Restaurants in Leeds certainly boast some pretty impressive renown, and that culinary clout is more than justified by the consistent quality coming out of its kitchens. From classic Italian, incredible vegetarian restaurants and curry houses to small little operations with second to none service or slick and chic spots with one eye on those folk at Michelin, Leeds has pretty much everything when it comes to getting stuck in to fine fare. Here are our picks of the best on offer, so take a look and tuck in. Bon appétit.
Leeds' best restaurants
The North may have a reputed affection for everything meat and pastry, but Leeds is lucky enough to boast some of the very finest vegetarian eateries in the country. Roots and Fruits in the city’s Grand Arcade proudly takes its place on this list, providing one of the most memorable dining experiences the city can offer. The menu has a loose Mexican theme, with beans, vegetables and cheese creatively transformed into some of the most homely plates around. The halloumi salad is the star of the menu, featuring pulses, olives and a big, bouncy bed of leaves that slays hunger for a lot longer than the more substantial-sounding mains.
Aagrah may not be a single restaurant, or even solely located in Yorkshire after its recent expansion into Bristol, but the Shipley-based chain is a compulsory feature on any list of the region’s most successful establishments. The family-run business is a mammoth operation nowadays, but it started from humble roots in the late 70s at a time of culinary suspicion in the UK, and has since earned a fond place in Yorkshire hearts. All the usual curry house staples are available, but the signature house dish is the Hyderabadi – a mild-to-medium curry with a rich blend of spices and cream that could easily rival any korma or tikka masala.
With a constant stream of prestigious awards to her name, Hansa Dabhi has built an almost celebrity reputation off the back of her vegetarian Gujerati cuisine, and her knack for turning the most ardent meat curry lovers into daal devotees. Everything about Hansa’s on North Street is warm, welcoming and inviting – from the multi-layered dining and uplifting decor to the cheery staff dressed in bright saris. The antithesis of the stereotypically noisy, hassled and greasy curry house, Hansa’s is a serene, distant relative that specialises in fantastic vegetarian cookery.
Roughly translated, “tharavadu” means keeping traditions alive and that’s just what they do at this lovely Keralan restaurant, across the road from Leeds city station. A wide selection of south Indian dishes include delicately spiced novelties such as whole crab cooked in coconut sauce, fluffy fried lentil doughnuts and toffee-filled steamed rice cake. In other words, not your run-of-the-mill curry house.
Brazilian-influenced Fazenda takes the craze for mega-sized meat dishes that arose in the wake of Man v. Food, and combines it with the tried-and-tested concepts of gaucho dining and all you can eat. While this may sound tacky, like a Toby Carvery with added bells and whistles, it makes for a memorable dining experience. Diners are handed a card that’s green on one side and red on the other. Putting it with the green side up signifies to the waiters that you want more food, the red side means you’re full or having a rest. The servers walk around with trolleys of different cuts of meat, served on skewers in the traditional Brazilian rodizio style, and are attentive but not overly intrusive.
The upmarket American diner trend may have been countlessly and predictably replicated, but Nation still manages to pull it off convincingly, with meals served in little plastic baskets, cutlery plonked on the table for you to arrange yourself, and a mouth-watering array of filthy food. It’s true, those on a diet may be hard-pressed to find anything low-calorie on the menu, as the kitchen sends out macaroni cheese, fried chicken, and the intriguing fried egg and peanut butter burger. Ready for dessert? Prepare to gorge yourself silly on the heart-stopping The Threesome – cookies and ice cream, a salted caramel chocolate tart and a chocolate brownie.
There aren’t many Leeds eateries that can claim to have caused as much of a stir outside Yorkshire as The Reliance. Heralded by food critics in national papers and adored by the denizens of Leeds, the pub restaurant compensates for an awkward location with high-end cuisine that compels diners to sing its praises to all who will listen. Serving seasonal food from an open-plan kitchen, The Reliance has struck a balance between top-quality dining with an expensive feel yet reasonable price, and a relaxed bar where local IPAs and European bottles can be sampled while giving the weekly quiz a shot.
Friends of Ham is a favourite among food lovers in Leeds. Since opening a couple of years ago it's become a go-to destination for great food and drink, serving quality charcuterie and cheese alongside equally good beverages, including a wide range of craft ales and wine. Located a short walk from both Leeds train station and Boar Lane, it’s a convenient spot to duck into. The menu has a section dedicated to small dishes, such as jabugo bruschetta or ploughman’s, that start from as little as £5; order them alongside meats, cheeses and bread if you’re in the mood for a more substantial feast. Or try one of the platters if you’re in the mood for sharing.
Yorkshire is famous for its abundance of excellent curry houses, and Leeds has one of the best in award-winning Prashad. It’s a family-run vegetarian restaurant that specialises in Gujarati and South Indian food, and it’s garnered a loyal fan base since it opened in its original location in Bradford. Nowadays, it can be found in the outer suburb of Drighlington. Popular with vegetarians and carnivores alike, its menu is jam-packed with authentic dishes that have been created using techniques passed down from generation to generation.
Outlaws Yacht Club: so of the zeitgeist that it aches. Sharing a partitioned room with rock ’n’ roll hairdressers Rebel Pin-Up, and decked out with reclaimed furniture and abstract art, this bar and café has found its niche within an unforgiving location in Leeds. This self-described hangout offers a popular lunch option for those working in a woefully uncool area of the city centre, and becomes a lively watering hole at night. Scotch eggs, pork pies and beef brisket aren’t exactly news to the fashionable school of bar snackery, but Outlaws makes sure that these hipster-joint staples are done well and in generous portions.
