Just an hour and a half north of Sydney you’ll find the charming, albeit underrated, Central Coast. Outlined by sandy shores and cloaked in national parkland, the region has always been a popular place of respite for Sydneysiders escaping the daily grind. But while it’s a dreamy destination for those gearing up to switch off, the once sleepy Central Coast has quietly transformed into a culinary hot spot seemingly overnight as a slew of revered chefs have given in to a slower pace and cemented themselves as salty-haired "Coasties".
Whether you’re willing to drive that extra mile for a delicious feed or you’re up for a long weekend, the Central Coast is brimming with incredible restaurants that could rival Sydney’s best. From waterfront eateries with fresh, seafood-driven menus to remote restaurants where local produce shines, we guarantee you won’t be disappointed with what the Central Coast is dishing up.
So without further ado, here is our carefully-curated guide to the best restaurants on the Central Coast.
Woy Woy Fisherman’s Wharf
If you’re looking for a laid-back lunch or dinner with stunning water views and sustainably-sourced seafood, Woy Woy Fisherman’s Wharf is where it’s at. Open for lunch and dinner during the warmer months, this award-winning 40-year-old restaurant is a favourite among Woy Woy locals and visitors alike with its pared-back decor, relaxed atmosphere and community spirit.
Run by three generations of the Cregan-Clayton family, the restaurant team believe that the best quality seafood demands minimal handling, so you can expect an imaginative yet simplistic menu that lets the produce speak for itself. Casting a catch-of-the-day net across the entire menu, you can load up on delectable dishes like tempura banana prawn cutlets, chilli blue simmer crab served Singaporian-style and whole Szechuan pepper snapper with crunchy chips and slaw. Pull up a chair under the four-metre-long Aboriginal fish trap, order a dozen creamy local Sydney rock oysters and soak up the glistening greens of Brisbane Water for an unforgettable seafood smorgasbord—you honestly can’t go wrong.
Describing themselves as an eclectic surf shack inspired by Hawaiian and Californian surf culture, you just know the team at Shady Palms will dish out the vibes and deliciousness.
Just a skip, hop and a jump from the Central Coast's beloved jewel—Avoca Beach—this quaint but spacious restaurant and bar is separated into two distinct sections: the main house, which serves up a slew of delicious share plates and street food, and the pizza bar, which is a large and relaxed outdoor terrace with a mega woodfire pizza oven.
Depending on what’s in season, the ever-changing main house menu is both delicious and refined. Journeying from lighter options, like the kingfish ceviche with lime, chilli and fresh coconut and crispy fried squid with charred lemon, herbs, chilli salt and lime aioli to the heartier plates, like beef brisket sliders with pickles and American cheese or buttermilk fried wings with ranch, hot sauce and sesame, each dish is an inventive mix of balanced flavours. Our advice? Enjoy a feast with friends at the main house and cap it off with a few refreshing cocktails on the terrace.
We’re calling it, Tropicana Pizza is hands down the best pizza on the Cenny C. Part takeaway joint part casual dining, this little local nook thumps with feel-good vibes, 80s beats and neon glow. Not only do the Tropicana crew sling some seriously tasty slices (their bases are thick-cut Sicilian style, need we say more?), they also champion the best small-batch Aussie booze from the likes of Grifter and Alpha Box and Dice.
While owners Tim Stockton and Cate Stewart bring the feels of Sydney’s inner west to Woy Woy with their retro yet grungy diner, Tropicana is all about community spirit too. Dishing up a forever-changing mix of weekend events out the front including summer courtyard cinema sessions, flea markets and beer club, there’s seriously so much to love about this charmer. And if you're a pepperoni fiend be warned: no pizza will ever compare to Tropicana's honey chilli-drizzled Tony Pepperoni, so prepare yourself.
Inspired by its surrounding dense bushland, Saddles bakehouse, eatery and nursery is an inviting and idyllic restaurant with a rustic approach to all things delicious. Seamlessly blending casual dining with formal, the restaurant is situated on a picturesque dam and sports a piano bar, a traditional sandstone fireplace, bespoke saddle bar stools and a homestead-style, wrap-around verandah that’s begging to be to be enjoyed.
