Following our recent move to the UK, we have made it our mission to find the best places for eating and drinking in York and review the many restaurants and bars the city has to offer. We eat in restaurants far more often than we care to admit, and as for testing out bars for the best craft beers and cocktails… well, let’s not mention that to our doctor.
You might remember an old post of our favourite restaurants in Paris and we hope to do something similar for York, except we have a lot more chance of testing out every single place in the city this time. So far we are impressed with the quality of the food and drinks the city has to offer. We haven’t lived in the UK for over 10 years and boy have things changed! The days of chain restaurants seem to be coming to an end, and the chains that exist are placing more focus on quality.
So let’s get started! Whether you’re looking for a romantic dinner for two, a great night out with friends or somewhere great to take a hen/stag do, we hope you’ll find it here. Keep coming back as we update this post with more of our finds.
Jump to the section you want to read about
Chain Pubs and Restaurants in York
It surprised us to learn that The Botanist is a chain of restaurants in the UK. We think it is a chain with an independent feel because it gives off a real local vibe. On the corner of Stonegate and Little Stonegate, it has a fantastic location and attracts a fairly up-market crowd. We like how the restaurant, designed like a secret garden, is separate from the bar area where you can choose from an extensive menu of craft beers and great cocktails while listening to some surprisingly good local artists. They have successfully created a rustic-chic look and appear to care about quality.
In terms of food, we enjoyed the pork roast dinners we ordered and our friends said their pies were great too. Next time we might be tempted to try one of the famous hanging kebabs! The cocktails are on the pricey side, but good-quality ingredients and top-of-the-range alcohol justifies the price. Our only negative comment is that we found the staff to be pushy with table extras like bread and olives (they asked us like 3 times!). Given that is the only negative, The Botanist is a great restaurant and bar we highly recommend!
Average Prices: Starters £4, Mains £11, Desserts £6, Beer £5, Cocktails £8
We have a soft spot for Lendal Cellars because this is where we ate when we first came to York as tourists… nearly 8 years ago! It is owned by the Greene King chain of pubs, which prides itself on being the country’s leading pub retailer and brewer. York’s branch is located just off St Helen’s Square, which is famous for being the home to Betty’s Tea Rooms. It is set in an old cellar and the rounded ceilings give the place its charm. We can imagine that tourists would find it quirky once they get over the slight ‘cellar smell’ upon entering.
We have eaten there twice since moving to York, once for a meal on a Saturday night and once to watch the World Cup. We especially enjoyed the pies the first time we visited – we thought the pastry and filling were good for a chain pub and the vegetables tasted fresh too. The second time we ordered burgers and a steak. The Ultimate Burger was tasty but a layer of gristle on the steak let it down. Overall we think it is worth checking out, especially if you’re on a budget because they do special offers.
- Get a drink for just £1 extra on selected meals (burgers, roasts and steaks).
- Two for one cocktails every day from 5 pm.
Average Prices: Starters £4.50, Mains £10, Desserts £4, Beer £4, Cocktails £8
Ye Olde Starre Inn
Believed to be the oldest licenced pub in York, Ye Olde Starre Inn is also part of the Greene King chain. The pub is located down a tiny alley just off Stonegate, but it is far from a local’s secret as there are many signs pointing you in the right direction. In terms of atmosphere and decoration, you can’t get a more British pub. Think low ceilings, round tables and cushioned stools. The only thing missing is a musty old carpet, but we think no one would want to ask for that back.
The main menu is the same as Lendal Cellars, except they don’t do any drinks offers with their meals and everything is about £1-£2 more expensive. We went for lunch and decided on a budget-friendly open sandwich and scampi dish. We would have liked the portions a little bigger but we can’t complain about the choice of beers on tap. As well as some up-and-coming craft names like Brewdog, they also stock local cask and keg ales. Overall we prefer the atmosphere in Ye Olde Starre Inn but we think the food is better in Lendal Cellars, even though it is the same chain. In any case, it is worth looking inside!
Special offers: Buy one cocktail, Peroni or Prosecco and get one free (4pm – 6pm daily).
Average Prices: Starters £5, Mains £11, Desserts £5, Beer £4.50, Cocktails £8
We spent nearly 6 months working and travelling in Japan, so mention good Japanese food to us and we are there. Sushi Waka has a Japanese feel to the place: you can sit in 4-person booths or sit at the counter and watch the chefs making sushi. It is an enormous restaurant and ideal for big groups as long as everyone likes Japanese food. We are led to believe that this is a chain restaurant though we have only ever been to the one in York.
