Kyoto, the old capital, is known more for maiko, matcha, and fancy old buildings than sushi. Kyoto City is not even particularly close to the ocean (though further-flung parts of the prefecture are coastal).
But did you know that Kyoto has its own unique sushi culture? Necessity bred creative solutions and inventive dishes as a way for Kyoto nobility to enjoy the fresh fish that came from port cities like Osaka and Edo (Tokyo). We've curated a list of some of the places to go for the best omakase sushi in Kyoto—and yes, we recommend omakase specifically.
What is Omakase?
Let's start with a quick language lesson. "Makaseru" is a verb written with the kanji meaning "in charge of" or "guide.” Add that honorific "O" to give some credit to the chef's expertise, too. The result is a useful noun that boils down to "You know what you're doing here, so please serve me the best stuff in the house!"
Omakase dining relies on the expertise of a restaurant's staff and the trust of its guests. Expect a similar experience to prix fixe or blue plate specials. Omakase menus may come as a single plate or a tasting course, so they have a broader definition than traditional kaiseki experiences. Leave dinner up to the chef, and know that whatever they put in front of you will be fantastic…even if you don't know anything else.
As a note, omakase may be up to the chef, but it's customary for staff to ask guests if they have any food allergies or things they can't eat (as in rare foods like shirako [fish's milt], or common allergens like crab and shellfish). If you choose omakase, though, you can feel safe that the chef has your best interests in mind, and most restaurants are happy to accommodate.
Read our beginner's guide to omakase sushi to learn more.
9 Best Omakase Sushi Restaurants in Kyoto
In no particular order, here is our selection of some of the best omakase sushi in Kyoto:
- Gion Sushi Tadayasu
- Sushi Gion Matsudaya
- Hiyoko Sushi
- Gion Ichiho
- Sushi Matsumoto
- Sushi Gen
- Sushi Iwa
1. Gion Sushi Tadayasu: Refined Omakase That Reflects the Seasons
Omakase at Gion Sushi Tadayasu goes beyond mere sushi. At this elegant eatery in the heart of Kyoto’s Gion district, you can enjoy omakase dining that changes seasonally.
Refined menus in the ¥15,000 range are inspired by light, blooming sakura in spring and rich, warming ingredients in winter. Thanks to its reasonable pricing and sense of seasonality, Tadayasu is a delight for repeat visitors year-round.
An interior inspired by the natural changes of Kyoto’s historical district reflects everything that brings millions of tourists to the city annually: Fragrant wood, refreshing bamboo, and traditional accents.
Chef Tadayasu Morita, who has been working on mastering his art since childhood, has a taste for nihonshu, too — one he is eager to share. In addition to a rotating sushi menu, sake pairings change according to the time of year and food service. This is the best Kyoto sushi spot for Japanese sake fans — sit back and enjoy fantastic Edomae sushi with perfectly paired Japanese sake!
2. Sushi Gion Matsudaya: Michelin-star, Intimate but International Dining
A Michelin-starred meal at Sushi Gion Matsuda promises you'll get what you pay for and more. The six-seater restaurant offers an unforgettable evening of fresh nigiri sushi, formed by the hands of expert sushi chef Matsuda Kazunori.
The Edomae style of sushi served here features fish that has been aged, steamed, cured, and seared to express the perfect taste and texture of every cut. Chef Matsuda, who studied in New York and draws inspiration from across the globe, is eager to offer guests an intimate dining experience and international hospitality.
Conventional ingredients combined with novel flavors and preparation techniques elevate dining at this classic Kyoto omakase venue. More information.
3. AWOMB: Make Your Own Omakase
Neta is the word used to talk about "toppings" on sushi, donburi and the like. AWOMB's "neta" omakase ingredients and fun experience make its ¥3,000-range menu well worth a taste. Plus, it’s the best sushi around the Kyoto Imperial Palace.
Traditional sushi toppings that showcase the season and Kyoto flavor are chosen by AWOMB's chefs and laid out for you to enjoy by making your own temarisushi. The flavors are left up to the venue, but you'll get to decide how to mix and match them on your own.
