Sydney and Melbourne are known for their flashy dining and drinking scenes, but Queensland’s Gold Coast -- a spectacular stretch of sand fringed by a crown of mirrored skyscrapers -- offers better prices, and a laid-back sophistication that feels more like California at happy hour than New York at rush hour. Here’s a sampling of some of the hippest haunts on Australia’s east coast -- great for when you're hungry after a day of surfing, sunning, or wallaby-spotting.
For the ultra-sophisticate: Palazzo Versace
You don’t even need to stay at this five-star hotel to enjoy its sun-soaked ambiance. The lobby restaurant, Le Jardin, offers a stellar, surprisingly affordable high tea under a soaring glass atrium. Miniature scones, fruit tarts, housemade macarons, and pickled cucumber sandwiches are just a few of the offerings, and prices range from $58 per person ($42 USD) for a standard sampler, to $128 per person ($94 USD) for a tea that includes a glass of Dom Perignon.
Tip: If you go on a weekday, all the teas are $10 less expensive, and you’ll still get to sit on the plush couches done in bright Versace florals, and sip from the designer’s signature china.
For those who want to live like a local: Elk Espresso
Eggs benedict, hearty salads, and a robust burger menu are among the things that keep Elk Espresso jammed with locals all day long. Settle in with a latte, a novel, or your laptop under the hanging planters and pretend for a minute that you’re as permanent a fixture in the café’s eponymous mural, which presides over power-brunching diners seven days a week.
Tip: If you want to make friends, ask to be seated at one of the café’s shared tables.
For the gastropub enthusiast: Black Coffee Lyrics
With an eccentric menu that veers between small plates that punch well above their weight (crumbed brie with marmalade, bread dumplings, octopus sausage) to modern riffs on classic sandwiches (the “Brooklyn” includes five-hour slow cooked pulled pork and cheddar), this darkened space is the place to go for forceful flavor. Excellent cocktails, craft beer, a wall of intriguing old books, and soul music courtesy of the bartender’s iPhone appropriately set the mood.
Tip: The restaurant is tricky to find amidst the tourist jam at Surfer’s Paradise. If you think you’re in the wrong place, you’re not: It really is on the second floor above a row of barber shops, tattoo parlors, and ramen joints.
For those who like music (and shopping) with dinner: Miami Marketta
This is definitely not in Florida. Inspired by Asia’s colorful night markets, the Miami Marketta is a mashup of food trucks, live music, strings of overhanging lights, street art, shops selling art and housewares, and chatty patrons trying to decide between tempura buns or nachos while sipping glasses of wine. The Marketta is open Friday from 5-10 p.m. and Saturday from 4-10 p.m., but the crowds and the music don’t get rolling until 7 or 8.
Tip: Take a loop around market and get your bearings before you decide what to eat.
For those craving a decent burrito...and a haircut: Alfred’s Apartment
Don’t let the bedraggled exterior fool you. This barber shop/upscale men’s clothing store/restaurant/diner is situated in what looks like any other house along the Gold Coast’s Miami Beach. Grab a picnic table and order from the menu of stylized hippie fare; think smashed avocado with eggs and spinach, a haloumi burger, a chicken ranch burrito, and hot dogs (meat or vegan). When you’re full, wander the shop’s impeccable selection of menswear, from vintage eyeglasses to featherweight knits. Gentlemen with a little extra time may want to consider visiting the barber shop for a trim or a shave.
Tip: The diner portion of Alfred’s offers no indoor seating, so save your trip for a sunny day.
For the Italian stallion: Cavalier Bar & Italian
Upstairs from a bustling pizzeria (Justin Lane, which is also worth a visit), Cavalier Bar offers surprisingly sophisticated Italian fare in a laidback space. With mobster mugshots on the wall, red-checkered tablecloths, and bread served (ingeniously) in empty tomato tins, there’s no intimidation factor with this food, despite refined preparation. Try the paper-thin carpaccio with radicchio, the gnocchi with burnt butter and sage, or the pea and mint ravioli.
Tip: Cavalier is located in Burleigh Heads, the Gold Coast’s buzziest food neighborhood -- and its most picturesque. Go early and watch the breathtaking sunset before you head in for dinner.
For caffeine junkies: No Name Lane
If you’re staying in the Broadbeach neighborhood, make this your morning go-to for coffee. Local businessmen, surfers, and tourists rub elbows in this tiny space, all of them clamoring for single-origin roasts, matcha green tea lattes, macadamia nut muesli, and other excellent day-starters.
Tip: If you’re staying in the soaring towers of Peppers Broadbeach, you don’t have to go far to get your morning brew. No Name Lane is in the building.
For casual fashionistas: Commune
If the Palazzo Versace is where you go to show off your triple-figure sunglasses and your new gel manicure, Commune is where you’d wear your new baby doll dress and your vintage Dr. Martens. Covered in ads for local bands and events, and with a central table that’s perennially stacked with the latest magazines and newspapers, this is where you can enjoy a peanut butter banana muffin while learning about a local artist’s Etsy shop. The breakfast vibe is bustling and there’s often live music in the evenings.
Tip: The avocado toast isn’t much more than a halved avocado, thick-sliced multigrain bread, and a wedge of lemon. And it’s the exact thing you need to start the day.
For posh pescatarians: The Fish House
For a quiet dinner with family, nothing tops The Fish House, which boasts a seaside location at Burleigh Heads -- and a view of the skyline -- and a host of perfectly prepared, mostly-Australian seafood. Even simple dishes like whole chargrilled calamari or a lemony fish soup feel elegant and special enough for a special-occasion splurge. Unless you’re dining alone and can sneak in at lunchtime, reservations are a must.
Tip: Chat with the sommelier for the perfect wine or cocktail pairing with your lunch or dinner.