Attuned to subtle seasonal changes, Kyoto cuisine emphasizes freshness and contrast. From the finest ryotei (high-class Japanese restaurants) to the smallest izakaya (pub), the distinctive elements of gracious hospitality, subtle flavors, and attention to decor create an experience that engages all the senses. Both elaborate establishments and casual shops usually offer set menus at lunchtime, at a considerably lower price than dinner. Although the finest traditional kaiseki ryori (the elaborate, multicourse, often expensive meal) is costly, this experience is highly recommended at least once during your visit to Japan.
If you find yourself with an unintelligible menu, ask for the o-makase, or chef's recommendation and you can specify your budget in some instances. The custom of dining early, from 6 pm until 8 pm, still endures in very traditional restaurants, but many restaurants are open until 10 or 11 pm. If possible, let the hotel staff make reservations for you. For more-formal restaurants try to book at least two days in advance; bookings are often not accepted for the following day if called in after 4 pm. Keep in mind that not all restaurants accept credit cards.