A Quick Osaka City and Eating Guide from the Wayfaring Soul
I love wandering around Osaka, Japan because it’s a huge city with so much space to get lost in. It’s got a great energy with a unique mix of beautiful architecture. And then there’s the food! Oh my god the amazing food! And I’m not just referring to sushi.
There’s a reason why Osaka has the title of the Nation’s Kitchen “天下の台所 (tenka no daidokoro)”! It’s quite a title to receive if you think about it because Tokyo-Kanto region has a much larger population.
So in this little walking and dining Osaka guide, I started off at my hotel near Hommachi Station with a stop over at JR Osaka Station to pick up my 4 Day JR West Kansai Rail Pass. And then heading over to Osaka’s City Hall at Yodobashi Station to start my walk straight down Midōsuji Boulevard and ending at Osaka’s famous Dotonbori shopping and food district.
You can walk up and down Shinsaibashi Shopping Arcade too if you have the time and energy to do so. Shinsaibashi is basically one long covered street full of shops and restaurants.
Starting Off at Osaka’s City Hall with a Quick Bite to Eat
I was staying at Cityroute Hotel near Hommachi Station. Which is just a few stations to Osaka Station where I picked up my JR rail passes.
Then it was off to Osaka’s City Hall on the Yodabashi Line, Exit #1. I peeked at google maps quickly and saw a few cafés in the area because we we’re dying for some caffeine.
I’m not sure what it is but I discovered that Japan has some really good hot dogs. As a New Yorker I do miss and crave Gray’s Papaya hot dogs. And I can’t find decent hot dogs in Thailand. Osaka has a rich cuisine variety and yes! I do consider hot dogs in Japan a cuisine!
We quickly found Café Veloce (website in Japanese only) after getting out from the subway station. This is a great little spot to get a quick bite and coffee because we were expecting to walk a lot today. Make sure you go upstairs to the second floor. You’ll have a great view of Osaka’s City Hall building and the O River.
Our plan was to walk from Osaka City Hall along Midōsuji Boulevard, bypassing Shinsabashi and ending at Dotonbori for a late lunch then head back out to hotel for a short rest and than back out for dinner.
Midōsuji runs directly north and south of the city. It’s the spine of Osaka and you can walk from Kita, all the way down to Namba. Just like it is in Seoul, South Korea you don’t need to take the subway to get around the best sights and locations in Osaka. Find this long and wide boulevard and you can’t get lost in Osaka.
After our quick bite it was already 1:30pm and even though it was high noon the light was harsh and bright in certain areas and in others it wasn’t.
We were in the start of of Japan’s winter but the temperature was not cold at all, about 22 °C (72 °F ) and the trees still had a lovely yellow appearance. But many leaves had already fallen off considerably.
Weird But Beautiful Light
I like taking pictures but it was kind of difficult because there were a lot of shade from the tall surrounding buildings and bright spots from the sun coming through. But it was still a beautiful with a lot of bright interesting light coming through.
The boulevard is lined with ginkgo trees and the leaves turned a bright yellow which made an amazing contrasts from the shadows of the office buildings.
Midōsuji reminds a lot like New York City’s famed Fifth Avenue with so many high end brand name stores. We passed by Louis Vuitton, Burberry, Chanel and Gucci stores. There was even an Apple store as well.
The boulevard was quiet though and not as hectic and congested on the streets as NYC’s Fifth Avenue. That was one thing that really surprised me. There’s not a lot of people walking around for a big city like Osaka.
Also what struck me was how quiet the city was. But it makes sense if you think about it. Most of the cars are electric or hybrid. And lots of locals ride bicycles to get around.
Also what struck me was how quiet the city was. But it makes sense if you think about it. Most of the cars are electric or hybrid. And lots of locals ride bicycles to get around. Living in Bangkok and NYC I’ve become accustomed noise pollution.
They say that Japan is a nation of new and old entwined together in harmony. So it’s not uncommon to see traditional temples and shrines surrounded by modern high rises and offices.
This little stroll from Osaka City Hall to Dontonbori along Midōsuji Boulevard only took us around 30 minutes. Could’ve been quicker but we took our time and I was taking pictures. It’s an easy walk and most Japanese prefer to walk or ride their bicycles the short distances instead of relying on the subway trains.
A Landmark in Dotonbori – Don Quijote
So how do you know you’ve arrived into Dotonbori? When you see this mega thrift store called Don Quijote right on the corner of Dotonbori Bridge. This super thrift store is known for carrying beauty supplies, household goods, snacks and all kinds of other goodies at reasonable prices for Japan.
Head inside and you’ll see wall to wall, shelf to shelf items. There are home appliances, clothing, Japanese snacks and beverages. They even sell bicycles. The most popular items I saw inside seemed to be the makeup and beauty section located on the second floor.
