Best places to eat in Manchester

Manchester has a thriving, exciting – and growing – food scene on all levels, from cutting edge cocktails and top-notch steaks to craft beers and bustling marketplaces.

Bridge over a canal in Manchester

Looking for somewhere to eat in Manchester? Our latest city guide can help. Tony Naylor is ‘the knowledge’ on the Manchester food scene and writes for magazines and newspapers including The Guardian. Here are his recommendations for the best places to eat.

Skewer of food being cooked over stone at ManaRestaurant Mana
Best for: special occasions


Inner-city Ancoats – or as wags have renamed it, Scrancoats – is undergoing swift, wholesale redevelopment, which has attracted a raft of new independent food and drink businesses to the area. Chef Simon Martin’s Mana (28 covers, blind tasting menu), is by far the most ambitious. Simon spent two years at Noma and, like Rene Redzepi, his dishes start at the sourcing stage, in his search for exceptional wild, seasonal, native produce.

Mana both showcases nature’s bounty (key snacks are even served amid leaves and branches), and re-engineers it in exciting new ways. For instance, Simon’s barbecued cabbage leaves dressed with beeswax and a dehydrated scallop sauce, are remarkable – mightily meaty in flavour, yet meat-free. The dining room is a boxy but glamorous space with an astonishing £300,000 open kitchen: a little maze of hip-height cooking stations, from which chefs emerge to serve guests their 18 courses. Menu £105.

Porta
Best for: casual dining, kid friendly

Originally launched in Chester (by Joseph Benjamin-owners and brothers, Joe and Ben Wright), this impeccable tapas bar has now spawned Greater Manchester sites in Altrincham and Salford. The latter occupies a handsome former bank on Chapel Street; walkable or a five minute taxi-ride from Manchester city-centre.

Porta favourites such as Picos de Europa with caramelised walnuts, sultanas and honey (revelatory for those who normally hate blue cheese) or the Presa Iberica pork shoulder with mojo verde, conjure lingering flavours from apparently simple ingredients. A fast-changing list of good value wines from often overlooked regions seals the deal. Dishes from £3.95.

Go Falafel
Best for: cheap eats, kid friendly

For all the frenzied growth of Manchester’s food scene in recent years, the city-centre still lacks places where, particularly at night, you can pick-up good, affordable grab ‘n’ go food. In that regard, vegan Go Falafel is an unassuming lifeline. It very much does what it says on the tin: hot, crisp falafels served with tahini, potent pickles, spiced potato, great hummus and salad, wrapped in satisfyingly thick, chewy Arabic-style flatbreads. It is, arguably, the best sub-£5 food bargain in the city. Wraps from £3.50; city-centre branches, 3 Newton Street and 99 Deansgate.

A sunday roast served at The RefugeThe Refuge
Best for: special occasions, casual dining, kid friendly

Set within the Victorian glazed-tile splendour of the former Palace (now Principal) Hotel, the Refuge – cocktail bar, indoor garden, games’ room, nightclub, restaurant – was created by the Unabombers, DJs and now bar-restaurant owners (Volta in Didsbury, Electrik’s in Chorlton). The duo are experts at creating venues that are simultaneously hip, stylish and unpretentious in a generously northern way.

The Refuge is as much a destination for a family Sunday roast as it is a late-night cool kids’ hang-out. Among the dining room’s small plates, do not miss the blitzed beetroot, smoked feta, dill and hazelnut (a modern Manchester classic), or the halibut ceviche with burnt grapefruit and chicory. Dishes from £5.50.

Where The Light Gets In
Best for: special occasions, casual dining

Ten minutes by train from Piccadilly Station, the Manchester satellite town of Stockport is home to arguably the region’s most exciting restaurant. Hidden up a steep alley in a gorgeous warehouse loft, WTLGI is chef/hippy idealist Sam Buckley’s attempt to demonstrate – no-choice set menus; natural wines etc – how a high-end restaurant can operate in an environmentally and ethically sustainable way, and with almost zero waste.

Sam does this by working with foraged produce, low-intensity meats and seasonal vegetables, often heritage varieties grown on a few acres the restaurant manages in nearby Marple. Dishes tend to a punchy minimalism (mutton, beetroot cream, fermented onions), where every element fizzes with flavour.  However, from a welcome snack of crisps with homemade salt ‘n’ shake flavourings to a recent 'donor kebab' (for charity, made using wild mallard offal), WTLGI is as fun as it is gastronomically nerdy. Menu £90.

