Since you are a frequent traveler, have you visited Kobe in Japan? You probably have heard of Kobe beef. We decided to visit Kobe when we based ourselves in Osaka. From Osaka, we took the JR train to Kanazawa, Fukuoka, Kobe and Nara. We purchased a JR pass in order to save money on travel and use the Shinkansen bullet train as often as possible. You can read the economics of a JR pass in our post on the subject. I can tell you it was a great decision and also a huge money saver for us. You can also check out our posts on Kobe, Nara Kanazawa and Fukuoka attractions and fun facts.
If you are visiting Kobe, you probably want to try the world-renowned Kobe Beef. As the picture will attest, Kobe beef is available at plenty of restaurants and even 7-11.
Madeline and I enjoyed Kobe beef in Tokyo, and it was both very expensive and very tender. It’s not the kind of thing we would have regularly – maybe every 5 years or so?
Kobe's Nada district is famous for sake. If you are a lover of sake, maybe you heard of Kobe that way. The city is also unfortunately known for the massive earthquake. In 1995, Kobe was hit by the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake, which killed over 5,000 people and destroyed tens of thousands of buildings. Today the city is completely rebuilt, and few signs of the terrible event remain.
OK, then there is Kobe Bryant. His parents named him after the famous beef of Kobe, Japan, which they saw on a restaurant menu. Sadly, Kobe died in a tragic helicopter crash in 2020. When we visited the town of Kobe in 2019, everyone knew Kobe Bryant. I’m sure the entire town is in shock along with the rest of the world.
We wanted to come to Kobe for the beef but also for a few of areas of the city which most foreign travelers have never heard about. We began our journey from the Hyatt Regency Osaka. The hotel kindly provides a shuttle for a 30- minute ride to the Osaka JR station. We wanted to take the Shinkansen to Kobe because some of the highlights of Kobe are right behind the Shin Kobe station.
I researched quite a few restaurants before selecting one. So, you get the benefit of the research and maybe you’ll follow my direction. No matter what, there are plenty of great restaurants in Kobe, Japan.
Kobe has many fine restaurants but the real reason most people visit is to try their Kobe Beef. Yes, you can get just about any kind of food in Kobe but beef in Kobe has a special reverence.
Kobe Beef, Wagyu Beef – What Does It All Mean?
Steaks are classified by the area of the animal where the meat comes from. Every filet mignon is a steak, but not all steaks are filet mignon. A similar rule applies to Kobe and Wagyu beef: Every Kobe steak is Wagyu, but not all Wagyu beef is Kobe.
Kobe beef is a variety of Wagyu. Wagyu, loosely translated, means “Japanese cattle” (“Wa-” meaning Japanese and “-gyu” meaning cow or cattle. So “Wagyu” refers to any cattle that is bred in Japan or in the Japanese-style.
Kobe beef is comprised of a very particular strain of Wagyu called Tajima-Gyu that is raised to very strict standards in the prefecture of Hyogo. Hyogo’s capital city is Kobe, thus the name.
You’ve probably heard stories that Kobe beef cattle have their stomachs massaged regularly. This appears to be a myth. Wagyu breeders are an exception with their care, feeding and extraordinary efforts with their stock.
Wagyu breeds were created during the 1880’s when several breeds of European cattle were introduced to Japan and crossbred with native Japanese breeds. The four strains of cattle that resulted dominate the Japanese beef trade to this day. These include Japanese Black, Japanese Brown, Japanese Shorthorn and Japanese Polled. Over 90% of all Wagyu are Japanese Black strains, so if someone says “Wagyu,” they are likely referring to Japanese Black cattle.
Wagyu cattle benefit from special feeds created out of forage, grasses, and rice straw, then supplemented with corn, barley, soybean, wheat bran, and in some cases, even beer or sake. As Wagyu cattle have an unparalleled level of marbling. Kobe beef is the crème de la crème – it is the most sought after and most expensive beef in the world, with single portions often selling for more than $200.
To be labeled Kobe, cattle must meet the following seven standards:
Bullock (steer) or virgin cow.
Tajima-Gyu born within Hyogo Prefecture.
Fed on a farm within Hyogo Prefecture.
Meat processed within Hyogo Prefecture.
Marbling rating (BMS) of 6 or higher on a 12-point scale.
Meat quality rating of 4 or higher on a 5-point scale.
An overall weight not exceeding 470 kg.
Because of these stringent standards, only 3,000 head of cattle qualify as authentic Kobe cattle each year. Wagyu cattle have been exported from Japan to the United States. These cattle are referred to as “Domestic Wagyu,” and are raised under controlled breeding programs, ensuring true Wagyu quality. In America, 90% of authentic Domestic Wagyu rate as USDA Prime, the highest possible rating afforded to beef.
Bottom line, if you want the best beef in the world, you should consider a trip to Japan and certainly to Kobe.
