If you’re going to Kobe, then you’re going to be trying the world-famous Kobe beef. That’s a given. The harder question becomes: where? Covering the region are restaurants brightly advertising the city’s specialty, with a wide range of prices and styles. Where to start?
My strong recommendation is Meriken Hatoba restaurant. Located on a small side street near Chinatown, and just a few minutes’ walk from Meriken Park and the Kobe Port Tower, its convenient placement is just the beginning.
I was overwhelmed with the effort and sincerity that the owners put into making this as nice of a dining experience as possible. They went out of their way to be totally accommodating and to provide a top-notch dining experience. The restaurant - opened in 2013 - is clearly a labor of love for Mr. Sonoshi Okumoto, the owner and chef, and his hardworking and passionate staff. Each part of the meal was carefully explained to me, and the chef even presented my piece of meat to me before he began cooking it, for my approval (which I gave enthusiastically, despite having no clue what I was supposed to be looking for). They were quick to explain and translate things, pose for photos, and make sure everyone was enjoying themselves.
And the food? To die for. For meat to be officially considered "Kobe beef," it has to meet strict requirements in preparation and the in the raising of very particular types of cattle. But the meal I had at Meriken Hatoba was by far the most delicious, most tender steak I've ever had in my life. I walked away with no interest in dessert, so I could enjoy the aftertaste for as long as possible. As someone who is admittedly not much of a foodie, this meal changed my entire day for the better.
Of course, the main items on the menu are steaks of Kobe beef, served in the "ichibo" (rump) cut. Prices range from 5,000 to 9,000 yen for lunch, and 6,000 to 10,000 yen for dinner, which seem to be "average" prices compared to other area restaurants I looked at. Also on the menu are "Kobe beef sashimi" (2,800 yen) and the much more inexpensive "steak bowl over rice" and "Yukhoe bowl" (Korean-style BBQ preparation of beef)" items also featuring Kobe beef (between 2,000 and 3,500 yen).
There is also Arima Beer (a local Kobe beer), sake, and wine on the menu.
Note that this restaurant only accepts cash payments. They have an English menu. Meriken Hatoba is a 5-minute walk from Motomachi Station (JR Kobe Line, Hanshin Main Line, Kobe Kosuku Line).