21. Biotei, Oh Biotei. Lunch 3x. Mo Ichi-do (Downtown Kyoto)--KenI honestly don't know how it was possible, but in 2004 I totally missed this place: Biotei.
Three years ago I made a special trip to find this place. It's not far from all the action downtown, and is just a few blocks from the Oike subway station, caddy corner to the Nakagyo Post Office (in America that means diagonally across). Biotei is on the southwest corner of Sanjo-dori and Higashimotoin-dori (?) (that is, one block north of Karasuma-dori).
But the most prominent restaurant on the corner is a rather unappetizing looking fast food place. I though, What the?, and walked away disappointed. I missed Biotei because it's up a small spiral staircase, that's just to the left of the fast food place, on the second floor, in a small space overlooking the street.
Actually the downtown neighborhood surrounding Biotei is one of my favorite in Kyoto. Not touristy, not too congested, and a real pleasure to explore on foot. There are blocks and blocks of small boutiques and stores selling handmade goods and clothes, a few nice cafes, small Japanese restaurants in traditional houses; you just never know what you're going to find there. People whiz by on bicycles or amble fashionably by. You have to dodge a fair bit of traffic on the congested streets, so pay attention.
Biotei's entryway (when it's open) looks like this
Inside it is small, busy, and friendly. People sometimes have to share tables since there's only 15 rustic seats. And, don't come expecting your knees to fit under the tables necessarily, but don't be deterred. The food is great and we came not once, not twice, but three times for lunch in the span of a few days.
Biotei is not a strictly vegetarian restaurant (they make fish dishes), but they are happy to do vegetarian, and speak enough English to make it possible to order easily. Each time we came we asked for theVegetarian Set after making it clear we were no-meat, no-fish vegetarians. Veg miso soup came with every meal, and the price was always 830 Yen or so.
In my opinion, you can't beat this place for a great Japanese vegetarian lunch downtown. The price is right, and the menu is always changing. The food is healthy and well prepared. The people are nice. What more can I say?
Despite the cramped space, I liked sitting at the bar, waching the cooks do their work.
They also seem to be selling pickles, and a line of skin care products we couldn't read.
My most important biotei recommendation is to figure out if they're going to be open, before you go. We found it closed more than once and had to scramble on empty stomachs to find another place.
Address: Nakagyo-ku, Sanjo-dori, Higashino-toin, Southeast corner, 2nd. Floor (3-minute walk from the Karasuma Oike Subway Station, Exit #5) Phone: 075-255-0086