Karakuri: Great Hida beef
While Kobe beef is the best in the world, Hida beef is considered to run it a close second, and you can buy it everywhere in Takayama for a fraction of what you probably pay for much less good meat back home. As with Kobe, the secret is in the marbling and although it looks odd if you're unused to it to see fat running through the meat, it is this that gives it its tenderness and flavour.
We had a super Hida beef dinner at a small family-run restaurant near the station, as recommended by Andrew. We had one of the set meals which, in addition to the beef (you can choose between diced or sliced – we both chose the latter), included some small bits of cold and pickled vegetables served as starter.
Favorite Dish: With the meat we had a bowl of rice, miso soup, salad (with a wonderful dressing) and an excellent dipping sauce. The slices of beef are served to you raw, and a burner is lit in front of you, where you cook each slice as needed to your own preference. You then take the slice of beef, dip it in the sauce and maybe take some rice too. And enjoy the melt in your mouth texture and superb flavour.
This style of “do it yourself” cooking on a sizzling cast iron pan is called Sukiyaki. Most of us really loved this meal but there were a couple in the group who were put off by the veins of fat and wished for a leaner cut of meat. I felt that was missing the point however, and I’ve rarely if ever had beef so succulent.
Note that almost all seating here is traditional, on cushions on the floor. I found it made my back ache after a while but adding a second cushion and leaning back (I’d chosen a spot in front of a screen) helped. There are a few stools up at the counter if you don’t feel you can cope on the floor for a whole meal.
The next morning we were all up quite early and heading for the river banks.
.: A characterful coffee shop
As we strolled south from the area around Sakurayama Hachimangu we were on the lookout for somewhere we might find rest and refreshment, and when we spotted a café in a traditional old building on Shimo-Ninomachi advertising cappuccinos, we knew we had found our place!
Stepping inside we found ourselves in a fascinating old building with antiques and knickknacks around the walls and a few large wooden tables. We sat at one end of one of these and were handed menus by the friendly lady who was serving, but explained we would just like coffees – a cappuccino for Chris and a mocha for me. She passed our order to the man making the drinks and we waited a while as he seemed to be taking extra care over them. When Chris’s, the first to arrive, was brought we saw why – an image of two little bears carefully “drawn” in the foam. My mocha was equally decorative but very different, with lovely feathering. A Canadian guy sitting at the same table heard our exclamations and came over to look. When he saw the designs he asked permission to take a photo (of course we were already snapping away!) and explained that a friend of his, a professional photographer, was working on a book of “coffee art” and would be jealous that he had come across such a great example!
Fortunately the coffee was as good as it looked and we thoroughly enjoyed our drinks. The café also serves simple meals, mainly udon and soba, which looked good and one of which our new Canadian friend was clearly enjoying. The coffees weren’t cheap (the cappuccino was 450¥ and the mocha 550¥, comparable to London prices) but the friendly service, extra care taken and attractive room made this seem good value to us.
Once we had finished our coffee and our chat, we were ready to carry on sightseeing and headed to the Lion Dance Ceremony Exhibition Hall.
Rakuda: Great lunch stop
We had spotted this small restaurant earlier in the day and thought it looked a good bet for a lunch stop, as indeed it did. We loved the quirky decor which had rather a kitsch feel, with old 1970s posters and an odd assortment of objects displayed (which continued into the toilet, by the way – do check it out if you come here!) The music played was mostly from the same era, so it’s evidently a passion of the owners. The service was friendly and there was a helpful English-language menu.
Favorite Dish: I had a really tasty sandwich - thick slices of toast with an omelette filling, loads of vegetables (courgette, tomatoes, edame beans, aubergine etc.) and salad in a delicious dressing. Chris had the white pizza which had a very thin base (more like a quesadilla) but a delicious topping of two types of cheese with walnuts. Other options on the menu included a Hida beef curry (not sure I’d want to swamp such delicious beef with curry flavourings, much as I love curry!), vegetable curry and spaghetti carbonara.
Our drinks were equally as good – mine a home-made ginger ale and Chris's a soda with fresh fruits. And the prices were low - my huge sandwich was just 600¥ and our total bill not much over 2,000¥ What’s not to like?!!