We think the owner is of Chinese origin, but the food is most definitely Japanese. There is also a great selection of Japanese beers on the menu along with a firm favourite of ours – Japanese plum wine! We ordered Tonkatsu and one Pork Katsu Curry dish. Unfortunately, there was a little misunderstanding and prawn katsu turned up. It was still delicious and we enjoyed both dishes as if we were back in Japan. We will most likely go back to try the sushi and udon soup. Overall, we recommend testing out this restaurant if you like Japanese food.
Average Prices: Starters £6, Mains £9, Desserts £3.50, Beer £4, Cocktails £4.50 (Plum wine)
The Duke of York
We have fancied going to The Duke of York for a while and we eventually decided to go on a Friday night when we were both too tired to cook. It is part of the Leeds Brewery family, so it makes it into the ‘chain pubs’ category, though it doesn’t necessarily feel like one inside. This pub is located on King’s Square (right next to The Shambles) and attracts a crowd in the 30+ age range.
Unknown to us, Friday is ‘steak night’ at The Duke of York so you can get 2 steaks – sirloin or rump – with a bottle of wine for £30. We gave it a go and were very surprised by the quality of the meals. Juicy steaks and all the trimmings with a fancy twist. (This basically means that mushrooms were cooked in garlic butter and the chips still had their skins on). The wine was also very good: there were a couple of bottles to choose from with the offer and we went for an Argentinian red. The pub meals on the main menu are slightly more expensive than most pubs in York, but based on what we had, they are probably worth that extra pound or so. In any case, we will be back soon enough to give them a try!
Average Prices: Starters £7, Mains £11.50, Desserts: £4.50
Independent Pubs and Restaurants in York
We don’t live too far from Caesars Italian and the delicious smell of pizza wafting out its windows has been tempting us for far too long. It is one of a few Italian restaurants on Goodramgate and despite being in direct competition; they are all always full. Caesars Italian is a little bigger than the others so you have more chance of getting a table on a Saturday night, which is what happened to us when our other options were fully booked. The decoration is on the basic end of the spectrum but it is a pleasant restaurant to sit in.
We both ordered calzone pizzas – one classic and one chicken kiev – with a bottle of house red. We thought the chicken kiev pizza was much more flavoursome, however; the dough was just as delicious on both dishes. As far as we know, the dough is homemade and so are some desserts. It states which desserts are homemade and which are not. We went for the tiramisu and crème brûlée, they make both of which in-house. The portion size for the tiramisu was very generous and the crème was very nice even though the staff went a little overboard with the brûlée effect on top. We would consider going back but with so many other Italian restaurants to try in York, it could be a while before we do.
Average Prices: Starters £6, Mains £10, Desserts £5, Beer £6.50, House wine $15 per bottle, Cocktails £6
Il Paradiso del Cibo
If you’re lucky enough to get a table at Il Paradiso del Cibo, you’re sure to get a very warm Italian welcome. It’s a family-style restaurant with the day’s specials handwritten on blackboards. The main menu is less expensive, but both feature a range of pizzas, pasta dishes and Italian mains. As you’ve probably guessed, reserving a table is an absolute must at the weekend – we went on a Monday night and the restaurant was very busy. It’s a bit of a shame Il Paradiso del Cibo isn’t bigger but maybe that adds to its charm.
We ordered pizzas, one with Sardinian sausage and the other with crudo ham, rocket and parmesan. Both were very nice and the dough, in particular, was very tasty. You can tell that there is a lot of focus on quality at this restaurant and everything is very Italian. Don’t expect any pineapple, sweetcorn or chicken on pizzas and don’t be offended if they refuse to put parmesan cheese on your pasta. If it isn’t traditionally Italian, it isn’t leaving the kitchen!
Average Prices: Starters £7, Mains £10, Desserts £5, Beer £3.50, House wine £3.75 (small) or £4.50 (large)
Cocktail Bars in York
So far, Evil Eye is one of our favourite cocktail bars in York. We had walked past the place many times and always wondered why so many people were queueing outside. From the exterior, it looks like a mundane premise besides a few people drinking in the windows upstairs. Once you get inside, it is another story. We love bars like this because it feels like another world once you get through the front door. Evil Eye attracts a young crowd (under 35), so it is very lively and you will need to impose yourself at the bar on a Saturday night. Don’t worry though, it will take a while to choose from over 100 different cocktails!
