Oldest restaurants in Japan
Trendy flavours and novelty food may tantalise taste buds, but nothing really compares to iconic dishes with authentic flavours. For a taste of food and history, check out these 9 oldest restaurants in Japan that invented some of the most famous Japanese dishes we know and love today.
1. Tamahide – Oyakodon (Tokyo)
Image credit: @yocikiyo
The chicken and egg question may have boggled minds for centuries, but the delicious oyakodon settles the dilemma once and for all by having them come together in a bowl.
As morbid as it sounds, oyakodon (親子丼) – which literally means “parent-and-child” rice bowl – is a popular staple of eateries nationwide for a reason. The dish consists of chicken pieces simmered in a mixture of silky eggs, onions, and savoury dashi broth, all of which are served on a bed of steamed rice.
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Tamahide is a well-established restaurant that specialises in oyakodon and is one of the oldest restaurants in Japan, not just Tokyo. Renowned for being the creator of the iconic dish, it first opened its doors in 1760.
The restaurant used to serve shamo nabe (gamecock hotpot) and many customers would mix leftovers from their hotpot with eggs and eat it with rice. Inspired by these customers, the owner decided to make the concoction a permanent dish on their menu and thus, oyakodon was born.
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Now run by the 5th generation of owners, Tamahide offers a selection of oyakodon and courses during lunch and dinner hours. Customers can choose from 4 types of oyakodon. Depending on the cut of meat you opt for, the price ranges from ¥1,500- ¥3,000 (~USD14.61- USD29.21).
You’ll be able to spot the restaurant by its snaking queue once you exit Ningyōchō Station. As Tamahide is extremely popular, do get there early before they open at noon or in the evening to secure a seat.
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Opening hours: 11.30AM-1.30PM & 5PM-9.30PM (Last order at 8.30PM), Daily
Address: 1 Chome-17-10 Nihonbashiningyocho, Chuo City, 103-0013 Tokyo
2. Cattlea – Curry pan (Tokyo)
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Cattlea may look like your average neighbourhood bakery, but the humble bread shop serves up a mean curry pan – deep-fried bread filled with warm savoury curry. Well-known for its ganso kare pan (元祖カレーパン), which means “original curry bread”, the bakery is touted to be the birthplace of one of the all-time favourite snacks in Japan.
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Combining curry and fried food might be considered a no-brainer now, but in 1927, the idea was considered ahead of its time. Incorporating elements which were considered Western at the time, such as deep-frying and curry, the owner invented the iconic crispy curry bread.
Each Cattlea curry pan costs ¥220 (~USD2.14), which is pricier than the national average (¥97, ~USD0.93). But considering its long history and the fact that it’s chock full of filling, it’s well worth your money. To get a piping hot curry pan that’s fresh out of the fryer, visit Cattlea at 7AM, 11AM, or 3PM as that’s when new batches are displayed.
Image credit: @zyuku
Opening hours: Tue – Sat 7AM-7PM | Public Holidays 8AM-6PM (Closed on Sundays and Mondays)
Address: 1 Chome-6-10 Morishita, Koto City, 135-0004 Tokyo
3. Rengatei – Yōshoku (Tokyo)
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When it comes to Japanese cuisine, washoku (和食; traditional Japanese food) and yōshoku (洋食) go hand in hand. Yōshoku refers to Western-style dishes that have been adapted to suit the Japanese palate.
Pork katsu cutlet
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Located in the affluent Ginza shopping district, Rengatei is said to be the originator of many dishes – omurice, pork katsu cutlet, and ebi fry. Opened in 1887, the 134-year-old eatery has been serving Western-style dishes made using recipes from more than a century ago.
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Most first-time diners will go for their famed omurice (¥1,500, ~USD14.54) – fried rice wrapped in a blanket of eggs and doused with demi-glaze ketchup sauce.
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For side dishes, opt for either the pork katsu cutlet (¥1,700, ~USD16.48) or ebi fry (¥2,200, ~USD21.33), both of which were first invented and eventually popularised by Rengatei. Besides serving authentic yōshoku fare, the restaurant also retains a vintage charm with its seasoned furniture, nostalgic jazz music, and decor that is reminiscent of the Meiji-era.
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Opening hours: Mon – Sat 11.15AM-3PM (Last order at 2.30PM) and 4.40PM-9PM (Last order at 8.30PM) (Closed on Sundays)
Address: 3 Chome-5-16 Ginza, Chuo City, 104-0061 Tokyo
4. Sansada – Tempura (Tokyo)
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After paying a visit to Sensōji at Asakusa, continue your historical trail and head to Sansada, the oldest tempura restaurant in Japan. Dating back to as early as 1837, Sansada traces its humble beginnings to a food stall. The 1st-generation owner would catch small fishes from the sea near Edo – modern-day Tokyo – and fry them in sesame oil.
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Sansada prides itself on using the same recipe passed down from more than 170 years ago. The restaurant continues to use sesame oil for frying, giving its tempura a brownish exterior and a strong nutty aroma.
