The Gold Coast promises sweet surf, pristine sand – and a dining scene that’s making waves. Beyond fish ’n’ chips and caramel milkshakes, there’s brekky salads and bug rolls, all done in a relaxed Goldie way.
It’s one of the busiest cafés on the Gold Coast but somehow Commune retains its relaxed, community vibe. This eclectic charmer has a ping-pong table on Sundays, making it ideal for kids, and a focus on ethical eating (it’s been operating meat-free Mondays since opening in 2011). What to eat? The signature coriander and corn fritters with housemade chilli jam.
1844 Gold Coast Highway, Burleigh Heads; (07) 5520 3377
LOCAL FAVOURITE: Mr Bengel
This blue-and-white little box describes itself as, “your friendly neighbourhood café”, a spot-on summation of this Palm Beach hangout. The food is simple and reliable, from breakfast burgers to Bircher muesli with fresh fruit – and it’s served with a smile, seven days a week.
1099 Gold Coast Highway, Palm Beach
In 2016, this 20-year-old Surfers Paradise stalwart got a fabulous facelift. Now it sports a Riviera-esque fit-out with an easygoing vibe that befits the beachside location. The big breakfast – called Feast de Résistance – will set you up for the rest of the day.
52 The Esplanade, Surfers Paradise; (07) 5526 9994
A temple for wellness warriors, Bskt runs yoga classes upstairs and has a menu brimming with nourishing fare (we like the Bskt Brekky Salad, which comes chock-full of sweet potato, broccolini, pepitas and haloumi). It’s also the birthplace of CocoWhip, the country’s first vegan soft serve.
4 Lavarack Road, Mermaid Beach; (07) 5526 6565
PASTRY MECCA: Bam Bam Bakehouse
Mouth-watering options abound, from bacon-and-egg rolls to Egg Nasi, a spin on nasi goreng. But the real stars at Ursula and Ben Watts’ eatery are the pastries. Their much-loved croissants, including almond, Snickers and raspberry and cream flavours, sell out daily (usually before midday). The entire dining area opens onto Mermaid Park, where the crowd mills while waiting for a table.
2519 Gold Coast Highway, Mermaid Beach; (07) 5526 5218
Riki-Lee Gilbert, the owner of this plant-based café, is driven by a “back to basics” ethos and serves fresh, healthy fare sans refined sugars, artificial colours and preservatives. Order the ever-popular smashed avo with vegan fetta (made with almond meal and tofu).
Shop 1/253 Ferry Road, Southport; (07) 5503 1968
CITY HIPSTERS: Elk Espresso
Wooing locals and tourists with seasonal menus and stellar coffee, this standout eatery recently uprooted from its Chelsea Avenue digs to a bigger and better spot at Oasis Shopping Centre. If it’s your first visit, go for the potato hash with Byron Bay smoked bacon.
Shop 44, Oasis Shopping Centre, Old Burleigh Road, Broadbeach; (07) 5592 2888
SUBURBAN HOTSPOT: Daark Espresso Bar
A short drive from the beaches of Labrador, this slick, monochrome café has been serving damn fine coffee and flavoursome staples since 2013. Top pick on the breakfast menu is the cherry tomato and avocado bruschetta.
42 Musgrave Avenue, Labrador; (07) 5667 9339
TAKEAWAY: Goodness Gracias
Zesty Latin-inspired fare that’s easy on the wallet? Sign us up. This grab-and-go cocina serves burritos, quesadillas, tacos, salads and more. You can eat in – there are a few stools and a couple of Acapulco chairs out the front – but the best way to play it is to head to the beach (250 metres away) for a tasty picnic in the sun.
Shop 1a, 1114-1116 Gold Coast Highway, Palm Beach; (07) 5598 3128
OCEANFRONT: Rick Shores
You can almost feel the sea spray at this Burleigh Heads eatery, which is quite literally on the shoreline. The pan-Asian menu is on a par with the sensational views and includes pork hock in smoked-bacon XO sauce and sashimi with yuzu. The Moreton Bay bug roll with sriracha is the most popular dish but chef Jake Pregnell’s favourite is the twice-cooked duck.