Given the number of cocktails on the menu and the number of people to serve, we are impressed with the quality of drinks at Evil Eye. There is something for everyone and even if you don’t like cocktails, there is also wine, champagne and some beers to choose from. We will be back for a late-night tipple because our 2 drinks hardly scratched the surface of the menu last time.
Special Offers: On Sunday to Thursday from 5 pm to 9 pm, you can get:
- Any two £6.20 cocktails for £10
- Any four £3 shots for £10
- Any four beers (Desperados, Modello or Singha) for £10.
Average Prices: Cocktails £7, Mocktails £3.50, Soft drinks £2.20
Slug and Lettuce
There are 2 branches of this chain in York but the most popular is by the river on Low Ousegate. Although it serves food during the day (we haven’t tried the menu yet), it is more popular these days for its selection of 2 for 1 cocktails. The bar itself is enormous with a brighter area in the entrance and a more subdued seating area at the back. Most people try to get a table next to the open windows in summer as you get great views of the river, especially when the sun sets at one end.
There is a big range of cocktails and beers at the Slug and Lettuce so it is a bit of a general crowd pleaser. That is why you see quite a few leaving parties in here on a Friday night along with the stag and hen dos that pass through. In terms of quality, the cocktails are not exactly made with love but they remain a popular item on the menu. The beer range is fairly extensive with some craft beers, but there is a lot of emphasis on the popular brands of lager.
- 2 for 1 cocktails all day every day
- Special deals for stag and hen parties
- 2 bombs for £6
Average Prices: Cocktails £9.50, Beer £5, Wine £5 (175ml)
Turtle Bay is another chain bar and restaurant we discovered for the first time in York. It is mostly Caribbean inspired and has a cool, relaxed vibe. We have never eaten there, but we have been for a drink in the front section where most people hang out later in the evening.
Just like the décor, the menu has a very strong Caribbean influence with a range of cocktails (mostly featuring rum) and a few select beers brewed by Turtle Bay. We’re not so keen on rum so we tried a couple of the beers – one Caribbean Craft Lager and one Island Records Session IPA – which were nice but nothing to write home about. The cocktails looked good and seemed to be prepared with attention to detail, something we appreciate. We would like to go back to try out the menu because we think there are plenty of cool things to try and you can find something completely different to the usual pub grub in York. We will be back!
Special Offers: 2 for1 cocktails during happy hour (except from 7 pm to 9:30 pm Sunday to Thursday and from 7 pm to 10 pm Friday and Saturday)
Average Prices: Cocktails £7, Beer £4, Wine £5 (175ml)
We mentioned the Botanist in our restaurant section, but we also think it is worth mentioning here. It serves great cocktails using good-quality ingredients. It is one of the more expensive cocktail bars in York but it is also one of the best. If you’re a fan of live music and excellent drinks, you will love it here!
Average Prices: Cocktails £8, Beer £5
The Best Bars and Pubs in York
Trembling House of Madness
You could easily walk straight past the Trembling House of Madness on Stonegate thinking it is a basic beer shop. While it might sell beer, it is far from a basic shop. This is one of the biggest beer shops we have ever seen (outside of Belgium) in terms of choice. If you’ve ever tried a beer and never found it again, you will probably find it amongst the 900 ales here. Anyway, enough about the shop because the real treasure is upstairs in the pub.
That’s right, there is a medieval pub just above the shop that very few people know about. It is everything you could ever want from a medieval ale house: stuffed animals decorate the walls and staff with a good sense of humour serve a selection of craft beers and ales you’ve never heard of. It goes without saying that if you don’t like beer, don’t go here. We, on the other hand, love a good pint so we will be back!
Note: There is a second Trembling House of Madness located on Lendal that we have never tried.
The promise of a rooftop terrace with views of York Minster lured us into The Habit. There most certainly is a rooftop terrace, but it is tiny and only has partial views of one of the world’s most magnificent cathedrals. While the terrace failed to impress, we did enjoy the local feel of The Habit and the many local artists that perform there daily.
The bar selection is also impressive. While the choice is limited to under 10 beers, you are likely to find something you have never tried before. We chose a Gamma Ray by Beavertown Brewery and a red fruit beer we can’t remember the name of, but it tasted too much like Ribena for our liking. Would we go back? Probably. There is a good atmosphere on Friday and Saturday nights and as it’s only around the corner from our current house, it is far too convenient for us to not pass by.
