Good Eats: Gyoza Center (Hakone)

**I returned to Gyoza Center in March 2016 and was just as impressed with the garlic gyoza and shrimp gyoza as before. Still a winner in my book. **

The hot springs resort area of Hakone is a popular getaway from Tokyo. It’s easy to the train out for a day, or book one of the lovely onsen ryokan here and spend a relaxing weekend in the shadow of Mt Fuji. Along the Hakone circuit, however, it’s tough to find a memorable lunch stop that doesn’t break the bank. It seems that here only the two ends of the spectrum are covered – cafeteria curry and high-end kaiseki. That’s what makes the Gyoza Center such a good choice – it falls solidly in the middle.

The Gyoza Center is an easy walk from Gora, the terminus of the Hakone Tozan Railway. If you get off at the previous stop to visit the Hakone Open Air Museum, don’t waste time riding the train one stop – the restaurant is pretty much equidistant from each station. There is a small wooden sign out front in both Japanese and English to let you know you’re in the right spot but there aren’t many other buildings on this road. Just look for the flower boxes and you’ll know you’re in the right spot!

Exterior of the Gyoza Center in Gora
Exterior of the Gyoza Center in Gora

Inside, the restaurant has a quirky country charm, with knickknacks along the wall and dried fruits and flowers hanging from the rafters. Seating ranges from tables (both upstairs and downstairs) to a long bar, behind which you can watch the action in the kitchen. There is a list to sign if you arrive and there’s a crowd; look for it near the counter, as the wait staff doesn’t speak much English.

English menus are available, however, detailing the various gyoza (dumplings) on offer, as well as other items such as udon and soba. I personally tried out the shrimp, crab and garlic gyoza varieties. Shrimp was my favorite, which surprised me. I expected to LOVE the garlic gyoza (known here as “stamina gyoza”) but the garlic was in large pieces, not minced. Just a matter of personal preference. The taste was good though. And for those who prefer their gyoza crispy, the restaurant pan fries their dumplings as opposed to steaming them.

A plate of shrimp gyoza
A plate of shrimp gyoza

Orders here are fairly sizable so make sure you have the appetite to finish it. I ordered two different flavors, not realizing this would come to seven, decent-sized dumplings. Good thing I was hungry!

The restaurant has a website (Japanese language only but google translate does an adequate job) that lists its menu as well as its hours.

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