going, making it a very different experience to the finer shojn ryori meals, where the meal is prepared in advance for a small number of diners, who have a separate room for their own party. Nonetheless it's authentic temple food at a price not much higher than other restaurants in the city.
  

Little Heaven ($$, Japanese, Fine Dining, Vegan, リトルヘヴン)

Lunch or dinner strictly by appointment only (at least three days' notice required). 
Two minutes' walk from Katabiranotsuji Station on the Keifuku Arashiyama Line.
Eight minutes' walk southwest of Uzumasa Station on the Sanin Main Line (from Kyoto Station).
Thirty minutes' walk (2.4 km) from Tenruji Shigetsu or the Bamboo Grove.
〒616-8313 京都府京都市右京区嵯峨野開町8-29 
8-29 Saganohirakichō, Ukyo Ward, Kyoto, 616-8313 
Best meal out in Japan other than shojin ryori.
Expensive; must be reserved at least three days in advance.  


Little Heaven is an interesting modern twist on Shojin Ryori: food is eaten at western style tables in a traditional, open restaurant, but food is presented as a long series of exquisite, mouth-watering preparations just like shojin-ryori. Little Heaven is run by a talented and passionate chef who previously ran one of Tokyo's best vegan cafes, for which the owner grew his own vegetables south of Tokyo (the time spent on the farm while the restaurant was closed might not have helped the success of that business, but it sure helped the taste of its food). He opened this Vegan Heaven 2.0 restaurant in Kyoto in 2014, where he serves up multi-course feasts from ¥5,000. 

The owner and his assistant are clearly passionate about food, and they went out of their way to explain the different types of daikon (radishes), which were the focus of that day's meal, and even brought out four different-coloured ones, and explained where they were grown and how they were used in the meal, which was all explained on a sheet (in English) at the table before I arrived.
If you’ll have just one expensive meal in Kyoto, dining in a temple offers a more unique and memorable experience (I recommend Kanga An). But if you’re just after a meal of a lifetime, slightly less expensive than shojin ryori, then Little Heaven gives the temples a good run for their money.

Southern Kyoto

The most famous attraction south of Kyoto Station is Fushimi Inari Taisha, whose continual path of torii (ceremonial gates) up the mountain are one of the most photographed scenes in Japan. It's also one of the few famous Shinto shrines in Japan (all of the other big-ticket religious spots a Buddhist temples). Fushimi Inari Taisha times perfectly with a late lunch at Vegans Café & Restaurant.
One stop north of Tofkuji, a beautiful temple which is very popular during the koyo (autumn leaves) season around November, but is otherwise rarely visited. Further to the southeast
is Daigoji, a massive temple complex which makes a good alternative to anyone who would prefer a quiet temple and hike than the temple-hopping circuits in Higashiyama and Arashiyama. 

Finally, within walking distance southwest of Tokyo Station is the historic Toji, a temple belonging to the Shingon sect (of Koyasan fame) with its 55-metre high pagoda, which is the tallest wooden tower in Japan.


Vegans Cafe & Restaurant ($$, Western, Japanese)

Thu-Tue: 11:30-17:00
Thirteen minutes' walk southwest of Inari Station on the JR Nara Line (beside Fushimi Inari Taisha shrine).  
〒612-0029 京都府京都市伏見区深草西浦町4丁目4−88
4-chōme-4-88 Fukakusa Nishiurachō, Fushimi Ward, Kyoto, 612-0029
Facebook, Happycow
(075) 643-3922 
Best Western comfort food in Kyoto, if not all of Japan.
Vegan owners and staff.
A little way from central Kyoto, but close to Fushimi Inari Taisha (shrine) and worth the trip from Kyoto Station.


The best Western comfort food in Kyoto, at Vegans Café & Restaurant. 

