The best restaurants in Canberra

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Tuesday Takeout - Dash Rumble

Pilot owner Dash Rumble at the entrance to the popular Ainslie restaurant, one of Canberra’s most recommended restaurants. Photo: Lean Timms

Who doesn’t love a night out for dinner? Whether you’re celebrating with loved ones, exploring the city, or you just don’t feel like cooking tonight, heading out to a restaurant for dinner can be a fantastic way to spend an evening.

Canberra boasts an incredible foodie landscape, with popular restaurants and hidden gems in all corners of the capital, and all as amazing and delicious as the next. But with such an overwhelming array of restaurants to choose from, how can you possibly decide on the perfect one?

In this article, we’ll help you do just that. We’ve put together a list of some of the things you should keep in mind when looking for a great restaurant, as well as a guide to just a handful of Canberra’s absolute favourite restaurants.

What makes a great restaurant?

There’s a lot that goes into a quality dining experience. Look out for these traits in the restaurants you visit to decide if they’re really the best:

  • Atmosphere. Atmosphere encompasses many things, but really it comes down to how good you feel being at the restaurant! From the interior design, the comfort of the furniture, music & ambience, crowd and hygiene, the atmosphere of a restaurant can really make or break your experience.
  • Service. The service is the face of the restaurant, and truly great venues know that proper service can be the key difference between a happy customer and an unhappy one. By being helpful, friendly and accommodating, waitstaff can guide you through your evening and make sure your experience is memorable.
  • Quality ingredients. Menus can be anything the owners and chefs want – they can be simple, traditional, classic or experimental, but the dishes are nothing if the ingredients aren’t high-quality. The best restaurants source their ingredients from trusted local suppliers to make sure that the food they serve is the best it can possibly be.
  • Drinks. The drinks that a restaurant serves are just as important as the food itself. Whether it’s comprehensive wine list, a few interesting house cocktails, or a good selection of teas and other non-alcoholic options, great restaurants know that a tasty drink can truly elevate the entire dining experience.
  • Value. Restaurants vary in terms of price range, but “expensive” does not always mean “better” anymore than “cheap” means “worse” – it’s all about value. The price you pay for your evening should reflect the quality everything we’ve already listed. No one wants to pay top dollar for less-than-excellent food or service!

The best restaurants in Canberra

RiotACT’s editorial team has combed through 20 years of on-site comments to compile a list of the most recommended businesses according to you.

To be listed in our Best of Canberra series, each business needs to have consistently received positive feedback on RiotACT and Facebook as well as maintaining a minimum average of 4/5 stars on Google.

Les Bistronomes

Les Bistronomes serves up a gorgeous menu showcasing the very best of local produce and modern French cuisine. Situated in the heart of Campbell shops, the fine dining restaurant offers all the delicious classics, including escargots, bouillabaisse, and their chef’s take on crème brûlée. Perfect for an intimate dinner, birthday celebration, or work function, Les Bistronomes is a must-visit for those that adore French food.

Dion Warnock wrote the following Google review after their recent visit to Les Bistronomes, “Stunning French bistro. Excellent service. Great atmosphere. We will be back.”

Ottoman Cuisine

Ottoman Cuisine brings Istanbul to Canberra as the most awarded restaurant in town, having served Canberra for over 28 years. In an elegant art deco pavilion with large windows surrounded by gardens and water features, an amazing menu of traditional Turkish cuisine all at an affordable price, as well as packages available for large functions, Ottoman Cuisine is the perfect destination for couples and parties alike.

As happy customer Aspasia Markakis writes in their Google review, The food was mouth-watering. The staff were amazing especially our head waitress Gabbi. The setting was beautiful and peaceful. I would highly recommend either a meal or like us a party at the restaurant. All my guests could not speak more highly of the food and service.”

Pilot

Pilot is all about pushing boundaries, and yet always keeps it simple. In their small and stylish dining room Pilot serves a regularly changing set degustation menu of pared-back yet complex dishes and produce that the team is as excited about as you are, plus a wine and spirits list featuring only Australian bottles.

Google reviewer Alexandra DeWitt left this review for Pilot, “Did the 8-course degustation and it was truly magical. The staff were so attentive, and the food just blew our minds. Highly recommended, everyone needs to try this place!”

White Chaco

A true hidden gem and local favourite, White Chaco is mastering the art of Asian fusion cuisine and cosy dining, all at an affordable price. Their unique blend of Taiwanese, Japanese and Chinese cuisine yields one of the most intriguing and undeniably delectable menus in Canberra right now, featuring ramen, soup dumplings and bao like you’ve never had them before.

