For most tourists, Nara is a day trip at most, comprising a visit to a few of the many local shrines and the iconic deer park. However, a slightly longer stay allows visitors to savor the culinary side of the ancient city, where you’ll find excellent restaurants and Japanese street food like the now-viral pounding mochi.
Must-visit cafes in Nara are an equally worthy addition to its gastronomic landscape. Quaint, quirky, and surprisingly international in their character and menus, they make for a lovely respite in between exploring the city’s alluring sights.
Address: 26 Nishiterabayashicho, Nara, 630-8372, Japan
Occupying an old Naramachi Japanese house that was once a kimono shop, Cherry’s Spoon is a cozy cafe in Nara with traditional tatami-style seating. Although the eatery has counter seating and a few tables and chairs next to the barista bar, it presents visitors with a spot of authenticity that requires them to take off their shoes and sit on cushions.
Surprisingly, the cultural influences on the cafe do not spill over to the food and coffee. The rabbit motif, for instance, is a fun addition noticeable in the decor, on the cushions, and as part of the latte art. At the same time, the barista bar replicates scenes from any modern third-wave coffee house.
While limited, the food and coffee are more new-age. The syphon blend and espresso are a must-try, as is the yuzu soda on a warm summer day. Those with a sweet tooth should taste the cake and pastry offerings, whereas the freshly made sandwiches, fried shrimp, and hamburgers will help satiate any savory cravings.
Apa Apa Cafe
Address: 2F, 51 Tsubaicho, Nara, 630-8343, Japan
Apa Apa Cafe is one of the quaintest little cafes in Nara on the second floor of a modest building that, in more ways than one, resembles someone’s living room. Bookshelves stacked with manga, a terrace overlooking a quiet residential street, only a few tables, a couch, and a bar counter pack the small space, creating a cozy vibe.
A true hidden gem in every way, Apa Apa Cafe further charms with its friendly service and old-world vibe, including music from a turntable providing the perfect background sound for a relaxing break.
The food here, prepared on order, is surprisingly diverse and delicious. One can relish a tasty cheesecake or homemade bagel or opt for freshly made pizza.
Furthermore, Drinks aren’t far behind, as Apa Apa is known for its alcoholic and non-alcoholic offerings, such as hot chocolate, Moscow mule, and orange tea.
Address: 22 Higashimuki Kitamachi, Nara, 630-8214, Japan
Barely a two-minute walk from Kintetsu Station, Cafe Wakakusa is a corner-side eatery with a trendy Japanese vibe. A welcoming place to sit, eat, and watch the world go by, it offers free WiFi, tasty crepes, and fantastic coffee.
However, the first thing one notices upon arrival is the decor, which comprises white walls filled with creative drawings and comments from happy customers.
Owner Hiro, a local guide, seems to thrive on the bond that connects the cafe with the city and the people who come here as tourists.
Although compact, the colorful cafe has two operational floors and a relaxed vibe. The map behind the barista bar and a globe on the counter further showcases the owner’s love for travel.
Sweet and savory crepes are the specialty here. Favorites among the many sweet toppings include mochi and adzuki beans, chocolate banana and vanilla ice cream, and the fruits special. All with whipped cream, of course.
Those wanting to go down the savory route can opt for pizza crepe, egg and ham, avocado egg and cheese, or grilled pork with salsa sauce.
To quench your thirst after a nice walk around the city, Cafe Wakakusa offers fruit sodas – try raspberry or pink grapefruit, juices, coffee, and latte.
Address: 31 Nishimikadocho, Nara, 630-8225, Japan
Established in 1974, Rokumei Coffee was years ahead in its thinking and has, over time, become one of the best third-wave cafes in Nara, albeit with a Japanese touch.
Owner Ida-san is no less than a local celebrity in the region’s coffee scene, having spearheaded the trend of offering light roasts, a contrast to the otherwise dark roasts popular in Nara.
An aesthetically pleasing cafe, it is known for having top-rated and award-winning roasters and baristas who are forever happy and eager to converse with visitors.
Admittedly, on the pricier side, the coffee house ensures an aromatic experience for enthusiasts. The interiors consist of minimalist décor, gentle lighting, wooden finishes, and stacks full of coffee products.
Those with a penchant for caffeine should try Rokumei’s single estate or blended drip coffee, one of its lattes, or go with the classics like the cappuccino.
The butter croissant, with its crispy crust and soft inside, accompanies any hot drink perfectly. Most of the cakes and croissants at the cafe are handmade.
Address: 728 Takabatakecho, Nara, 630-8301, Japan
Housed in a 150-year-old traditional home, Café Zuccu oozes quintessential Japanese aesthetics. One of the coziest cafes in Nara, it is particularly a bibliophile’s dream come true.
Inside, the aura exudes vintage with modern touches like bookshelves brimming with an array of reading materials across genres. Mismatched tables and chairs give the place a homely disposition. At the same time, scattered oddities, from an old piano and rusty bicycle to lamps and second-hand furniture, add to the cafe’s character.
