Leeds independent foodie guide: where locals eat and drink
Check out our guide to the best independent coffee shops, bars and restaurants in Leeds. From street food markets to delis, wine bars to Indian food, Leeds has a thriving independent food and drink scene.
Looking for restaurants in Leeds? Yorkshire’s largest city combines glitzy clubs, bars and Victorian arcades with an arty undercurrent that buzzes with live music, proper pubs and independent shops and stalls such as The Corn Exchange.
Leeds’ food and drink scene has evolved over the years, adapting to the city’s diversity, and it now boasts some of the best independent places to eat and drink in the country. From trendy new-wave coffee shops to craft breweries, casual dining restaurants to street food trucks, Leeds has become a serious foodie hub.
For more exciting restaurants and weekend ideas for food lovers, check out our best UK city breaks.
Check out our top places to eat and drink in Leeds…
Sarto – for fresh pasta
Foodies from two local independents, Layne’s Espresso and The Brunswick, have teamed up to open a fresh pasta-focussed spot in central Leeds. A speckled quartz counter takes centre stage in the bright, canteen-style restaurant. Hop onto a stool and peer over hunks of parmesan, jars of gobstopper-sized olives and freshly baked sourdough loaves to watch head chef Ian Chapman, aka Yanni, and his team whip up plates of handmade pasta.
Mushroom marsala was the highlight on our visit – springy trompette, chestnut and baby oyster varieties tossed with marsala cream through folds of fettuccine. Or try Yanni’s unusual slow-cooker lamb rigatoni with chopped mint covered in nutty Sheep Rustler cheese. Bookend your pasta with a pumpkin, sage and Cornish cheddar arancini to start, and a portion of creamy tiramisu for dessert.
Beer drinkers have a choice between European stalwarts Birra Moretti and Amstel, or try the local North Brewing Co Triple Fruited Gose Sour. Negronis are short and punchy, just as they should be, and there’s a succinct Italian wine list heavily weighted towards Venetian and Sicilian varieties.
North Star Coffee Shop & General Store, Leeds Dock – best coffee shop in Leeds
This calm, contemporary glass-fronted space at Leeds Dock (also pictured above) is a hangout for local chefs and business owners on their days off. Gather with friends around one of the large wooden tables or nestle into a cosy nook to enjoy a moment of peace with your coffee.
North Star has travelled the globe to find the best beans in the business, and it rotates its offer of not one, but two contrasting single origin espressos to ensure they satisfy varying taste buds. Baristas use geeky coffee equipment to bring out the best of the beans – delicate Ethipioan coffee is dripped through a Kalita filter and served in a glass carafe, and the toffee notes of the Colombian batch brew is blasted out of a huge jet on the counter. There’s even a tap that provides water in three different temperatures to let loose-leaf Storm teas shine.
The adjoining roastery is a constant flurry of activity, with the state-of-the-art coffee roaster turning away and sacks ready to be filled with the day’s beans and carted off to coffee shops and restaurants across Yorkshire.
Wen’s, North Street – for Chinese food
This family-run Chinese restaurant is owned by the Wen family, with Yorkshire-Chinese lad Chao on front of house while his parents make everything from scratch in the kitchen downstairs (the sound of a doorbell lets the restaurant know that dishes are ready). Dough is pulled with a machine brought over from China to make noodles, and then stir-fried with steak strips, large spring onions grown in the garden and soy sauce. Chao greets guests with the tea of the day constantly brewing on a little stove behind the trinket-lined counter (we tried Chinese pu-erh). Authentic Chinese and Szechuan dishes include pan-fried whole sea bass topped with chilli mince pork, sweet, spicy kung pao chicken with crunchy peanuts and plenty of lip-smacking Szechuan peppercorns, and fried rice studded with pieces of Chinese sausage and seasonal vegetables.
Owt, Kirkgate Market – for market lunches
This dinky café uses fresh ingredients from Kirkgate Market to cook hearty dishes such as deep-fried aubergine with katsu sauce, pearl barley and sautéed greens, or pork loin with garlic and thyme, olive oil mash, gremolata and roast butternut squash. The fish of the week rotates depending on what the market’s smallest fishmonger, R Bethall, has fresh from the boats. Homemade cakes include lemon and strawberry, double chocolate and almond, or chocolate and Biscoff brownies. Visit in the morning for the fishmonger’s breakfast (smoked haddock, hash browns, soft boiled egg and greens) or a bap filled with your choice of smoked bacon or vegan patty.