43 Goodwin Terrace, Burleigh Heads; (07) 5630 6611
SUNDAY SESSION: Jimmy Wah’s
It’s popular midweek but on Sundays this Vietnamese eatery really comes alive. That’s when Jimmy Wah’s does $45 sharing-style lunch and dinner banquets; get set for a long, lazy meal.
1724 Gold Coast Highway, Burleigh Heads; (07) 5659 1180
KID FRIENDLY: Currumbin Beach Vikings Surf Life Saving Club
You want straightforward food in a laid-back setting? At this surf club bar and restaurant, the classic menu includes fish and chips, schnitzels, burgers and salads. It’s all served with great views and a welcoming, holiday vibe.
741 Pacific Parade, Currumbin; (07) 5534 2932
ALL-DAY DINING: The Island Bistro
The restaurant opens at 7am at newly revamped boutique hotel The Island. By 11am, the Italian-led lunch menu kicks in and the kitchen gets the tastebuds going with pizza, pasta and rotisserie chicken. At 5pm, the dinner service starts, turning out share plates, steaks and desserts.
3128 Surfers Paradise Boulevard, Surfers Paradise; (07) 5538 8000
GROUP EATS: Social Eating House and Bar
Thanks to its chic dining room, polished service and delicious tapas-style plates, Social Eating House is one of the GC’s top culinary players. Of course, you have to order the lamb shoulder but what about the twice-cooked pork belly? And a charcuterie platter is a must. Our advice? Arrive hungry.
3 Oracle Boulevard, Broadbeach; (07) 5504 5210
CASUAL: Ze Pickle
If a burger always brings a smile to your face, these ones will have you grinning from ear to ear – they’re that good. There are menu options for the littlies and, for biggies, there’s craft beer, wine and cocktails. Settle in – this is easygoing, unpretentious dining at its best.
1/37 Connor Street, Burleigh Heads; (07) 5659 1091
The old Jupiters Hotel & Casino – now The Star Gold Coast – is looking super-schmick since its multimillion-dollar revamp. Dining has taken a step up, too, the pinnacle of which is Japanese fine-diner Kiyomi. Go all-out and order one of executive head chef Chase Kojima’s set menus. For something a bit more casual, Garden Kitchen & Bar (downstairs from Kiyomi) serves sophisticated gastropub fare in an airy, verdant setting.
Broadbeach Island, Broadbeach; (07) 5592 8100
PIZZA AND PASTA: Balboa Italian Restaurant
Exposed brick and chandeliers sound more clash than flash but it works at this two-storey salon-meets-industrial-chic eatery. Another thing that works is the smart menu of handmade pasta, woodfired pizza and contemporary Italian dishes. Balboa also does takeaway for when you want a night in.
1069 Gold Coast Highway, Palm Beach; (07) 5659 2282
FOR CARNIVORES: Harry’s Steak Bistro & Bar
Hmm… what to order? Steak, steak or the other steak? To be fair, there are other choices, including seafood share plates and market fish, but with four cuts of beef on offer, it’s clear what this restaurant does best. Fun fact: owner Adam Haralampou is also the brains behind nearby Justin Lane Establishment, which serves some of the best pizzas in the state, and Mr Bengel (previously mentioned) in Palm Beach.
1744 Gold Coast Highway, Burleigh Heads; (07) 5535 2699
CHEAP AND CHEERFUL : Rainbow Bay Supporters Club
Views from the Gold Coast’s surf clubs are hard to beat and Rainbow Bay has arguably the best. Happily, the kitchen is also a winner, specialising in pub classics and kids’ meals come in under a tenner.
2 Snapper Rocks Road, Coolangatta; (07) 5536 6390
Top image: Elk Espresso