Dotonbori is one of the top foodie destinations in all of Japan. This lively and colorful neighborhood in Osaka is packed with restaurants serving up iconic local dishes. And one specialty you absolutely must try when visiting Dotonbori is unagi, or freshwater eel.
Unagi is a quintessential part of Japanese cuisine, especially in summertime. The fatty, rich meat is said to boost energy in the hot months. Dotonbori offers many excellent unagi restaurants to enjoy this delicacy.
Here are the top spots to savor the best grilled eel dishes in Dotonbori:
Top 5 Restaurants for Unagi in Dotonbori
1. Unagi Ichi Ni San
Unagi Ichi Ni San is a tiny unagi shop tucked away on a side street. Despite its compact size, it serves up some of the tastiest eel in Osaka.
The unagi here is caught fresh daily and carefully grilled to perfection. The chef’s sauce completely coats the eel to give it finger-licking flavor.
2. Unagidokoro Kurochodo Dotonbori Main Store
For unagi connoisseurs, this Dotonbori institution is a must-visit. Kurochodo serves only wild unagi brought in fresh from reputable farms.
The eel is grilled using top-grade binchotan charcoal to accentuate the natural flavors. It’s paired with slightly sweet, soy-based kabayaki sauce.
3. Kabuto Unagi Specialty Restaurant
Kabuto is an elegant unagi restaurant located on the downtown section of Dotonbori canal. It offers unagi prepared in a variety of traditional cooking methods.
Highlights include unagi kabayaki served over rice and unagi tempura with delicate, flaky batter. You can also order premium seasonal unagi dishes.
4. Marubashi Unagiya
Marubashi Unagiya focuses on traditional unagi cuisine in a casual atmosphere. The specialty is their unagi meshi, or steamed rice topped with unagi kabayaki.
The unagi here is caught in Lake Biwa, grilled fresh daily, and basted in sweet and salty sauce. It’s tender and packed with rich, smoky flavor.
For a high-end unagi experience, check out Kaneyo near the Dotonbori canal. This is one of the oldest and most acclaimed unagi restaurants in Osaka.
The menu spotlights unagi prepared in diverse ways, from unagi sushi and unagi tempura to unagi chazuke (rice with tea poured over).
What Makes These Restaurants Stand Out?
There are several factors that make these restaurants the top choices for exceptional unagi in Dotonbori:
- They source very fresh, high-quality unagi caught wild or from trusted farms. Freshness is key to great tasting eel.
- The chefs are experts at bringing out the best in the unagi. They use time-honored grilling methods and make their own secret kabayaki sauces.
- Attention to detail is seen in every dish. The unagi is cooked to moist, tender perfection.
- The restaurants offer diverse options to enjoy unagi, from traditional unagi donburi to modern interpretations.
- Most importantly, the unagi dishes have outstanding depth of flavor. The sauce complements the rich, smoky eel beautifully.
How to Order and Enjoy Unagi in Dotonbori?
Here are some tips for ordering and savoring unagi when dining in Dotonbori:
- The most popular way to eat unagi is unagi don, or unagi kabayaki grilled eel served over steamed rice. This simple preparation allows the natural flavors to shine.
- For unagi sushi, order unagi nigiri to taste the eel with just a touch of rice and wasabi. Unagi maki rolls are also delicious.
- Unagi tempura, with unagi coated in crispy tempura batter, provides an interesting textural contrast.
- Pair your unagi with a cold beer like Asahi or Orion. The crisp, malty flavors complement the rich eel.
- Garnish your unagi with freshly grated ginger. This accentuates the sweetness of the kabayaki sauce.
- Eat the unagi while it’s piping hot, right after it’s cooked. This ensures it’s juicy and flavorful.
- Relish the tender texture of the eel and the way the sauce enhances its taste. The highest quality unagi is melt-in-your-mouth delicious.
The Cultural Significance of Eating Unagi in Japan
Unagi is an important part of Japanese food culture, especially during the summer months. Here is some background on the tradition:
- Unagi is a nutritious, high-protein food that supposedly increases physical stamina. It’s considered a perfect food to eat during Japan’s hot, humid summers.
- The custom began in the Edo period, when unagi was abundant in the rivers and lakes around Edo (Tokyo). Unagi restaurants prospered as a result.
- July and August are the peak unagi consumption months. July 19 and 20 are “Doyo no Ushi no Hi,” traditionally the hottest days of summer. Unagi is eaten on these days to prevent exhaustion.
- Unagi is also strongly associated with refreshment and rejuvenation. This makes it a fitting food for O-Bon and other summer festivals.
- Eating unagi is seen as a treat and indulgence in Japanese culture. Top unagi restaurants like those in Dotonbori focus on quality over quantity.
- Grilling the unagi over binchotan charcoal and basting it in kabayaki sauce are also vital parts of the culture surrounding this dish.
Tips for Visiting Dotonbori for Food Lovers
As one of Japan’s top food destinations, Dotonbori is a must-visit for any traveling foodie. Here are some tips to make the most of your trip:
- Dotonbori is packed with restaurants, so plan your “food crawl” ahead of time. Identify 2-3 spots like the unagi restaurants above that you really want to try.
- Go early in the day or on weekdays to avoid long lines at the most popular eateries. Weekend dinner times get very crowded.
- Walk off the calories during the day – the main street is closed to traffic, making it ideal for strolling between food stops.
- Ask your server for recommendations or advice on ordering. Many restaurant staff in Dotonbori speak English.
- Save room for street food snacks like takoyaki or okonomiyaki. There are dozens of excellent street food stalls.
- Don’t miss the classic neon signs like the Glico Running Man and Kani Doraku Crab. They make for fun photos!
- Head to Hozenji Yokocho alley for atmospheric bars and casual izakaya-style dining after your meals.
Dotonbori is the perfect destination in Osaka to try the quintessential Japanese dish of unagi. You’ll find top specialty unagi restaurants serving fresh, flavorful eel grilled to perfection.
Savoring the melt-in-your-mouth texture and sweet, smoky flavors of unagi is an unforgettable experience. Dotonbori also offers an energetic, neon-lit environment that’s ideal for a food lover’s vacation.
Visiting Dotonbori lets you immerse yourself in Japanese food culture while enjoying delicious regional specialties like unagi. So be sure to add Dotonbori to your Japan travel itinerary to dine at these outstanding unagi restaurants!