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The 18 best restaurants in Oxford right now

With Tibetan momos, Spanish tapas, Thai noodles and Michelin-starred feasts it's so hard to choose from the best restaurants in Oxford.

Written by
Huw Oliver
,
Kitty Drake
&
Etain O’Carroll
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Affluent and well-endowed but also home to a bumper crop of students, Oxford’s got a demanding job on its hands when it comes to feeding the masses. From heavyweight haute cuisine to standout pizza, a glut of curry houses and an emerging international scene, the best restaurants in Oxford offer great value, finger-lickin’ food and the occasional oddball surprise (fancy a bacon milkshake anyone?). After a hard day checking out the best  things to do in Oxford, our handy guide to the city’s hottest tables will sort you out.

Eaten somewhere on this list and loved it? Share it with the hashtag #TimeOutEatList.

Best restaurants in Oxford

Oli’s Thai

What is it? Thai food that will blow your tiny head off.

Why go? A pocket-sized place with a huge reputation, Oli’s Thai is quite simply the best restaurant in Oxford. Every morsel is made with incredible care and it’s impossible to order badly from the short menu of authentic Thai dishes. There’s a lovely orange bar you can sit at inside the cute, minimalistic space, plus a few tables.

Time Out tip: You’ll need to book weeks ahead to bag a table but a few spaces at the bar are saved at each serving so you may get lucky on a walk in.

 

What is it? A much-loved East Oxford local serving street food from the top of the world

Why go? From market stall to pop up to permanent premises opened mid pandemic, Taste Tibet’s loyal followers will tell you there’s no finer flavour than a momo (dumpling) dipped in their fiery chilli sauce. With a love story worthy of Hollywood behind the scenes and a mission to support local communities, this is feel good food too. Curry, dhal, noodles and smacked cucumber fill out the menu, take out, or eat in, it’ll go down a storm.

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Arbequina

What is it? Divine tapas in sexy surrounds.

Why go? Set in a converted chemist, this tapas restaurant on trendy Cowley Road is worth a detour out of the city centre. Food is sensational, so no wonder Sunday Times critic Marina O’Loughlin is a fan. Tapas devotees: think Barrafina, but way, way cheaper. Phew.

Time Out tip: A must-order is the thick, oozy tortilla. 

What is it? Riverside pub with a gorgeous garden

Why go? A taste of village life within walking distance of town, The Perch is a historic thatched farmhouse in the quaint village of Binsey opposite Port Meadow. Chic and cosy on the inside, in summer, it has the city’s finest garden dining. The menu is staunchly British, think braised pig cheeks, grilled quail, burgers and ale-battered fish, but decidedly modern in execution.

Time Out top tip: Work up an appetite with a walk around Port Meadow, along the river or to the village’s 12th-century church.

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The Cherwell Boathouse

What is it? A riverside restaurant set in a Victorian boathouse.

Why go? This is the peak of riverside dining tucked away down a leafy lane in salubrious north Oxford. Sit back, enjoy the view and tuck into a fine modern British menu as you watch the punts go by. Along with the top-rated nosh, the wine menu has won much praise for its variety and value. Team a prime choice with some local cheese and you might never want to go home.

Time Out tip: If you’re feeling energetic, hire a punt from the punt station next door.

Kazbar

What is it? A taste of the Med in a laid-back setting.

Why go? The place to go if you’re a fan of Spanish and Moroccan cuisine. By day, it’s a bright, airy place hung with lanterns and drying chillies, its large windows opening out onto bustling Cowley Road. By night, its large sofas are dimly lit and usually packed with a lively crowd feasting on classic mezze and tapas such as Iberico pork ribs and merquez washed down with top-notch cocktails.

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What is it? A tiny Japanese kitchen serving authentic dishes and the city’s best sushi.

Why go? Turn up and join the queue (they don’t take bookings) outside this little Japanese restaurant for the chance to be treated to fresh sushi, stir fries and grills all cooked in authentic Japanese style. You’ll never settle for a pan-Asian chain again.

Time Out top tip: Don’t miss the eponymous edamame (soybeans served in their pods) for an addictively moreish starter

What is it? A French bistro disguised as a local pub.

