Food / Wellbeing

Here’s our (non-exhaustive) list of actually cool restaurants in Brisbane

Here’s our (non-exhaustive) list of actually cool restaurants in Brisbane

Brisbane can so often be overlooked by outsiders as not having the kind of 'cool' dining scene that Melbourne and Sydney are so known for. But I'm here to set the record straight.

Brisbane arguably has some of the country's best food and dining hot spots, made even cooler by the fact that they live a little under the radar, and off the beaten food trail for travellers. The trick to finding the coolest spots in Brisbane is to know an insider – and luckily for you, I lived there for nearly a decade and can offer some insight on which places have just the right mix of good food, ambience and great service.

As always, cool is such a subjective term, but we're basing this on VIBE. Of course, the place has to have great food, a killer cocktail lineup and delectable interiors, but mostly these culminate in a certain je ne sais quoi. If you know, you know – you know?

With all this in mind, we have rounded up a non-exhaustive and definitely-not-definitive list of some of the coolest restaurants, cafes and bars we like to frequent in Brisbane. Sure, some of these aren't well-kept secrets – but that's not part of our criteria, now is it? Check out our curated pickings below.


1. sAme sAme (Fortitude Valley)


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Best for: Insanely good food, industrial-chic interiors, slinky cocktails before dinner.

Open:  Monday–Sunday

This is my favourite restaurant in Australia, and I don't confer that title lightly. sAme sAme is nestled in to the dining precinct on James Street (just opposite The Calile) and serves up a menu of mouth-watering contemporary asian-fusion dishes. The bao buns are a MUST, as are the curries on rotation. The menu changes seasonally depending on what's fresh, and if you're early for your reservation, you can seat yourself at their upstairs bar, LOS, for a couple of sultry cocktails before your table is ready.


2. IL MOLO (Bulimba)

Best for: Aperitivo hour, riverside dining, last-minute pizza lunches.

Open:  Wednesday–Sunday

Open for lunch and dinner, this little indoor-outdoor Italian spot can be found just steps from the Bulimba ferry dock, overlooking the Brown Snake (which, from this vantage point, actually looks quite picturesque somehow – maybe it's influence of a few Aperol spritzes). IL MOLO is perfect for an late-arvo-to-evening drink and feed – or for some pepperoni pizzas and a crab and saffron risotto. It's usually not too difficult to get a last-minute booking in here, and walk-ins are encouraged. Best enjoyed on a sunny day of course.


3. Florence (Camp Hill)


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Best for: Sweet treats, birthday brunches, suburban coffees.

Open: Daily

Florence cafe is a popular suburban coffee spot for good reason. It has photogenic interiors, even more photogenic baked goods on display, and hosts the occasional degustation luncheon on Sundays. It's a gorgeous spot for special occasions, or for everyday coffee runs if you're in the area – they even have a pantry wall of house-made condiments that you can purchase for your own breakfast endeavours. Sorry to tell you, but you'll be fighting the urge to take home a few extra sweet treats each visit.


4. Felix for Goodness (CBD)

Best for: Before-work breakfast dates, fresh made condiments and treats.

Open:  Daily

If you're working in the city (or you just happen to be there during the day), then I'd highly recommend stopping into Florence's sister cafe – Felix for Goodness. It's tucked into the now-bustling Burnett Lane, and dishes up a menu centred on seasonal and local produce, and great wines for lunch. The staff are lovely, as are the vibes.


5. Himalayan Cafe (New Farm)

Best for: Cloud-like bread, vegan-friendly meals, Nepalese ambience.

Open:  Tuesday–Sunday

The Himalayan Cafe offers an opportunity to steep yourself in the cuisine and culture of Nepal, through a delicious and affordable menu of curries, momos (similar to dumplings), pillowy-soft Himalayan bread and vegan-friendly rice dishes. The space is accommodating for large groups out front, or if you're with a smaller party and don't mind sitting cross-legged, we'd highly suggest asking to sit out in the hidden back area. You'll feel worlds away from Australia.


6. New Farm Deli (New Farm)


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Best for: Afternoon coffees, family-run deli atmosphere, delicious smells.

