Best restaurants in Leeds
What is it? First-rate Kashmiri dishes at a legendary curry house – including their phenomenal mild-to-medium hyderabadi chicken.
Why go? Aagrah have got their formula down to a tee: the Shipley-based chain now has locations across the North. Its roots lie in the late ’70s, when the family-run restaurant served their curries and other dishes to a public still suspicious of South Asian cuisine. Of course, those attitudes are long done, and Aagrah is a perennial favourite among Yorkshire diners.
What is it? A classy-looking restaurant at Headrow House that specialises in high-quality cooking over some serious flames.
Why go? The food here is how cavemen wish they’d eaten. The focus is on wood-fired cooking, with more than half of the dishes here given a lick of flame (and then some) from a very fancy bit of kit from US barbecue experts, Grillworks. But it’s not just big, boisterous flavours – they do delicate damn well, too. Make sure you save room for the exquisite desserts...
What is it? High-concept, ultra-refined dining that stays just the right side of pretentious.
Why go? The name refers to the titular sorceror in ‘The Wizard of Oz’, and in turn, chef Michael O’Hare, who cooks in full view of diners. His restaurant is as much an artistic as culinary experience: the walls are used as blank canvases for more creative patrons to doodle on. But really, it’s the 12-course dégustation that really shines: not cheap, but worth every penny.
What is it? Endless plates of sizzling, rodizio-style skewered meat at a cheerful South American spot.
Why go? On paper, the Fazenda format sounds a little tacky: a Brazilian-influenced restaurant that does all-you-can-eat plates of skewers. But even if it does sound all a bit ‘Man v. Food’ – and a one-way ticket to the meat sweats – it’s also all exceptional, and delivered in a stylish environment.
What is it? Generous portions of traditional Thai food.
Why go? This mini-chain is clearly doing something right: it has branches in the city centre, in the up-and-coming areas of Headingley and Chapel Allerton, as well as out in Harrogate. The Sukhothai ethos combines high-quality South-East Asian cookery, impeccable service and generous plates that ensure all patrons leave full and with smiles on their faces.
What is it? Appallingly good regional Indian cuisine – with not a piece of meat in sight.
Why go? Hansa Dabhi has cultivated near-celeb status in Leeds, thanks to her phenomenally good vegetarian Gujarati dishes. Her North Street restaurant has earned a slew of top awards, and has turned many meat-eaters into lentil-lovers. The menu is small and select, and the staff are cheerful. Her thali meals make for an excellent lunchtime pit stop.
What is it? A veggie restaurant that’s home to one of the best halloumi salads around.
Why go? Dishing up veggie and vegan delights, Roots and Fruits is based within the Grand Arcade, decorated with wild and bright colours that radiate positive vibes. The menu has a pretty loose Mexican influence revolving around beans (and lots ’em), fried veg and mountains of cheese. Honestly? We think carnivores will leave completely converted.
What is it? A popular Keralan spot with a mean dessert menu.
Why go? The Malayalam word ‘tharavadu’ roughly translates as keeping traditions alive – and that’s certainly the ethos of this charming Keralan restaurant, which you’ll find just across the road from Leeds train station. They cover a wide variety of southern Indian dishes, among which you’ll find some unusual treats – look out for crab cooked in coconut sauce, excellent fried lentil doughnuts and toffee-filled steamed rice cake.
What is it? Hearty, traditional southern Indian dishes in a family-run spot. Check out their tasting menus for a whistlestop tour.
Why go? In a region that’s known for its high-calibre curry houses, one of the finest resides in Leeds, and it’s the award-winning Prashad. Another vegetarian Gujarati restaurant, it’s a neighbourhood restaurant (in the suburb of Drighlinton), and boasts a menu jam-packed with traditional regional dishes.
What is it? Stateside classics in a US-style diner.
Why go? Nation of Shopkeepers works in the American diner pastiche vein, but unlike most, it’s not naff or tacky. Meals here, served in plastic baskets, are all wondrously greasy and truckstop-esque: fried chicken, man ‘n’ cheese and the memorable fried egg and peanut butter burger. Our advice? Look out for the ‘Threesome’ – a heart-stopping dessert made up of cookies and ice cream, a salted caramel chocolate tart and a chocolate brownie.
What is it? Sophisticated seasonal plates at a slightly off-the-beaten-track location.
Why go? This modern British pub-restaurant has a slightly awkward location, but the top-notch, high-end plates totally make up for it. That’s not to say The Reliance is overly formal – its relaxed, essentially pub-like feel is probably a huge part of its success.
