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Oxford Eat List
Photograph: Turl Street Kitchen

The 13 best restaurants in Oxford right now

This city’s food scene is more outlandish than you might imagine. Here’s our selection of the best restaurants in Oxford

By Kitty Drake and Huw Oliver
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April 2021: Finally, the time has come. We can go back to Oxford’s restaurants again. Under the current lockdown exit strategy, UK restaurants have been able to reopen from April 12 for outdoor meals and from May 17 indoor dining will be on the cards again, subject to social-distancing rules. In anticipation of being able to eat delicious dishes without having to do the washing up afterwards, we’ve updated our list of the best restaurants in Oxford. From Michelin-starred heavyweights to curry houses and new emerging joints, here are the hottest tables in Oxford we think you should be booking. 

In this most traditional of English cities, you might expect the food to err on the safe side. In Oxford, this is definitely not the case. From bacon milkshakes and burgers piled high with camembert to Tabasco-slathered pizzas, the best restaurants in Oxford and their slightly outlandish menus are proof the city can have fun (and does, sometimes, get outside the library). Even if you’re less inclined to go full fast food and the occasion’s more haute cuisine – students, that means if your parents are paying – there’s no shortage of fine dining destinations either. Stuck for where to eat after a day exploring the best things to do in Oxford? Our bucket list of the city’s ultimate food experiences should come in handy.

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

Best restaurants in Oxford

Oli’s Thai, eitw

1. Oli’s Thai

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

Why go? Crazy cheap and definitely the best restaurant in Oxford. Star dishes include a signature chickpea salad and duck massaman curry, but it’s impossible to order badly. There’s a lovely orange bar you can sit at inside the cute, minimalistic space, plus a few tables.

Time Out tip: If you fancy eating here (and you definitely do), you need to book weeks ahead. 

 

Arbequina, eitw

2. 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. 

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Turl Street Kitchen, eitw

3. Turl Street Kitchen

What is it? A restaurant that is also a social enterprise: profit is invested in a local charity.

Why go? To stuff your face and give back to the community at the same time. Set in a Georgian townhouse right by the Bodleian Library, this café offers quality British food. Slow roast pork belly is the star of the dinner menu and there’s a very good brunch (with vegan options). 

Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, eitw
Photograph: Paul Wilkinson

4. Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons

What is it? 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: boasting two Michelin stars, this is 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.

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Atomic Burger, eitw

5. 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 Elizabeth Shue – she of ‘Back to the Future’ – which comes piled with camembert, prosciutto, red onion and BBQ sauce. 

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

 

Gee’s, eitw

6. Gee’s

What is it? Mediterranean grills in a beautiful glass landmark.

Why go? Gee’s Grade II-listed conservatory is its loveliest feature. You eat flooded with light, and surrounded by olive trees – the perfect backdrop to a menu of Mediterranean grills. Fresh fruit and vegetables are also a speciality – the Gee family were originally greengrocers and florists. 

 

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

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The White Rabbit, eitw

7. The White Rabbit

What is it? Pizza in a pub.

Why go? There’s no more heavenly combination than beer and pizza: 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. 

Rooftop Restaurant at the Ashmolean, eitw

8. Rooftop Restaurant at the Ashmolean

What is it? Unparalleled views while dining.

Why go? Probably Oxford’s biggest tourist attraction (unless you count the university as a whole), the Ashmolean serves up much more than items of historical importance from around the world. Up on the top level you can sit down to smoked haddock gratin or butternut squash risotto courtesy of Benugo, who man the kitchen up there. It’s worth going just for the panorama. 

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Yeti, eitw

9. 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.

Big Society, eitw

10. 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.

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The Folly, eitw

11. The Folly

What is it? Thameside dining. And river eye candy.

Why go? Term-time, watch hot rowers whizzing by from the garden of this riverside restaurant. The interior is low-ceilinged and pubby, and the menu has comforting British classics like fish and chips and beef pie. There are fancier flourishes, though: tuna tataki and scallops make this a decent date spot.

 

Kazbar, eitw

12. Kazbar

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

Why go? The sharif may not like, but you’re sure to! Ahem. OK, Clash puns aside, Kazbar is the place to go if you’re a fan of Spanish and Moroccan cuisine. Dishes like Iberico pork ribs, lamb and harissa sausages with tzatziki come in sharing-sized small plates, and the cocktail menu is worth a punt too.

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The Cherwell Boathouse, eitw

13. The Cherwell Boathouse

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

Why go? This is the peak of riverside dining. Sit back, enjoy the view with your mouth full and then. Don’t miss the excellent cheese and wine.

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

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