North Brewing Co. Leeds City Tap, Sovereign Square – for Yorkshire beers
Try unique ales and bitters in North Brewing Co’s city-centre taproom. House headliners include award-winning Transmission IPA and crisp American pale ale Sputnik, along with tropical session brew Sea of Kindness. Peruse collaborations such as a grapefruit sour with Square Root, and the Buxton Brewery’s dark, malty Smoked Imperial Stout (also reduced into a syrup to make a smoky old fashioned), or choose from a fridge of guest beers in colourful cans.
If you’re peckish, order pillowy-soft bao buns or braised beef donburi bowls from Little Bao Boy’s hatch beside the bar.
Home – for a British tasting menu
Chef owners Mark Owens (Le Gavroche, The Star at Harome, The Box Tree) and MasterChef semifinalist Elizabeth Cottam joined forces in 2017 to create relaxed British restaurant HOME in Leeds. Its 10-course tasting menu, alongside a five-course option available Thursday to Saturday lunchtimes, follows the seasons to showcase British produce. HOME has a strong affiliation with the nearby Harewood Estate, using its venison and rabbits, and produce from its walled garden. The kitchen delivers dishes such as smoked potato salad with heritage tomatoes, rabbit stew with parsnips and black garlic, and caramelised pear and cardamom.
Original parquet flooring, panelled walls and a stone staircase are brightened up with plenty of natural light from skylights and floor-to-ceiling windows. If you want in on the action, request one of the chef’s table seats at the hatch that gives you a view into the open kitchen.
Issho – for a splash-out Japanese dinner
From the spectacular spiral staircase at the entrance to the statement bar adorned with cherry blossom, this contemporary bar and restaurant is an ode to Japanese design. The open-plan kitchen adds atmosphere to the sleek dining room, with chefs preparing mounds of sushi, and vegetables charring over coals on the robata grill. Start with a refreshing Japanese Roku or KI NO BI gin in a giant yet delicate crystal goblet, boulevardier-like Ronin using Japanese whisky or the Shisho Smash mocktail with delicate shisho leaves.
The large menu is designed for sharing, from which we suggest choosing a couple of starters, some nigiri and a few robata dishes. Crunchy squid karaage is served with a rich, sweet black garlic aïoli, while mixed tempura comes with a delicate shisho dashi dipping sauce. The sushi nigiri is excellent – neat slices of grilled unagi (eel), yellowfin tuna and salmon. Head chef Joe Grant has a magic touch with the robata grill, the highlight being sesame-crusted lamb chops slathered in an umami-rich miso and gochujang sauce. The skin on teriyaki salmon was crisp, salty and lip-smacking, and the flesh velvety soft, served with a simple side of refreshing pickled cucumber.
Noisette Bakehouse – best bakery in Leeds
North Star has collaborated with Noisette Bakehouse to offer some of the best sweet treats we’ve tried in a long time. There are queues out of the door to bag the first blueberry muffins of the day, and warm custard tarts are to die for. Don’t leave without trying the four-cheese buttermilk scones, made with rye flour to really hold the Parmesan, Red Leicester, Cheddar and cream cheese (and served warm, with proper butter made using acorn dairy milk from the Yorkshire Dales). Or, go for the Morning Cake – so unique that creator Sarah Lemanski has trademarked it. This twist on an American coffee cake has a sour cream cake base with a thin layer of cocoa and tonka bean and a crisp apple streusel topping, dusted with an icing sugar sunshine in a nod to the early riser.
Laynes Espresso – best brunch in Leeds
Originally a small espresso bar, Laynes Espresso expanded in January 2017 and now offers an earthy space to relax in with tiled floors, exposed brick and plenty of dark wood.
This trendy coffee shop showcases blends from roasters around the world, as well as the best from London and even the city’s own roaster, North Star (see above). Learn the tricks of the barista trade at one of its on-site workshops, grab an espresso on your way to the station down the round, or sit in and savour the smooth texture of one of the best flat whites in the country.
The all-day food menu includes local classics such as Yorkshire rarebit with Henderson’s relish on caraway-seeded rye toast, and a decadent home-baked ham hock and Doreen black pudding hash.
Take time over one of the exotic dishes on the brunch menu, from shakshuka with dukkah and harissa butter, to sweetcorn fritters with halloumi, chimichurri, poached eggs and pickled chilli. In-house baked goods are to die for – cinnamon rolls, cardamom and almond cake, and coffee cake made with the house espresso – while additional treats from local baking company, Noisette Bakehouse (more info above), plumps up the sweet treat offering with salted caramel brownies and rye flour cookies.