For guests who are wary that an omakase meal might mean swallowing a mystery bite at the mercy of your chef, this provides a solution. It’s the best of both worlds: Your serving of toppings, seasonings, and pickles comes with rice to roll into your own sushi, plus a side of miso soup. More information.
4. Hiyoko Sushi: Superb-value Omakase Lunch
Thirteen quiet counter seats, where the focus is clearly on the food, make up Hiyoko's intimate interior. There's nothing fussy but quality at this family-run sushi establishment. A favorite hidden gem, lunch at Hiyoko is in the region of just ¥2,000.
Their 10-piece omakase set is the perfect way to enjoy some of Kyoto's best, classic sushi the way locals do. At under a dollar per piece, prices are on par with national chains but feature far fresher, more impressive local ingredients. This intimate spot is definitely one of the best bang-for-your-buck omakase sushi lunches in Kyoto. More information.
5. Gion Ichiho
Another great place to try mamezushi/temarizushi is Gion Ichiho. This shop's budget omakase course runs around ¥3,000 yen and includes an array of Kyoto specialties, not just sushi.
Their Instagrammable, budget-friendly menu makes this place one of the most popular sushi restaurants in the Gion district.
Sightseers flock to Gion to glimpse geiko and maiko, so what better neighborhood to try the sushi specially made for them? More information.
6. Sushi Matsumoto: Michelin-star, Light as a Feather
Boasting a Michelin star and a sushi-only omakase set as well as full-course Japanese dining, Sushi Matsumoto has earned its rightful place in our list of Kyoto’s best sushi omakase. Like all omakase specialty restaurants, they specialize in providing traditional tastes that highlight the best of the season.
Matsumoto’s Edomae-style sushi is light and easy to eat, the perfect gourmet option for seasoned sushi lovers looking to add a Michelin star to their belts. More information.
7. Miki: Quality Omakase Sushi at a Budget Price Point
Sushi Miki is special among Kyoto omakase restaurants for several reasons — starting with the price point. A 10-piece omakase nigiri set comes at just over ¥2,000. Masterfully, hand-prepared sushi for under $20 easily makes this menu one of the best in Kyoto.
The second drawcard of Miki is its walk-in availability. While some omakase restaurants expect a telephone-only reservation or require members-only style introductions, the chefs at Miki are happy to serve you as long as tables are available.
Take a counter seat if there's space, so you can watch the chefs prepare your course by hand and enjoy some language exchange! More information.
8. Sushi Gen: Reasonably Priced, Good for Groups
Sushi Gen is another spot loved by both tourists and locals for its reasonably priced, delicious omakase sushi. Gen's special nigiri set, priced at just under ¥4,000, changes regularly. Only the most delicious, in-season fish is offered at Gen, so even repeat guests can enjoy new offerings every time.
Gen's specialty is its budget-friendly omakase course for groups and parties. Many family trips suffer from problems of scale when it comes time to sitting down to a traditional Japanese meal. The intimacy of high-quality dining means tight seating and high prices. Gen solves this with omakase dining tailored to a party's size and budget.
If you visit Kyoto with a group, be sure to make a reservation at Sushi Gen for a full sushi experience designed just for you. More information.
9. Sushi Iwa: The Best Sushi Steve Jobs Ever Had
Want to eat at the restaurant Steve Jobs hailed as serving up the best sushi he's ever eaten? Sushi Iwa's omakase service ranges from ¥8,000 to ¥30,000, but is worth every yen. The restaurant is focused on omakase sushi, but you can order individual items too if you have something in mind you want to try (like Kyoto's famous saba sushi).
Leave it up to the experts for a dining story you won't soon forget. More information.
Bonus Bite: What Makes Kyoto Sushi Different?
Kyoto sushi, or Kyozushi, comes in all sorts of tantalizing forms. One great example is temarizushi, also called mamezushi: Instagrammable bite-sized balls of rice and fish, perfect for popping into a geiko's mouth without ruining her makeup!
Saba mackerel sushi is a Kyoto meibutsu (regional cuisine) that's so popular, you can even find it in revolving chain sushi restaurants (kaitenzushi). Pressed into shape and smartly tangy, the best sushi chefs are particular about the cured mackerel's seasoning and texture.