In an area revered for its standout beaches and breezy lifestyle, the Byron Bay area’s restaurants, bars and cafes are up there with the best in the country. The culinary scene continues to evolve and expand – there are meals worth travelling for across the region. Locals have full-time access to ripper wine bars and front-yard ice-cream ventures, hinterland pubs, and standout Japanese joints.

At a range of price points and locations across the region, these 13 dishes are must-trys when you’re in the Northern Rivers.

Potato chip, manchego and shiitake at Bar Heather, Byron Bay
Bar Heather may have only opened on Jonson Lane last year, but it’s already a go-to for a moody and sophisticated atmosphere in Byron. The potato chip, manchego and shitake is chef Ollie Wong-Hee’s ode to his past in Tassie. Shiitake mushrooms are from the local Shroom Brothers, just a 25-minute drive north of the restaurant. They top a chippie made with potatoes grown at Jumping Red Ant.

Anchovy toast at Pixie, Byron Bay
Across the walkway from Bar Heather is Pixie. It does Italian classics with a modern twist and the anchovy on toast here is gold standard. A generous slather of smoked tomato butter is served on a gold and crispy finger of focaccia, the perfect nest for an Ortiz anchovy. Get two.

Croc toast at You Beauty, Bangalow
Bangalow corner hangout You Beauty serves a range of small plates by acclaimed chef Matt Stone. While every dish will wow, the slightly unusual croc toast is a crowd favourite; it’s minced crocodile tail covered in sesame seeds and served atop sourdough. The twist on prawn toast taps into a sustainable meat Stone thinks we should be eating more of.

Cultured Ooray Plum Pie at Natural Ice-Cream Australia, Brunswick Heads
Natural Ice-Cream Australia’s Wal Foster produces small-batch cultured ice-cream that’s good for your gut and made exclusively with local ingredients and bush flavours. The Cultured Ooray Plum Pie is the order for those in the know. It has five strains of probiotics and is topped with blow-torched meringue – it punches far above your average summer scoop.

Chicken parmie at The Eltham Hotel, Eltham
Head into the hills for some classic pub grub in this retro Queenslander-style pub for one of the best parmies in the region. Known to sell over 200 on a busy day, The Eltham Hotel team has perfected the cheese-to-sauce ratio, and it comes with chips and a local green salad. It’s even better on Sundays when there’s live music in the main outdoor dining area.

Roadhouse granola at Roadhouse, Byron Bay
Roadhouse, on the edge of Byron town, is a favourite for locals keen to while away the hours under a canopy of palm trees. The Roadie’s granola is a house-made cereal made with roasted nuts and seeds, coconut flakes, and spices. It’s served with coconut yogurt and seasonal fruits. A Byron-er’s way to start the day.

Seafood and miso broth udon at Tombo, Mullumbimby
Somewhat off the beaten track, in Mullumbimby’s industrial estate, you’ll be surprised to find one of the best udons. At Tombo, Japanese chef Daisuke Shibata handmakes his noodles every day and uses fresh veggies from local farmers. The seafood and miso broth udon is the daily sell-out. Fish, prawns, mushrooms, Jerusalem artichokes and shallots come in a house-made chickpea miso broth.

Ballina prawn at Harvest Newrybar, Newrybar
There’s a reason why the Big Prawn is in Ballina – the town is home to some of the best crustaceans in the region. Top-gun chef Marcello Polifrone celebrates this tasty local with a signature entree at Harvest Newrybar. First he chargrills the prawn on a hibachi grill, then serves it alongside a silky bisque, zucchini roll, finger lime and puffed rice. The roasted pipis with lemon and gremolata are also a standout option if you want more local seafood.

Sicilian Prince at Saint Maries, Brunswick Heads
Saint Maries is the cool kid on the block in Bruns; it’s where locals go to dive into woodfired pizza, pasta and spicy Margs. One particular slice stands out from the crowd, though: the Sicilian Prince. It’s topped with olives, plump capers, caramelised onion, cherry tomatoes and plenty of mozzarella, proving that sometimes vegetarian options hit the hardest.

Seared salmon sashimi salad at Doma, Federal
In the lush hinterland you’ll find Federal and a small Japanese kitchen doing big things. Doma, with its tight menu featuring locally caught fish and veggies plucked from the surrounding hills, has quickly become a household name. Its seared salmon sashimi salad is one of its more popular lunches. Just-seared salmon joins greens, pink pepper, house-made ponzu, basil and umeboshi pesto, prettily topped with herbs and flowers.

Pulpo y su tinta at The Hut, Possum Creek
Colourful plates and the smell of fresh-cooked seafood welcome you to The Hut, a sun-filled hinterland Mediterranean dining room in a converted school house. Pulpo y su tinta is a standout dish of octopus. Chef Bruno Conti tenderises it in the sous vide then sets it on the grill for a smoky finish. Paired with black squid-ink hummus, spicy paprika, lemon oil, olives and sundried tomatoes, the acidity contrasts the richness perfectly.

Corn tortilla tacos at Highlife, Byron Bay
It’s all good vibes at Highlife, which has a daytime menu packed with flavour. For the perfect hearty brunch, opt for the corn tortilla tacos, where cheesy potatoes join fried duck eggs, adobo, salsa verde and lime.

Tiramisu at Ciao, Mate!, Bangalow
Ciao, Mate! Brings a classic Italian courtyard to Bangalow, complete with red-and-white chequered tablecloths, chalkboard specials and a wood-fired pizza oven. While the mains are all red-hot, the end of the meal is the sweetest. Chef Matt Stone’s tiramisu is a generous serving of the classic caffeinated dessert. No frills, just a fluffy sponge soaked in espresso and layered creamy mascarpone and topped with powdered cocoa.