Leeds: The foodie capital of the North

Aimee White

written by
Aimee White

updated 24.08.2021

Leeds lives up to its reputation as ‘Foodie Capital of the North’

There are plenty of ‘food cities’ around the world, famed for their attitude to dining, drinking and creating. Some might be home to celebrated Michelin-starred restaurants. Some might lean in to their local cuisine, with all the sounds, sights and smells that entails. Others make their name on vibrant global street food markets, or a thriving independent scene where small venues and producers are doing their own thing. Then there’s beer, wine and coffee, baking and pastries, vegan food and cutting edge cuisine.

So finding a city that offers the lot – somewhere like Leeds – can make or break a trip. There’s a reason the city has gained a reputation as the ‘Foodie Capital of the North’. The city and its people are dedicated to deliciousness like nowhere else, and there are so many ways to eat and drink you’ll be planning your next trip before you step onto the train home.

If you’re planning a foodie trip to the city, we’ve got a few ways you could fill your time – and your plate. And don’t forget that this summer, 10 of the city’s leading hotels are offering an exclusive deal meaning that you can dine and discover for longer. Our Be Our Guest offer gives you a third night for free when you book two – you can find all the details here.

Leeds Station and Athena Rising Mural © Carl Milner Photography for VisitLeeds

Leeds Station and Athena Rising Mural © Carl Milner Photography for VisitLeeds

Try street food from around the world... and closer to home

Leeds is a real hot spot for street food - from bustling indoor and outdoor markets, to city centre streets, bars and breweries and even shopping centres. You could easily plan a whole visit dining out entirely on amazing meals picked up from carts, caravans, shacks and stalls with flavours from cuisines the world over.

If you’re out for an evening meal, Chow Down at Temple Arches is a great shout. It’s perfect for outdoor dining, with table service and an eclectic music line-up – with some of the finest street food around too. It’s also just a few minutes from Leeds Train Station’s newly installed southern entrance.

For a family friendly lunch in Leeds, there’s Trinity Kitchen, where a rotating cast of stalls are backed up by some amazing globally-influenced permanent residents. It’s part of Trinity Leeds, so you can combine it with a shopping trip, or a film at the cinema.

The city’s bars and breweries are well served too. It doesn’t get much better than pillowy soft bao buns from Little Bao Boy at the North Brewing Co. Tap, or Assembly Underground, where Slap & Pickle will make you a killer burger.

But it’s not all cuisine from halfway across the world. Leeds’ Kirkgate Market is well worth a visit in its own right, but it’s also home to some pretty awesome street food in the newly refurbished food hall. The multi-award winning Manjit’s Kitchen is a big draw, rivalling any vegetarian restaurant in Leeds, but for a bite from God’s Own County you can’t beat our real gift to the culinary world, the Yorkshire Pudding Wrap.

Chod Down restaurant in Leeds © Jo Ritchie/VisitLeeds

Chow Down restaurant © Jo Ritchie/VisitLeeds

Dine out on a much-loved independent food scene

Indie food and drink is always worth seeking out – from local neighbourhood eateries doing their thing under the radar, to the most innovative chefs and restaurants pushing the envelope in ways you’ll soon see on all the chain menus. Leeds’ own indie scene is thriving, and much loved by locals. The UK’s first independent food fest – Leeds Indie Food – is a diverse and delicious celebration each May, but whatever time of year you choose to visit there’s so much to try.

There’s not just the one must-do – it’s all good – so why not let cuisine and ingredients guide you? If you’re partial to Asian-influenced menus, then the super-authentic Thai Aroy Dee is a well-kept chef’s secret. You just might have to ask for an explanation for some of the more exotic dishes, because they’re only listed in Thai. Then there’s Wen’s, cooking up home-style family friendly Chinese dishes from the foodie enclave of North Street. Jay Rayner reckons it doesn’t get much better.

Sela Bar X Manjit's Kitchen Supper Club - Leeds Indie Food 2018 © Lucy Forrester/VisitLeeds

Sela Bar X Manjit's Kitchen Supper Club - Leeds Indie Food 2018 © Lucy Forrester/VisitLeeds

Another North Street neighbour of note is The Reliance, a kitchen much-praised in the national press. They’ve been doing their thing for two decades, serving up the very freshest seasonal British grub paired with a selection of natural and low-intervention wines well worth exploring. It’s a sure fire hit for a Sunday lunch with the kids. A few doors down is a brand new offering from a well-established team – the much loved Swine That Dines has morphed into Here Comes The Bun, offering maybe the most exciting burger in town, plus a host of jaw-dropping sweet pies for those with a sweet tooth of all ages.

