Croydon's secret weapon is the ability to pleasantly surprise — and that certainly applies to its foodie scene. Yes, the town is slicked with the greasy likes of Wendy's, Taco Bell and Popeye's, but Croydon also has a wealth of independent restaurants and traders — offering the kind of multicultural bonanza that would cause Suella Braverman to malfunction. Here's our rundown of the best restaurants, cafes and bars in Croydon — we're sticking to the town itself, rather than the entire borough.
Where to eat breakfast in Croydon
Surrey Street's market traders who've been up since the crack of dawn can be found hunched over fry ups in the Surrey Cafe. The Dorchester this place ain't, but at as little as a fiver for a hearty scran, you can hardly complain. For slightly posher nosh, there's a branch of the Breakfast Club in Boxpark, dishing up everything from caff classics, to American style pancakes, benedicts and breakfast burritos.
Hunting out a languorous brunch? The trendy Mr Fox (again, on Surrey Street) will get your weekend off to a banging start with its weekly Saturday Old Skool Brunch (think garage, hip hop and flat iron steak and eggs). Nearby, Caribbean chain restaurant Turtle Bay offers a value bottomless option Friday-Sunday, with lashings of tropical cocktails, Red Stripe and dishes like bacon roti, and mashed avo and jerk mushrooms. The Store — one of the town's swisher eateries, with its vintage Sainsbury's wall tiles still in situ — does Saturday brunches with pineapple waffles, salmon crumpets and Eton mess. Ooh la la.
The best coffee shops in Croydon
Ignore the scattering of Starbucks and Neros around East Croydon station, and head to High Street, where many of the best coffee shops congregate. One of the hippest coffee joints in town is Crushed Bean on High Street (they also do a smashing looking granola if you're still hunting for brekkie). A couple of doors down, Byte Cafe prides itself on its Gentlemen Baristas coffee (and again, is another breakfast option). Elsewhere on High Street, you can pair butterscotch yum yums with your elevenses, at local bakery Coughlans, which has one of its numerous branches here. (That one's takeaway only.)
Just around the corner from all these is the Clocktower Cafe, nestled inside Croydon's Town Hall complex, where your caffeine fix is supplemented with local artworks liberally hung on the walls. Show up on a Thursday between 12.15pm and 2.15pm, and your cuppa will be accompanied by a touch of daytime jazz. Light bites also make the Clocktower another lunch option, speaking of which...
Where to eat lunch in Croydon
You can't mention Croydon without bringing up Boxpark — after all it's staring you right in the mush, as you step out of East Croydon station. It's a strong lunch option, especially if you're in a group who all fancy eating different things. Our out-and-out fave here are the butter chicken paratha wraps from Thela, but no doubt you'll find your own hero dish. Choose from Crust Bros pizza, burgers from Vegan Shack, Caribbean pies from Marjays, Kanji's bibimbap — and so much more. Needless to say, if you're after a quick and delicious dinner before hitting the pubs, Boxpark is a good shout for that too.
Surrey Street is an excellent place to source lunch. Vans and stalls park up daily, serving jerk chicken, Thai curries, veggie Ethiopian wat, empanadas and more — all reasonably priced. For drinks, Joseph's Veg Stall will lop off the top of a coconut so you can slurp from it. Shops lining the street serve up Jamaican classics (Real Flavour Caribbean Takeaway), and Vietnamese bahn mi and phos (Viet 2 Go) and ramen (Oree Mart). A couple of minutes' walk away, on Frith Road, is Cockneys — one of a dying breed of proper pie and mash shops, where we recommend you order double pie and mash, douse the lot in chilli vinegar, wash it down with a sarsaparilla, and feel altogether lovely jubbly.
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A stroll westward down London Road reveals another smattering of lunchy options; among them, Sambal Express, where you can pick and mix various curries, samosas, pickles and rices. An excellent sit-in option is Dosa Kada, which does a roaring trade in mutton curries — washed down with bright pink faloodas. It's also another option for dinner.