Set menu with tempura and side dishes
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Today, Sansada offers more than just small fried fish – they now serve a variety of tendon, courses, and set meals. We recommend their signature tendon – rice bowls that are filled to the brim with tempura pieces and doused in a dashi-based tentsuyu (dipping sauce). Prices range from ¥1,560- ¥3,900 (~USD15.02- USD37.54).
For those who prefer their tempura to stay crispy for a longer time, choose from their selection of set meals (¥1,700- ¥2,650, ~USD16.36- USD25.52) as the fried food is served on the side, ensuring optimal crispiness. You can even get a side of tempura from ¥1,300- ¥3,750 (~USD12.52- USD36.11).
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Opening hours: 11AM-9PM, Daily
Address: 1 Chome-2-2 Asakusa, Taito City, 111-003 Tokyo
5. Usamitei Matsubaya – Kitsune udon (Osaka)
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Udon has been around practically since forever, but it was only in 1893 that the popular kitsune udon dish came into existence. The founder of Usamitei Matsubaya, who used to work in a sushi shop, would serve Inari sushi – aburaage (seasoned deep-fried tofu pockets) stuffed with vinegared rice. That was when he had a eureka moment – if aburaage could be served with rice, why not udon noodles?
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The rest is history – he opened his own udon restaurant, Usamitei Matsubaya, and sold hot bowls of udon noodles topped with aburaage. The dish was well–received by customers, gradually spread nationwide, and is now an indispensable staple in udon restaurants and eateries.
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Though Usamitei Matsubaya was the first to serve kitsune udon, the prices remain friendly and affordable. A bowl of the iconic dish costs only ¥600 (~USD5.78).
If you’d like something more hearty, don’t miss out on their signature ojiya udon ¥820 (~USD7.90), which has rice and udon added to the soup, along with an assortment of toppings. There’s twice the amount of carbohydrates to fill you right up.
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Opening hours: Mon – Thur 11AM-7PM | Fri & Sat 11AM-9.30PM (Closed on Sundays and Public Holidays)
Address: 3 Chome-8-1 Minamisenba, Chuo Ward, 542-0081 Osaka
6. Tsurubesushi Yasuke – Sushi (Nara)
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Sushi is considered by many to be the pinnacle of Japanese cuisine, and with its long history comes Tsurubesushi Yasuke, the oldest sushi restaurant in existence in Japan.
Founded over 800 years ago, in the small town of Shimoichi in Nara Prefecture, the restaurant’s 3-storey wooden red building exudes history – notwithstanding the fact that the building was rebuilt in 1939 after it was damaged by fire.
An assortment of dishes included in the shioyaki lunch set
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Theatre buffs will be thrilled to know that the restaurant was even featured in Yoshitsune Senbon Zakura, one of the most famous Japanese plays that have been adapted to bunraku and kabuki. In 1955, it was even visited by Eiji Yoshikawa, a great writer of the Shōwa era.
Tsurubesushi Yasuke is famous for ayu sushi – sushi that’s made with freshwater sweetfish caught in the local Yoshino River. The historic restaurant serves their sushi in the form of set meals and fancy kaiseki (traditional multi-course meal).
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Depending on the course you choose, it will set you back from ¥6,000- ¥20,000 (~USD57.77- USD192.55). For a more affordable option, go for either of their lunch sets – zushi teishoku (¥2,700, ~USD25.99) or shioyaki teishoku (¥3,900, ~USD37.55). Both sets include sushi, along with an assortment of side dishes.
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Opening hours: Tue – Sun 11.30AM-6.30PM (Closed on Mondays)
Address: 533 Shimoichi, Yoshino District, 638-0041 Nara
7. Honke Owariya – Soba (Kyoto)
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For a city that’s home to over thousands of ancient shrines and temples, it should hardly come as a surprise that one of the oldest soba restaurants in Japan is located in Kyoto. Originally a confectionery shop that sold only soba rice cakes, the 556-year-old Honke Owariya is now a restaurant that also specialises in soba noodles.
Soba-ita, a confectionery made with buckwheat flour.
Image credit: @arikoinaoka
In the 1700s, Honke Owariya branched out from confectionery-making to serve buckwheat noodles. The restaurant’s venture into noodle–making was thanks to Zen temples which, at the time, were unable to produce enough soba noodles for the meals of trainee monks.
Back then, it was common practice to outsource the work to confectionery shops. Thus, Honke Owariya became heavily involved in the production of soba and supplied noodles to temples in the city.
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Their superb soba noodles are made daily using high–quality buckwheat flour from Hokkaido, and the restaurant’s dashi broth is made with fresh Kyoto groundwater.
For the ultimate soba experience and an extra dose of luck, try their signature hōrai soba (¥2,160, ~USD20.75). Its auspicious name, “宝来”, translates to “welcoming treasure”. The set comes with 5 layers of cold soba, a platter of toppings, and a dipping sauce on the side.
