Restaurants & Nightlife

Zao Onsen is a hub of traditional Japanese dishes, and many of the smaller and family-run ryokans will offer breakfasts and dinners prepared lovingly for just a small number of guests. This means guests here get an opportunity to try authentic Japanese home-cooked food – an experience you won’t get everywhere. If this doesn’t sound like your thing, Zao also offers some larger restaurants that serve a mix of Japanese and western foods, and there are a handful of more upbeat bars scattered throughout the area. Most of the larger hotels and resorts will have in-house bars, but there’s not much nightlife in Zao – everyone is too tired from skiing all day! 

While it’s not a party town, this doesn’t mean you can’t get a good drink and a lovely meal – most of Zao’s bars will stock beer, wine and spirits, and you can guarantee they’ll all have some sake on hand – and what’s a trip to Japan without a night spent drinking sake? Yamagata prefecture where Zao is located is one of Japan’s best regions for trying sake, too, with very high quality rice being brewed into sake at over 56 breweries throughout the region, making it well worth a try during your stay. 

Zao Onsen is also a great place to try some of the fantastic local produce, particularly Yonezawa Beef, found only in the Yamagata prefecture, and the mountain vegetables harvested throughout the warmer months. These are fantastic options for guests who love experimenting and trying new things; they are amazingly healthy, rich in fibre and totally delicious! Zao is also a great spot to try some soba – buckwheat noodles – with many small family-run restaurants dedicating their lives preparing and serving delicious soba dishes, such as Buckwheat Nashian and Absolutely Unthinkable both located within walking distance of some of the area’s hotels. 

Many places will combine all of these unique vegetables and this passion for soba to create delicious ramen or beef soba. You can also try a more hearty potato and beef stew called imoni, or something a little lighter with tsukemono – Japanese pickled foods, which can be eaten on their own or in combination. This combination of delicious fresh and healthy vegetables and high quality meat means endless combinations, and you can bet that no matter what you try it’s going to have the authentic Japanese taste you’re looking for. Don’t worry, though, there’s also some sweet treats available – you can try igamochi, rice cakes on bamboo leaves, or a Jingisu Burger sold at the base of Jupia!

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