Leeds' best restaurants
What is it? Awesome Kashmiri dishes at a legendary curry house – like their phenomenal mild-to-medium hyderabadi.
Why go? Aagrah has clearly 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 were serving their curries and other dishes to a public who were still suspicious of South Asian cuisine. Of course, those attitudes are long done, and Aagrah is perennial favourite with 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 loads of 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 references to titular sorceror in ‘The Wizard of Oz’, and in turn, the chef Michael O’Hare, who cooks in plain sight of the clientele. His restaurant is almost as much an artistic as culinary an experience: the walls are used as blank canvases for more creative patrons to doodle across. But really, it’s the 12-course degustation menu that really shines here: not cheap, but worth every penny.
What is it? A quite-simply-brilliant restaurant and bar paying homage to the Basque region of Spain.
Why go? This very cool restaurant at The Trinity opened back in 2015 and has been getting appreciative tongues wagging ever since. It takes its name from the Spanish for ’work of art’, so you can guess what the plates look like. But it’s how they taste that‘s the biggie here – this is some of the best Spanish cooking you’ll get outside of España. Little tip: make sure you check out the bar, too. Cocktails here are sensational.
What is it? Endless plates of sizzling, rodizio-style skewered meat at a cheerfully fun South American spot.
Why go? On paper, the Fazenda format sounds a little tacky: a Brazilian-influened restaurant that does all-you-can-eat plates of rodizio-style skewered meats. But even if it does sound all a bit ‘Man v. Food’ – as well as a one-way ticket to the meat sweats – it’s also all exceptional good, and delivered in a stylish, self-respecting environment.
What is it? Generous portions of top-notch trad Thai fare.
Why go? This Thai 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 is one of high-quality south-east Asian cookery, impeccable service and generous plates that ensure all patrons leave full and with smiles characteristic of Thailand on their faces.
What is it? A taste of the prime veggie crop and home to one of the best halloumi salads you could get your mouth around.
Why go? Casting aside all of your preconceived notions about Northern, stereotypical foods of choice (meat and pasty), this Leeds eatery bucks the trend. 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. When it comes to the delectables, there is a pretty loose Mexican influence which revolves around beans (and lots of 'em), fried veggies and mountains of cheese. Honestly? We think carnivores will leave completely converted.
What is it? Appallingly good regional Indian cuisine – with not a piece of meat in sight.
Why go? Hansa Dabhi has cultivated a reputation of near celeb status in Leeds, thanks to her phenomenally good vegetarian Gujerati dishes. Her North Street restaurant has earned a slew of top awards, and has turned many 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 pitstop.
What is it? A widely popular Keralan spot that does a mean little 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 south Indian dishes, amongst which you’ll find some unusual treats – look out for crab cooked in coconut sauce, delicious fried lentil doughnuts and toffee-filled steamed rice cake.
What is it? Stateside classics in a US-style diner.
Why go? Nation of Shopkeepers works in the American diner pastiche vein, but to eminent success where others make it look naff and 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? Being honest, it’s a rare moment that the Leeds dining scene his national papers. But The Reliance managed it, being praised by professional critics and local patrons alike when. This pub-restaurant has a slightly akward location that’s utterly redeemed by high-end cuisines. 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 charcuturie-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 on many a Leeds-based foodie’s list. It serves a top-notch 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? Hearty, traditional South Indian dishes in a family-run spot. Checking out their tasting menus for a whistlestop tour of the grub.
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 trad regional dishes.
What is it? Self-respecting hipster staples in an achingly cool vintage-strewn café-bar.
Why go? Outlaws Yacht is so on-trend that it hurts. One half of a partitioned room with the rock ’n’ roll hair salon Rebel Pin-Up, its 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? 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 and in the ’burbs, but is a resoundingly successful neighbourhood spot. The menu has plenty of classics, but also rotatings with the availability of seasonal produce. It’s broken down into boccone (mouthfuls), such as olives or white anchovy crostini, pizzette and pan, and cold meats, fish, pasta and vegetables. Naturally, this is a place where you want to order a spread of things and share with pals.
What is it? Excellent-value prix de fixe and homely French dishes.
Why go? Fancy enjoying a slice of authentic Paris right in the middle of Leeds? Head to this bistro, which serves quality French cooking from a highbrow locale (it counts BBC Leeds and the Northern Ballet among its neighbours). Cute little touches like candles set in wax-drenched bottles add to the Gallic charm, but above all else it’s the consistently excellent food that draws the punters in.
What is it? Upmarket offerings in a delightfully fancy surrounding.
Why go? The ever-excellent D&D are the hospitality group behind this restaurant, and they certainly don’t slip up here. Lee Bennet’s kitchen delivers an excellent seasonal menu that succeeds through its high-quality ingredients. The fish dishes, like pan-seared halibut, are particularly good.
What is it? Freshly baked focaccia and ciabatta sandwiches.
Why go? If there were two lunch items that make a perfect combo for ridding yourself of the afternoon office slump, it's a velvety coffee and a good sarnie. At Café 164 you can find focaccia galore, so make sure you 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, this spot does a mean line in cakes and baked goods, chiefly from local suppliers That Old Chestnut and #Brownies.
What is it? Reliably sophisticated plates at a veteran dining spot.
Why go? This veteran spot pitches itself as ‘Leeds’s original café-bar’, and has been doing its with total aplomb for over 20 years. The menu is a self-respecting affair, with things like pan-roasted hake and mirin-glazed pork belly on the à la carte, and chorizo hash and eggs benedict on the Sunday brunch.
What is it? Trad Italian staples in a cosy venue – and the three-course early-bird meal if you’re after a bargain.
Why go? This cute and totally bona-fide Italian restaurant has been keeping the diners of Leeds fed and happy since 1976. The menu is staunchly traditional – as is the staff’s rampant hospitality. We suggest you do as the Italians do, and go for the four-course act: antipasti, pasta, secondi and dessert. Mouth watering already?
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? For cosy, pleasant, unassuming vibes in a neighbourhood spot that delivers fabulous Thai.
Why go? As several inclusions on the list have already attested to, the suburbs of Leeds have plenty of fantastic dining destinations. So if you don’t want the hassle of fighting the city centre traffic, head out to Headingley, and to this neighbourhood Thai spot. It’s small, even in comparison to rivals Sukhothai and Salvo’s, but what it lacks in style and finesse it absolutely makes up for with its homespun and inventive Thai menu.