Hana Matsuri – for sushi
Described by Vice magazine as “Britain’s best sushi restaurant”, this modest, bookings-only outfit on Meanwood Road in Leeds showcases the exemplary knife skills of sushi chef Kaoru Nakamura. Although there is an à la carte menu and a set-lunch option, most people go for the omakase menu, where the diners leave it up to the chef to cook for them depending on that day’s ingredients. Hana Matsuri only uses fresh fish sourced mainly from Cornwall and the menu changes daily depending on availability.
Poco – for Sicilian street food
Created by Elvi Drizi, who also runs popular Leeds restaurant Culto, Poco is a small restaurant serving Sicilian street food. In Italian, ‘poco’ means ‘a little bit’ and that is exactly what the restaurant on Kirkstall Road offers, with delicious small bites including authentically Sicilian pizza al taglio served by the slice from large rectangular trays. All the chefs come from Sicily and they only use authentic recipes and Italian produce in their cooking.
Angelica – for cocktails with a view
On the sixth floor of the Trinity Leeds shopping centre, Angelica has a wraparound planted terrace and panoramic city views. Seats on the terrace are highly prized when the weather allows – it’s the ideal place to relax with a cocktail and a sharing board or plate of fruits de mer.
Bundobust – for Indian street food and craft beer
This innovative restaurant and bar combines vegetarian Indian street food with a huge range of craft ales. A bustling place where food is served in disposable bowls with biodegradable cutlery, it offers a casual dining experience with small plates and low prices.
With no curry option, or meat, Bundobust is a world away from old-school curry houses, but dishes such as vada pav (a fried spicy mashed potato ball served in a brioche bun) and bundo chaat (a samosa of pastry, turmeric noodles, yogurt and tamarind chutney) have gained cult status. Try the onion bhajis: aromatic with garam masala and ajwain, filled with lush onion and cauliflower, the batter lifted by threads of spinach.
On the drinks front, this bar provides a platform for independent brewers such as Kirkstall Brewery and Northern Monk, and offers limited edition ales and collaborations. Its menu is succinct, tempting and all-vegetarian, from spicy nuts to massala dosa, a mini crêpe with potato and onion dry fry, lentil soup and coconut chutney.
Zucco – for Italian food
Nonna’s polpette and spaghetti; rabbit, pancetta, white wine and potatoes; and almond and raspberry polenta cake – these are just three reasons why locals flock to Zucco, tucked away in one of the leafier suburbs of Leeds.
Run by brothers Rosario and Michael Leggiero, it’s a cool and contemporary place with black and white floor tiles, white subway wall tiles and a beaten tin ceiling.
And if that look sounds slightly familiar to fans of a certain well-known chain, then it won’t come as too much of a surprise that Michael was manager at Polpo’s short-lived restaurant at Leeds Harvey Nichols. Click here to read about more of our favourite Italian restaurants in the UK
Friends of Ham – for Spanish tapas
Pop in to Yorkshire beer, wine and charcuterie specialist, Friends of Ham, for sharing platters and small plates. Choose from the extensive charcuterie list – (here's how to make your own) – we tried Barbaresco salami from Piedmont, prosciutto from Parma, and popular British bath chaps, made from the pig’s cheek. Small dishes include spicy 'nduja on sourdough toast with cornichons, traditional Spanish anchovies, and ham hock and black pudding terrine.
Wines are curated with the utmost care. Take the Renata Pizzulin Clagnis as an example, a subtly spiced, fruity Italian red wine made by a couple as a weekend project in the northeastern Friuli region of Italy. This is what we loved most about Friends of Ham, the care and attention in sourcing the best of the best and serving it unpretentiously in a warm and friendly environment.
Ox Club, The Headrow – for modern British food
There’s a lot to like about Ox Club, a modern British restaurant in Headrow House, a former textile mill built in the early 1900s. It feels and looks great: warm lighting, cool rustic-industrial design. The staff are bright, its craft beer list is unusually interesting and the pricing is keen.
The focal point is the Grillworks grill imported from Michigan – it’s used to cook everything from hanger steak to guinea fowl, hake and razor clams. Expect delicate accompaniments such as buttermilk polenta with tea and molasses brine; creamed flageolet beans with bacon jam; or Jerusalem artichoke with mushrooms and ymerdrys (a Danish sugared rye bread crumb).
Although vegetarian options are limited, the side dishes are all innovative and vegetable-based: try brussels sprouts with bacon and cured egg yolk, coal-roasted beetroot with muscovado walnuts, or kale with chard, cider and golden raisins.
Words by Alex Crossley and Mark Taylor
Photographs by Victoria Harley, Simon Fogal, Sara Teresa, Tom Joy