What is it? A charcuterie-based range of, yes, chiefly pork-based bites in a popular casual dining spot.
Why go? Friends of Ham opened in 2012 and in the years since has become a must-visit for any foodie passing through. It serves a wide range of meats and cheese, alongside an impressive list of craft beers and wine. Their platters are a tip-top sharing option.
What is it? Hipster staples in an achingly cool vintage-strewn café-bar.
Why go? Outlaws Yacht is so on-trend it hurts. One half of a partitioned room (shared with rock ‘n’ roll hair salon Rebel Pin-Up), it’s decked out with all the usual hipsterish trimmings: reclaimed furniture, abstract art and the like. Scotch eggs, pork pies and beef brisket aren’t exactly news to the fashionable school of bar snackery, but Outlaws does them well – and in generous portions. Absolute winner.
What is it? Homely, great-value French dishes.
Why go? Fancy enjoying a slice of Paris right in the middle of Leeds? Head to this bistro, which serves quality French cooking in a high-brow location (it counts BBC Leeds and the Northern Ballet among its neighbours). Cute touches like candles in wax-drenched bottles add to the Gallic charm, but above all it’s the consistently excellent food that draws punters in.
What is it? Upmarket offerings in an upmarket setting.
Why go? The ever-brilliant D&D are the hospitality group behind this restaurant, and they certainly don’t slip up here. Lee Bennet’s kitchen delivers a superb seasonal menu that succeeds thanks to its focus on high-quality local ingredients. The fish dishes, like pan-seared halibut, are particularly good.
What is it? Freshly baked focaccia and ciabatta sandwiches.
Why go? If you’re worried an afternoon office slump may be coming on, grab a good sarnie and velvety coffee from this excellent lunch spot. At Café 164 you’ll find focaccia galore, so make sure to bring your stretchiest trousers. Sharing the same swish premises as the Gallery at Munro House, this independent caff is popular with the artsy crowd that spills of the nearby Leeds College of Music, Northern Ballet and Yorkshire Dance. An offshoot of Woodhouse Lane’s Bakery 164, it also does a mean line in cakes and baked goods, chiefly from local suppliers That Old Chestnut and #Brownies.
What is it? Zingy, shareable Italian small plates – perfect for a cosy meal with your other half.
Why go? This small plates spot is a little out of town, but is a resoundingly successful suburban neighbourhood spot. The menu has plenty of classics, but also varies according to the seasons. It’s broken down into bocconi (mouthfuls), such as olives, white anchovy crostini or pizzette, and slightly bigger plates of cold meat, fish and pasta. Naturally, this is a place where you want to order a good spread and share with pals.
What is it? Charming Italian restaurant that’s been serving peckish Leeds folk since 1976.
Why go? 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). But whether you can manage that amount of grub or not, there are some unmissable items on the menu. The gamberoni abruzzese for instance, with its grilled king prawns and chilli and lemon, or the risotto alla Boscaiola, which comes with truffled woodland and roasted oyster mushrooms.
What is it? Reliably sophisticated plates at a veteran dining spot.
Why go? This long-running spot pitches itself as ‘Leeds’s original café-bar’ (it’s been going for more than 20 years). Their à la carte menu features things like pan-roasted hake and mirin-glazed pork belly, while chorizo hash and eggs benedict are available at Sunday brunch.
What is it? Famous ‘hanging kebabs’, which including tandoori cod and king prawn.
Why go? You can judge restaurants by the length of their queues – and be warned, it can be nigh-on impossible to get a table here without booking in advance at the weekend. But if you do, you’re in for a stylish experience, and some seriously fabulous barbecue and rotisserie-style dishes, alongside a list of ‘home comforts’ like sausage and mash and welsh rarebit.
What is it? A laidback atmosphere and top-notch Thai food.
Why go? This local favourite is out in the Headingley ’burbs, but it’s worth the trek. From the outside it looks like a takeaway, but don’t be fooled. Inside you’ll find a few rows of tables, Thai wood carvings and low lighting – a fuss-free environment that allows the food to shine. The classics, like pad see ew and tom yum soup are worth dipping into, while the vegetarian options are plentiful (and delectable).
After more solid recommendations?
Flanked as it is by sprawling national parks, Leeds may not seem green by comparison. But with lush city parks and an array of stately country piles and nature reserves on its outskirts, we’d argue it offers the perfect balance of bustling city living and proximity to the great outdoors.