Open: Daily

The New Farm Deli is a bit of an institution around Brisbane, family owned and runs since the 1970s. It's the city's oldest and most authentic Italian deli and smells about as heavenly as a deli can get. You can opt to eat in, grab coffees from their takeaway window or simply shop their adjacent deli to take home frozen portions of their food (like lasagne or minestrone soup) to heat up at home. I wouldn't pass on the opportunity to sit down to a bowl of their famous truffle ravioli though. It's one of those life changing meals you'll find yourself thinking about time and again.


7. NAÏM (Paddington)


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Best for: Middle Eastern and Mediterranean fusion, Hummus.

Open: Tuesday–Sunday

Serving up Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine in a converted Queenslander just off the main drag of Paddington, NAÏM boasts beautiful views, a supplementary plant-based menu for your vegan and vegetarian friends, and is an ideal spot for a low-key brunch of dinner and a cocktail.


8. Hai Hai Ramen (Paddington)


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Best for: Hearty noodle-y soups, cheap Monday feeds, low-key date night.

Open: Tuesday–Sunday

While it's certainly not masquerading as the most authentic ramen joint on the block, Hai Hai in Paddington doesn't compromise on deliciousness or price. I would head there for their $10 ramen happy hour on Monday and Tuesday evenings, or or a warming bowl of noodle-y soup during the winter months.


9. Botanica Real Food (Multiple)

Best for: Salads that actually taste amazing, last-minute picnic dishes, gluten-free treats.

Open: Daily

Botanica is an incredible little salad bar that punches well above its weight. It offers a curated daily selection of fresh, housemade salads at each of its stores, and some incredibly moreish GF cupcakes too. I'd suggest buying yourself a big box of three salads and taking it to your next potluck, picnic, or swim at the Enoggera Reservoir for an easy packed meal.


10. El Panta (South Brisbane)


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Best for: Vegan Mexican, chilli margs, friendly service.

Open: Tuesday–Saturday

El Planta is a plant-based Mexican restaurant that popped up a couple of years back in South Brisbane. It has a small, seasonal produce-based menu, a fantastic natural wine list, even better margaritas and possibly the friendliest staff in the world. In short: you wont' have anything less than a phenomenal time here.


11. Maker Bar (South Brisbane)


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Best for: Bespoke cocktails, personalised service, slick seating.

Open: Tuesday–Saturday

Probably Brisbane's tiniest bar (unofficial, please don't quote me on that). It sits only around 10 people along the bar, and is super swanky for a date or a late-night drink. Nestled into the Fish Lane dining precinct, it doesn't feel too out of the way, and while it's certainly not a cheap drink, it's cool as anything – and you get plenty of one-on-one time with the bartenders to ask for something a little bespoke or out-of-the-box.


12. Bianca (Fortitude Valley)


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Best for: Instagram pics, ambient lighting, dressing up for dinner.

Open: Daily

sAme sAme's Italian neighbour, Bianca is all about fancy Italian – mood lighting, burrata, cocktails and carpaccio plated so beautifully you'll be itching to add them to your feed. We'd recommend getting some friends together, putting on your Sunday best, and making an evening of things (and definitely book ahead).


13. Ripiena (Fortitude Valley)


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Best for: House-made pasta, superb wines, ravioli.

Open: Wednesday–Sunday

Ripiena has all the deliciousness without the pretentiousness. The wine list is underrated here, with plenty to boast about and great deals to be had. The house-made pasta is rolled out on the daily in-house, and practically melts in your mouth – we wouldn't go past the chance for some filled pasta at this place.


14. Happy Boy (Fortitude Valley)


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Best for: Star-lit dining, wine list takeovers, modern asian.

Open: Tuesday–Sunday

Happy Boy is an asian-fusion restaurant along East Street in Fortitude Valley that has all the making of a fancy night out. It's easy to cater to friends and family with dietary requirements here – with plenty of gluten-free and vegan/vegetarian options on offer. There's also a tops wine list – which regularly has takeovers by local vineyards.


15. Ben's Burgers (Fortitude Valley)


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Best for: American-style smash burgers, milkshakes, post-gig feeds.

Open: Daily

If you look up the definition of hole-in-the-wall, you will probably see a photo of Ben's. It's truly the tiniest burger and milkshake joint in the city, but don't let its size deter you – it packs a punch. It's not the greatest for anyone with dietary requirements (the menu is comprised of around 10 items). But damn, will that vanilla malt milkshake change you. Plus you can meander down Winn Lane to listen in to some tunes from the QUIVR's shipping container DJ booth.