If you are looking for Kobe Beef in this historic city, one of the first things you will need to decide is if you want to experience it in a shabu shabu style restaurant or as a traditional steak. Shabu shabu is a popular hot pot dish comprising thinly sliced meat and bite-sized vegetables cooked in steaming hot broth. With your chopsticks, you put the beef into the pot and determine the cooking time.
Think of shabu shabu as a beef fondue for comparison but in Japan, it is clearly different than fondue. Back to the meat, Kobe beef is unique and comes from the Tajima breed of cattle, which itself belongs to the wagyu breed. Wagyu is a particularly marbled meat, which makes it extremely tender when cooked with excellent flavor.
Here are a few restaurants that specialize in Kobe beef in Kobe city. These restaurants are traditional Teppanyaki style, so the beef is cooked on a hot surface as a traditional steak is cooked.
2-chome-1-17 Hyogo-ken, Kobe-shi, Chuo-ku, Shimoyamatedori, Kobe Japan 650-0011
This restaurant founded in 1885 is well known as one of the best beef restaurants in Kobe. The restaurant, with its modern and European-inspired decor, has limited place settings, so it is strongly recommended to book ahead on their website. If you sit at the bar, the chef will give you an explanation of the process as he prepares the meat on a teppanyaki surface in front of you.
2-chome-14-5 Shimoyamatedori, Chuo-ku, Kobe-shi, Hyogo-ken, Kobe, Japan 650-0011
This small, family-run restaurant with just 8 seats offers an inviting way to enjoy Kobe beef in a great atmosphere. Seated in front of the chef, everything is explained to you as he cooks, from the origin of the ingredients to the cooking technique.
1-chome-1-2 Hyogo-ken, Kobe-shi, Chuo-ku, Shimoyamatedori, Kobe Japan 650-0011
Misono is a chain of restaurants founded in Kobe in 1945. They are, more or less, the creators of teppanyaki cooking - or cooking on a hot plate in front of the customer.
1-chome-1 Hyogo-ken, Kobe-shi, Chuo-ku, Kitanocho, Kobe Japan 650-0002
At this restaurant, the chef cooks the fresh meat in front of you, with perfect seasoning. The lunch menu is recommended as it includes a small piece of Tajima beef and accompaniments such as rice, soup, vegetables, plus dessert and coffee.
Kobe Beef Steak Ishida (Kitanozaka)
1-chome-21-2 Hyogo-ken, Kobe-shi, Chuo-ku, Kitanagasadori, Kobe Japan 650-0012
This Kobe beef chain is located in Kobe's Sannomiya district. It's best to go there for lunch when the prices are more favorable.
Shabu Shabu Kobe Beef
I think you should definitely try shabu shabu first before deciding to put your Kobe beef into the pot. I think shabu shabu is an interesting dish, but I prefer to have a great steak seared on both sides on a grill or at least a teppanyaki style grill. Shabu shabu is a popular hot pot dish consisting of thinly sliced meat and bite-sized vegetables cooked in steaming hot broth. I think of it loosely as beef fondue but in Japan, there are many differences.
Cooking in a hot pot in Japan has been popular for thousands of years. But dipping your meat into the pot of liquid started during the middle of the 20th century. The main difference between shabu shabu and other types of Japanese hot pot is that rather than simmering all of the ingredients together before serving, shabu shabu is cooked bite-by-bite over the course of the meal, similar to fondue.
Shabu shabu means “swish swish” in Japanese. We take the cold and thinly sliced meat and swish it for a few seconds in the broth. When the meat is dipped in the boiling liquid, the extra fat melts away, making it lighter than regular cooked meat, and a rather healthy meat dish. As such, it is a very popular dish among people counting calories.
If you are a fan of shabu shabu style restaurants, here are a few that are highly recommended in Kobe.
Kobe Beef Yazawa Hankyu Sannomiya
1-chome-6-1 Hyogo-ken, Kobe-shi, Chuo-ku, Kitanagasadori, Kobe Japan 650-0012
This is an award-winning restaurant offering the best cuts of Kobe beef, which you can try with shabu shabu style or grilled.
Shabu-shabu Sukiyaki Komon
2-chome-10-4 Hyogo-ken, Kobe-shi, Chuo-ku, Shimoyamatedori, Kobe Japan 650-0011
Open for more than 50 years, this restaurant consistently delivers high-quality Kobe beef and varied fresh vegetables with a tasty broth.
4 Chome-7-23 Kanocho, Chuo Ward, Kobe, Hyogo Kobe, Japan 650-0001
This restaurant offers everything from shabu shabu to sukiyaki, steaks and even sashimi!
4-chome-9-17 Hyogo, Chuo Ward, Kanocho, Kobe Japan 650-0001
Located close to the JR Sannomiya station, this restaurant is famous for their Mita beef. I’ve given you plenty of choices for great Kobe beef in Kobe. We gave it careful consideration ourselves, but we chose Mouriya Honten. If you come to Kobe, make sure that you see some of the attractions that Kobe has to offer. We have a post on Kobe attractions here. After you’ve seen some attractions, you can try some genuine Kobe beef in Kobe, Japan!