Plan your next visit to the Illawarra region around where to eat and drink in Wollongong.
Wollongong has, in its own quiet way, become an epicentre of cool in the Illawarra. The city is now a hub for young creatives and entrepreneurs to realise the city anew and, as a result, the concentration of great places to eat and drink around the city has multiplied. There are now more than enough offerings to inspire an extended stay.
Here is our guide to some of the best cafes and restaurants in Wollongong.
Lili.J has gained a lot of attention in Wollongong for its focus on simple, honest rustic fare done well. Housed in a charming corner house, the white-on-white cafe doubles as a plants nursery and is lifted with lush foliage and pops of colour from flower-filled vases. Order a bacon and egg roll to feast on in the sunroom out the back, which is furnished with vintage finds and spills onto a pet-friendly grassed courtyard.
Lee & Me
Lee & Me is a local favourite that occupies an 1890s’ terrace that has become the unofficial headquarters for the ’Gong’s hipster brigade. Sit by the fireplace in winter, on the sun-splashed balcony in summer, or at the communal table where you can engage in a bit of banter with the beard(y) barista. After downing your short black, head upstairs to meet up-and-coming creatives including The Little Hair Room by Chloe, Tuesday Euphoric Florals and Alleway Designs.
Diggies is open for breakfast, lunch and weekend brunch when it is full to the brim with a healthy mix of millennials, young mums and, of course, the ubiquitous MAMILs who end their Sydney to Gong ride with coffee and a Savvy Session of seasonal greens, herbs, sheep’s feta, avocado, crushed roasted almonds, and poached eggs. Join sandy-toed locals at the more relaxed 1930s’ Art Deco North Beach Kiosk for coffees or settle in for a post-swim brunch at the sit-down section of the seaside café.
Bull & Bear
Your stocks will go up if you take your Hinge date out for breakfast at Bull & Bear, which has swallowed up three shops on vibey Victoria St. The name is not a metaphor for the movements of the stock market. Rather, it came to chef and owner David Juarez Vidal after returning from Spain where he ran with the bulls in Pamplona and visited El Oso y el Madroño (The Bear and the Strawberry Tree), the symbol of Madrid. Go the whole hog and order El Gordo (The Fat One) or a beefy breakfast burrito.
Delano’s Specialty Coffee
Delano’s Specialty Coffee doubles as a coffee house and roastery nestled in North Wollongong. Geek out on all things coffee related, from the state-of-the-art roastery to latest equipment at Delano’s Cafe, which draws the city’s coffee community here for mighty good brews. You can learn to level up your coffee at home by signing up for a barista class where you will see the science behind making the perfect cup of Joe.
K.Malu is a mash-up of the owners’ names, Keana Lufe and Maria Luciani. The menu at the casual continental kitchen and bar, located on the site of the former award-winning fine-dining restaurant, Caveau, is also a mash-up of European flavours: from Italian arancini to pan-fried Spanish chorizo. The restaurant has had a refresh, which includes a mural of the pair’s dog Peppa, and is now known for its cheeses and salamis from all over Europe, its fondue nights and Sunday lunch specials.
His Boy Elroy
Ask a local where to find the city’s best burgers and they will point you to His Boy Elroy. Expect the Fatboy Burger with fries to be easily a seven-serviette job, stuffed as it is with a juicy pattie, green oak lettuce, American cheese, house-made pickles and special sauce washed down with a craft beer. Go full fat boy and order another pattie and bacon at the industrial-styled laneway diner, then slurp down a hearty bowl of ramen at Dagwood, an American sports bar-styled diner in nearby Market St.
The quality of the pizza at Kneading Ruby comes down to the quality of the ingredients, from the flour to the tomatoes and fior di latte. Sharing a pizza with family and friends in this elegant venue, which has soaring ceilings and exposed beams, makes for reason enough to spend the weekend in Wollongong. Everything on the menu is delicious, but the pizza and hand-rolled pasta is the go. Order the classic margherita, and marinara and the house-made garlic bread on the side (it has a cult following).
Baby Face Kitchen
Baby Face Kitchen occupies a modest, minimalist-style space in a narrow room where you can get a good view of the waiters parading past with plates of elegant sashimi and pressed cucumber with green ants. As one of Wollongong’s dining sensations, Baby Face Kitchen is a popular choice with discerning locals who appreciate the Japanese cooking methods in play and the seasonal menu that relies on local suppliers. Order the sashimi plate and seared Ranger’s Valley wagyu rib cap if it’s on offer.
Rookie Eatery is an up-to-the-minute venue housed in the oldest house in Keira Street, which runs parallel to Wollongong Beach. The restaurant is known for its experimental menu with a mod-Oz accent that is as hybrid as Kylie Minogue’s: think yellowfin tuna with a ginger mignonette, potato dumplings with fermented chilli butter, market fish with a dashi vinaigrette and chicken two ways. While Rookie is light, bright and breezy, sister restaurant Debutant, next door is a warm, cosy French bistro.
Harbourfront Seafood Restaurant
Harbourfront Seafood Restaurant is a long-time local favourite overlooking the Belmore Basin on Wollongong Harbour. The menu at the waterfront eatery is designed for grazing and sharing; take a seat at a table for two beside the floor-to-ceiling windows of the elegant, light-filled eatery and you might even see the local fisherman hauling in their catch. Take your culinary inspiration from the sea and order hiramasa kingfish, roasted king prawns and panko-crumbed snapper fillets.
Find more great travel tips and itineraries in our Ultimate guide to Wollongong holidays.