It's hard to remember James Street before it became a mecca for food lovers, but it was once nothing more than a workaday street whose only function was to connect the lower end of Fortitude Valley with New Farm. Today you can barely slip a credit card between the cheek-by-jowl retailers, a good many of whom are dedicated to supplying gourmet and bacchanalian needs. Go there hungry, go there thirsty and go with a shopping bag.
You'll need stamina, so get a caffeine fix at Jamie's Espresso Bar, a local stalwart that is much loved in the 'hood. You can either perch up at the bar with your macchiato or pull up a stool outside. Expect properly made coffee and friendly interaction with complete strangers.
Eat Street: James Street, Brisbane
Five spiced duck with rice noodles in broth at Chow House. Photo: Harrison Saragossi
For something harder, Cru Bar offers the perfect street-side people-watching possie, as well as a great drinks list and its own well-respected bottleshop where you can pick up hard-to-find wine to take home; useful if you have a dinner date to impress.
There are plenty of convivial spots to gather with friends at At Sixes and Sevens a little up the road as well. Sit outside and order a pitcher of Pimms or Sixes' house punch and graze through the eclectic menu.
Jamie's Espresso Bar, 49 James St, 3257 1010
Cru Bar and Cellar, 1/22 James St, 3252 2400
At Sixes and Sevens, 67 James St, 3358 6067
Jocelyn's Provisions are known for their layered cakes. Photo: Harrison Saragossi
You can watch your pizza cooking though the window of the wood fired oven in the middle of the dining room at Tinderbox Kitchen. There are also heaps of delicious share plates and platters on the menu, including a spice-rubbed lamb shoulder with pumpkin, quinoa and harissa – just like a posh Sunday roast.
Tinderbox's older brother Harvey's is the go-to spot on James Street for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and we suspect the usually well-behaved James Street regulars would forget themselves and riot in the streets if Harvey's spiced mince tortilla ever disappeared from the breakfast menu.
A couple of doors down, Chow House offers relaxed all-day dining with a pan-Asian flavour; from skewers of lemongrass chicken to a five spiced duck with rice noodles in duck broth accompanied by bean sprouts, shallots and coriander. We're pretty sure the latter is now being considered for listing as an official hangover cure.
Meanwhile, the health conscious and those with dietary restrictions can have their needs served at the little designer hut that is Press. Here they serve up a healthy range of gluten-free, vegetarian, vegan and sugar-free treats, interesting sandwiches, rice paper rolls, salads and green smoothies.
Tinderbox Kitchen, 7/31 James St, 3852 3744
Harvey's Bistro & Bar 4/31 James St, 3852 3700
Chow House, 39 James St, 3852 5155
Press, Shop 18, 65 James St, no phone
Something more substantial
La Dolce Vita is served up at Bucci, along with some pretty schmick dishes. Sophia Loren said she owed her curves to pasta, so feel free to tuck into a generous plate of linguine with spanner crab, olive oil, chilli and lemon with abandon. Loren probably drew the line at the River Cafe-inspired chocolate nemesis or the sweet ricotta-filled cannoli but there's no reason you should.
Chef Ben Williamson's menu at the stylish brisbanetimes.com.au Good Food Guide 2013 best new restaurant, Gerard's Bistro, takes inspiration from the North African countries of the Maghreb. The entirely share plate menu seems like a great idea in theory, but it can be hellishly hard to share dishes like duck breast with black cardamom, confit duck egg, licorice and smoked shallots, or Lebanese-inspired bekka chicken wings with kishk yoghurt and rose petals.
Bucci, 11/15 James St, 3252 7848
Gerard's Bistro, 14/15 James St, 3852 3822
If you can't find what you want within the James Street Market, it probably doesn't exist. There is a fresh fruit market, deli goods from cheese to charcuterie, sushi from Fresh Sushi Co, nuts and dried fruit at The Nut Market, meat at Prime specialty meats, croissants and other treats from French Twist, and gelati, sorbet and smoothies at Quench.
If you're more into DIY in the kitchen, Taste down the road is a double decker store packed with every type of kitchen accoutrement you could dream of, from pots and pans to bakers' equipment and all kinds of interesting gadgets.
James St Market, 22 James St, jamesstmarket.com.au
Taste, 6 James St, 3252 1022
Scrumptious Reads is Brisbane's only food bookshop and is run with passion and a lot of nous by Julie Tjiandra. Not only can she point you towards books on every topic imaginable, from gluten-free cooking to preserving, but she has an incredibly eclectic collection of food magazines gathered from around the world. Scrumptious Reads also frequently hosts chefs and cookbook authors for talks and signings.
If reading about cooking has provided inspiration and you want to extend your range, James Street Cooking School, just above James Street Market, can help with classes, from the basics for beginners to specialist cuisines.
Scrumptious Reads, 5/19 James St, 3852 6797
James Street Cooking School, 20/22 James St, 3252 8850
Sure, there's a whole range of excellent take home heat-and-eat meals and gorgeous fresh loaves from olive-studded ciabatta to baguettes, but Jocelyn's Provisions can't escape its well-deserved reputation for pretty, pastel buttercakes, cheesecakes and tarts.
Around the corner in Doggett Street, Dello Mano deals premium brownies to addicts of premium chocolate. They are dense, incredibly rich squares in flavours from caramelised macadamia to coconut and lime. Dello Mano also makes a range of chocolate truffles and biscuits.
Jocelyn's Provisions, Shop 8, Centro on James, 3852 3799
Dello Mano, 29 Doggett St, 3257 1678
What's your go-to spot in the James Street precinct? Share your tip in the comments below.