Hello! My name is Mandy, and I'm a new writer for Okayama's English blog. I was born and raised in America, spent a few semesters abroad in Asia, graduated from college last spring, and have been living in rural Okayama since August 2009. Living here has been amazing; I teach English at three elementary schools during the week, and I'm almost always in Okayama City or traveling around on the weekends.

To me, Okayama is the perfect small city; it has all the amenities of a metropolitan hub but the quiet, cozy feel of a more intimate town. And since Okayama does not have a huge amount of tourists, it possesses its own culture and vibe that I find quite charming. Besides its titular city, Okayama prefecture has plenty to see and do. From hiking to festivals to amusement parks to the Seto Inland Sea, there are more than enough things to keep both the casual visitor and long-term resident delightfully busy.

I'm thrilled to be writing for Okayama's English blog because I'm eager to share what Okayama has to offer – beyond the big tourist attractions like the nationally-ranked Korakuen Garden and beautiful U-jo, Okayama's black “crow” castle – with other English-speakers. I'm always in search of delicious food, hip cafes, beautiful scenery, and interesting sites; luckily, Okayama has them all. Additionally, all of these places are foreigner-friendly – if you can't speak much Japanese (like I can't), you can still navigate and enjoy them all the same. (Though knowing some Japanese will only enhance your experiences.)

Because one of my all-time favorite pastimes is eating, my first article will explain some of the basics of dining out and what oishii food you can find in Okayama City.


Some big restaurants – usually those centered around meat – will offer a tabehoudai (食べ放題) or all-you-can-eat option. This is for a set amount of time, usually 90-120 minutes, and will often have a separate menu, page, or section detailing what falls under this deal. Normally, it will cost around \2000-3000/person.

Similarly, nomihoudai (飲み放題), “all-you-can-drink,” can often be tacked onto a tabehoudai set for an extra \1200 or so. This usually includes beer and other kinds of western and Japanese liquor. In most restaurants, you cannot order a nomihoudai on its own; it must come with a tabehoudai or some other set meal.

Tabehoudai shabu-shabu (しゃぶしゃぶ) and yakiniku (焼き肉) are very common and delicious all-you-can-eat options. Both are self-cook meats that you prepare in a hot pot and on a grill, respectively, at your table. Of course, Okayama City has both!

There is a shabu-shabu restaurant on the 20th floor of the CRED building on Kencho-dori. Shabu-shabu is pork and beef that you boil in broth with vegetables. You can order extras (which are part of the tabehoudai set) like gyoza, meat dumplings; or chicken meatballs to add to your hot pot. Dip your cooked meat into your choice of sauces or a raw egg – it sounds gross, but I swear by it – before eating. For nomihoudai, there is a do-it-yourself alcohol bar with draft beer, sake, and a variety of fruity liquors for mixing and experimenting. It can be deliciously dangerous fun. A 120-minute tabehoudai plus nomihoudai is about \3100. Though it is exactly the same thing, be sure to say “Vi-kin-gu” or “Viking” instead of tabehoudai when ordering; otherwise, the waiter might not understand you.

The yakiniku restaurant is in the Joypolis building on Shimoishii, a few blocks down to the right of Okayama station when you exit from the Central Entrance. Yakiniku literally means “grilled meat,” and that's exactly what you're getting. Choose from a variety of beef, pork, chicken, and vegetables to fry up at your seat, and be sure to try the extras – my favorite is the bibimbap, Korean rice and vegetables with an egg in a hot stone bowl. A 90-minute tabehoudai plus nomihoudai is about \4000.


Having a setto cousu (セットコース) or “set course” is an extremely popular option that practically every restaurant serves. A set course is a predetermined meal that includes several dishes: this might include a salad, soup, an appetizer, a main dish, and a dessert. Sometimes you are given a few options, such as choosing between chicken or fish as a main dish. Set courses not only make ordering simple but allow you to try a variety of things that are often a restaurant's tastiest or more creative dishes. Most restaurants offer different set courses and/or change them frequently, sometimes according to what's in season.


I love cafe-restaurants; the ambiance is chic but low-key, and the food is usually just as impressive. There are countless cafe-restaurants – most of which I still need to try – but my current favorites are cafe, on a side street near Kencho-dori, whose moodily-lit interior, beautiful dragon mural, and somewhat corny but delicious couple-themed set is a delight for the senses as well as your taste buds; Heartland, on a quiet side street parallel to Kencho-dori and Skipper's Pub, a Japanese-French fusion restaurant comprised of kitschy-classy private rooms whose set courses seem wonderfully endless; and unmarble, on Kencho-dori, with a light ambiance and a new, scrumptious menu every few weeks. Most of these sets cost around \1200-\2100.

