If you think the Gold Coast is just 57 kilometres of coastline covered by tourist-trap steakhouses and overpriced lobster, you're not completely wrong. Surf'n'turf is well represented. But in the past five years, and particularly the past 12 months, a wave of smart new venues has opened with food and booze options to be properly excited about.
There's never been a better time to visit Mermaid Beach, Burleigh Heads, and yes, even Surfers.
For seafood and views
The hatted Rick Shores at Burleigh Heads provides wok-fried fun where you risk sea spray in your spritz.
The Good Food Guide says: "Coronas fly so thick and fast at this light-filled beachside winner, we suspect there might be a cerveza factory under the bar. They're knocked back by tanned locals and sunburnt tourists enjoying Burleigh's weather in the best way possible: bug rolls by the dozen. North Queensland bugs are fried in a batter and sandwiched on a squishy bun with sriracha mayo and lettuce. Heaven."
A frisbee-throw from Rick Shores is the glamorous Fish House, also awarded a hat in the Good Food Guide.
The Guide says: "Waves crash against the Surfers skyline, Dolin bottles line the white-tiled room and the service is all smiles and a 'yes we can' attitude. Whole king george whiting is gently cooked and cuts like butter, while baby calamari is flash-fried and lifted with fennel pollen."
The shadow of The Star (formerly Jupiters Casino) continues to stretch over Broadbeach with new luxury suites and Nineteen restaurant. The 19th-floor fine-diner opened in late March, boasting a 2000-bottle-strong wine list, $900 tins of caviar and a proper focus on oysters. If you've ever wanted to drop $240 on steak and eat it near an infinity pool, Nineteen can facilitate that.
For modern Japanese
Goldie is a hot spot of excellent Japanese, and Yamagen has been an institution for more than 30 years. QT Hotel recalibrated the teppanyaki house with designer Nic Graham in July and it is now one of Queensland's swishest spots for sushi, yakitori and whisky. Chef Adam Lane leads a kitchen, sending out precision-cut kingfish and scampi nigiri before more substantial dishes such as crisp-skinned teriyaki chicken with warrigal greens and miso black cod. Much love to the wagyu and white-soy mustard gyoza – an ideal izakaya snack with one of the 60 Japanese whiskies on the drinks carte.
There's a greater focus on tsukune and grilled chicken skin at Iku Yakitori, hidden behind a heavy timber door in a Burleigh Heads back lane. Iku is the younger sister of Etsu Izakaya, a popular local spot since it opened in 2014. Check out the omakase menu, which might include prawns in tempura nori batter and wagyu carpaccio with ponzu sauce.
For a night of high-rolling Japanese and sake, Kiyomi will look after you at The Star. The Good Food Guide says: "You can have a swell time keeping to sake and sushi – kingfish, toro and tamago – but investing in a set menu pays out with seared scampi graced by foie gras and shiso."
For a casual dinner
The most interesting cooking in the Gold Coast can be found in restaurants with views to the highway rather than the surf and sand. The North Room at Mermaid Beach excels at tightly composed small plates such as octopus with green tomato, lardo and curry leaf. Sit back and relax in the airy, Scando-style dining room and get across a five-course tasting menu, excellent value at $59. It's very easy to ignore the traffic outside.
A few blocks down the road is Lupo, where a brick oven wood-roasts beautiful local vegetables and chicken with mascarpone, lemon and rosemary. Snacks are a highlight and best enjoyed at the horseshoe bar with a natural wine or sherry and a few good mates. Another round of Jauma grenache and white anchovy crostinis, please.
For cheap eats
Hakataya Ramen provides rib-sticking tonkotsu soup featuring pork bones simmered for 48 hours at locations in Surfers Paradise and Pacific Fair Shopping Centre. Its gyoza is a cracker, too.
Across the street from Gold Coast Convention and Exhibition Centre in Broadbeach, Double Zero is firing the region's best pizza. It's the only Gold Coast pizzeria certified by Vera Pizza Napoletana, the non-profit Naples-based organisation committed to promoting and protecting true Neapolitan pizza around the world. This means blistered-crust margheritas with San Marzano tomatoes, fresh basil and creamy buffalo mozzarella.
For a session on the sumac, Shiraz Persian Restaurant has a beaut selection of Middle Eastern stews, slow-cooked shanks and skewered meats. There's also a healthy number of vegetarian dishes, making Shiraz a breath of saffron-spiced air among the curly fries and neon cocktails of Surfers Paradise Boulevard.
