Knowing the way to her inhabitants’ hearts is through their bellies, Brisbane is flush with food experiences you won’t find anywhere else. While many of them can be found in classic dining institutions across the city, some of the best things to eat in Brisbane are where you least expect them.
For without perseverance there is no reward, or something like that. Here’s 12 essential food experiences in Brisbane. Dig in.
Dockside The dish: King prawns and Moreton Bay Bug platter Given Brisbane’s moniker as ‘the river city’, it continues to surprise that there aren’t more restaurants taking advantage of said river and its million-dollar views. The Prawnster, a 1970’s ex-trawler boat moored in the CBD’s dockside, knows that location is everything—and when you’re serving up fresh seafood, the river serves as the perfect backdrop.
One of the best things to eat in Brisbane is the region’s incredible array of fresh seafood, not least because of its proximity to Moreton Bay, home of the Moreton Bay Bug. Order one of their towering seafood platters, complete with Moreton bay bugs, king prawns and salmon sashimi, then squeeze a wedge of lemon over your hoard. Job done.
Fortitude Valley The dish: Kiwami steak Carving out a reputation as one of the best fine dining restaurants in Brisbane, SK Steak & Oyster’s modus operandi is to bring back the old-fashioned glitz and glamour of dining out. White tablecloths, polished silver, a grand baby piano by the bar, and the finest wines and produce money can buy, this is luxury in all its glory. Two dishes you’d expect to be particularly show-stopping are the restaurant’s oysters and steaks. It’s in their name. With a marble scoring of 9+ (translating to ‘outstanding excellence’ in Japanese wagyu rating) SK’s kiwami steak is, by all interpretations, the best of the best. Order medium rare and pair with SK’s side of classic mash and gravy. You will not regret it.
South Brisbane The experience: Authentic Japanese noodle bar straight from the southern island While there are dozens, if not hundreds of excellent ramen joints dotted across Brisbane, when Ramen Danbo opened its first Brisbane store on the southside, it was met with much fanfare. A humble Chikushino ramen operation, from the southern island of Kyushu, gained enormous popularity in Japan, and has since become one of its most famous ramen exports.
Their secret? It’s their strict adherence to a traditional tonkatsu ramen recipe; the broth must be made just-so to get its famous silky texture and umami flavour. With only eight dishes on the menu (including one vegan option), Ramen Danbo is the finest example of Japanese ‘ramen-ya’ and should be a must-try on any discerning Brisbanite’s quest for the best food in the city.
Fortitude Valley The dish: Smoked lamb neck, ancho mole, herb salad, garlic yoghurt, flatbread The concept at Agnes is very simple; cooking over open flame and smoke, resulting in a unique dining experience not much explored in Brisbane’s dining scene to date. While head chef Ben Williamson turns the humble vegetable into something that would turn even the most carnivorous, there is something to be said about the cuts of meat coming out of the kitchen – the smoked lamb neck in particular.
Charred on the outside, perfectly tender in the middle, the lamb falls off the bone and is served with house-made flatbread, ancho mole, herb salad and garlic yoghurt, designed to be constructed (devoured) at the table.
Rocklea Markets The experience: Market-born artisan bakery producing some of Brisbane’s best pastries. Making a name as one of the tastiest little bakeries in the Brisbane produce market circuit, Sprout has been wowing tastebuds with its delicious iterations of classic European pastries. A wildly popular 2020 pop-up on Robertson Street in Fortitude Valley only solidified Sprout as masters of their craft—with news of a permanent location to hit James Street later in 2021.
Get your fix of their famous tarts with perfectly flaky, Portuguese-style bases, or their exceptional takes on classics like the blood orange and almond frangipane on sweet Bostock, or buns with peanut butter jam and peanut brittle. Just don’t leave without getting one of their miche sourdoughs to go.