A suburban restaurant that rivals its city centre counterparts, Zucco specialises in Italian small plates, making it an ideal place for sharing (or not, if you’re feeling greedy). The menu is packed with favourites, but also keeps diners on their toes with regular changes depending on what produce is available or in season. The menu is broken down into boccone (mouthfuls), such as olives or white anchovy crostini, pizzette and pan, and cold meats, fish, pasta and vegetables (all starting from £2.75). It’s standard practice to order a selection of dishes – the golden arancini, light, crispy zucchini and fritto misto are good choices – and share a bit of everything with the whole table.
Dine in the heart of Paris without leaving Leeds at Kendells, a bistro that serves quality French cooking from its art district location (it has BBC Leeds and Northern Ballet as neighbours). The dining room is filled with wooden tables and chairs, and is intimately lit by candles held in wax-covered bottle bases. Guests are greeted warmly on arrival, before being left to peruse the statement menu that’s scrawled on a blackboard and mounted on the main wall. The reasonably priced set menu (prix fixe, from £17.95) quality à la carte options (mains from £9.50) and consistently great cooking always ensure a crowd. The wine list is of course impressive – and entirely French.
Sukhothai is arguably the most successful example with branches thriving in the trendy suburbs of Headingley and Chapel Allerton, as well as in the city centre and in Harrogate. The eatery is a great option for mid-priced takeaway food for a treat to enjoy at home, but it’s always better to sit down and tuck into food fresh from the kitchen if you have the time. Opulent and authentic, without being chintzy or dated; the Sukhothai business model is one of high-quality south-east Asian cookery, impeccable service and seemingly a promise to never let a diner leave without feeling full.
The group behind this excellent Leeds venue - D&D - don't usually get a lot wrong when it comes to quality dining, and so it proves here in a venue not forced to rely on its fifth floor views from Trinity Leeds. One of the best things they've done is to get Lee Bennet heading up the kitchen. He's put together a seasonal menu showcasing some excellent local produce, with simple dishes such as pumpkin risotto (with 24-month aged parmesan, balsamic vinegar and toasted pine kernels) letting the quality of the ingredients shine. A sea bass fillet baked in paper and served with a red wine fish stock, caramelised onions and sauteed chestnuts is similarly good.
Housed within the same trendy premises as the Gallery at Munro House, Café 164 is an independent café that caters to a creative crowd thanks to the nearby Leeds College of Music, Northern Ballet and Yorkshire Dance. Linked with its parent business, Bakery 164, on Woodhouse Lane near Leeds Uni, the café always has freshly baked focaccia and ciabatta loaves to make delicious, fresh and substantial sandwiches. Cakes and bakes are in plentiful supply thanks to That Old Chestnut and #Brownies, ensuring there’s always a new brownie flavour to try or healthy slice of layer cake to get stuck into.
Billed as 'Leeds' original cafe bar', this long-standing spot gets pretty much all of what it does pretty much spot on. Which is probably why it's still going strong after more than 20 years in the business. Dishes such as beer battered haddock and chips and pan-fried Tuscan chicken with olives, feta and tomato quinoa in an arrabbiata sauce showcase quality ingredients (and very adept sourcing), but the menu is peppered with more adventurous options, too. A twice cooked belly of pork is served with butterry savoy cabbage, quince glazed swede and apple, all offset by black pudding cut through with fennel. It's excellent.
This charming and authentic Italian restaurant has been doing some very lovely things in Leeds since 1976. And with nearly 40 years in the business, it's little wonder they really know what they're doing when it comes not only to food and wine, but to hospitality, too. The menu is pretty fierce in its dedication to Italy, and diners are encouraged to follow the four-course Italian act (antipasti, pasta, secondi and dessert).
Fans of quality Japanese food would do well to make a beeline for this impressive little spot down on Central Road. There's plenty of authenticity to affairs here, from the kimonos of the waitresses to the quality knife skills from the itamae working wonders with some surprisingly good sushi. Ramen fans will be chuffed with the rich, textured broth here - it's a belter - and the noodles boast just the right bounce. The bento box is a good shout for those looking to sample a few bits and bobs, but be bold and you'll be well rewarded - sushi from such an unassuming, inexpensive place like shouldn't be any great shakes, but we were very pleasantly surprised.
It can be impossible to secure a table at the weekend without booking beforehand, but those who do are offered one of the most stylish evenings to be had. It would be hard for even a picky eater to find something that didn’t tempt them on a menu that focuses on barbeque and rotisserie-style cuisine – not forgetting the list of ‘home comforts’ such as sausage and mash, rarebit, cheese and onion pie, and Thai green curry (averaging £11). For a few nibbles to complement a cocktail, there is a selection of pub-inspired starters, as well as a large choice of components to make a large deli board - priced from £10.
Food and art go hand in hand at this fine dining restaurant, where the walls have been treated as canvases for creative types to let their imaginations run wild. Quirky in the truest sense of the word, its unusual name is inspired by The Wizard Of Oz, and refers to chef Michael O’Hare. He and his team have been brought out from behind the curtain of the kitchen to whip up their feasts in the dining room, so patrons can see their mind-boggling meals take shape. At £65 a head, the 12-course degustation menu isn’t the cheapest dinner you’ll have in the city, but it is one of the best.
Leeds city centre is packed with glitzy chains and independent restaurants. For the times when you don't want to feel the pressure of dressing up and negotiating traffic, the suburbs are increasingly an equal option for memorable dining out and authentic world cuisine. Thai Sabai in Headingley is teeny-tiny even compared to nearby rivals Sukhothai and Salvo's, but what it lacks in grandeur and contemporary décor it absolutely makes up for with its homely, moreish and imaginative Thai menu.