Darwin: Where the locals dine

Darwin Insider
Food stalls at Sunset markets, Mindil beach. (AAP Image/Richard Durham)
Food stalls at Sunset markets, Mindil beach. (AAP Image/Richard Durham)
"The Roma Bar, near the ABC on Cavenagh Street, is the place for a power breakfast: it's a hub for Darwin's arts workers, journalists and politicians and does a regular fish-of-the-day blackboard special."
Darwin Insider

Eating out is a great way to tap into Darwin's vibrant multiculturalism, whatever your budget. Start with the weekend markets (Parap, Nightcliff, Rapid Creek), where foodstalls serve delicious cheap cuisine: dynamite laksas, Vietnamese soups, Javanese satay lotong and fresh Thai paw-paw salad as well as fresh juices, pancakes and coffee.

In the city, it's down unassuming arcades and in back lanes that you'll find the the best places to eat. At 23 Cavenagh Street, Sari Rasa has been serving up Indonesian favourites such as bif rendang (tender beef) and terong pedas (spicy eggplant) for more than 20 years. A favourite lunchtime spot for office workers, it is now open for dinner (5.30pm-9.30pm).

Off Smith Street Mall, on the site of Darwin’s old picture theatre, the Star Arcade is a humming little courtyard, home to long-time Darwin favourites Simply's Vegetarian Café and the Malaysian Laksa House, plus the newly opened and rather hip Four Birds Café,. Hanuman (White Monkey), next to the Darwin Entertainment Centre on Mitchell Street, has a sublime menu — a mix of Thai, Nonya and Indian dishes that feature local produce — and is, for my money, the best restaurant in town with Saffron — an Indian restaurant at Parap Village — a very close second.

Tasty House, a Chinese restaurant on the Smith Street mall, has modern industrial décor and does great weekend Yum Cha. While the GO Sushi Train serves up some of the best sushi you’ll ever taste.

For modern Australian cuisine head for Char in Old Admiralty House on the Esplanade at Knuckey Street, while at Sky City Casino Darwin, Il Piatto serves up a great gourmet pizza in a spot with awesome sunset views.

The Roma Bar, near the ABC on Cavenagh Street, is the place for a power breakfast: it's a hub for Darwin's arts workers, journalists and politicians and does a regular fish-of-the-day blackboard special.

The Ducks Nuts Espresso bar next to the cinema on Mitchell Street is great bet for coffee and a cake after a film and I'm loving the bar at Mantra on the Esplanade — cool and airy with a sea-view, this is a great place for a catch-up drink with friends.

Down at Cullen Bay, a 1980s marina development that hasn't quite found its groove yet, there are a string of waterside eateries. On Marina Boulevard, Buzz cafe is worth a visit if only for its eclectic decor (one-way mirrors in the blokes' bathroom and redbacks embedded in the toilet seats). The opening of local restaurateur Jimmy Shu's new Italian venture Il Lido, at the Darwin Waterfront this year has set the bar in fine dining in Darwin’s Waterfront Precinct. If you have a family to feed, head out to the historic Stokes Hill Wharf, for low-key outdoor eating and let the kids feed the fish that gather under the lights. Open from 6pm.

There are two spots out of town that are worth the trip, starting with Eat at Martin's, a gem of a cafe tucked away in Caryota Court off Dick Ward Drive at Coconut Grove (turn in at the clock tower). Popular with the crowd from nearby Darwin Yoga Space, this "soul food" joint serves fresh, healthy, delicious food sans greenie earnestness. Cornucopia Cafe at the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory at Fannie Bay is another brunch-to-lunch spot, with enormous servings and views across rolling lawns to the azure Timor Sea. Book in advance.

Picnics and outdoor eating are a way of life in Darwin, and the free gas barbecues in the city's foreshore parks are well-used, especially at sunset. Pick up some fresh barramundi fillets from the Fish Markets at Frances Bay, fill your picnic hamper with tasty smallgoods from Parap Fine Foods or Fannie Bay Supermarket and head for Lake Alexander or Nightcliff, near the pier.

Have you eaten at any of these places in Darwin? Know of any others worth mentioning? Tell us about it using the comments form below.

Next: Adventurous types

Related video: Darwin's Waterfront Precinct

User comments
Don't forget Manoli's for awesome Greek food on Smith St. Or Tremontana for fantastic Italian-inspired fare. The Top End Hotel on Mitchell St does great steaks as well.
Try Fannie Bay Super Pizza worst service, best italian food, the pizzas are world class. I know i have been trying to emulate the taste in the UK. Then try a coffee and ice cream at the Cool Spot next door..
You forgot Hot Rock! A new-ish restaurant located at the Kitty's (Kitty O'Shea's pub, that is) end of Mitchell Street. A little higher in the price stakes - from a uni student's point of view - but the food is brilliant. I love the whole 'cooking meat on heated volcanic rock' concept as it is always cooked to your liking (!) and is not smothered in marinade or spices, which allows you to really enjoy the taste of the meat. Only been there three times... and had the same dish every time. Desserts are good too, though I must say I'd prefer a Woolworths Chocolate Bavarian Cheesecake over the one they serve there. But never mind that - this restaurant is definitely a winner to me!
My wife and i came on a tour group and were recommended the Rooftop Restaurant. It's not the most obvious spot as there's no sign for it. But it's on the top level of the Quality Hotel Frontier, just off the Stuart Highway in Buffalo Court. The view is mind blowing as we watched the sun set over the golf course and into the ocean. The steak which i had was superb and my wife's Barramundi was grilled just right. I'd recommend this little spot to anyone passing through Darwin as it was a joyful experience.
Darwin sailing club provides a variety of meals at very reasonable prices. Sit at tables on the lawn and watch the magnificent sunset.
You forgot the Mandorah Beach Hotel... Atmosphere is fantastic, views are great and so is the food. Last time I was there the food was a little slow in coming, however once I did get to eat it was fabulous. Well worth the wait. A definite must see!!
you should add the BANYAN TREE CAFE to your list,for great meals and cheap prices,as well as excellent service.i highly recommend it.....fegards....fred
having spent many years in Darwin,the best place in town for a great steak and a good bottle of wine at a reasonable price or just good pub food is the Parap Village tavern.Less than 10 minutes out of town and worth a visit.The pub has been run by the same family for over sixty years,and they are a pretty friendly lot.they also have really good cold beer at pub prices.
As a frequent traveller to the city of Darwin since I was born (25yrs ago) I have seen much development and progress in and around the city. Darwin is a city on the grow, yet maintains that laid back 'it'll happen when it happens' small town lifestyle. A great place to eat is at the Wharf. Great value and family friendly. You can sit on the edge of the wharf, watch the sun set or customs burning the illegal fishing vessels which enter our waters. And after dark enjoy the company of giant moon fish visible from the side of the wharf. A range of the freshest fish and chips, asian cuisine and icecream parlours are available. Only minutes from Mitchell St, and the ability to drive right onto the Wharf I feel it is a must for any traveller to Darwin.