I used to know Big Soc as that hipster American bar with over-priced cocktails and a ping pong table in the back room - and yes, it does have both of those things, but it also has a pulled pork bun to die for and some of the best fried chicken this side of Tennessee. Big Soc has prime Cowley Road positioning to attract both the Oxford and the Brookes crowds, and does so by attempting to rock that Deep South vibe; milkshakes and hot dogs and mason jars are ubiquitous, as well as trendy IPAs from micro-breweries and weird graffiti across the walls. And it's not doing badly. The food is incredibly reasonably-priced for the quality, even if the drinks prices make it nigh on impossible to drown one's sorrows of an evening (unless it’s in a milkshake). They soak their chicken in buttermilk overnight before deep-frying, and their chips may well be double cooked because they’re crispy as heck - and will admit that I a great deal of time for an establishment that provides you with a whole roll of paper towels before you chow down. There’s a patio and a conservatory, as well as a main bar area that gets pretty buzzing of an evening, and many tables of mixed heights and sizes - as well as, of course, the ping pong and foozeball variety.
There are downsides; it's a bit of a carnivore’s paradise and there aren't many options for the rabbit-minded among us aside from their enormous (and delicious) haloumi salad. And arguably the disadvantage to hiring only good-looking hipsters to work the bar is perhaps a less friendly and accommodating service than you can find elsewhere. But it remains a go-to for comfort food that doesn’t break the bank, and a sweet taste of summer for someone who spent her’s between Alabama and Virginia.
Tick Tock Café
Oh Tick Tock. Bastion of Cowley Road brunch. Haven for the hungover. Restaurant for the regretful. I can't imagine ever visiting Tick Tock for anything except revival after a horrible/amazing night at the Wahoo/Purple Turtle/drinking too many little beers with your housemates. The owner always stares at you with the same utmost disdain and pity that you're feeling towards yourself. If you don't choose to pocket your breakfast bap and shuffle home to eat it alone with your hazy non-memories then you'll spend most of the time shunted from booth to booth as the waitresses make their best efforts to show that neither you nor anyone else is welcome to stay more than fifteen minutes. Old men taking up whole tables with a newspaper and a cup of builders' is obviously included in this greasy spoon package deal. The ticking of the thousand mismatched clocks across the wall is deafening, although only about two of them work. The hash browns are always great.
This is the ultimate morning-after-the-night-before hang, and the full English is obligatory.
Oxfork is run by the same crew as the Turl Street Kitchen, an Oxford coffee fave, and has only recently started serving evening food. And it's gr8. It's nestled in deepest Cowley and produces local earth-to-table fare, served by attractive young men with interesting accents in a kitsch candle-lit setting. There's a chandelier made of forks. The menu is rotating and delicious, consisting of a variety of dishes in a Tapas crossed with comfort food format where everything comes out in small portions served in tea cups or on slates. There's a decent student discount and all sorts of perks for ordering extensively - a free dessert with every three dishes ordered et cetera cetera. I can particularly recommend the walnut/squash/goat's cheese salad, and the cheesy potatoes, and the fig and cream yoghurt pot. And the brownie. In fact I recommend everything, but most of all I recommend heading there for a hungover brunch because their charming waiters serve the best Blood Marys in the city. Really lovely eats and atmosphere, one of my top picks.
An institution of the Cowley Road, you'll rarely meet an Oxonian that doesn't praise Atomic Burger. Having recently moved from a narrow little enclave in between Sushi Corner and a hairdresser's, its new larger location explodes out of the Cowley Road line-up with its comicstrip facade and is beloved by townies and students alike. Burgers are listed on the menu by film character - my favourite is the Toy Story-themed Messy Jessie that boasts a killer pile-up of goat’s cheese and red peppers and other such deliciousnesses - and there’s a free side with every main. And though the burgers and hot dogs are pretty banging, it's the fries that are the real stars of the show; the Sophie's Choice between sweet potato fries and onion rings, or upgrading to the impossibly delicious mass of pulled pork, cheese and crispy onions that make up their heavenly Trailer Park fries is a regular dilemma. If spice is your thing then Atomic Burger’s signature (lethal) Fallout Sauce is worth a try - and if you’re really feeling brave, test your stomach against the Atomic Burger Fallout Challenge. Only three people have ever completed it, one of which I bore witness to. (I also bore witness to how he felt the next day, and I don't think he'd recommend it.)
It’s a hot button debate, but I’d argue that Atomic Burger beats Big Soc, Byron and GSK to the title of best burger in the city; but, as with the true American Dining Experience, really it’s all about the sides.
I'm not sure I should really review Pomegranate, because I visited when I was so hungover I wanted to cry and/or die and the world seemed like it was going to end. Apparently the atmosphere here is delightful, but I was very hungover so all atmospheres seemed equally bleak and terrible. Apparently the food is delicious, but I was very hungover so it all filled me with nausea and despair. Apparently everything is reasonably priced, but I was very hungover so I registered nothing but the endless thumping in my brain. Apparently the staff are helpful and the tea lovely, but I was very hungover so everybody and everything seemed awful.
In short I hear it's very nice, I should probably revisit some time.