Edinburgh is blessed with some excellent cafés, takeaways and cheap eat spots catering to city centre workers, shoppers, the year-round tourist trade and those just looking for a decent lunch. Yes, you can find the usual chain coffee-and-sandwich spots by the bucket-load but there's also a healthy community of independents providing a range of lunch alternatives - all the way from stellar soups and high-class sandwiches to the kind of dishes of which Edinburgh's best restaurants would be proud to serve.
Lunch spots in Edinburgh
This place brings a rough and ready approach to the world of gourmet burger-flipping. After taking your seat in a basic-looking booth, you’re presented with a paper placemat (which makes for easier cleaning at the end of your meal) and a fat roll of paper towels to clear up the inevitable saucy mess around your mouth. The service is chatty and brisk, and milkshakes are mixed up and presented in old school milk bottles. Chicken and veggie options are also available, plus doughnuts for afters.
An affordable restaurant in a handy New Town location, where the menu focuses on traditional cooking from around the British Isles, filtered through a contemporary sensibility. You could gather as much from the décor: essentially simple, featuring white walls and wooden furniture, but with additional neo-baroque touches.
It’s small, it feels cramped when busy, there’s a no-bookings policy and a limited menu. That said, the freshness and flavour of the tacos and other dishes here make El Cartel far and away the best Mexican in the city. The menu is simple: seven or eight varieties of taco (you get two per order) and a similar number of antojitos (‘little cravings’ or street snacks).
At this pizzeria, homemade dough is rolled four days in advance and topped with the likes of spicy Calabrian sausage, chopped haddock, creamy mozzarella or sautéed carrots, before being cooked to perfection in log-fired ovens. It’s La Favorita’s attention to detail that makes people go back – that, or the early stages of arancini addiction. While the restaurant throngs with diners enjoying the pasta and pizza, its next-door takeaway can be even busier. Open from noon daily.
Handy for Haymarket Station, and all of five minutes’ walk from the Edinburgh International Conference Centre, Milk appeared in 2010. It’s a very small café with simple, raised-bench seating and tables, and white-tiled walls. Since launch however, the business has picked up catering franchises at locations across the city. Clearly, Milk is doing something right and that something is the food.
David Bann is Scotland’s leading vegetarian restaurant and has been a successful part of the Edinburgh scene since 2002. Handily placed in the Old Town just a few seconds off the Royal Mile – and avoiding the hippy wholefood look with a modern, straight-lined interior – the cooking is reliably creative but doesn’t carry the soporific after-effects that you might suffer following an encounter with a heavy curry, pasta or meat dish in the middle of the day.
In basement New Town premises, Leo’s is a neighbourhood café in one of Edinburgh’s more illustrious neighbourhoods. With its fresh look, the venue is great for breakfast or snacks and does excellent coffee, but the lunch menu extends to seriously accomplished burgers, pâté, quiche, salads, sandwiches plus a daily special like pork and plum stew, all cooked to order.
The curry laksa soup here is filed under a section of the menu called ‘Big Bowl’ – and they’re not messing around. For £7.80, steaming troughs of slippery noodles, prawns, chicken pieces, tofu, bean sprouts and crab sticks come in seemingly bottomless quantities. It has an equally delightful sister restaurant (Kampong Ah Lee) on Clerk Street.
This value for money Mexican street food takeaway does have a few eat-in seats, but most folk grab and go. Densely packed bundles of black beans, guacamole and spicy chicken and beef are prepared fresh, or you can try the tacos, quesadillas, burritos and fajitas starting from around £5, plus new creations including a haggis and steak taco, or a tortilla-less bean bowl with no rice, for those trying to dodge the carbs.
Essentially a bakery with a few tables for eating in, the standard here is very high indeed. The patisserie, like glazed fruit tart or lemon polenta cake, is downright fabulous while the Manna House also offers coffee and tea, great sandwiches, and excellent savouries and salads.