Lots of creams, lotions, nail polishes, lipsticks and mascara. My wife was having a field day inside. All I bought was a nail clipper.
The building has six floors and you can get lost amongst the aisles just wandering around. And Don Quijote is open 24 hours so you can head in to spend that extra Yen burning a hole in your wallet.
Chances are anything everything you’ve seen about Osaka, on television, on Instagram or the magazines you’ll come across the iconic snow crab on top of Kani Douraku restaurant.
Snow crab is expensive as you’ve mostly likely learned while watching episodes of Deadliest Catch on television. So if you want to have a nice snow crab meal be ready to dole out some big cash.
But what if you don’t want to blow your entire Japan trip on pricey crustacean? Kani Douraku has a stand outside selling charcoal grilled snow crabs. And you can some day tell someone that you indeed tried snow crab in Osaka, Japan.
You have can buy a few small pieces of grilled snow crab leg for 900¥. And when I mean small, I mean small. Not even a full single crab leg. About a quarters worth I’d guess. I’m not complaining, just telling it like it is.
I only ate a little bit because I’ve had it before but it was the first for my wife and she found the grilled crab meat sweeter then the blue crabs or big claw crabs in Thailand. It’s good crab. But is it worth the 900¥? I think it’s worth it just to try. But I can’t imagine myself or anyone else spending that amount of money on couple of crab meat on a consistent basis.
Got Shellfish Allergies? There’s More to Eat at Dotonbori…
Take a walk around Dotonbori promenade and if you threw a rock in any direction, chances are it’ll hit a restaurant. Ramen, food vendor, sushi and Osaka’s famous takoyaki are all there right in front of your face.
Takoyaki in Osaka is something you’ve got to try for yourself. It’s bits of octopus (tako) encased in a pancake batter and grilled (yaki) on hot oiled cast iron with round molds. When cooked the octopus balls have a crusty outside but the insides are piping hot but soft.
Then the balls are drowned in mayonnaise and a sweet and tangy brown sauce. To finish, takoyaki are liberally peppered with chopped scallions and bonito flakes (fish jerky). With a nice frosty beer it’s a great snack during Osaka’s winter.
Otherwise, take caution when you bite into the balls as they are piping hot and it’s the way Osakans prefer it. Every takoyaki stand or restaurant will offer customers a variation of toppings so have fun experimenting.
Ramen Restaurants in Dotonbori
It’s Japan so plenty of ramen restaurants are around and Osaka is no exception. Filling the stomachs of hungry salary man and women with noodles in a rich broth day and night. There are many popular restaurants in Osaka. Some you have to wait to get in like Ichiran Ramen and they have two branches in Dotonbori.
Ramen broth or soup is usually made with chicken or pork with a combination of other ingredients. I have seen some ramen restaurants with vegetable broth. And ramen noodles are eggless. But to be sure for yourself go google translate your dietary needs and print it out so you can show to restaurants.
The Wayfaring Soul Travel Tip #141: “Japanese restaurants typically have discounted lunch menus or special menus from 11:30am to 2:00pm. Though it’s best to get in an hour before to beat the lunch crowd.”
I’ve eaten at many ramen restaurants in Osaka and my belly size is proof. And I’ve never had bad ramen. Not one time. Sure, some places make it different than others. But that’s what makes any restaurant unique, right?
I’ve walked around Dotonbori and Shinsaibashi many times and I can tell you a lot of ramen restaurants are typically busy during the lunch and dinner rush. Japan’s restaurants are usually at the busiest from 11:30am to 2:00pm because they have lunch specials and discount during those hours.
Sushi in Osaka
Something that absolutely boggles my mind is how affordable sushi and sashimi is in Osaka. Normally in Bangkok if you want decent sit down sushi at a decent Japanese restaurant it’ll actually cost more than having sushi in Japan.
At this particular restaurant we ordered a mixed sashimi plate with an assortment of sushi, mixed shrimp and vegetable tempura plus 4 beers. The price came out to 7200¥ or about $65USD. And there’s no need to tip and no service charge added. We went to a few sushi restaurants in Dotonbori area and prices are about the same depending on the style of course.
But I can confidently say you can find many restaurants in Osaka with surprisingly affordable and most importantly fresh sushi to enjoy.
You don’t even need to find food at sit in restaurants. There are many al fresco dining options today in Dotonbori where everyone can enjoy eating on communal tables. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why Osaka is known as the “Nation’s Kitchen”.
I’ve been visiting Osaka for years and it’s always a joy to come visit and eat the food served by some of the friendliest peoples. Because there are so many tourists from all over visiting Osaka these days there are English menus and descriptions available.
But even if none are available Japanese menus are usually littered with food photos. Finally remember to always bring cash as most Japanese restaurants, street food vendors and ramen shops do not accept credit cards.