The same dedication to local produce and flawless cooking can be found at The Owl, an outpost of the acclaimed Home restaurant founded by Liz Cottam and Mark Owens. It’s nestled in Kirkgate Market, so if you don’t fancy that Yorkshire Pudding Wrap from the food hall then grab a table for a tart of brown Whitby crab with Yorkshire asparagus.

One final much-loved independent option – with a Michelin Guide recommendation of their own – is Ox Club at Headrow House, where you’ll find delectable Yorkshire meats and fresh seafood cooked over charcoal from a nearby coppice. The same kitchen also turns out famous kebabs and dirty fries to be enjoyed on Headrow House’s suntrap roof terrace – a great option for a casual family meal, with a craft-brewed soda for the little ones and an Aperol Spritz for the big ones.

Kirkgate Market © Carl Milner Photography/VisitLeeds

Kirkgate Market © Carl Milner Photography/VisitLeeds

Shake things up with a food and drink experience

If you’ve got a special trip planned, then it’s worth finding a special food and drink experience to go alongside it! Whether you’re in town for a celebration, or just fancy a bit of culinary exploration, Leeds is well served by unique and innovative ways to get you in touch with your foodie side. It’s also a fun way to involve the whole family, especially older kids and teenagers who might prefer a chance to get hands on.

One of the easiest ways to find your way around the diverse and different Leeds food scene is by booking on to a guided tour. The locals know their city best, after all. The friendly and accessible Leeds Food Tours offers a variety of options, taking you around the city’s most exciting locations focussing on everything from local producers to global flavours. Then there’s Leeds Beer Tours, with tasters in some of Leeds’ beloved drinking establishments.

If you want to learn a few new skills, then the award-winning Leeds Cookery School might just be the place. Whether you’re a true beginner, or you’ve got some seriously cheffy chops, there are courses to suit, with many focussing on local dishes and ingredients. For those who prefer their refreshment liquid, The Liquor Studio offer masterclasses and tasting sessions to suit. Ever fancied creating and mixing your own spiced rum? Well now you can.

If you’re a budding barista, then how about heading back to school? Just for a day, at least. 200° Coffee offers a range of courses at their barista school, so you can tune up your home brew, or perfect your latte art.

Trinity Kitchen © Hannah Webster for VisitLeeds

Trinity Kitchen © Hannah Webster for VisitLeeds

Put on your glad rags and treat yourself

We could all do with a treat now and again, so if you’re in the market for an unforgettable meal then Leeds has plenty of places to get dressed up for. Unlike some cities, we don’t pin all our hopes on fine dining accolades and internationally renowned chefs. Though we’ve got a few of those anyway. There’s just as much fun to be had eating at a tiny but refined neighbourhood place as there is at a Michelin-starred city centre restaurant.

Let’s get straight to that Michelin star though, because it’s a goodun. Chef Michael O’Hare’s The Man Behind the Curtain has garnered some pretty outstanding plaudits, and for good reason. The food is eccentric, truly unique and always exquisite – well worth the wait for a table, and quite possibly a once-in-a-lifetime meal too.

Just around the corner is Issho, offering a glam and gastronomic take on Japanese cooking with a seriously thirst-quenching sake bar to top it all off. The rooftop location is a pretty spectacular setting for a celebration meal, too. Or across the city, the Leeds outpost of Iberica serves up divine tapas in a beautifully refurbished Grade-II listed Victorian auction house. Given Spanish culture’s fondness for dining with the whole family, it’s no surprise that you’ll find multiple generations dining out together on long weekend afternoons.

There are so many places to eat in Leeds city centre, but if you fancy leaving them behind then Hern in Chapel Allerton might just be the definition of a hidden gem. It’s a two-man band – just a chef and a waiter – with a set menu that goes big on the freshest local and seasonal ingredients. It’s also some of the best value fine dining you’ll find anywhere in the UK. And you’ll be joined by just three or four other tables at most.

Issho Leeds © Will Stanley/VisitLeeds

Issho © Will Stanley/VisitLeeds

To find out more about places to eat in Leeds, head to Visit Leeds, where you’ll find articles, features and listings for everything from family friendly festivals to veggie and vegan cafes.

This article was written in partnership with Visit Leeds.

Aimee White

written by
Aimee White

updated 24.08.2021

Aimee is an in-house Senior Travel Editor at Rough Guides and is the podcast host of The Rough Guide to Everywhere. She is also a freelance travel writer and has written for various online and print publications, including a guidebook to the Isle of Wight. Follow her on Twitter at @aimeefw.

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