Refreshed and very happy with our lunch break we headed to our next sight, one of two nearby merchant houses open to the public.
Center4 Hamburgers: Beef burgers to die for!
Chris and I had both loved the Hida beef that Andrew had introduced us to on the previous evening so we decided to try one of the other restaurants he recommended here in Takayama, which also got a very favourable mention in my Lonely Planet guidebook (and incidentally is ranked #1 restaurant in the city on TripAdvisor) – a place known as Center4 Hamburgers. It sounded like a great place to get a change from Japanese food while still making the most of the high quality local ingredients.
The restaurant is run by a local couple who are clearly enamoured of all things American, as the burgers are served to a background of Johnny Cash music and many of the antiques that spill into the restaurant from the shop in front of it are from the US (though many others are from countries all over the world, as well as from Japan itself). There are just a handful of tables but on the week night we visited there was never more than one other table occupied – surprising perhaps when you consider its reputation.
Favorite Dish: Less surprising is the menu, which is dominated by burgers, though there are a few other options. The Hida beef burger comes unadorned, as is only right given the quality of the meat, but you can also get burgers made with regular beef and with all the usual toppings such as cheese, bacon, chilli, egg. These are very reasonably priced at around 900¥ - 1,000¥, but you pay considerably more for the Hida beef burger – 2,100¥, though that does include fries and a tasty salsa. I know the salsa is tasty because I chose to splash out on that dish, and I was so pleased I did – it was amazing! Chris wanted blue cheese on his burger however so opted for the regular beef, but that too was pretty great. If you don’t want beef you can also get a fish fillet burger, grilled chicken sandwich, veggie burger and several salads. But if you’re a meat eater do consider the Hida beef burger as it really is something special and worth the extra cost.
Our bill came to 5,459¥ for the two of us, which included two large draft beers each (Kirin Ichiban). There’s also a wide range of bottled beers from Germany, Belgium and the US.
This was our last evening in Takayama; the next morning we left by bus for Kamikochi.
Shou: A Shou-in
This restaurant was located on the ground floor of the Best Western Hotel. Given that it was so freezing cold on the night of my birthday, we just didn't want to leave the building - so it was just as well we found this place. It was very quiet, but it was just perfect and the experience of cooking your own meal on the brazier was great.
Shou is open from 5.30pm to 10.30pm daily.
I couldn't tell you the pricing, but I think we spent around Y16,000 for 2 people (with a bottle of sparkling wine), which was definitely a splurge for us.
Favorite Dish: We had the Hida Beef Set, which was of course beef and assorted Japanese vegetables which you grill yourself over a charcoal brazier. I think there was an entree of kinds and some miso soup, but I do know there was what seemed to be an endless bottle of champagne! All topped off with some delicious citrusy tasting sorbet.
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Cafe Fiore: Cosy Cafe Fiore
This gorgeous little french cafe has the most devine croque monsier's, cooked to perfection, golden brown and tasty as. Nothing fancy, but with a glass of wine, this is the perfect way to sit out a chilly day in Takayama.
Favorite Dish: Croque Monsieur
"If" Coffee Shop: If..
if" coffee shop is one of the oldest coffee shops and is located in the center of Takayama. An English style cafe, serving up coffees, cakes and sandwiches - it's the perfect place to come for a chat, a bite of lunch or a hot cocoa.
Open 7.30am to 4.30pm. Closed Thursdays (though we were there for the Spring Festival and they were open on that Thursday).
Does not accept credit card.
Favorite Dish: Bagel Sandwiches and definitely THE place to go for Hot Cocoa.
Pane e Vino Bar Italiano: Plenty of Vino in Takayama
A nice homely little Italian cafe in the heart of Takayama. Very friendly staff and good service.
Closed Mondays. Open from 10am til 9.30pm all other days.
Favorite Dish: Plain old hida spaghetti with a glass of red.