As Google reviewer Nat writes, “Amazing food and lovely service. Would 100% recommend the visit to white Chaco. It’s a perfect mix of Japanese and Taiwanese foods. Loved the popcorn chicken and ramen”.

The Italian Place

If you’re looking for a classic, pared-back, comforting atmosphere, delicious Italian food, and passionate and friendly service, look no further than The Italian Place. Run by hospitality veteran Tony Lo Terzo and head chef Francesco Petrillo, this cosy and inviting bistro specialises in rustic classic Italian dishes from regions all over Italy, made with handmade pasta and locally sourced ingredients.

As Google reviewer Mazine Ambler writes, “Absolutely love The Italian Place. Fabulous location. Spectacular food and wonderful service. I can’t recommend this place enough.”

Handmade pasta Braddon

You can dine in on great handmade pasta at The Italian Place, or pick up a box to prepare at home from its providore.

If you’re looking for more restaurant recommendations, check out our articles on the best French restaurants, Chinese restaurants and the best fine dining in Canberra for some helpful guides.

For more relaxed dining options in Canberra, you might like our article on the best pubs, the best gastropubs, and the best steakhouses Canberra has to offer. And, should you fancy a tipple perhaps the best cocktail bars or the best wine bars may also be of interest.

Your experience with restaurants in Canberra

Thanks to our commenters who have provided insightful feedback, if you believe we have got it wrong, please let us know.

Have you had experience with any of the restaurants listed above? Have we missed your favourite? If so, please share your feedback in the comments below!

Frequently Asked Questions

Does Canberra have a restaurant district?
Canberra is lucky enough to have so many restaurants all over town that there is no singular restaurant district. That being said, areas like the CBD and the suburbs in the Inner South (Barton, Manuka and Kingston, for example) have a relatively high concentration of restaurants.
Can any restaurant cater to my dietary requirements?
Usually, yes! If, for example, you're gluten free, dairy free, or vegetarian, most restaurants will have a few options for you. It's probably a good idea to call ahead of your booking just to make sure, and also to inform them of your dietary requirements so that they don't have to improvise something for you when you arrive, and can instead make sure you enjoy your meal as much as possible.
How long can I stay at my table in a restaurant?
Depending on the venue, most restaurants will expect to turnover a table at least twice a night, which should give you a maximum of two hours to finish your meal. When you make your booking, ask the restaurant about seating times to find out how much time you have for your meal.
Can I order takeaway from restaurants in Canberra?
Not every restaurant offers takeaway, but some absolutely do. Before calling and asking, check the restaurant's website or social media and find out if takeaway is available.
Do I have to book before going to a restaurant?
While most restaurants try to leave a few tables available for walk-ins, it's good restaurant etiquette for you to book at least 12 hours ahead of time - not only does this make it easier for you to plan out your evening, but the restaurant will also be able to guarantee you a table. If you turn up to a restaurant without a booking, there's no guarantee that you will be seated, especially if you're out on a busy night.

What's Your Opinion?


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239 Responses to The best restaurants in Canberra
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Cazazo Cazazo 6:22 pm 10 May 12

I know this thread is dormant for quite some time, but I did go with my wife to the Pistachio in Torrens and boy that was nice!!! The service was impeccable and what a great food!
http://pistachiodining.com.au/

Alex1 Alex1 7:54 pm 05 Oct 11

Con’s seafood in Mawson. Great service.

Clown Killer Clown Killer 7:04 pm 05 Jan 11

Holden, I’ve heard of others who have had similar experiences at the Italian & Sons. I’ve eaten there about half a dozen times and have always been lucky enough to experience exceptional food and service. The food has always been wonderfully executed … the beef rib cooked in the wood-fired oven is not to be missed and I particularly enjoy exploring their selection of Italian wines. That said, it is just a bistro so comparing it objectively with the likes of Aubergine, Waters Edge and the like is problematic.

You’re right about the early sitting thing though. Whilst I’ve never experienced that at Italian & Sons (my bookings have always been for after 8.00pm), it’s a business modle common in Europe that’s increasingly popular here. I have no problem at all if I’m told when I book, as you know what the deal is from the get-go. To be honest I actually prefer the US approach – that you own the space so long as you keep spending at a sufficient rate.

Holden Caulfield Holden Caulfield 5:05 pm 05 Jan 11

Have been to Aubergine, Lanterne Rooms, Waters Edge, Italian & Sons since this thread started.

A big tick to Aubergine.

A big tick to The Lanterne Rooms.

A big tick to Waters Edge.

A moderate tick to Italian & Sons – the food is generally very good, but the service is very hit and miss. Especially if you’re unaware you are in the early session and forced out for the next sitting. Fair enough if you know that going in, but finding out by being told you only have 10 mins for dessert is piss poor. Even more piss poor when it takes 10 mins before someone is ready to take your money. We should’ve walked out, FFS!