Almost Famous 
Best for: casual dining, cheap eats

Love or loathe its loud and lairy, 'in-yer-face additood', there is no denying that Almost Famous is Manchester’s foremost exponent of Frazzle-dusted fries, hot ‘pho-king’ wings and other gut-busting ‘dude food’. Its sloppy, delicious ‘triple nom’ burger with cheese, pulled pork, coleslaw and various sauces, is, on many levels, a guilty pleasure. Burgers from £8.00. 

Lunya
Best for: casual dining


It started life in Liverpool, but Peter Kinsella’s Spanish bar, deli and tapas venue has been embraced at this end of the M62, too. Try the Cantabrian cold smoked anchovies, the sensational Abanico Iberico (a cooked cut of acorn-fed Iberico pork) or the lamb neck fillet served on a bed of Navarian lentils. Tapas from £4.95.

Mackie mayor market in ManchesterMackie Mayor
Best for: casual dining, kid friendly

Altrincham’s Market House, a communal canteen where you can eat from multiple kitchens, has been one of the UK’s most influential openings of recent years, and it now has a large city-centre Manchester sibling in the Mackie. This incredible Grade II-listed building in the Northern Quarter, a Victorian meat market, is now full of similarly impressive food.

Highlights include Honest Crust’s wood-fired Neapolitan pizzas; Fin’s menu of next-level fish finger butties and dishes such as chargrilled octopus with a heritage tomato salad; the amazing Italianate brunch dishes at La Cucina; the self-explanatory Baohouse; and staggering roast chicken and porchetta sandwiches at Rotisserie. Wash all that down with a beer from Blackjack Brewery’s bar or an interesting drop from Reserve Wines. Dishes from around £7.

Mughli 
Best for: casual dining

Rusholme’s ‘curry mile’ is not the draw it once was, but Mughli – hip, sassy décor, on-point food – is bucking that trend. Fans swoon over its street-food snacks, charcoal grilled meats (particularly the lamb chops) and fastidiously spiced takes on butter chicken or dhal makhni, which is slow-cooked overnight. Mains from £7.50.

Yuzu 
Best for: casual dining, cheap eats

With its utilitarian decor and its perfunctory website, this Japanese restaurant is modest almost to a fault – for its food is definitely worth shouting about. Regulars swear by peerlessly crisp, fried karaage chicken with ponzu dipping sauce, the award-winning Loch Duart salmon sashimi bowls, served with miso soup and Japanese rice. Mains from £7.50.

Thai Smiles
Best for: casual dining, cheap eats

Authentic street food in which the four elements of Thai cuisine – spiciness, sourness, saltiness, sweetness – are handled with real skill. Flavours sing in the kow moo dang (roast BBQ pork), a stellar tom yam soup and the dried shrimp-seasoned green papaya salad, som tam. Dishes from £6.

Gorilla
Best for: casual dining, cheap eats

Variously a gin bar, gig venue, club space and kitchen, there is a lot going on at this Whitworth Street railway arch. It’s a great spot for a (potentially late) breakfast – its eggs Benedict is a life-saver. In the evening, mains such as its chermoula chicken kebab with toasted African spiced rub, or its grilled pork chop with celeriac mash offer affordable, reliably tasty fuel for the night ahead. Mains from £7.50.

daal in Bundobust branded potsBundobust
Best for: casual dining

Hidden off Piccadilly in a large basement space (whose skylight windows offer evocative, grimy views of fire escapes and surrounding buildings), Bundobust started life in Leeds but is now firmly embedded in Manchester’s affections. Why? Because its Gujarati dishes, served street food-style in little waxed-paper pots at communal tables, reverberate with arresting flavours.

From its tarka dhal, a dish of seemingly fathomless savoury depths, to the addictive chaat, a sweet and tart salad of samosa pastry, potato, chickpeas, vermicelli and onion bound with tamarind chutney and yogurt. 16 taps of blazingly modern craft beer (warning: some of them crazily expensive), complete this compelling proposition. Dishes £4.

The Creameries
Best for: casual dining

Previously best-known for her Prestwich restaurant, Aumbry, Mary-Ellen McTague is now running this flexible, all-day bar-restaurant in Chorlton (approximately 20 minutes by tram from central Manchester). A long airy, off-white room of chalkboards, chunky tables and trailing plant-life, its super-casual vibe belies the sophistication of the kitchen’s output.

McTague’s style is very now: seasonally driven across daily-changing menus; waste minimising; veg-centric (she only uses game and goat meat); highly creative without any showiness on the plate; and underpinned by plenty of artisan baking, fermenting and homemaking of everything from butter to bacon. Expect dishes as diverse as roast pheasant and whey-fermented beetroot on sourdough to a lovingly tended 12-hour (shredded, roasted, dehydrated) celeriac noodle broth. Dishes from around £5. 

