Oxford: the city of golden turrets and dreaming spires. But often whilst sat in my office, I’m dreaming of more edible pastimes – namely lunch.
The eating scene in Oxford is great! More and more Asian eateries are opening their doors, the Covered Market doles out creative cheap eats, and the quirky Cowley Road is easy on chain restaurants and brimming with culture from Caribbean to Moroccan and plenty more.
Since you can see most of Oxford by foot, you’ll quickly work up an appetite during your trip. Luckily you’re never far from top quality, affordable cuisine. In no particular order, here are my top picks:
1. Rickety Press / Rusty Bicycle
I can vouch for the burgers – the Moo & Blue beef patty ladened with bacon chipotle jam, gooey gorgonzola and slices of pear was AMAZING. The pizzas are also great and on weekday lunchtimes a Margherita is only £5.
2. Spiced Roots, Cowley Road
Caribbean cuisine is the name of the game at Spiced Roots. The curries are delicious – you can choose between goat, fish and pumpkin and they all include a side of chickpeas and a roti. The rum punch is £7 for two during happy hour so it would be rude not to.
3. Georgina’s, the Covered Market
If it’s a cosy cafe you’re looking for, Georgina’s is the one. It’s owned by Brothers Cafe next door and while the food is great at both, I personally prefer the quirky vibe in Georgina’s (imagine fun posters and menus on colourful chalkboards). The nachos hit the spot, the bread is homemade and chunky, and you can mix and match on salads which are always fresh. Few dishes cost more than £5 and it’s a great place to curl up with a coffee and read or write.
4. Zheng, Jericho
Hailed by food critic Giles Coron as ‘the best Chinese-Malaysian restaurant in the country’, guests flock to Zheng from all over.
We opted for the chef’s choice meal and were served ‘cereal prawns’, an oddly delicious dish in a sweet and salty light batter, and a whole sea bass flavoured with spicy sambal sauce (a favourite in Malaysia). While we splashed out for my birthday on the chef’s meal which comes in it at £20-30pp, mains start from £7.50 when dining from the menu.
5. Buongiorno e Buonasera, Gloucester Green
This Italian cafe is authentic, affordable and good for a quick eat. You order at the till where it’s hard to choose between the freshly made pizzas and the colourful counter of cakes and baked goods. Prices vary but the half pizzas (like mine below) start from £3.50.
Don’t miss: the cannoli – a biscuit tube filled with sweet ricotta and pistachio cream studded with chocolate chips. These are famous in Sicily and I can see why!
6. Atomic Burger, Cowley Road
You can’t mention the Oxford eating scene without acknowledging Atomic Burger. In classic American diner-style, it’s all about the burgers and heavy on quirk-factor. Must-try combos include the Chuck Norris (cheesy BBQ pulled pork and fried onions), the Molly Ringwald (camembert, cranberry and bacon) and the Messy Jessie (goat’s cheese, red onion marmalade and rocket). The interior is cool and you’ll feel like you’ve stepped inside a comic book.
7. Banana Tree, George Street
Also on point is the bun bo salad bowl (vermicelli noodles, peanuts, thinly sliced greens, a sesame rice cracker and chilli dip) and the Indonesian rendang curry (slow-cooked beef in a rich, nutty sauce). To summarise, it’s that good that I’m working my way through the menu. Most mains are around £10 or you can pair them with rice, a corn cake and giant cracker for an extra £3.95.
8. Big Society, Cowley Road
I love this relaxed bar: plenty of open space, huge wooden tables, ping pong tables, fun wall art and cocktails in jam jars (I’m a fan of the cucumber-infused Gin Gin).
I challenge you to meet for a drink here then go for dinner anywhere else – as soon as people start eating, you’ll have major cheese envy. It’s an American classic menu comprising wings, juicy burgers (including the pulled pork variety), ‘slaws and cheesy chilli chip combos overflowing with the golden good stuff. Everything under £10.