Why go? What looks like a local boozer hidden down a residential street, is, in fact, one of Oxford’s most memorable French bistros. Make your way through the front bar hung with tankards and train sets to the tightly packed back rooms where you’ll find happy diners tucking into moules, escargots and coq au vin. The set menus are great value and they do a mean crêpe if you’re after something lighter.

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The Folly

What is it? Thameside dining slap bang in the city centre.

Why go? Sleek, sophisticated and overlooking the river, The Folly makes a good option for a special occasion and on a warm day, the floating terrace can’t be beaten. The menu is limited but tempting, especially for meat eaters, with classic cuts such as lamb rump and beef sirloin paired with marrow dumplings and tarragon gremolata.

Time Out tip: Go the full Oxford and opt for a pre-dinner river cruise before dining on the waterside terrace.

 

What is it? California-style, plant-based comfort food with sunshine vibes

Why go? Friday is a state of mind, or so this feel-good place believes, with its menu of vegan fast food that might make meat eaters think again. Choose from pizzas, burgers, burritos, dogs and buddha bowls or opt for the generously sized sides for vegan heaven.

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Gee’s

What is it? Mediterranean grills in a beautiful Victorian conservatory.

Why go? Gee’s is a Grade II-listed glass landmark. You eat flooded with light, and surrounded by olive trees – the perfect backdrop to a menu of Mediterranean grills. And for a place renowned as being the spot to go when your parents  – and their credit cards  – are in town, they do a surprisingly good value set lunch.

Time Out tip: There’s a tree-lined terrace for Covid-safe dining.

What is it? Bright, buzzy brasserie that’s styled like an art gallery

Why go? Plummy but yummy and slap bang on the High, Quod is a lively, central pit stop for cocktails, people watching or a decent meal. Large, brightly-coloured canvasses adorn the walls, the chink of glasses and murmur of conversation waft out the doors to the small courtyard, and the menu features classy burgers and steaks, crispy, paper-thin pizza, as well as a good choice of fish and veggie options. Equally popular with college dons, visiting parents and ladies who lunch, the set lunch menu makes it good value for all.

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The White Rabbit

What is it? Pizza in a pub.

Why go? There’s no more heavenly combination than beer and pizza and this cosy indie pub nails it. There are more than 20 varieties – Americana, Spagnola and a Tabasco-slathered Disco Inferno – and everything comes with a gluten-free option. This is the place to go if you’re nursing a hangover and you need carbs. They’ve even got a garden.

What is it? Raymond Blanc’s two-Michelin-star decadence in the Oxfordshire countryside.

Why go? A footpath lined with lavender winds its way up to a vine-covered manor house hotel and restaurant. Inside it’s even more fragrant and a spot for special occasions – tasting menus are complex, delicate and very expensive. If things get really special, you can always book a five-star room upstairs. Either way, book well in advance.

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Big Society

What is it? A fast food joint named after a political ideology.

Why go? Big Society is a bizarre name for a place that styles itself as a thoroughly relaxed hangout, but that’s part of this American-style bar’s charm. There’s a range of beers on offer plus burgers, fried chicken and cocktails.

Time Out tip: You can play ping-pong and table football while you drink.

Atomic Burger

What is it? Every comic book nerd’s dream, the Oxford branch of this pop-culture-themed diner has a man-sized Spider-Man crawling across the ceiling.

Why go? Atomic Burger is also big, big into ‘Star Wars’. Zany burgers and fries are the speciality. We liked the Jake & Elwood which comes piled with blue cheese, fried onions and bacon, but you could opt for the Cactus Jack pulled jackfruit option instead.

Time Out tip: Wash it all down with a bacon milkshake.

 

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Rooftop Restaurant at the Ashmolean

What is it? Unparalleled views at the best lunch spot in town.

Why go? Set on the rooftop of Oxford’s most imposing neo-classical pile, this is the place to go for lunch or afternoon tea. Enjoy a bird’s eye view of the city while tucking into a menu influenced by the priceless exhibits below. It’s worth going for the panorama alone.

Yeti

What is it? The place for perfect curries.

Why go? With its unpretentious frontage, this Nepalese restaurant could be mistaken for a shop. Inside things are charmingly shabby, the focus kept firmly on thoroughly excellent food. Beautifully spiced plates of curry, naan and dumplings arrive promptly – Yeti is family-run and the service is warm and efficient.

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