16. Savile Row (Fortitude Valley)

Best for: Speak-easy drinks, lodge vibes, whisky nerds.

Open: Daily

Savile Row is a fairly unassuming bar, marked only by an orange door that backs on to the main street of Fortitude Valley's bar precinct. Inside, it's got all the makings of a classic speak easy from the prohibition era, usually buzzing with people across both of its two levels, with whisky their specialty liquor. However, cocktails and wines aren't too far behind it on the menu, though we'd suggest booking ahead if you're going in on a Friday or Saturday night.


17.  Little Red Dumpling (Multiple)

Best for: Homemade dumplings, Japanese beers, pre-party starters.

Open: Daily

Little Red Dumpling serves some of the best dumplings in town (in my humble opinion), ones with properly doughy wrappers and deliciously savoury fillings. If you're looking for a fun start to your evening, order a shot of Baiju here. You're only allowed one, but for good reason...


18. Mama Taco (West End)


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Best for: Fancy Mexican, Mezcal, frozen margs.

Open: Wednesday–Sunday

Along West End's Hardgrave Road is Mama Taco, an awesome little Mexican place you'll definitely want to book ahead for. They have a great range of seasonal Mexican fusion on offer, as well as some incredible vegetarian tacos (highly recommend the roast eggplant, smokey capsicum and feta). They're also connoisseur of Mezcal – so this is a great place for a classic margarita or two.


19. Vegeme (West End)


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Best for: Broke uni students, Taiwanese cuisine, taking home leftovers.

Open: Daily

Trust me here when I say that this is the humblest, sweetest little vegetarian and vegan asian restaurant in town. Vegeme's cheap and easy Taiwanese cuisine has kept me and my friends coming back here for many years – since our days as humble uni students. If you go, you must order the suji. It's not up for negotiation.


20. Bar Francine (West End)


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Best for: Wine bar energy, seasonal produce, snack plates.

Open: Wednesday–Saturday

A somewhat newer addition to the area, Bar Francine, housed in a converted Queenslander, has all the BIG WINE BAR ENERGY of your favourite joints in Sydney or Melbourne, and with a delicious seasonally changing menu to boot. My only beef with them is that they took the profiterole off the menu. It was one of my top 10 east in Brisbane, easily.


21. Flying Colours (West End)


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Best for: Summer cocktails, alfresco dining, hot spots.

Open: Wednesday–Sunday

Replacing Wandering Cooks (RIP) in the heart of West End is Flying Colours, a low-key but still energised spot for a weekend bit or drink run by the team behind the late SuperWhatNot (RIP also). It's conveniently quite central – in case you're looking to kick on to some of the jazz bars and breweries along Boundary Street, but you can also quite easily spend the night in their outdoor dining area, or inside where you can listen to a local lineup of DJs on weekends.


22. The Burrow (West End)


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Best for: Big Wonky Queenslander Energy, respawn point, beers with friends.

Open: Daily

The heart and soul of West End lives at The Burrow, a spot affectionately seen as a hub for the suburb's community and a great spot for running into old friends. Saturday nights here usually entail some sort of live band out front, and sometimes dancing crowds that spill out onto the sidewalk. There's some easy food on the menu to supplement your evening, too.


23. Lucky Duck (Highgate Hill)


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Best for: Community eats, good coffee, sustainability.

Open: Daily

Lucky Duck cafe is one of those places I wish I went to more often. It's the perfect sunny brekky spot, with a menu that highlights the freshest, most local produce you can probably get anywhere in town. Community spirit is in throes here – and they do the occasional dinner / drinks and DJ nights here too.


24. Ruby, My Dear (Newstead)


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Best for: Listening bars, underground DJs, Japanese-inspired bar snacks.

Open: Wednesday–Sunday

Probably one of the city's coolest new bars is Ruby, My Dear, a cosy spot open Wednesday through weekends, soundtracked every night by a curated lineup of local and international DJs. The atmosphere has the flavour of vinyl listening bars in Japan – and with plenty of Japanese-inspired Izakaya dishes to compliment the vibe.



Over the border? Explore our list of cool restaurants in Sydney.


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