9. Dosa Park, Frideswide Square
From the outside you’d be forgiven for thinking this place was a run-of-the-mill kebab shop. In reality, it’s probably Oxford’s most authentic Indian eatery serving traditional south Indian dishes such as dosa (crispy batter with various dips) and palak paneer (cheese cubes in a spinach sauce). We paid £15 for dinner for two including a naan and soft drinks. I’ll be back to try the tandoori chicken.
10. Cafe Tarifa, Cowley Road
I began coming to Tarifa more for the cool treehouse interior than anything else but, since being lured in, I’ve been blown away by the food. The vibe here is Middle Eastern so expect dishes like shakshuka (baked eggs, tomato, peppers, feta and chorizo) as pictured below. The happy hour cocktails are also an incentive to visit and are best enjoyed perched on a Moroccan stool under the tree branches and decorative lanterns.
11. Alpha Bar, Covered Market
At this popular takeaway bar in the Covered Market, even the healthiest of lunches are seriously tasty. For £4.80 you can get a small salad box (which in fact is actually massive) with ingredients including chicken, fish, goats cheese, falafel, stuffed vine leaves, spicy chickpeas, braised greens, sundried pesto and guacamole… the list goes on! The large box will set you back £7 but debatably feed a family of four for a week.
12. Tuyen’s Kitchen, North Parade Market
I love North Parade Market which is held on the second and fourth Saturday of the month. Check out Tuyen’s Kitchen – a catering business that doles out fresh Vietnamese creations. I sampled prawn summer rolls (£2.50 per piece) and pho ga (chicken noodle soup – £5) and it was just like the stuff in Vietnam. Tuyen is super friendly and knowledgeable about all her dishes.
13. SoJo, Hythe Bridge Street
SoJo is one of the best places in Oxford for Chinese cuisine – the Szechaun, Shanghainese and Cantonese dishes are definitely authentic. I ate tasty Asian lamb shanks with a side of with stir-fried greens and I’m itching to return and try the dim sum…
14. White Rabbit, Gloucester Green
The third pizza place of the post and possibly the best. The Alice in Wonderland-inspired White Rabbit is creaky, quirky and everything a British pub should be. It also has a woodburning pizza oven, a ton of topping choices and barely a 10-minute wait for food.
15. Taste Tibet & other vendors at Gloucester Green Market
Both the chicken curry and the momos (meat or veg-filled dumplings) doled out from the Taste Tibet stall are seriously tasty. They’re in good company at the Gloucester Green Market as you’ll find affordable food from all around the globe – even Venezuelan dishes are just a £5 note away. The Market runs Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.
16. Cous Cous Cafe, St. Clement’s
As well as yummy Morrocan dishes (like tagine and Middle Eastern-inspired tapas starting from £2.50) and some seriously authentic Arabic coffee, you may find me curled up with a book over my lunch break. The interior is so full of character and I love hanging out there.
Cous Cous is open daytimes only. My favourite dish is the falafel and halloumi salad for £6.80.
17. Olives Delicatessen, High Street
£6.95 for smoked salmon, poached eggs, cream cheese and avocado on toast WITH a coffee? Yes, please! Aside from the breakfast deals, the paninis and baguettes here are great and always packed with quality French and Italian ingredients. Olives is tiny so best for takeaways but there’s a couple of seats in the window which are perfect for people-watching on the High Street.
18. Pierre Victoire, Little Clarendon Street
While you’re more likely to find me at a street food market than a fancy restaurant, I didn’t mind splashing out on at Pierre Victoire as the cheese fondue was everything. We indulged with starters and a chocolate fondue for dessert meaning the bill came to £25 per person – not too bad at all! This cosy, candlelit spot is great for dates and special occasions.
Have you got any other favourite Oxford eating and drinking holes I should check out? Let me know in the comments – I’m always adding to this list.
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Check out my other Oxford posts:
- How to spend a weekend in Oxford
- A guide to visiting Oxford’s colleges
- A guide to Oxford’s food markets
- My top coffee fixes in Oxford
- 10 amazing eateries in Oxford
- My top 20 Instagrammable spots in Oxford
- Where to find the best brunch in Oxford
See you next time for more adventures,