I work, eat and go out in Leeds (I live just outside Bradford, next door). This page is meant to convey a few recommendations about where to find good coffee, food, beer etc when coming into town for the first time.
A google map with these and similar places can be found here.
3 for coffee
Laynes. Small espresso bar with the occasional sandwich and excellent cakes. Not much seating area, but utterly fantastic coffee. It’s on a side street very near the station, just by Friends of Ham (see below).
Mrs Athas. Another great coffee venue, this time with more seating (and lots of plugs for laptops). The lunchtime soups are excellent. Easy to walk pass, so keep your eyes peeled.
Bottega Milanese. Two places in town: one in “The light” (an arcaded street just above the Headrow), one nearer the station.
3 for lunch
Bundobust. Vegetarian Indian street food and craft beer. This bar originates from two Bradford gems: the Sparrow craft beer bar and Prashad (now a fancy restaurant in Drighlington, but originally based out of a converted laundrette in the back streets of West Bradford).
Humpit. Hummus and falafel. Awful name, tasty food. It’s in the Corn Exchange.
Hepworth’s deli. In another of the arcades (Thornton’s)—sandwiches, salads. Very tasty.
3 for dinner
Hansa’s. Vegetarian Indian restaurant (gujarati cuisine). Just great food, different in style from typical UK Indian restaurants. Totally vegetarian and lovely.
Thai Aroy Dee. In a slightly run down location, but the best Thai food I know in Leeds. Decent lunch deals too.
The Ox Club. Part of Headrow house—so you’ll need to keep your eyes peeled for the side-alley off the Headrow that leads to this old factory. Good food, veggie options surprisingly good.
3 for food and drink
Friends of Ham. Next to Laynes, near to the station. Ham, cheese and the fancy end of craft beer.
Belgrave Music Hall. Leeds now has a couple of these venues: cavernous buildings, with a bar + food on the first floor, live music venue on the second floor, and a roof terrace. The food in this case is pizza-by-the-slice and nice burgers/chips. An institution already. See also: Headrow House.
Reliance. Nice food, great beers, slightly out of the town centre with a relaxed vibe. See also: Veritas.
There are also plenty of good places to get good local ale (as well as fancy imported stuff). Any of the above are good; but the centre of it all is the North Bar. Look at for ales from excellent yorkshire mircobreweries like Magic Rock (Huddersfield), Saltaire (Bradford) and Roosters (Knaresborough); and other northern favourites like Thornbridge (Derbyshire); Marble (Manchester) and Red Willow (Chesire). If you want a more traditional British experience, with wooden floors and a mixed clientelle, the Duck and Drake focuses on real ale and live music with a rock/punk focus and the Grove does the same for folk.
3 places to wander around
Corn exchange. Wonderful oval building, now home to a bistro in the open basement area, and independent shops on several levels in the old trader’s offices.
Victoria Quarter. Linking two of the grandest victorian arcades and a high stained-glass roof across a wide street, this features the high-end fashion shops, plus more coffee and cake options.
Granary Wharf/Dark arches. Recently redeveloped area at the end of the Leeds-Liverpool canal, featuring pubs, eateries, water and a cocktail bar on the top floor of the Doubletree hotel. It’s right next to (and can be accessed through) the “Dark Arches”, which are the vaults on which the station sits, and through which the canal flows to meet the river, generating a spooky but cool space.
3 quick trips
York medievalness. Under 25 minutes on the train, medieval town centre with lots of pub, food, shopping options and the spectacular cathedral, York Minster.
Saltaire. About 15 minutes by train, this is a model village at the top of Bradford, with very pretty houses and buildings, a park, and the spectacular Salt’s mill, now home to the David Hockney gallery and a range of businesses, including the best bookshop in the area by far. Try Vicar’s for cakes, and Fanny’s Ale House for beer, and walk up the hill to the Shipley Aagrah for curry.
Wakefield Hepworth gallery and Yorkshire Sculpture Park. West Yorkshire is a conurbation of cities and large towns, pretty much running into one another, of which Leeds is the richest and biggest. In the middle ages, Wakefield was the most important center. 12 minutes by train south of Leeds, it has a fantastic new gallery based around the work of Barbara Hepworth (but with plenty of visiting stuff). The building, perched over the river, is incredible. Taking a taxi out to the Yorkshire Sculpture park, you have more galleries and acres of parkland dotted with sculptures.
There’s plenty more to try. If you have access to a car, the Yorkshire Dales start 20 minutes or so northwest of the city centre. The Peak district is just below. 20 mins away by train, Bradford has amazing victorian architecture (as well as plenty of modern poverty) and was curry capital of Britain for the last two years.