Hei An Raku: Best local antique style restaurant
Hei An Raku restaurent is best Chinese-Japanese style restaurant most popular to International tourists in town, decorated with traditional antique interior since 1963. Which is located in the main street between train station and Sanmachi traditional houses area. Main dish/600-1,200,Set menu/900/petit750(choice of main dish,vagetable,soup,fruit,rice and Jasming tea). Shop ownner graduate from British collage in England.English,French,Spanish,German,Portugy and Swedish menu are available.Open 11:30-14:00 & 17:00-21:30,Closed on every Tuesday.Vegetalian and religional meal available please ask to friendly staff.
Favorite Dish: Grilled mixed vegetables with sweet sour gravy sauce set (with rice, soup,fruit,salad and Jasming tea) cost only900yen, You can choose any other main dish of menu for this set. Sweet Tofu puding cost 150yen.So delicious! Local Japanese sake or rice wine are wonderful.
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All restaurants in Takayama: Hida Beef better than Kobe
Hida Takayama is the best place to get a fine piece of meat at any meal, morning, noon or night. Definitely try the hoba miso, beef grilled on a magnolia leaf with dark miso, onions and mushrooms. And if you can, pick some (miso) up at the morning market near the red bridge and keep refrigerated. Mine made it all the way to California and is delicious grilled with some good quality beef.
Eat beef as often as you can in Takayama, as you will miss it when you head back down to the city. The best beef I've ever had, by far!
P.S. don't be afraid of the fat! If you haven't noticed by now, the Japanese love their fat, chicken skin, bacon etc. They don't seem to be so concerned as some Americans (but not this one). And, they are approximately half of our size to boot. You know the old saying "when in Rome..."
Center4: Cheeseburgers in Takayama!
After touring many cities in Japan with a big group, I was starving for a taste of home. I picked up a brochure in my hotel for "Center4 Hamburgers." After finding it, I went through a small hallway lined with antiques and emerged into a little hole-in-the-wall place playing country/western music! American farm antiques hung on the walls. It was being run by a young Japanese couple (I don't know if they owned it.) I promised myself I'd tell everyone I could about this place.
Favorite Dish: The menu was from heaven! I got the best cheeseburger and the most perfect plate of onion rings and a tall coke! Oh my God! I was in heaven after a week of sushi and miso!
Their menu even included fries, salsa, and Corona beer!
Hida beef / Hoba Miso
Do not miss these two specialties (combination possible) when you visit Takayama.
Many restaurants serve hoba miso set meals which are generally meals comprising of rice, small side dish, soup and vegetables or meat cooked in miso (fermented soy bean) on a hoba (magnolia) leaf over a flame. Tastes nothing like your miso soup.
I find that the miso gets too salty when combined with vegetables but works wonders with a good cut of the beautiful marbled Hida beef.
Around the main tourist sights, you would find promotional pamphlets of restaurants serving Hida beef or hoba miso. We tried out two which were situated on small streets off the old private house district and were very satisfied.
- Food and Dining
Suzuya Japanese Restaurant: Hida Beef here is the best!
Suzuya in Takayama is not to be confused with the Suzuya in Kyoto which serves mainly great desserts.
In Takayama, most restaurants are only open for dinner. Unless you want to have ramen or soba for lunch, it's difficult to find a good eating place.
We were lucky to find Suzuya hidden in 1 of the streets near Rickshaw Inn. It is here that we experienced the best Hida beef and famed Sukiyaki.
Favorite Dish: Hida beef
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Mikado Restaurant: Mountain food
The nights in Takayama are cold even in early autumn. Thus, food here is hearty and wholesome. We ordered this set that consists of rice, fish, small mountain potatoes, hida beef and the unique bean paste heated on a leaf placed on a little clay urn.
Very yummy food!
Favorite Dish: Small mountain potatoes are great as snacks too. You just can't stop popping them into your mouth :-)
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Teddy Bear Eco Village Cafe: For everything teddy bears!
We wanted to check out the Teddy Bear museum but found the entrance fee of US$ 5.11 a little steep just to look at teddy bears.
Decided to visit the teddy bear shop which is next to this cosy cafe. We took a seat outdoor as the weather was cool and perfect and the garden was lovely.
Favorite Dish: The cheese cake here is fabulous and comes in a set with a pot of team for US$ 5.11. What's unique here is that everything is following the teddy bear theme from the cutleries to the biscuits!
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