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Last but not least, give their soba-zushi a try. Instead of the usual vinegared rice, soba-zushi (¥1,080, ~USD10.39) uses soba noodles.
Image credit: @udon_soba_log
Opening hours: 11AM-4PM (Last order at 2.30PM) (Closed on 1st and 2nd January)
Address: 322, Niomontsukinukecho, Nakagyo-ku Kyoto-shi, 604-0841, Kyoto
8. Nankin Senryo – Tonkotsu ramen (Fukuoka)
Image adapted from: @shinjisadamatsu
Many know the city of Kurume in Fukuoka Prefecture as the birthplace of the rich tonkotsu (creamy pork broth) ramen. But only some are privy to Nankin Senryo, the ramen shop that started it all and is a must-visit pilgrimage spot for ramen aficionados.
Image adapted from: @takuma_fukuoka
In 1937, the owner came up with the idea of adding pork bones to soup broth and thus created the first tonkotsu ramen. The inspiration came from the meaty broth of champon, a regional noodle dish originating from Nagasaki, the owner’s hometown. It’s said that the invention was also a nod to chuka soba, which was in vogue in Yokohama at the time.
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Served from a mobile food stall, the rare tonkotsu ramen quickly became popular. These days, you can find Nankin Senryo at 2 locations – at their brick-and-mortar store and a food cart along Meiji-dōri. A humble bowl of tonkotsu ramen costs ¥550 (~USD5.29) for the normal size and ¥650 (~USD6.26) for a bigger serving.
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Opening hours: 11.30AM-10PM, Daily (Closed on 2nd Tuesday of every month)
Address: 1357-15 Nonakamachi, Kurume, 839-0862 Fukuoka
9. Kinseiken – Raindrop cake (Yamanashi)
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Due to its uncanny resemblance to a crystal clear dewdrop, the gelatinous dessert – better known by its catchier name, “raindrop cake” – took the world by storm in 2014.
The roots of the viral dessert can be traced back to Kinseiken, a long-standing confectionery shop located in Hokuto City, Yamanashi Prefecture.
With the idea of making “edible water”, the creators went through countless trials before they nailed the perfect ratio of agar to water. Utilising fresh spring water obtained from Hakushu Town in the city, the mochi is made by adding a small amount of agar to the water.
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For ¥500 (~USD4.82), you can get a taste of the seasonal product that’s only sold on weekends in summer, from June to the end of September every year. Make sure to savour the dessert quickly as the “raindrop” can only hold its form for 30 minutes.
Besides being the birthplace of the popular treat, Kinseiken has been making and selling traditional Japanese sweets since 1905. Make sure to grab some shingen mochi, the regional speciality of Yamanashi, if you’re looking to get souvenirs. It is a firm mochi coated with a generous amount of kinako (roasted soybean powder) and served with kuromitsu (black sugar syrup).
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Opening hours: Fri – Wed 10AM-5PM (Closed on Thursdays)
Address: Hakushucho Daigahara, Hokuto, 408-0312 Yamanashi
Bonus: Café Paulista – Japanese coffee (Tokyo)
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Demand for 3rd-wave artisanal coffee has been booming in recent years. But if you ever need a refreshing break from sweet, fruity flavours, take a trip down memory lane at Café Paulista and get your hands on some dark roast. The coffee shop is said to be the first kissaten (traditional coffee shop) in Japan and the oldest café in Tokyo.
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Though opened in 1911, Café Paulista’s roots can be traced back to as early as 1908. As a token of appreciation for bringing Japanese immigrants to work in coffee farms in Brazil, founder Mizuno Ryo received a generous donation of coffee beans from the Brazilian government. Café Paulista was set up to sell the free coffee beans he received.
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Thanks to its prime location in Ginza and proximity to places such as Asahi Shimbun’s office and Imperial Hotel, the coffee shop was extremely popular with the masses. In its heyday, the kissaten sold around 4000 cups of coffee daily.
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Sadly, Café Paulista moved from its original location to its current building in 1970. But the shop’s interior is still furnished with retro furniture, such as leather seats and rustic Shōwa-era lamps.
The kissaten serves a wide selection of Western dishes and desserts, but we recommend going for their signature blend, mori no kōhī (¥680, ~USD6.55), which is a filter coffee brewed with pesticide–free organic Brazilian beans.
Image credit: @tokyo_machi_aruki
Opening hours: Mon – Sat 8.30AM-9.30PM | Sun & Public Holidays 11.30AM-8PM, Daily
Address: 8-9 Nagasaki Center Bldg 1F, Ginza, Chuo 104-0061 Tokyo
Oldest restaurants in Japan serving authentic dishes
Food trends come and go, but these oldest restaurants in Japan have been serving up their original dishes, recipes unchanged, for decades or even centuries. Feed your belly and your historical soul by embarking on a heritage food trail the next time you visit Japan.
For more places to visit in Japan, check these out:
- Cat ryokan in Yugawara
- Kyoto cafes in heritage buildings
- Unique Japanese architecture
- Mountains in Japan
- Autumn leaves viewing spots