Mess Mess 2:02 pm 05 Jan 11

Francisco’s in Manuka does great Mexican food, massive servings as well.

3Jane 3Jane 10:02 am 24 Oct 10

This Chinese/Malaysian place is popular for take-away, but the food is much better sit-down.

It’s the Iron Chef in Mawson Place, Mawson, where the laksa is excellent (although the tofu is not juicy the way I like it). I’ve had other very good dishes there too, much better since the old management under which it was called the [Something] Wok.

I like to eat in there because it opens at 5pm for dinner, it’s roomy, inexpensive, and we always get the same waitress (a family member I assume) who is friendly to our child.

PS. If you are going to get take-away from the Iron Chef or the pizza place next door, please DO NOT park in the “disabled” parking space unless you are displaying a current Mobility Parking Permit which has been issued for you. There are people who need that carpark, and can’t use it even if you are parked there for ‘just a minute’, or you are parked there and sitting in your car. If you can walk across the road, there is a carpark there which has lots of spaces in the evenings.

Pommy bastard Pommy bastard 10:15 am 25 Sep 10

I had my first visit to “Grazing” at Gundaroo last night. Pretty impressed, a few small niggles, but otherwise a positive impression.

The good.

The food was innovative, delicious, well presented, and interesting. I would have settled for a smaller entre and a bigger main, or at least a main with more side dishes as standard not extras. Service was not overly fast, but not slow to the point of being a drag, and it goes as read that a good meal should allow for conversation and digestion between courses. We all had the wines recommended for each dish, and were suitably impressed. Cost was what I would expect to pay for a meal of that quality, neither cheap nor expensive. Décor was pleasant, though the art works on view were not to my taste, being modern, but at least they were unobtrusive. (Forgive me if I do not rhapsodise about the age of the building, my house in the UK is older.)

The niggles.

We were sat in, as were three other tables, what can only be described as a corridor. As we were eating early this meant that we were constantly interrupted by passing arrivals and wait staff. (If we had booked earlier I’m sure we would have had a better table and this then would not have been a problem) When I have the recommended wine for a meal, I like the wine to arrive before, or with, the course, not half way through it. The wine recommended for my main should have been a bit more full bodied.

Still, all told, a good and very enjoyable dining experience, one I would not hesitate to recommend and will definitely go to again.

7/10 (addressing my niggles would put it up to a solid 8.5/10)

Dacquiri Dacquiri 11:51 pm 16 Jul 10

Interesting that Green Herring didn’t get a mention. It used to be pretty nice — in terms of atmosphere & menu — for a special occasion dinner. Maybe not the case any more??

Anna Anna 9:59 am 06 Jun 10

dr. faustus said :

Rubicon in Griffith is great – one of my personal favourites. Book well ahead.

OnRed is actually really good. Mrs faustus, who is far more of a foodie than myself, declares OnRed to be her favourite restaurant in Canberra. Not expensive, great food, and the service has been fine every time we have been there.

Benchmark Wine Bar is an oft-overlooked, but excellent, Canberra restaurant. They have the best list of wine by the glass of any restaurant I’ve been to in Canberra (not surprising, really), but the food is really good too. And the deserts are a real treat.

We’ve only been to Aubergine once since it changed hands, and it was fine, but not as fancy as it used to be. I’d probably pick Rubicon over Aubergine for Griffith, however.

Waters Edge was really disappointing. The food was okay (except for one desert which was seriously undercooked), but the service was appalling. I wouldn’t go there again in a hurry.

We’ve always had good experiences at Courgette and Mezza Lira in Civic, but have heard no shortage of horror stories about service from others.

We ate at Pulp Kitchen last weekend. The food was nice, but I don’t really think it’s intimate enough for a special occasion dinner (depending on what you like, I guess). Food was good, as was the service, and it was surprisingly inexpensive.

If you’re interested in lunch, rather than dinner, Silo in Griffith do really good dining in. Again, some people have experienced bad service there, but we’ve always had great service there. But maybe we’re just good customers 🙂

5

Anna Anna 9:56 am 06 Jun 10

justin heywood said :

hellspice said :

+1 for Maestral in Weston, liked it so much we went there twice in 2 weeks !

Don’t write about Maestral HERE hellspice! The place is only small and it’s busy enough as it is!

.

1

Anna Anna 9:53 am 06 Jun 10

My favourite restaurant is Maestral at Weston Creek. Beautiful food, excellent service, right price. Not many restaurants in city are like this one. You are allways warmly wellcome and looked after. Well done Maestral!!!

Holden Caulfield Holden Caulfield 12:10 pm 13 Apr 10

Eby said :

Holden Caulfield, it would be great if you could let us know what you think of Onred.