Grub Food Fair
Best for: cheap eats, kid friendly, casual dining

Like many UK cities, Manchester had a brief, crazy infatuation with street food which rather fizzled out as fashion’s changed. But Grub bucked that trend to establish itself as a long-term platform for the north’s best traders. In winter, Grub runs at Fairfield Social Club within Mayfield (a vast site by Piccadilly Station currently undergoing redevelopment), but, May to September, it lives in a part-covered outdoor shipping container yard which, this year, will have two bars and space for six-to-eight traders every Friday and Saturday. Grub's Plant-Powered Sundays, meanwhile, have all your Korean pulled jackfruit burrito and seitan döner kebab needs covered. Note: the bars are card-only, traders still take cash. Dishes from around £6.

Hispi
Best for: casual dining, kid friendly

Under the tongue-in-cheek banner Elite Bistros, chef Gary Usher has created a small group of modern, casual North West restaurants which have excelled with every new opening. The spirit of his original Sticky Walnut – rigorous, painstaking scratch-cooking and baking; deft, thoughtful dish design – is strong at Didsbury’s Hispi, where chef Ryan Howarth dispenses plates of pan-fried stone bass, charred leeks and heritage potatoes with smoked mussel cream and Elite’s signature braised featherblade with caramelised onion purée, crispy kale and sensational truffled parmesan chips. You can reach Hispi by tram, but, in May, Mr Usher will open his first Manchester city-centre restaurant, Kala. If past form is any guide, Kala will soon be King Street royalty. Mains from £15.
 

El Gato Negro sardines on a plate with mayonnaiseEl Gato Negro
Best for: special occasions, casual dining

Owner Simon Shaw previously ran El Gato Negro in a village on the Pennine Moors. Now in this glam, three-storey Manchester complex, Simon’s food has a setting in which it can truly shine. Try the exceptional salad of chilli 'n' garlic-dressed cauliflower & chickpeas, or that winning Mancunian-Madrileño hybrid: morcilla Scotch eggs.

From the elaborate G&Ts and striking contemporary art, to the warmth of its staff and, of course, its food, El Gato Negro brims with colourful Iberian pizzazz. That same charisma can also be found at El Gato’s sister Portuguese restaurant in Ancoats, Canto. Its small plates or petiscos range from those classic Portuguese sandwiches, the beef prego and pork bifana, to sophisticated dishes of, say, braised pig’s cheeks, chervil root purée and kale. Dishes from £4.

Sam’s Chop House
Best for: casual dining, cheap eats, kid friendly

Bizarrely, there are precious few traditional pubs in Manchester that serve gutsy northern grub. Opened in 1872, Sam’s is a treasured exception. The homemade corned beef hash with bacon, poached egg and brown sauce is a classic. Elsewhere, the menu runs the Lancastrian gamut from steak ‘n’ kidney pudding to a fish and mushy pea barm. Mains from £13.50. 

Fat Loaf 
Best for: casual dining, cheap eats, kid friendly

This neighbourhood favourite in suburban Sale is definitely worth a detour – particularly if you have the kids in tow. It's family-friendly (check the kids’ drawings pinned up on the kitchen pass) and from roast wild mallard with garlic brioche pudding to a Lancashire cheese ‘n’ onion pie, it serves consistently well-executed dishes. Mains from £12.50.

Teacup Kitchen
Best for: casual dining, cheap eats, kid friendly

This bright ‘n’ breezy Northern Quarter canteen (co-owned by DJ/tea enthusiast Mr Scruff) serves much more than eggs Florentine, and it’s a hugely popular weekend brunch spot for young families. Having negotiated the pushchairs, you can enjoy sourdough toast with toppings like Applewood rarebit, avocado and exotic mushrooms. Breakfast dishes from £4.50.

Sugo Pasta
Best for: casual dining, cheap eats, kid friendly
The ascent of Altrincham’s Market House has attracted like-minded restaurants to the area, not least this cerebral southern Italian joint. The menu and wine list are short, but rustic dishes such as orrechiette pasta with pancetta, Brussels sprouts, leeks, chilli and parmesan, deliver big flavours. Sugo also operates a newer restaurant in Ancoats in central Manchester. Mains from £12.