South Brisbane The dish: Breakfast Banh Mi Kiki is doing big things down one of Brisbane’s burgeoning laneway. Operating as a breakfast haunt from 6am daily, Kiki switches gears after lunch, turning into a sexy little cocktail bar, giving the people a classy spot day and night, the clever chaps. Not an obvious place to break the fast, Kiki’s tight menu of all-day Banh mi—a vegetarian option and Laos sausage, with egg and Vietnamese salad—plus a handful of Doughluxe doughnuts and Choquette pastries, make for a welcome alternative to that breakfast wrap you were eyeing.
West End The experience: A pastel-hued croissanterie serving up beautiful flaky creations Quite the departure from NYC Bagel Deli owners, Eddy Tice and Ania Kutek’s Superthing combines Parisian baking sensibilities with a kaleidoscopic fit-out and an equally nutty menu to match. Naturally, the classics—pain au chocolate and plain, buttery croissants—are all present (and perfectly formed), but there’s also eye-catching versions stuffed with strawberries and cream, coated in lashings of hazelnut sauce, or dusted with matcha. There are also little gems like kouign-amaanns, cruffins, and croissant dough buns stuffed with vanilla custard for when you need a sweet fix.
Fortitude Valley The dish: Char sui bao Brothers and owners of Brisbane dining institution, Happy Boy, Cameron and Jordan Votan kept it in the same culinary vein for their follow up venture, Snack Man. Residing right next door to Happy Boy, the original concept was to support to overflow of customers, keeping diners suitably satiated with their enticing menu of natural wines and a few snacks before their booking over at Happy Boy. As it happens, and in typical Votan fashion, Snack Man is equally as successful, having evolved into a dining destination in its own right.
The selection of small plates on offer means technically, you could, and should, get a bit of everything. But the one non-negotiable is the Char Sui Bao. All steaming, pillowy soft goodness filled with BBQ chicken, your choice of being steamed or fried. Okay, two: the Yan Si ji crispy chicken ribs are too good to pass up.
East Brisbane The experience: A tiny 18-seater Japanese restaurant specialising in the exceptionally rare cuisine of kaiseki.
The height of Japanese haute cuisine, Kaiseki is more than a meal—it’s an art form. The simplest description of ‘kaiseki’ is a traditionally prepared Japanese meal comprising of many small dishes, but to belittle centuries of tradition and its deep ties to Buddhism would be remiss. So rare is this particular style of Japanese cooking in Australia, Shunsai is the only restaurant of its kind in the city.
Owner and head chef Shun Mori has recreated the exact look and feel of a traditional kaiseki restaurant in East Brisbane’s Wellington building, offering a selection of set-course menus as is the cuisine’s tradition. Grilled eel, handmade sushi, perhaps some satsuma wagyu (with an eye-popping MB+12 score), each dish is meticulously presented and accompanied with sake or plum wine. Guests sit along the bar (akin to a chef’s table environment), where dishes are skilfully prepared in front of you by Mori himself. Special doesn’t even begin to cut it.
Fortitude Valley The dish: Roasted pork belly pad see ew, with pickled chilli A marriage of old and new, Same Same showcases the very best of Thai cuisine, serving reimagined classics that show off the diversity and complexity of Thai food. The Richards and Spence-designed space is a light-filled palette of beige marble and vast ethereal-like ceilings; a striking contrast to the explosion of colour and flavour in Same Same’s menu. Perhaps the ultimate comfort food, Same Same’s pad see ew is a turbocharged riff on the humble noodle dish, loaded with salty, crispy cuts of pork belly tossed in short, round, chewy noodles instead of the traditional flat variety.
Newstead The dish: Spicy Boi pizza with extra burrata Pizza, cocktails, and club beats; Commercial Road Public House flips the humble pizzeria on its head, opting for a New York Fashion Week, circa 80s aesthetic. Décor aside, the pizza is some of the best in the city. With only five pies adorning the menu, if you find yourself unable to pull the trigger, defer to the ‘Spicy Boi’; adorned with Calabrian nduja, roast capsicum, capers, basil, and lashings of chilli oil. Ask for their house-made burrata to be chucked on top. A very nice touch.
