Every time I go to Kyoto, I must go to Onishi Yakitori Bar. Sometimes I even think I come back to Kyoto just to be here.
Onishi Yakitori Bar is a little bit of a best kept secret by Kyoto locals I'm sure - Googling and searching for this place online, you'll find it hard to surface any results. In fact I first heard about it as a recommendation made by Capsule Ryokan Kyoto, a nearby form of budget accommodation for tourists which offers a traditional tatami and futon sleep experience, for the fraction of a cost of traditional ryokans (a traditional form of short-stay accommodation for travelers). And when the locals say something is a 'must eat' then you really must listen!
On a main street, just 10 minutes' walk from the iconic Kyoto Station, Onishi sits as a time portal; situated in a cross-roads between a modernized city and village past. The bold calligraphy of the kanji "大西” on the shop front and a typical Japanese door curtains are but the signs of a portal to another world. Inside is the world of the izakaya, a type of Japanese bar of sake, beer, and roast chicken sticks (yakitori - lit. barbecued chicken) commonly favored by the Japanese salaryman - the last and most important leg of his late-night journey home from the office. Pulling back the curtain, you are greeted with a sudden burst of "irrashaimase" and instantly you know that you are home.
Inside the restaurant is split in two, the right side is what I like to call the 'grilling area', where the chef stands partly obscured by rows of over-sized sake bottles. On the right there are booths for diners or colleagues coming in larger groups. Like all great izakaya, there is a row of stools in front of the grilling area where you can sit to drool over your food as you watch it cook.
They of course sell a large range of skewered and non-skewered barbecued delights to tantalize the taste-buds of any salaryman or back-packed-topped traveler - and importantly a large range of the best alcoholic beverages to complement. Of the menu items (many of which are sure to delight) I super recommend the skewered mochi (a type of glutinous rice product) and cheese wrapped in bacon and the secret menu item 'beautiful memory'. And of course, just like all great Japanese izakaya, you'll find all parts of the chicken available, including the stomach and heart (also some horse meat if you can stomach the thought!). Served on homely Japanese ceramics, the rustic and traditional touch truly transports you to another world for a unique and memorable dining experience.
So for those stopping by in Kyoto, Onishi is THE authentic and traditional yakitori experience. Whenever you plan to hit-up the city, be sure to stop off at the Onishi Yakitori Bar. Who knows? You may even find me there.