Many of the smaller cafe-restaurants, like unmarble, carry fliers for other cafes, shops, and upcoming events that are happening around town. These displays are one of the best ways to keep up with what's going on in Okayama, and they information is usually printed on cute, artsy postcards that are nice enough to hang onto.

Moreover, these restaurants can be extremely accommodating; for example, during a set course dinner at Heartland one of my friends declined a tofu dish because he is allergic to tofu. Without even asking for it, he was served bruschetta as a replacement; later, a friend who could not eat a chicken dish was offered okonomiyaki (a sort of Japanese mixed pancake) instead. So if you have an special dietary needs or preferences, don't hesitate to tell your server.


Another entirely different type of restaurant is an izakaya (居酒屋), which is like the Japanese version of a western pub. Typically, you go to an izakaya with a group of people and order a variety of small dishes that are shared among everyone. It's a fun way to experiment with food that you might not otherwise try. Nomihoudai is also a very popular accompaniment. While fun and delicious, this style of eating can often run a very expensive bill. A beloved izakaya among my foreign friends is Hanbey, which has several branches across Japan. The food is average, but the walls are covered with vintage movie posters and other old school-Americana that make it a cheeky, fun place to eat and imbibe in.


If giant meals and heaps of meat aren't for you but you still want something Japanese, you have a few other choices. There are many, many ramen shops all over the city, and most are great – though, in Japan, I've yet to encounter a bad bowl of noodles – but my favorite is Ippudo, on Momotaro-dori, which has chains worldwide and is also quite popular among the locals. It's Hakata-style ramen served fast and friendly. For something somewhat familiar but totally different, you can take-out a genuine Japanese pizza at Very's Pizza on Nishigawa. The menu has pictures of all their pies, which have toppings like teriyaki chicken, corn, shrimp, and the infamous mayonnaise “sauce”.


You can easily wander around the ekimae (駅前), or “in front of the station” area and find a number of fantastic places to eat. A caveat: Friday and Saturday nights are always busy, so if you have a particular place in mind try to make a reservation for those nights. (Even if your Japanese is limited, saying yoyaku, “reservation”; number of people-nin, [ex. 3(san)-nin], the day of the week [kinyoubi, “Friday”; doyoubi, “Saturday”] and the time [ex. 6:30 = 6(roku)-ji 30(san-juu)-pun], will get the idea across.)

In fact, you don't even have to leave the station to find a good place to eat – the station's basement level, ichibangai, and the short restaurant “street” Aji no Michi offer a variety of Japanese and fusion food. Another one of my favorite cafe-restaurants, signe, is located in the ichibangai area.


In the summer, kakigouri is a popular treat that's perfect for these balmy, mushi-atsui days. It's typically shaved ice with either sweet fruit or milk syrup drizzled on top. You can find it in ichibangai or at a dirty (but tasty) little hole-in-the-wall place in the shoutengai (arcade shopping strip) area. On the weekends, you'll usually find a truck outside of OPA (a shopping plaza across the street from Okayama station) selling ice cream crepes, which I've yet to try despite its mouth-watering smell. The area outside of CRED often has parked truck or two that sells food (like Kurashiki burgers) or sweets like taiyaki (a fish-shaped pastry filled with red bean). Occasionally there are also small tents set up that sell korokke (コロッケ), aka croquettes, or other small finger foods in that area as well. Then there's Mozart (on Kencho-dori towards the Prefectural Library), which is highly-regarded for its beautiful cakes and cookies, and Hara Donuts (Holland St., parallel to the shoutengai and perpendicular to Symphony Hall) that, while barely more than a counter that serves just two to three kinds of donuts a day, always manages to have a line snaking down the street. (The upstairs sitting area - with stools that overlook the road – is quite nice, if you're lucky enough to get a seat.) Also on Holland Street are a couple boulangeries with a range of pastries that are often better than what you would find in Vie de France. (Though the latter is still pretty good. There's one inside Okayama station.) Speaking of baked goods, there is a tiny bread shop on a little street a few blocks after the 7-11 off of Momotaro-dori that sells huge loaves, half loaves, or slices of delicious homebaked (and surprisingly colorful) bread.

While I tried to cover the basics of eating out, this guide details just a fraction of what you can find in Okayama City. I discovered most of these places just by wandering around – which is why I'm some of the names and/or locations aren't exact – but it only proves how easy it is to come across new places on your own. Try meandering a bit with an empty stomach, and let me know what you find!

- Mandy



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