A bit late with the reply, but never mind.

On red was quite good. I personally wouldn’t place alongside my previous faves of Anise and Aubergine. But the menu provided lots of appealing options, if a little OTT on the adjectives.

My meals were all nice and I enjoyed them, especially the blue eye cod main—highly recommended. My entrée seemed a little bland which was some feat given it contained asparagus, deep fried egg, radish and lamb prosciutto, but I still enjoyed it. Chocolate mousse for dessert was yummo, so too the drunken ice cream.

Mrs Caulfield didn’t enjoy her meals as much, though. Her prawn and goat cheese tortellini for entrée was her pick. She had a confit of chicken with smoky bacon and parsnip mash (among other things) which looked great and started off well, but became a bit too over powering after a while. There was a lot of it, too, which is not always the case with fine dining. She had a passion fruit curd and meringue dessert which, again, looked really delicious. But the curd was very, very rich which tended to spoil the other ingredients.

Overall, though, it was a nice night out and the service was perfectly adequate. The view is very nice, too, of course. I’d definitely go again if circumstances arose, but I wouldn’t book it ahead of Aubergine.

Lazy I Lazy I 1:48 pm 01 Apr 10

I thought Onred was excellent on both occasions I ate there.
http://www.onred.com.au/

Delissio in Curtin, also good for gourmet Pizza
http://www.delissio.com.au/pages/index.asp

2602 in Ainslie for seafood
http://www.2602.com.au/

If I am chasing some quick good quality Indian, Indian Affair in Phillip is excellent too.
http://www.indianaffairrestaurant.com/

westyonline westyonline 5:01 pm 25 Mar 10

Timmy’s/Sammys Kitchens (Manuka/Civic)- Great Tai/Malaisian cusine…You cant be serious. Yes,sammys is cheap,quick and tasty,but the service is crap,the food is bog ordinary chinese and they use a s%#tload of MSG(My body does’nt lie!).This does not portray the hallmarks of a “Fine Dining Experiance”

justin heywood justin heywood 4:59 pm 25 Mar 10

hellspice said :

+1 for Maestral in Weston, liked it so much we went there twice in 2 weeks !

Don’t write about Maestral here hellspice! The place is small and busy enough as it is!

justin heywood justin heywood 4:58 pm 25 Mar 10

hellspice said :

+1 for Maestral in Weston, liked it so much we went there twice in 2 weeks !

Don’t write about Maestral HERE hellspice! The place is only small and it’s busy enough as it is!

.

hellspice hellspice 3:45 pm 25 Mar 10

+1 for Maestral in Weston, liked it so much we went there twice in 2 weeks !

Deadmandrinking Deadmandrinking 2:11 pm 23 Mar 10

DavoDavo said :

Lillypilly said :

I always love going to Maestral in Weston. Lovely food and great fish

My wife and I used to go there quite frequently, unfortunately it is small and can get VERY noisy. Last time we were there there was a table of four men of eastern european extraction (I’d guess friends of the manager/owner) and they completely spoiled an otherwise excellent meal with their extremely loud and raucous behaviour and talking at the tops of their voices in a foreign language.
I complained to the waitperson but nothing was done and it was obvious the noisy quartet were being regarded more favourably than any of the other patrons there.

We don’t go there any more and can’t recommend it because of the probable noise level, that incident wasn’t the first, we had suffered other noisy people before but that was the last straw.

How dare people of the same heritage speak to each other in their native language!

Anyway, are there any other really good restuarants in the weston creek area?

BimboGeek BimboGeek 10:37 am 23 Mar 10

If you’re a vegetarian Rubicon sucks. I had a plate of lettuce. Nothing but lettuce. Mmm fine dining when the chef can’t even make a vegetarian a salad.

Ottoman on the other hand is my favourite restaurant in Canberra. The main dining room can get a bit noisy but the private rooms are super nice. When you arrive they start by asking if anyone has any special requirements and then they just bring you something appropriate. Awesome service!

trix trix 7:33 pm 22 Mar 10

The Republic in Allara St is a standard slightly up-market lunchtime cafe. Decent enough meals, but they’re really there for civil service lunches. Coffee, being Cosmorex, is certainly nothing to write home about (although at least they can do a decent latte most of the time).

As for Chairman & Yip, I have yet to have a decent meal there. I’ve given up on their over-priced, not particularly innovative stuff. But I do second the Rubicon recommendations and Grazings out at Gundaroo. Mezzaluna is pleasant enough, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to eat there. Sage is great although I’ve had some slightly peculiar service there (understandably!)

I haven’t yet tried the Ottoman and I’d like to. Any good, any one?

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