The menu at Cafe Zuccu is equally eccentric. One can opt for a set lunch menu that includes mackerel and pickled salad sandwiches, hashed beef and rice with soup, or pasta with corn and bacon.
For a bit of lighter eating, sweet delights like the creme brûlée and fondant chocolate with vanilla ice cream are a must.
Kasuga Ninai Jyaya – Garden Café
Address: 160 Kasuganocho, Nara
The Japanese café run by Kasuga-taisha sits amidst greenery and tranquility near the entrance of the Man’yo Botanical Garden. Surrounded by picturesque scenes, the place effortlessly blends modern aesthetics with traditional charm. Being out in the open, the cafe is a lovely place for deer spotting, adding to the place’s appeal.
The interiors are more classic, with wooden chairs and tables. History dictates that this was where, in the 18th century, vendors served tea and snacks, carrying their goods on bamboo sticks.
A highlight of the menu is the Man’yo-gayu rice porridge, a local specialty that comes with seasonal vegetables. Also recommended are the yomogi dango and the kakinoha zushi – a local delicacy that consists of unwrapping the persimmon leaf to eat mackerel, trout, or salmon sushi.
Interestingly, the cafe’s menu is shared traditionally, written outside on a wooded board in Japanese. There is an English-printed version available, though.
Other items worth tasting while at Garden Cafe include zenzai – Japanese soup made with azuki beans and kuzumochi – cakes made from fermented wheat starch.
Address: 19 Wakidocho, Nara, 630-8337, Japan
Among the unmissable things to do in Nara is a visit to the Gangoji shrine. En route, you can and should stop by Cafe Maru for a quick rest and a bite.
One of the few cafes in Nara famous for their pancakes, it oozes a mix of 70s and new-age trendy aura in its restored Edo-era townhouse location. Customers can opt for either table or tatami seating, allowing you the best of both traditional and contemporary Japanese worlds.
A beamed ceiling, a bookshelf featuring curated coffee table books, pop art, and furniture in a dark moody shade give the place a unique look.
Additionally, the menu consists of comfort bites such as shaved ice with dragon fruit, tiramisu latte, blueberry cream cheese pancakes, and fried shrimp platter. Cafe Maru also offers vegan and vegetarian fare.
Address: 7 Funahashicho, Nara, 630-8258, Japan
A mere 10-minute walk from JR Nara Station, Pool caters to diners seeking a change from regular Japanese food. The French bistro serves a variety of authentic French dishes for lunch and dinner. There is also the option to enjoy bio wines and set courses at nighttime.
A hidden gem with an inconspicuously chic frontage, Pool is among Nara’s less-explored cafes. The interiors of the two-story building have a noticeably antique vibe with distressed walls, scattered knick-knacks, and a mix of tables and chairs.
Expect to come across a collection of vintage quirk. There are bottles, jerseys, books, a hanging bicycle, and random art decorations that represent a bohemian meets eclectic style.
At the same time, the menu offers a selection of delectables like grilled salmon, tsubai curry, grilled chicken, French fried potatoes, egg and cheese sandwiches, and seasonal vegetable salad. Desserts are equally tempting in the form of chestnut and pumpkin mont blanc, mousse au chocolate, and fruit pie wrap.
Address: 40-1 Nishinoshinyacho, Nara, 630-8334, Japan
Bolik is one of many contemporary cafes in Nara, albiet with an interesting mix of Japanese and Russian themes. Located inside a restored machiya – a traditional wooden townhouse, the eatery has more of a modern look with a few quirky, old-fashioned additions.
On display in what seems like a mid-century cabinet are matryoshka dolls, showing the owner’s passion for crafts. Some of the items are for sale. The interiors are soothing and calm, with white, pink, and pastel color schemes adding a touch of vibrancy to the walls.
While the menu at Bolik Coffee is only in Japanese, they have pictures of all the items, and the owner speaks conversational English. Moreover, the staff is ever-so-helpful throughout.
Food items at the cafe are eclectic, ranging from set lunch plates to baked goods like coffee jelly parfait and cakes made with Russian condensed milk. And the coffee here is arguably one of the best in town.
Ten. Ten. Café
Address: 16, Kasuganocho, Nara, 630-8212, Japan
Arguably the best place to have waffles in Nara, Ten. Ten. Cafe is conveniently situated next to the famous Todaiji shrine. In its own way, the restaurant is a homage to Japanese singer Eigo Kawashima, famous for the hit single “Sake to Namita to Otoko to Onna.”
The singer’s family now runs the place and has taken the step to embellish it with Eigo’s photos, guitars, motorbike, and stage costumes.
Inside, Ten. Ten. looks like any other modern cafe and restaurant, with plenty of indoor seating as well as tables on the outside. What sets it apart is the regularly held live musical performances that keep the atmosphere lively.
However, Waffles are the main attraction at Ten. Ten. Ranging from sweet to savory, they balance the crispy-to-fluffy ratio perfectly. Interestingly, the ice creams, jams, and sauces accompanying the waffles are also homemade.
The menu here expands beyond cafe-comfort delights. There’s also udon soup, thick and robust pork or beef curry, roasted eel, and the ever-so-popular omurice.