Interior at The French restaurant Manchester

Adam Reid at The French
Best for: special occasions

The grande dame of Manchester hotels, The Midland’s restaurant was given a new lease of life in 2013, when L’Enclume’s Simon Rogan took over this iconic space. Rogan has since departed and chef Adam Reid is now in sole control of its journey into the 21st century. Key dishes include Adam’s modish spin on that Lancastrian classic ‘tater ‘ash, and his Golden Empire – a 2016 Great British Menu-winner – in which a golden apple made of sugar is filled with meadowsweet custard, apple compote and hazelnut crumble. Menus from £45.

VNam
Best for: casual dining, cheap eats

Most tourists would ignore rundown Oldham Road, but foodies should root out VNam, a colourful little Vietnamese café-restaurant where the beef pho or the bun thit nuong BBQ pork noodles boast multiple dimensions of arresting, fresh flavours. BYO alcohol. Mains from £7.49. 

Pancho’s Burritos
Best for: cheap eats

Britain loves a burrito, but Pancho’s owner Enrique Martinez goes beyond this Tex-Mex invention. The menu includes topped enchiladas, tostadas and flautas. Details such as the use of cactus as an ingredient or the vividness of Pancho's habanero salsa owe a large debt to his mother's tried and trusted Mexican family recipes. Dishes from £5.60.

Common
Best for: casual dining, cheap eats, kid friendly

Manchester’s Northern Quarter isn’t short of hip bars that serve casual food and classy craft beers. Yet, Common remains a significant cut above. Its frijoles on toast and katsu sando hit the mark, while its maple bacon burger with smoked cheese is one of Manchester's best burgers. Mains from £6.50.

Rudy's pizza - pepperoni with cheese close up
Rudy’s Pizza
Best for: casual dining, cheap eats, kid friendly

Rudy’s cleaves to time-honoured Neapolitan values: 24-hour-proved doughs; imported clay oven; light, puffy charred bases. Although it’s on the edge of the city centre, in Ancoats, you can expect queues at peak times. With its sweet, sea-salt-scattered San Marzano sauce, the buffalo mozzarella pizza is a go-to, but toppings such as Tuscan sausage and wild broccoli keep things interesting. Rudy’s serves fantastic local Cloudwater and Runaway craft beers, too. Pizzas from £4.90.
 

National notables now in Manchester

It is testament to the rapid growth and increasing maturity of Manchester’s food scene that it is the first place that London’s best restaurants look to when seeking to expand up north. Steak restaurant Hawksmoor (mains from £13.50) was first in, occupying an historic courthouse building which is a perfect fit for the group’s butch, clubby aesthetic. The relaxed service has won over a city that abhors pretentiousness and the food delivers, whether you are dropping big money on a grass-fed British rib-eye steak and triple-cooked chips, or grabbing a quick kimchi burger in the bar.

At the end of 2018, Dishoom brought its Irani café vibe and famous bacon naan rolls to a similarly imposing site, Bridge Street’s Grade II-listed Manchester Hall (mains from around £9.50). On the other side of town, in Piccadilly Gardens, busy Shoryu Ramen continues to thrill lovers of pork tonkotsu noodle soups (from £10). 

5 more Manchester foodie essentials

Idle Hands
From cold brew and single-origin pour-overs to the (now) humble flat white, Idle Hands serves exemplary coffee - alongside fine cakes, bakes and brunchy-breakfasts. 

Pollen Bakery
In the New Islington corner of Ancoats, this bakery-café produces incredible organic sourdough loaves and all manner of dazzling pastries, pizzas and dishes from shakshuka to rarebit.

Hatch
Down in Studentsville on Oxford Road, this shipping container set-up is home to Takk coffee, the Öl nano-brewery bar and a rotating line-up of tasty street food traders. Note: some outlets, card-only.

Siop Shop
A site of pilgrimage for doughnut lovers, Blawd Bakery’s hip café is a fine place in which to recharge your batteries after (record/ vintage clothes) shopping in the Northern Quarter.

The Smithfield Tavern
Blackjack Brewery’s Smithfield is the perfect mix: a no nonsense, old school boozer (complete with much-used dartboard and Seabrooks crisps), that also serves thoroughly on-point, contemporary beers.
 

Do you agree with Tony's best Manchester eats? Leave a comment below...

All recommendations have been reviewed and approved as of the 20th May 2019 and will be checked and updated annually. If you think there is any incorrect or out of date information in this guide please e-mail us at goodfoodwebsite@immediate.co.uk.

Image credits: Chris Pople, Claire Harrison, Getty Images

Comments, questions and tips

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Jamie Saunt's picture
Jamie Saunt
26th May, 2019
Very surprised not to see Vero Moderno on this list; an incredible modern Italian on Chapel At, Salford. Their Insta is mouthwatering! @veromoderno Thank me later.
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