From the maze of Michelin nods and cheap and cheerful corners, there’s a wealth of bars and restaurants that prove the cultural cachet of Japan’s second city. Because so much of Osaka’s ‘cool’ is caught up with its eateries and bars, it pays to know which basement is a bar and which home is actually an art gallery. Here are our picks of the places around Osaka where you can get crazy with creatives.
On the riverfront overlooking the noble stone lions of Naniwa Bridge, Moto Coffee is a peaceful spot to relax with a good coffee or pot of tea. Sit on the deck in fine weather.
Cool basement gallery and bar The Buggy is filled with pop art by the owner, a local artist known only as Buggy. Set over two levels, it feels like a New York loft but the friendly staff, good food and reasonable prices are very Osaka.
The Ura-Namba, or “secret” Namba, area is a maze of tiny eateries and bars. Torame Yokocho (2-3-15 Sennichimae, Chuo-ku) is marked by a big red torii gate that leads to nine small restaurants serving Osakan specialties amid a nostalgic 1950s atmosphere. Grab a seat at any counter and ask for an English menu. It’s cheap, noisy fun.
Try traditional sweets made from mochigome (glutinous rice) at Mochishou Shizuku (1-17-17 Shinmachi, Nishi-ku; +81 6 6536 0805) in a Zen concrete and timber space. Chef Yoshihiro Ishida’s jewel-like creations make the perfect gift. Or enjoy your selection in the shop with a cup of green tea.
For many of us, wine and coffee are staples. Takamura Wine & Coffee Roasters supplies both in an airy warehouse space. Get a coffee and snack while you peruse more than 2000 wines from around the world, along with locally made jams and sauces.
Virtually unchanged since it opened in 1946, the American (1-7-4 Dotonbori, Chuo-ku) features chandeliers, a sweeping staircase and booth seating trimmed in brass and mother-of-pearl. Staff in crisp uniforms could be movie extras but the real drama is in the enticing glass display cases loaded with cakes at this charming café.
In Nakazakicho, a neighbourhood popular with creative types, you can wander narrow streets, visiting galleries and ateliers in converted homes. The best place to start is Salon de AManTO, a café where local artists meet and work.
Sit at the blue tigereye bar in front of a gilded Rinpa-style mural to watch bartender Yukari Takayama of The St Regis Bar execute her impeccable hard-shake cocktail technique. Then order a Shogun Mary, Osaka’s version of a Bloody Mary, which incorporates fresh, citrusy yuzu and wasabi for extra kick.
Ishii (2-3-23 Fukushima, Fukushima-ku; +81 6 4797 1129) serves a stylish take on yakitori (grilled chicken). Quality Kumano chicken and the best charcoal ensure succulent bites at this Michelin-starred restaurant. Order by the stick or, if you can’t decide, opt for a set course.
Savour a cup of green tea at the Omotenashi Cafe at Wad. The English menu explains the subtle differences between each tea blend. Pair your chosen brew with a delicate sweet then check out the gallery of local art and crafts upstairs.
It’s worth the 25-minute train trip to Mino Park to eat at the two-Michelin-starred Ichijunisai Ueno Mino. Enjoy lunch in a private tatami room overlooking the garden as course after sublime course arrives. Afterwards, explore the surrounding parkland’s picturesque shrines and waterfalls.
Top image: The St Regis Bar
SEE ALSO: Bill Granger on Osaka's Dining Hotspots