Holidays also mean good food and drink, taking time to slow down and enjoy a coffee and a cake. There are many restaurants and cafes in Leh during summer, where you can meet people from all over the world and enjoy really good food. That’s why we recommend our guests insteat of exclusively eating at the hotel to go out and experience Leh’s gastronomy on their own.
Before we tell you our selection of good restaurants and cafes, let’s check a bit of general information.
Ladakhi food in restaurants?
One can find almost anything at the restaurants in Leh: Indian, Thai, Chinese, Tibetan, Mexican, Nepalese and continental food. But whoever is looking for an authentic Ladakhi food experience has to search carefully. Even if Skyu or Chhu Tagi are mentioned on the menu, it doesn’t mean that traditonal Ladakhi food is served. The main reason is that most cooks come from Nepal or other parts of India and simply don’t know how to cook Ladakhi dishes. We strongly recommend eating at the guest house (not in the hotel, where the situation is similar to that of the restaurants) or to find a way to eat at a Ladakhi family.
Important: What you should take into consideration before starting
“Wash it, peel it, cook it or forget it”, that’s the rule. Therefore, avoid unwashed, unpeeled and/or uncooked food, at least at the beginning. In addition, when in Ladakh we recommend caution with dairy products, especially cheese! The many power cuts in Leh usually affect the refrigeration and proper conservation of food. Please be especially careful regarding Yak cheese, because it comes – with a few exceptions – mostly from Nepal, and during the transport the cold chain is regularly broken. Once it has arrived to Leh, it is often no longer fit for human consumption. Even the popular Mango-Lassi is at first not very well received by the untrained European stomach. For the meat eaters the situation is similar – meat is hardly cooled and is therefore a source for diarrhea and other annoying bowel movements. Whoever stays longer in Leh, gets used to it quickly.
There are countles German, English and French Bakeries in Leh, but they actually sell just Nepalese food. Not that the pastries, cakes and biscuits aren’t good! No, they are simply not what they claim to be, so don’t be disappointed. (For me, as a sweets-loving spoiled Austrian woman, used to the fine bakery of my homeland, the advertised goods never come close to the original).
Our Top 10 Favorite Restaurants and Cafes
1. Penguin Bar & Restaurant
Our absolute favorite for lunch and dinner. In typical Nepali fashion, the chairs and tables are made of plastic, and the decoration still needs some work… in spite of what this restaurant offers a really comfy and quiet place in the middle of the noisy city. In the shade of apricot and apple trees, you can choose between a variety of Tibetan, Indian and continental dishes, and be served by its noticeably helpful and nice staff.
Our tip: Momos, smoothies, “Schnitzel” (for the stomachs of the children who are not always up to try unfamiliar things).
2. Bon Appetit
Definitely the most chic restaurant that Leh has ever seen. With well designed chairs and tables made of wood! The view is excellent and the atmosphere, relaxing. The restaurant is tucked away, has a lovely terrace and a brilliant interior. The haute cuisine food is one of Ladakh’s best, but has little to do with local Ladakhi and Indian cuisine. Here they are keen to experiment a bit – with a touch of continental Asia.
Note: The prices are slightly higher and the portions relatively small. This is a place for people who have been in Leh for a long time and want to treat themselves to something special.
Our tip: pizza, pasta, the delicious “eggplant tower”, cashew crusted chicken.
Also one of the nicer restaurants in Leh, with no plastic chairs and a (mostly) clean toilet. As the name implies, the food here is mainly eaten with chopsticks. We particularly recommend the Thai food. We would also advise against the Ladakhi dishes on the menu: they rarely deliver what they promise.
Our tip: Thai noodles dishes, fries (really yummy).
4. Tibetan Kitchen
One of the best restaurants in Leh, when it comes to Tibetan cuisine. Very popular in the evening, it is often difficult to get a table, so reservations are recommended. The quality of the food doesn’t extend to the style of the restaurant, though, which also here is of the “Nepal-plastic” sort.
Our tip: Momos, tingmo, Thukpa – all Tibetan!
5. Neha Snacks
Right on the Main Bazaar, there is a small restaurant perfect for those looking for the authentic Indian cuisine. So nothing for those who favor the mildness of European dishes, since Chilli is here a component of virtually all foods.
Our tip: Thali.
6. Tashi’s Tea Place
This is our insider tip, because it’s not easy to arrive by random chance to Tashi’s restaurant. Unobtrusive, not even provided with a proper name, the room has just space for four (wooden ;-)) tables. Tashi, the Tibetan head of the house, is a very friendly lady, and the food served is cooked by her husband in the room at the back. The kitchen is simple, vegetarian and cheap. Not a big choice of dishes, but the food is always fresh and really tasty.
Our tip: kava tea and fried rice.
7. Open Hand
For those who are looking for real coffee. The Open Hand is quite modern and sells fair-trade products from Ladakh and other parts of India. It is commonly visited by younger travelers. We recommend it as a cafe rather than as a restaurant.
Our tip: coffee, breakfast.
With its rooftop terrace, this is probably the most popular restaurant in Chanspa. The variety of the menu is remarkable, with anything from Tibetan to Indian, Chinese and Continental. The breakfast is especially recommendable here. The coffee tastes good too!
Our tip: Breakfast.
9. Yama Coffee House
A very cozy and nice furnished small cafe in the district of Chanspa. It is ideal for sipping coffee and eating cake while watching the passersby.
Our tip: coffee and cake.
10. Ladakh Fine Foods
Our last tip is an insider tip from Ivonne Röthig, who has lived four years in Leh and knows it very, very well. This is one of the few restaurants that serves Ladakhi food. Also located in Chanspa, the small restaurant offers an excellent breakfast, including capers (which grow in Ladakh, but are hardly used by the Ladakhi) and a homemade apricot jam.
You can find most of these restaurants here, in our self-drawn map of Leh: Map of Leh.
Of course, you can find many more tips about restaurants and cafes on Tripadvisor. A little tip, though: Always pay attention who wrote the review – a restaurant that is very popular among Indian guests, not necessarily meets the needs of most westerners.