Average Prices: Beer £5.50
The King’s Arms
The King’s Arms wins the prize for the cheapest pub in York. But it is not just the good-value beer that brings in the punters: the pub has a lot of charm and a real old-world feeling that delights both tourists and locals alike. Perhaps the biggest draw is the huge terrace on the banks of the river. You can easily see it from Micklegate Bridge and serves as a great advertisement for passing trade.
The pub is owned by the Samuel Smith’s Brewery, which is renowned for serving the cheapest drinks across the UK. All alcohol and soft drinks are produced by the brewery so you won’t find any big names like Heineken or BrewDog on the menu. That said, the quality of Sam Smith beers and ales is good and we would consider it to be great value for money. To give you an idea, our last round of 3 pints, 2 halves and a G&T cost us $12.50. That is absolutely unheard of in York!
Average Prices: Beer £2.20
There are only 4 branches of The Hop in the UK and all of them are in Yorkshire. It is proud to serve 2 favourites in Britain: Ale and stone-baked pizza. Although it might not be the most common combination, The Hop seems to do well out of it because it is always packed out on a Friday and Saturday. Unfortunately, we have not been to try to pizzas yet, so we cannot comment on the food.
In terms of the bar, there are several beers from Ossett Brewery permanently on tap while everything else changes according to the season and availability. If you’re not keen on cask ales, you will also find some big-name lagers and everything else you would expect to find in a normal pub (wine, softs and spirits). Live music creates a relaxed yet fun atmosphere with acts playing every Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday night. We made a terrible choice in terms of beer and tried a grapefruit infused number. We were not at all impressed but that is no reflection on The Hop itself. We will be back to try something else!
Average Prices: Beer £5
Inspired by box parks and shipping installations across Europe, the co-founders of Spark have created a community space in York for local talent. While there is an event space for meetings and workshops, the most interesting aspect of Spark is the huge choice of street food vendors selling dishes from every corner of the world. Nowhere else in York can you find a Thai restaurant, next to a fried chicken joint and a waffle bar.
We have tried a couple of the vendors at Spark, a crêpe stand and the waffle bar. Both were good, even if the texture of the crêpes was not quite like the ones we used to get in France, the flavour was better. There are also several bars, some specialising in craft beers and others doing a bit of everything. You should expect to pay a little more than the average pub in York, but as you’re supporting an up-and-coming local business, we don’t mind so much.
Average Prices: Crêpe £6.50, Waffle £4, Beer £4.50
York Nightlife – Clubs and Dancing Pubs
On the ever-popular Little Stonegate, Kennedy’s Bar is one of the liveliest bars in York, so much so it can almost be considered as a nightclub. It stays open until the early hours of the morning, which most young people are happy about, except for those trying to get some sleep in the hostel next door. If you’re looking for a drink with a bit of atmosphere but without all the crazy dancing, head upstairs to the rooftop terrace.
Kennedy’s does serve food but we have only ever had a drink there. The choice of drinks is what you would expect from a hostel: mostly well-known brand names with the odd ale thrown in for good luck. At the end of the day, most people go to this bar late at night for the atmosphere, but it would also be nice to sit on the terrace one afternoon with a cocktail.
Special Offers: Happy hour is from 4 pm Sunday to Thursday with the following deals:
- Small glasses of wine from £3.10
- Beers from £3
- 2 cocktails for £7.95
- 1 bottle of prosecco for $15 (Fridays only)
Average Prices: Cocktails £7, Wine £5 (175ml)
We were lured into Jalou purely because it is a church that has been transformed into a bar/nightclub. We went around 10 pm for a nightcap and the place was busy, but not so rammed that you couldn’t move. It is popular with everyone from couples to groups of friends and the many stag and hen parties in York. While there is some seating available, a dance floor takes up most of the space, pushing Jalou into the nightclub category.
On that note, the bar is what you would expect from a nightclub. Most beverages are what we would consider as ‘easy drinking’ so don’t expect many ales or craft lagers here. That said, there is a bit of choice outside of the usual European names, and everyone would find something to whet their appetite. We are not sure we would go back but that is only because we are not the dancing type. There is no doubt that this is a great place for a good old boogie with your mates!
Average Prices: Beer £3.50