Brisbane CBD The experience: Sunday champagne yum cha A dazzling Cantonese restaurant overlooking the Brisbane River, Stanley sprawls across its pocket of Howard Smith Wharves, taking in uninterrupted city vistas. Split over two levels of the heritage-listed building, it is one of only a handful of locations in the city where you can indulge in exquisite Southern Chinese fine dining. While Stanley is revered for its Cantonese-style roast duck, Sundays here are dedicated to yum cha and champagne – and Brisbane loves a long lunch. Designed by head chef Louis Tikaram (of EP & LP fame in Los Angeles) a traditional banquet of dumplings and small dishes—handmade prawn har gow, scallop siu mai, xo seafood dumplings, garlic chive & prawn dumplings, and pork siu mai—are served alongside Louis Roederer champagne.
The best restaurants come steeped in tradition. Luckily Brisbane is in full supply of rustic pizzerias channelling Napoli-style dough and candle-lit trattorias, serving steaming bowls of ragu. Whether you want hearty and full-flavoured dishes or modern takes on Roman dining, there’s an Italian restaurant for every occasion.
Here’s where to find Brisbane’s best Italian feasts.
Fortitude Valley If you need to book a long lunch or simply want to indulge in a rich, comforting bowl of pasta, pull up a seat at Gemelli. This large Italian restaurant sits on the corner of James Street—one of Brisbane’s most popular shopping strips—and is the perfect pit stop to fuel up after a long morning of shopping. The menu boasts home-style family recipes and generous servings, including pasta served in bread bowls. We recommend the gnocchi al forno. The pillowy soft gnocchi is bathed in Napoli sauce, topped with buffalo mozzarella and cooked in a wood-fired oven. Don’t forget to pair it with a cocktail or glass of wine.
Fortitude Valley Next door to Gemelli is Bar Tano, the sister restaurant sharing the same la dolce vita approach to Italian food and drink. Stop in for a refreshing Aperol spritz, soak up a sunset, or stay after dark and let loose at a late-night disco. Bar Tano is reminiscent of taking an evening passeggiata through the cobbled pathways of Sicily, where bars and restaurants overflow with personality and exuberance. The food, which includes antipasti and salumi, is by Gemelli, so you know it’s going to be good. As for the bar, it’s charming and intoxicating. An afternoon at Bar Tano will transport you to Italy.
South Brisbane Otto’s signature bright outdoor furniture is hard to miss when you’re taking a stroll on the River Quay Green South Bank. The recently renovated restaurant commands riverfront views making it a destination, not just a restaurant. Most weekends, you will find it filled with locals and visitors, sharing pizzas and toasting cocktails. The menu is packed with homemade pasta and larger mains for sharing. However, the heavily awarded restaurant is best known for its Champagne lobster and bottarga spaghettini—a must-try.
Woolloongabba 1889 Enoteca is the kind of establishment where the servers are Italian, and the walls are exposed brick. Step in and be transported to Rome, with authentic Roman dishes laid out on white Bretagne dinner plates and hosts an extensive and lauded wine list. The pasta is all housemade and can be ordered as an entree or main. We suggest ordering the slow-cooked pork and beef ragu wrapped around pappardelle.
Fortitude Valley Are you looking for somewhere romantic for dinner? Bianca is a beautiful Italian restaurant with waiters flittering around a buzzy dining room. Despite its modern and slick decor, there’s nothing pretentious about the dining experience here. Curly graphics, monogrammed serving ware, and pops of colour keep it light and fun. As for the food, it’s a straightforward menu of snacks, entrees, house-made pasta dishes and a range of main courses. If you need something lighter, you can order from the antipasti section and dig into little creamy bags of burrata, mortadella, sardines, and marinated mushrooms.
Fortitude Valley This unassuming warehouse hides an exceptional 60-seat Italian restaurant serving up an innovative menu drawing on the family’s Italian-Australian roots. Think Moreton Bay Bug risotto, lamb ragu, local grilled fish with fennel, and yellowtail kingfish Crudo. The wine list draws from Australian winemakers and some tipples from Europe’s biggest regions.