Menu-wise, the restaurant offers a variety of succulent plates from both land and sea. Smaller standout dishes include ‘san choy bow-style’ king prawns with desert oak spice, ginger and macadamia, and the Saddles charcuterie with Pino’s cabanossi, smoked ocean trout rillette, cloth-bound cheddar and pickled cauliflower, while mains include the memorable BBQ kangaroo loin with baby leeks, red pepper, tomato and macadamia salsa, and the grilled Little Hill Farm chicken with charred corn, peal barley, mint and green shallot. Oh, and if you’re just passing through and can’t stay for a sitting, be sure to make a pit stop and pick up a flakey pastry for the long drive north. Think grass-fed beef cheek pies, pork and fennel sausage rolls or homemade lamingtons with Daintree Estate chocolate, guava and coconut—it’s moreish takeaway bites done right.
The Bon Pavilion
Step inside John Singleton’s new Bon Pavilion and you’ll soon realise it’s no ordinary eatery. Boasting 250 seats and seven distinct drinking and dining areas, Bon Pavilion is by far the biggest—and the grandest—venue in Gosford. More gastropub than fine dining, the restaurant exhibits an intriguing mix of crushed velvets, a larger-than-life mural by artist Lisa King and a glorious sweeping staircase; to say it was designed with architectural intent would be an understatement.
Like many restaurants on the Central Coast, executive chef Sean Connolly draws inspiration from Australia’s multiculturalism and modernity, but one of the best things about The Bon Pavillion is that you can grab a delicious feed pretty much any time of the day. It’s open from 6.30am for a much-needed coffee and brekkie right through to midnight when you’re resisting the urge to wind down. It also has a takeaway wine shop where the on-site sommelier can help you select your drop, plus it has a bottomless brunch menu for $59 per person, which includes two hours of bellinis or mimosas with an Aperol Spritz on arrival.
The Box On The Water
Perched on Ettalong Beach’s glistening waterfront, The Box On The Water is exactly what the moniker suggests and yet so much more. Proudly offering panoramic water views of Broken Bay, Box Head and even Sydney’s Northern Beaches in the distance, The Box On The Water has been pumping out impressive multicultural-Australian cuisine for the past few years across breakfast, lunch and dinner, and shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
While the stylish restaurant serves up a contemporary mix of holiday-style cocktails, crisp salads, flavoursome poultry and tasty tapas, the fresh seafood dishes, like the mussels steamed with preserved lemon, toasted cumin, fresh tomato and garlic, is where the menu really shines. But if you’re like us, and struggle to pick just one plate, we recommend trying the summer degustation menu. At just $75 per head (min. four people) with an optional wine pairing for an extra $45 per head, you can sample the restaurant’s finest in one sitting. And the best bit? If the thought of Sydney’s horrific traffic is a little discouraging, you can always jump on a calming and scenic 25-minute ferry from Palm Beach straight to Ettalong’s public jetty.
Bells At Killcare
When you think class on the Central Coast, Bells immediately springs to mind. Synonymous with luxury and flanked by manicured gardens and oceans views, it’s easy to see why people flock to the boutique hotel, restaurant and spa to host their bachelorette parties, birthday bashes and even weddings.
Taking a refined Hampton’s-style approach to its decor, the award-winning restaurant oozes sophistication and is headed up by internationally-renowned chef Sean Connolly. The masterful a la carte menu, albeit slightly on the expensive side, is a robust mix of simplistic yet sustainable Mediterranean flavours. Equally theatrical as they are delicious, you can expect a selection of dreamy pasta, fresh vegetarian salads and seasonal seafood. Standout dishes include the salt-crusted fish for two and the steak tartare starter, which is whipped up right before your eyes at your table. Wash it all down with a crisp bottle from their 300-deep cellar list and you’ll never want to leave.
Since you love travelling for food, why not plan you next road trip around the best country ice cream parlous in NSW.
Image credit: Fisherman's Wharf, Tropicana Pizza, Bells at Killcare,The Boathouse, The Box On The Water, Saddles, The Bon Pavillion, Bombini