The old joke about Australian cuisine was that a seven-course meal consisted of a six-pack of beer and a meat pie. But in the 1980s, hot young chefs like Neil Perry (of Sydney's Rockpool) and Gay Bilson (who ran Bennelong, inside the Sydney Opera House) blended Mediterranean foods with Asian techniques, added some local produce and prime seafood, and called it Mod Oz cuisine. Restaurant-wise, Sydney is where the flash is, with the country's glitziest chefs. But Melbournians consider themselves the true foodies, and even pub meals there can dip into the exotic. Queensland fare is another story all together, with new-millennium style battling old-bloke tastes. Then again, a meat pie does taste really good with a local XXXX (pronounced "four X") beer.
(Chinese) 17 Market Lane; 011-613-9662-3655. $$$
Australia's best Chinese restaurant. Click chopsticks over Tasmanian rock fish or shrimp dumplings with flying fish roe. The house specialty, Peking duck, is fit for an emperor.
(Eclectic Local) 303 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy; 011-613-9417-3343. $
Nobody has a better time with breakfast than Marios, a small, bustling hot spot where locals pore over The Age newspaper as well as all manner of eggs, hash and toasted foccacia.
Family & Fun Comfy, high-volume Donovans (011-613-9534-8221) offers Tasmanian crayfish, South Australian oysters and that guilty pleasure—beer-battered King George whiting with house chips.
(Japanese-French) 529 Kent Street; 011-612-9267-2900. $$$$
Sydney's most revered chef, Tetsuya Wakuda, fuses Japanese and French high cuisine with enough panache to keep guests panting through fourteen dinner courses. Book at least one month in advance.
(Mod Oz) 229 Darlinghurst Road, Darlinghurst; 011-612-9332-2566. $$$
Salt is a perfect spot for a glamorous night out—chef Luke Mangan is the current champ of Mod Oz cuisine. This is serious dining, from the softly poached quail's egg that starts every dinner to the Chartreuse-infused sorbet topped by snow-white fairy floss (cotton candy) that ends it.
Family & Fun Start your day (as Nicole Kidman sometimes does) with sweet-corn fritters and ricotta hotcakes at the communal table at Bills (011-612-9360-9631). Enjoy a seaside lunch at the Bather's Pavilion Cafe (011-612-9969-5050) on Balmoral Beach. Oz Thai does not get better than the fare at trendy Longrain (011-612-9280-2888).
Fishlips Bar & Grill
(Eclectic) 228 Sheridan Street, Cairns; 011-617-4041-1700. $$
Follow the locals to this bright blue shack for everything from exotic wok-seared squid to classic grilled barramundi.