Come for the greenery, stay for the food, here’s how to plot a culinary itinerary around the Dandenong Ranges.
The Dandenong Ranges is well-known as a playground for outdoors enthusiasts, a hop, skip and a jump away from the Yarra Valley. But the region is home to plenty more than just a swathe of enchanting greenery.
In between the scenic lookouts, fern-draped trails and winding, tree-lined roads, you’ll find teahouses with ornamental gardens, cosy pubs with plenty of character, smart-casual Modern Australian restaurants and schmick cafes dishing up inventive fare.
Read on to uncover the best restaurants in the Dandenong Ranges.
1. Lorna Cafe, Ferntree Gully
Best for: coffee, breakfast, cake
At the foothills of the Dandenong Ranges, this whitewashed minimalist cafe has a breakfast menu that strikes the perfect balance between salubrious and indulgent.
Keep hunger at bay all morning with a plate of southern fried chicken that sits atop a cheesy waffle bed, drizzled with jalapeno maple sauce and speckled with gremolata. Or fuel up with a nourishing bowl of cinnamon myrtle porridge sprinkled with spiced walnut crumb and festooned with poached pear pearls.
Lorna serves up an enticing array of towering cakes to boot, should you feel like stopping by for a tea and a slice.
Address: 1053 Burwood Hwy, Ferntree Gully
Lorna Cafe’s breakfast menu is a trendsetter in the Dandenong Ranges. (Image: Lorna Cafe)
2. Maria Cafe, Upwey
Best for: vegan, Mexican
Sister venue to Lorna Cafe, we couldn’t not give this Upwey venue a shout-out. Though the fitout and design here bears a fair resemblance to its Ferntree Gully sibling, the menus are surprisingly distinct, with Maria featuring a decidedly Mexican lean.
Beyond the standard eggs Benny and smashed avo you’ll find beef birria tacos, baked eggs with frijoles (refried beans) and chilaquiles (fried tortilla chips simmered in a brothy sauce). There’s also a solid selection of vegan items for those so inclined, such as tofu scramble and jackfruit birria tacos.
Address: 56-58 Main St, Upwey
Maria Cafe is all glammed up, from chic interiors to aesthetically pleasing plates. (Image: Maria Cafe)
3. The General Food Store, Emerald
Best for: lunch
Small in size but big on accolades, husband-and-wife team Paul and Belinda Douglas – a chef and a graphic designer, respectively – craft The General Food Store’s monthly menu based on what’s in season.
With quirky pardon-the-pun dish names like Flame and Fortune (chilli scrambled eggs with housemade sambal), and The Juan That I Want (smashed avo with pico de gallo and a poached egg), the menu is as creative as the food.
The cafe caters for food intolerances and offers a sizable kid’s menu to boot, plus owners Paul and Belinda are committed to supporting local producers, local artists (whose work is exhibited in the cafe) and stepping lightly on the earth – check out the worm farm in the courtyard.
Address: 377 Belgrave-Gembrook Rd, Emerald
Their Belgian waffles have macerated strawberries and toasted pistachios on the side. (Image: Sam Stuart)
4. Olinda Tea House and Restaurant
Best for: high tea, setting
While this Olinda venue is open for both lunch and dinner six days a week, it’s the Asian fusion restaurant’s high tea that has become something of a signature.
Featuring savoury and sweet morsels (think macarons, profiteroles, croquettes and pork buns) alongside a selection of internationally sourced teas, the offering is as ornately presented as Olinda Tea House and Restaurant’s immaculately manicured gardens.
Address: 86 Olinda-Monbulk Rd, Olinda
Satisfy your sweet cravings with these decadent pastries. (Image: Olinda Tea House)
5. The Pig and Whistle Tavern, Olinda
Best for: lunch, setting
The sun-dappled deck at this English-style pub is an inviting spot to while away a summer’s afternoon post-hike, but there are several more reasons to visit.
Not only are the portions generous, but the tavern’s roast pork belly and parmies (Italian, Irish, Southern-style, or classic) in particular keep the locals coming back for more. Chase it all down with one of The Piggy’s British beers, such as Old Speckled Hen, London Pride or Hobgoblin.
Address: 1429 Mount Dandenong Tourist Rd, Olinda
The Pig & Whistle Tavern is your go-to stop for a classic brunch. (Image: The Pig & Whistle Tavern)
6. Ms Banh Mi, Kilsyth South
Best for: lunch, value
Located just on the cusp of the ranges lies this ever-reliable pork roll shop. Crusty rolls are filled with tender and juicy hunks of freshly roasted pork and crunchy crackling, and laced with slivers of carrot, chilli, cucumber and coriander.
Ms Banh Mi’s Vietnamese iced coffee also receives top marks – it’s so moreish that you may in fact want to hook yourself up to a drip of it. To make it even better, you can buy both and you’ll still leave with change from a $20 note.
Address: 253 Colchester Rd, Kilsyth South
Crunch-filled delight at Ms Banh Mi. (Image: Ms Banh Mi)
7. Le Voltaire Bistro Francais, Belgrave
Best for: dinner, French
Le Voltaire Bistro Francais is the type of consistently good neighbourhood restaurant that everyone wished they had just around the corner. And given the culinary pedigree of its owner, Jean-Noel Langlet, who moved to the area after 20-odd years as a waiter at Melbourne institution, France-Soir, it’s little surprise.
Offering all the Gallic classics (with a few Australian twists), his menu mightn’t win any awards for boundary-pushing, but it has won a legion of fans.
Expect moules marinière, canard à l’orange, oysters shucked in front of you and, of course, snails, alongside house-churned butter, bread made from scratch and a well-balanced wine list of new- and old-world styles.
Address: 1677 Burwood Hwy, Belgrave
Guilt-free pastry at Le Voltaire Bistro Francais. (Image: Le Voltaire Bistro Francais)
8. Citrine Bistro and Bar, Olinda
Best for: lunch, Modern Australian
One of the smartest restaurants in the Dandenong Ranges region, both in terms of its refined Modern Australian menu and impeccably styled interior, Citrine is a bit of a failsafe local go-to.
The dining room is warm and homely – its open fireplace, tables dressed in white linens, and timber bookshelves decked with books and vintage curios lending a bit of a stately home feel.
The menu is similarly inviting, showcasing seasonal ingredients in familiar ways alongside daily specials. Sample everything from handmade spinach and ricotta tortellini to calamari fritti and cider-roasted pork cheek.
Address: 543 Mount Dandenong Tourist Rd, Olinda
Calamari fritti with lemon aioli makes for a great appetiser. (Image: Citrine Bistro & Bar)
9. The Independent, Gembrook
Best for: dinner, share plates
Rustic, industrial charm is taken to the next level in this heritage-listed hardware-store-cum-restaurant that attracts diners from near and far. The Independent specialises in Argentinian cuisine, to reflect chef/owner Mauro Callegari’s heritage, and features a variety of share plates that are guaranteed to satisfy your taste buds as well as your appetite.
This Dandenong Ranges restaurant also caters well to those with dietaries, offering a slew of dishes to suit vegetarians, vegans, coeliacs, or those with intolerances to dairy, onion and garlic.
And if indecision overwhelms your party, opt for the chef’s set menu, which promises a seven-course tour de force.
Address: 79 Main St, Gembrook
This lime-cured scallop dish could be your new comfort food. (Image: The Independent Gembrook)
If you like the look of this guide to the best restaurants in the Dandenong Ranges, check out our Victoria travel guide, so you can read up on the very best the region has to offer!