Located in the popular Nabeya-cho area in Kyoto, close to Ponto-cho and the bustling Shijo-Kawaramachi intersection, you can find this little treasure just by taking one turn off the main popular streets. The Hassunba is a tiny dining bar, with seats for just about four to five people at the bar and two tables for four people each, so a maximum of thirteen people can be seated at once.
After exploring Kyoto during the day, we were looking for a nice place for dinner in Kyoto and because the place that we had initially chosen to go to was unexpectedly closed, we decided to just wander around the area and see where fate would take us. It took us to the colorful and bustling area of Shijo-Kawaramachi, quite touristy yet still enjoyable for a stroll. Then we saw a few restaurants at the entrance to a very narrow lane and they looked quite interesting, so we decided to walk down the lane and see if there was any restaurant that we might like.
As it turned out it was quite a popular lane, especially with the foreigners, so of course, the prices were quite high as well. I didn’t really fancy the restaurants that we had seen so far and I was relieved to see that my friends thought the same. But we were walking for quite a bit already and eat we must!
One of us noticed all the even smaller lanes going to the left from our lane and saw that there were quite a few bars and restaurants in the back alleys as well. These didn’t have English menus so I guessed that they were mostly patronized by the locals here. Following our friends’ suggestion to try out one of the lanes here, we just took the next turn left and entered the dark alley.
My Japanese isn’t too good anymore and reading a Japanese menu is quite difficult as well, especially since I don’t know some of the Kanji (Chinese letters) used. We still decided to at least have a look inside one of the first bars that we found, namely the Hassunba, and honestly, it is one of the best we visited when we were in Japan! It was such a great find, I was so glad we walked into it!
As I mentioned before, the Hassunba is quite a small place, so we squeezed into one corner with a table and immediately asked for an English menu (which, unsurprisingly, they didn’t have). But the waitress was quite sweet and tried to explain everything in (very simple) Japanese to me.
We ordered quite a bit off the menu, starting with some appetizers that included raw octopus, crab tofu, vegetables, and pork. I loved the arrangement on the square platter and the appetizers were amazing, but I was most impressed with the crab tofu, simply because I didn’t know that you could make crab tofu! It was so delicious, it simply melted away in my mouth!
We ordered some more substantial dishes after the very impressive first course, a pork cutlet (Tonkatsu), grilled salmon and – the highlight of our dinner – pork cooked in a rich broth and topped off with radishes and some herbs. This dish was the general favorite among us, the broth was simply amazing, not too salty and well seasoned. The pork fell apart when touched with the chopsticks and it was so yummy!
As per Japanese custom (or in general, Asian custom), we didn’t choose one meal each but rather ordered a few main meals to share it together, which is my favorite way of eating out with friends. It’s so much nicer, especially since you get to eat so many flavors at once!
But, with four good eaters at one table, this wasn’t enough to leave us fully sated, so while we were still thinking about what to order next, we saw that the table next to us had ordered something steaming in a leave and our neighbors were making quite a commotion about this dish, so of course, we had to try it as well! It turned out to be sticky rice with grilled eel and steamed in a leaf. Quite delicious as well, but not as good as the pork broth, though.
If you are wandering around Kyoto, especially the Shijo-Kawaramachi area and are trying to find a exclusive yet affordable dinner, you should seek out the Hassunba. We paid about ¥ 9.500 in total (which is about € 71 or $ 78), so about ¥ 2.375 (€ 18 or $ 19.50) for each of us, including drinks. The dishes are all Kyoto-style and presented in handmade tableware that I would not expect in a place with prices like these.
Also, we were the only foreigners at the Hassunba, which is always a good sign if you only see locals in a restaurant. After a day of wandering around Kyoto, this is the perfect place for ending the day in (Kyoto) style.
Have you been in Kyoto and found some good restaurants here? Let me know, I would love to put it on my list for my next visit! Or planning a trip to Kyoto soon? Check my Kyoto Foodie Tour posts to find some inspiration for restaurants!
Getting around in Kyoto
My favorite method of getting to know a foreign city is usually by walking as much as I can. However, if you want to see most of Kyoto in a short time, renting a bike is probably the cheapest and most fun option for you. You can find some tips on renting a bike in Kyoto here.
Day trips from Kyoto
If you’re based in Kyoto for a longer while, you might be interested to do a few day trips outside of Kyoto? Why not go Himeji and visit its beautiful white castle. It’s one of the many world heritage sites in Japan, very well worth a one-day visit. If you’re there already, why not also check out the Omotenashi Dining Fukutei and get an affordable Kaiseki lunch here? A trip to Himeji takes just about 45 minutes!
Or you could go and visit the many deers residing in Nara and check out the world’s biggest wooden building, housing a huge bronze Buddha statue inside. The trip is just about an hour from Kyoto Central Station.
Planning your trip
There are a lot of good hotels or hostels around in Kyoto. The first time I came to Kyoto I stayed in a hostel, which was quite central as well. This time, however, we decided to rent an airbnb apartment. In my experience, it has often proven to be much more affordable and comfortable as well. If you haven’t signed up for airbnb yet, you can use this link and get 18 € (or 20 $) off of your first booking!
If you are planning a longer trip through Japan, consider getting the Japan Rail Pass! Read here to find out more about the pass!
To help me plan all my trips and itineraries in Japan, I mostly used the Lonely Planet Japan (Travel Guide)*. I’ve used it a lot when I was living in Japan and found it a great help this time as well!