Vegans Cafe & Restaurant is Kyoto's most famous vegan restaurant, and a default hangout for the city's vegan and animal rights community. Its owners previously ran an Yakinuku (fried meat) restaurant, and then after reading about animal cruelty online, the closed their successful business and opened this instead. This gives the restaurant a vibe which the majority of macrobiotic cafes in Japan (including most in Kyoto) just don't have when they're run by someone perhaps vaguely interested in the health aspects of macrobiotic food (which often comes after a period of ill-health) or who simply sees a business opportunity in serving it to vegan tourists.




Vegans Cafe & Restaurant has the key ingredients of a good restaurant: its staff know how to run a restaurant and are passionate about veganism. And it serves modern, delicious fusion cuisine with particular emphasis on classic western comfort foods, including the best pizza in Kyoto.

Location
Where Vegans Cafe and Restaurant falls short is its venue: it's essentially on the 'wrong' (south) side of Kyoto Station, while most attractions and accommodation are to the north. And the venue itself is little more than a tastefully converted garage. But don't let that put you off: a visit to Vegans is a must while in Kyoto, and I recommend it for early in your stay to allow time for a possible return visit. It's only a five-minute ride on the JR Nara Line (to Inari Station) and a one-kilometre walk or short taxi ride, so can easily be managed after a long day exploring Kyoto. It's even easier of coming from Gion (a common end to a day exploring Higashiyama) requiring only a twenty-minute journey via the Keihan Main Line, including only a 600-metre walk.

But Vegans Cafe & Restaurant isn't completely off the tourist path either. Be sure to visit Fushimi Inari Shrine, which is famous for its sacred path up Mount Inari through thousands of orange torii (ceremonial gates). This is one of few famous Shinto shrines in Kyoto (the large, famous temples are mostly Buddhist) and being the goddess or god of rice and sake, s/he's obviously important to Japan! (This clever fox manifests as both genders!) I recommend travellers to have a late lunch at Vegans, arrive at Fushimi Inari Taisha in time to climb the mountain to escape the thousands of tourists taking selfies) and then return to central Kyoto for a late dinner.


Try Shojin Ryori

While expensive, if possible I recommend trying shojin ryori (Buddhist temple cuisine) at least once in Japan, preferably in Kyoto. This cuisine has been developed over centuries (after Buddhism was imported from China) and is vegan without onion or garlic. Unfortunately, however, an increasing number of shojin outlets are adding dairy and egg products, or even fish sauces. This is against the Buddhist rules and traditions; however, since unfortunately most Buddhist monks and their patrons eat meat, it isn't seen as serious except by vegan tourists.

Fake Shojin?

Unfortunately the high price of shojin ryori makes it prone to abuse, and there are many 'fake' shojin ryori restaurants (mostly outside of Kyoto) which serve similar food but not with nearly the same quality ingredients or careful preparation; while a foreign tourist may not notice a significant difference it would be a waste of this quintessential Japanese vegan experience (and a lot of money) to try an imitation. It's best to eat at restaurants in or directly attached to temples, also always read reviews first, and NEVER eat "shojin ryori" from a restaurant which also serves non-vegetarian food: it's fake shojin ryori and may well contain fish derivatives.

Alternative: Koyasan 

Staying at a temple at Koyasan is a great way to experience a temple and try shojin ryori. At 10,000 Yen it's much more economic than dining in Kyoto (Eko In).

Temples at Koyasan (Mt Koya) offer excellent deals combining shojin ryori for breakfast and dinner with accommodation (starting at around 10 000 Yen), a good overnight trip from Kyoto or Osaka.

Reserve Your Meals in Advance

It's important to plan your whole trip to Kyoto well in advance. All shojin-ryori means (except for single-person visits to Tenryigi Shigetsu, during the off-season) must be reserved three days in advance. So must Little Heaven (the city's best non-shojin meal), and for a less expensive reserved dining experience, I recommend Stardust. 

But it's not only meals: If you'll take the Romance Train in Arashiyama this must also be booked ahead. It's also possible to reserve English-language tours of the Kyoto Imperial Palace, though I don't recommend this to most visitors.