After climbing up to see the temple at Yamadera, a rest and some food are just what you need. There are a lot of options during more clement months, but where do you go at 11am on a cold, snow-filled Saturday in January? Shinkyobo is not only open, it also serves delicious soba, one of Yamagata's specialties.
A note of caution: if you plan to eat in Yamadera, or spend much money at all, make sure you have cash! Places in Yamadera don't take cards, even Japanese ones, and although there might be an ATM at the Post Office, it may not take foreign cards, even when the Post Office is actually open.
Shinkyobo is split into two halves, with a gift shop nearest the road and the restaurant at the back – the building is quite big. It's located near the steps up to the foot of the mountain – keep an eye out for the giant decorated bowl at the front. The restaurant is quite a simple place, which almost feels like a dining room with its few big tables and rows of chairs. It's worth mentioning that the chairs are rather petite by Western standards, however. The toilets, like almost all of the ones in Yamadera, are Japanese-style. I only saw one bathroom, with a couple of cubicles, that seemed to be used indiscriminately by both genders. I was disappointed to find that there was no soap.
There are various options on the menu, from the fairly standard curry udon to more unusual types of soba. The prices are slightly above average, but the soba is handmade and all of the beef and some of the local specialties are sourced from Yamagata.
I chose the imoni (boiled potato) soba. It came with a couple of slices of pickle and a couple of pieces of “La France” pear (another famous Yamagata food). The pickles were of the softer variety, and there was something on the pear to stop it from browning that affected the taste slightly, but it was all made up for by the main event. I could taste that the noodles were fresh; they were so much better than any I'd had before. The toppings provided a wonderful mixture of textures and flavors, from the meaty mushrooms to the crunchy scallion, to the softness of the actual meat. The soup was soy-based and delicious - I finished it all. It even made the konnyaku (a sort of flavorless, rubbery food) taste better.
I have read descriptions of this restaurant as “rustic”, which I think suits it. It does nothing fancy, just good, filling food.