There are plenty of places in Japan where one can go to sample fine food, but there are few that have the culinary reputation that Osaka does. Indeed, the city and its inhabitants have embraced something called kui-dao-re (食い倒れ), which in Japanese means “eat until you die.” Osakans take eating seriously, and this is reflected in the many (many) great places to dine. There’s no room for amateur experimentation here – if a restaurant doesn’t meet the high standards of the food-happy locals, it’s time to close down. When you consider that Osaka has 99 restaurants that make the Michelin guide (4 of them rated 3-stars), and is home to the Tsuji Culinary Institute, widely considered Japan’s finest, it’s clear that Osaka’s eating culture is very much worth checking out.
Like most big cities, you’ll find the highest concentration of restaurants near to the busiest shopping and nightlife districts. This includes exclusive reservation-only establishments with outrageous prices to local hole-in-the-wall eateries with no frills and no guidebook write-ups. No matter which one you choose, you’re bound to have a good meal.
You can’t go wrong with a trip to the Umeda area in Osaka’s southern end for a huge dose of activity and food. With towering office buildings, expansive shopping malls and a huge train station, there are thousands (tens of thousands?) of people here at all hours of the day, walking, drinking, shopping, laughing, and of course, eating. Another popular eating area is the one surrounding Dotombori, a crowded and famous street whose roots go back to the early 1600s. Once the entertainment hub of Osaka, its puppet theaters and Kabuki shows have gone, but the restaurants remain. This street is always crowded with domestic and foreign tourists, and has several famous landmarks, such as the huge Kani Doraku Crab statue or the Glico Man neon sign. But never you mind those – they merely distract from the food!
Osakan food is well known across Japan, and there are an endless variety of dishes to feast on. You can’t miss the takoyaki, grilled octopus cooked in a crispy ball of batter and sipped in thick sauce. But be careful – they’re hot inside! Most good restaurants offer teppanyaki, where the chef cooks fine, often locally-sourced ingredients right in front of you, and almost every place will offer a version of kitsune udon, wheat noodles in soup with fried tofu. If you can, seek out a comfortable seat for a huge meal of okonomiyaki, a thick batter with a variety of vegetable and meat ingredients mixed in, baked on a hot plate and served piping hot.
If you want a finer dining experience, do your best to find a place that serves Matsusaka beef, which is produced only a few hours away. Comparable to the better-marketed Kobe variety, Matsusaka cows are massaged, pampered and provided beer to drink that gives their meat a soft, rich flavor that’s hard to match.
For those in a hurry, Osaka also provides plenty of food-on-the-go options. Boxed lunches, stand-up noodle stands, street food stalls and kaiten-zushi self-serve restaurants (the ones with the conveyor belts lined with full plates) means a fine meal in a short time is always easy to find.
There is plenty more to write about when it comes to finding great food in Osaka – these are just the basics. If you happen to find yourself there with a rumbling stomach, the best advice we can give is to grab some money, head out into the crowded streets, and start pointing at anything that catches your eye. It’s almost guaranteed that you won’t be disappointed!