Stingray Lounge at QT has plenty of cushioned corners to sink into with something fruity and boozy in a tiki mug. Every second person could be a fitness model/entrepreneur and a cab driver reckons it's the place most Surfers' locals drink at to avoid the main drag.
Nobby Beach has The Cambus Wallace if you're keen for a nautical dive-bar with rum, whisky, blues and more rum. The Wallace legends offer similar vibes and Highland drams at The Scottish Prince in Palm Beach. Back at Nobby, MexiCali Bar Y Taqueria is perfect for cold margaritas on warm nights and Mermaid's Bon Bon has a knock-out collection of tequila and mezcal.
For locally made beers you want to scoot down to Balter HQ at Currumbin, the ripper brewery co-owned by surfing legends Mick Fanning, Joel Parkinson, Josh Kerr and Bede Durbidge. Trophy-winning brewer Scott Hargrave mans the tanks and there's a rotating selection of taproom beers you won't find anywhere else. Burger-flipping food trucks and live music feature regularly.
For breakfast, brunch and general baking excellence
Pack your togs and head to Burleigh. Tucked away just off busy James Street, Canteen Kitchen brews a seriously good macchiato and serves Middle Eastern-inspired dishes such as cumin scrambled eggs with zaatar flatbread, green olives and labna. Add a lamb kofta on the side.
Bam Bam Bakehouse overlooks a park by the beach at Mermaid and rocks an all-day menu listing salted caramel kouign-amann, a croissant topped with eggs benedict, and crab omelette bolstered by chilli sambal. Paddock Bakery serves delicious breakfast (try the pea and haloumi fritters and creme fraiche scrambled eggs) out of a converted Queenslander in a Miami backstreet. Surrounded by trees and happy families, it is a very nice place to sit with Single O coffee and just-baked sourdough.
Check into the colourful QT Hotel, a block from the beach and 10 minutes' walk to Surfers. There's shades of '50s surf culture in the design and rooms are blessed with plush robes, Malin+Goetz body care products and big, white beds. Order a negroni to your room for an ocean-view aperitivo on the balcony.
Rick Shores 3/43 Goodwin Terrace, Burleigh Heads, 07 5630 6611
The Fish House 50 Goodwin Terrace, Burleigh Heads, 07 5535 7725
Nineteen at The Star 1 Casino Drive, Broadbeach, 07 5592 8719
Yamagen 7 Staghorn Avenue, Surfers Paradise, 07 5584 1200
Iku Yakitori 1730 Gold Coast Highway, Burleigh Heads, 07 5568 7300
Etsu Izakaya 2440 Gold Coast Highway, Mermaid Beach, 07 5526 0944
Kiyomi 1 Casino Drive, Broadbeach, 07 5592 8100
The North Room 1/2527 Gold Coast Highway, Mermaid Beach, 0468 311 003
Lupo 2460 Gold Coast Highway, Mermaid Beach, 0424 675 774
Hakataya Ramen 26/3131 Surfers Paradise Boulevard, Surfers Paradise and Shop FF-1, Pacific Fair Shopping Centre, Broadbeach
Double Zero 2/2715 Gold Coast Highway, Broadbeach, 07 5526 8635
Shiraz Persian Restaurant 3106 Surfers Paradise Boulevard, Surfers Paradise, 07 5679 3941
Stingray Lounge 7 Staghorn Avenue, Surfers Paradise, 07 5584 1200
The Cambus Wallace 4/2237 Gold Coast Highway, Nobby Beach, 07 5575 3420
The Scottish Prince 1176 Gold Coast Highway, Palm Beach, 07 5598 3021
MexiCali Bar Y Taqueria 2223 Gold Coast Highway, Nobby Beach, 07 5572 0588
Bon Bon 2460 Gold Coast Highway, Mermaid Beach, 07 5575 2669
Balter HQ 14 Traders Way, Currumbin Waters, 07 5525 6916
Canteen Kitchen 23 Park Avenue, Burleigh Heads
Bam Bam Bakehouse 2519 Gold Coast Highway, Mermaid Beach, 07 5526 5218
The Paddock Bakery 20 Hibiscus Haven, Miami, 07 5508 2573
QT Gold Coast 7 Staghorn Avenue, Surfers Paradise, 07 5584 1200
Callan Boys travelled as a guest of QT Hotels. Most meals were paid for independently.