(Last Updated On: February 13, 2018)
Leith is fast turning into one of Edinburgh’s best food and drink destinations. Before you even get into Leith ‘proper’, traveling along Leith Walk, the long, straight stretch of road leading from the east end of the city, will have you trying to decide between around 60 bars, pubs, cafes and restaurants. To help you find the best of that very big bunch, I have weeded out the good from the, well, the just not so good. Enjoy.
The Walnut is one of those under the radar places that you’re so glad you read about before visiting a city, as you’d probably never have thought to try it out if walking by yourself. The unassuming, intimate little bistro will surprise you, in a good way, with top quality modern British dishes and a Sunday Roast that’s one of the best in the city.
Taco’s are king here, and Bodega’s menu rotates a brief but excellent roster of inventive, tasty versions of Mexico’s most versatile dish. Nope, it’s not just black beans and rice, although there’s nothing wrong with that. Here you’ll get choices like tempura tiger prawns, buffalo chicken and Vietnamese Pork. Be warned though, Bodega’s original Leith location is small, with one, long communal table that can squeeze about 20 people along it. You will not get in here unless you book. It’s also BYO, but they do have Mexican soft drinks.
Just a few steps off Leith Walk, this tiny bakery/coffee shop’s doughnuts are worth going out of your way for. Get in early or you’ll miss out on delicious flavour combinations like Pumpkin Cheesecake, Cardamom Caramel Custard or Peanut Butter Cream Cheese. They do other pastries and specialty breads too, but I’m sorry to report these can be hit and miss. Stick to the doughnuts, they’ve not let me down yet.
Word of Mouth
Word of Mouth, a ‘just off Leith Walk’ establishment, is another small place that’s always busy, the kind of neighbourhood café that makes paying extra for breakfast at your hotel a total waste of money. Known around town for their fry ups, their Croque Madame (a Croque Monsieur with and egg on top) and made-in-house cakes, the menu here, with British, French, Greek and Turkish influences, has something for everyone. There’s only seating for about 20 inside but the few tables by the window and outside on the kerb make for great people watching.
The Black Fox
It may be ‘just’ a burger and (craft) beer bar, but The Black Fox impresses me every time with the most consistent, friendly and efficient service I’ve come across anywhere in Edinburgh. But it’s not only burgers, hot dogs and great service you’ll get here. If you’re curious about haggis, but maybe a little apprehensive to try it, The Black Fox also made my Top Stuff – Food and Drink Edition list for their superior haggis bon bons – deep fried, crumbed little balls of oaty, peppery, intestinal goodness. Try em, you’ll love them, I swear.
The Sicilian Pastry Shop
OK, please excuse the cliché, but this place is an Edinburgh institution. Family owned and operated since the 1970’s, it’s supplied cakes and pastries to generations of Leithers, Edinburgers and in-the-know tourists. In an area full of Italian eateries, The Sicilian Pastry Shop is always near the top of any ‘best of’ list. It’s super tiny, always busy and service is sometimes brusque, but that’s part of the charm. It’s cheap, authentic, unpretentious aaaaaand yummy. If you’ve never had a cartocci, prepare for your favourite doughnut list to be expanded.
There’s about six pizza places on Leith Walk, the best of the lot being long time rivals Origano and La Favorita. For a long time they were about equal best in Edinburgh, but so many pizza restaurants have opened in Edinburgh in the last few years, they have fallen down the top list a few notches. But if you’re on Leith Walk and craving pizza, Origano would be my choice, as you get a more personal, subdued experience (dim lighting, candles) here than the super polished La Favorita. If you like antipasti, Origano’s is delicious.
Gaia is a cosy, little family run café where, as expected in good Italian eateries, you will find simple, delicious food done really well. They have pasta and paninis for lunch/brunch (all made with top Italian ingredients), a deli section where you can choose cold meats and cheeses to take home or you can take away a homemade meal prepared that day to heat up for your dinner.
The food and drink is not going to win any awards at (although vegans will be happy with the number of choices for them) and you’ll most likely leave smelling like you’ve been standing over an industrial sized exhaust all night, but if you’re looking for an unpretentious place to drink your beer, surrounded by people from all walks of life and a busy, buzzy atmosphere, here’s where you should head. If movies are your thing, they love movies here too, and as well as posters all over the walls, there’s a couple of huge screens and couches to enjoy regular showings on.
This Portuguese café is known as the place to get Pastel De Natas (custard tarts) that are just as good as what you’d find in their birthplace, Lisbon. But Casa Amiga also has other delicious Portuguese cakes, equally as good savoury choices, quality coffee and great service. There’s more dining space downstairs, so if it looks packed, which it usually does, you should still pop your head in and see if there’s a table.
Home of the Irvine Welsh approved Haggis Burrito, Los Cardos is a party goer’s day-after saviour. Actually any of their other burritos – pork, beef, chicken – are good for a hangover too. Or you could even eat one sober, your choice. They’re also so big they always do me for two meals, but big eaters may disagree.
281 Leith Walk, EH6 8PD
This is a really nice pub little down the very end of Leith Walk. The food is mostly of the fish and vegetarian variety, but don’t worry meat eaters, you’re not forgotten. The quality and presentation of the food at Leith Depot is a step above your average pub grub – for example how does Wild Mushroom Risotto with Herb Oil, Tarragon and Toasted Pine Nuts sound? Or Herb-crumbed Haloumi, Poached Pear, Clementine, Cucumber, Mixed Leaf Salad with Honey Mustard Dressing, Parsnip Crisps and Spicy Tomato Salsa. Ooof that’s a lot of ingredients. As a bonus, there’s an upstairs room with regular live music and other entertainments on offer too.
Stuff to Know:
I must explain for those not familiar with Edinburgh, when I say Leith Walk, I’m referring to the whole stretch of road from the end of Elm Row all the way to the end where it meets Great Junction and Duke Street’s intersection. Taxi drivers would tell you Leith Walk doesn’t start until you get to Albert Street, a good half way down this. But a lot of locals, myself included, just take the lazy way out and refer to the whole road as Leith Walk.