The best restaurants in Croydon
When dinnertime rolls around, there are seriously rich pickings in Croydon — not least in its own 'restaurant quarter', which runs down High Street and onto South End. Here, the whole world is at your feet: Turkish classics from Atesh and Zeugma; tandoori lamb chops and lager at desi pub the Crown & Pepper; tapas, and hanging boar kebabs from Galicia; Enish's array of authentic Nigerian dishes, Thai curries at the cosy Siam Town, Sri Lankan fish cutlets and crunchy okra courtesy of Machan Kitchen, an exceedingly good rogan josh from Sangri, burgers, wings and shakes from Krunk Burgers, seafood linguine at Ponte Nuovo...
In fact, there's so much going on food-wise down this stretch of south Croydon, that list is in no way comprehensive. But trust us, if you're hungry, take a stroll in this part of town, and you will find something to fill the hole.
Elsewhere in town, eschew the generic Pizza Express for Basil and Grape — a vine-ensconced trattoria on George Street with funtime vibes (the staff are wonderful), Italian cocktails and delicious Roman-style 'pinsa' pizzas loaded with exciting toppings including one with walnuts and pears. As with much of Croydon, you get real bang for your buck here. Easily missed towards the bottom of Church Street, meanwhile, is Romanian eatery Mahala; its belly-busting stuffed cabbage rolls, schnitzel and mash, and other such comfort grub might just tip you into hibernation.
A special mention must go to Little Bay, on Selsdon Road — a touch south of the end of the restaurant quarter. Opened in the 60s as a Swiss chalet-themed restaurant, this quaint little place is dramatically dolled up as a theatre — all red velvet, and 'theatre' boxes you can dine in. It's a wonderful time warp, serving retro European classics (think prawn cocktails, choux de crab, confit leg of duck) at incredibly good value prices. There's also live opera each Friday, and country and guitar on Saturdays. Quite the coup.
Sunday dinners? Little Bay does those too (for £12.95 a pop!). Elsewhere, away from a handful pubs serving up roasts, the Store's is pretty darned good — chicken, beef or butternut squash wellington with a side of posh veggies. For our money, though, the best is at Mr Fox on Surrey Street — the crisp pork belly we had here was bang on.
The best bars and pubs in Croydon
Croydon's hive of public houses has thinned over the decades, but plenty of trad boozers remain, including the Dog & Bull on Surrey Street (Young's Beer with spiffy stained glass), the Royal Standard (Fuller's in a pretty little local, filled for some reason with owls), the Spread Eagle (a grandish former bank building, now run by Whelan's, and putting on regular plays and comedy upstairs), and the Ship (an ancient inn where all the metallers flock to). The Green Dragon on High Street is all things to all drinkers: a pool table, sports on the TV, excellent cask and craft beer... it even serves a 'crafternoon tea'. All of these pubs, by the way, are within a few minutes' walk of one another. Whoever said you can't have a good night out in Croydon was lying. A couple of boozers of note up the other end of town are the Oval (country pub-esque beamage, live blues, and LGBTQ+ friendly with regular events), and (if you still count it as Croydon), the Claret & Ale in Addiscombe — which is one for the CAMRA folk.
Craft connoisseurs are well-served in central Croydon too, especially now local brewery the Cronx has landed just across the road from the Green Dragon, with a flashy taproom. Add Art & Craft and Riff Raffs into the mix — plus board game cafe Ludoquist — and let the good times roll.
A good cocktail's harder to come by in CR0, but can be found. Memory Box is the most brazenly-marketed 'cocktail bar', although it's only open a few days a week, and the drinks menu tends towards the sweet side. Fern, which opened in 2023, pours classics alongside signature creations, such as their Margarita Verde. You have to go up to the bar for your drink, but maybe that's just us being lazy. Both Mr Fox and The Store have cocktail happy hours too — which run for most of the week. We can vouch for the Store's martinis, to be sipped heartily while admiring those tiles.
And now, may we let you into one of Croydon's great secrets: Bishops Wine Bar. Hidden away in a dingy alley just outside the Whitgift Centre, locating this place is a skill in itself, but if you want to find it badly enough, you will. With horse racing on the TV, a fiercely local clientele, and a resident cat who slinks about like he owns the joint, Bishops hasn't changed since it opened at the end of the 70s, and we love it all the more for it. Opening times are capricious at best, so good luck!