The Best Places To Eat & Drink In Queenstown, From Buzzy Bars To Beautiful Lakefront Restaurants

By Jo Elwin
While Queenstown restaurant Soda may be a new kid on the block, it’s making a lasting impression. Photo / @Soda_queenstown

Viva’s Wānaka-based food writer Jo Elwin has been surveying Queenstown’s restaurant scene to bring you this updated ‘best of’ list, which highlights old favourites and some welcome newcomers.

The central Queenstown dining scene hasn’t received a lot of love lately so, in preparation for ski season (let it snow,

Octopus, salmon roe, Brussels sprouts and creme fraiche at restaurant Rātā.
Octopus, salmon roe, Brussels sprouts and creme fraiche at restaurant Rātā.


Book a table today because we are confidently naming Rātā Queenstown Central’s best restaurant by the region’s best (IOHO) restaurateur Fleur Caulton. Tirelessly championing the town centre, Fleur has protected Rātā through a storm of issues and with Friedrich Beloussow now leading the kitchen, the restaurant is as captivating today as it was 12 years ago.

Obviously way ahead of its time, the room still feels fresh and appropriate for a modern neighbourhood restaurant that brings the surrounding landscape into town through a screen of native trees and the much-photographed mural on the back wall.

This essence of New Zealand is also present in every plate of skilfully approachable food. Riffing off classic Kiwi culture, sourdough is made with Speights, a potato rosti is topped with Kiwi onion dip, and goat cheese makes for a meringue with tang. Produce is expertly sourced “just up the road”, showcasing the best of the South in an unfailingly delicious way that makes us proud to recommend Rātā to food lovers worldwide.

Address: 43 Ballarat St, Queenstown

Japanese restaurant Kappa offers a tight selection of traditional favourites.
Japanese restaurant Kappa offers a tight selection of traditional favourites.


Being the place where Queenstown’s hospo elite dine on their days off pretty much tells you all you need to know about Kappa.

Owner Naoya Higuchi is in the kitchen crafting authentic Japanese dishes every day, his wife is often on the floor and their children at the counter doing homework. Kappa is the epitome of a family restaurant you would find on every corner in Japan.

The menu is a tight selection of traditional favourites with a daily list of specials that Naoya has a bit of fun with — tempura blue cod and interesting seasonal salads and soups. Fish is market fresh or not served at all. Look up as you wander the Mall to the quaint windowed terrace and head up the stairs to a humble space that transports you to Japan for dinner or lunch.

Address: 36 The Mall, Queenstown

Jervois Steak House

Constant endeavours to find the latest, greatest bites make us guilty of overlooking Jervois Steak House for something a bit different. A sentiment not shared by the couple dining next to us at JSH on a drizzly, cold Monday evening. This was their second visit in a week — so good they had to come back for more. Her a petit eye fillet with a wedge of blue cheese slowly melting on top, him the signature king cut with bone marrow.

The menu is interactively good fun, choosing your preferred cut and origin and adding accompaniments, sauces and sides — such as truffle mac and cheese, seasonal vegetables and fries. They had us at wagyu-fat roasted potatoes and they were exceptional, as were the Lumina lamb rack and Lake Ohau sirloin. Hats off to the saucier because our chosen bearnaise and spinach and gorgonzola (from a list of nine) were perfection. They do it well, but JSH is by no means all about meat. Tuna ceviche, black tiger prawn cocktail and West Coast whitebait fritter were of a quality that’s hard to find around these parts.

The kitchen team have had exceptional training and experience, as have the floor staff and the mixologist behind the bar who welcomes you in.

For a restaurant that has been here for 12 years the semi-industrial space, warmed by three open fires and made intimate with a variation of seating, still feels current. Completely timeless, JSH restores your faith in steakhouses and has you reassessing your relationship with quinoa and cauliflower rice.

Address: 8 Duke St, Queenstown

Less than a year old, hotspot Soda has settled in nicely in Queenstown.
Less than a year old, hotspot Soda has settled in nicely in Queenstown.


The new kid on the block turns one in July and Soda has settled in nicely thanks to the steady hand of its hospo-great owners. In partnership with Republic Hospitality, Penelope (PJ) Johnson and Sam Gruar have incorporated the best of their Arrowtown restaurant, La Rambla, into a modern Mediterranean menu.

Start with bread — breaking off pieces of this fire-roasted flatbread brings joy to the table. Tailor-make an antipasti course by adding such things as taramasalata (hooray!) and Ortiz anchovies. We could say dine on this alone, but the list of smaller plates includes ceviche (La Rambla diners will know), goat’s cheese croquettes, a house-made chorizo and grilled octopus. Seasonal vegetables are woodfired and served with ajo blanco and Manchego — hooray again!

Larger plates of beef, lamb, chicken and fish, most benefiting from time over that wood fire, bring the flavours of the Med to local produce and La Rambla regulars will be comforted that the seafood paella has made it from Arrowtown.

The space is mod Med with sage green and terracotta tones, tiled tables and plush seating in different sections, each with its own charms. Floor-to-ceiling windows take in the lake on one side and a covered veranda over Rees St on the other. A generously curved bar is open to the team tending the fire in the kitchen beyond.

Address: 2 Rees St, Queenstown


Chefs Sylvester Nair and Ankita Chakravarty at No 5 Church Lane.
Chefs Sylvester Nair and Ankita Chakravarty at No 5 Church Lane.

No 5 Church Lane

There’s a revolution happening in Church Lane with creative young chefs Sylvester Nair and Ankita Chakravarty combining their South African and Indian heritages into a modern Indian African menu that is filling a gaping hole in the Queenstown dining scene.

Out of the gate quicker than expected, the existing No 5 website and social media are not yet reflecting this exciting new development (and neither is the space, but we hear there is a plan). Trust us, it’s worth your time and go hungry because you will want to order everything from a sharing plates menu that changes at pace.

Book in for Testing Tuesdays and be part of this enthusiastic duo’s experimentations — they’ll probably deliver the dishes to the table, explaining their methodology and asking for feedback. Wines not normally available as glass pours and cocktails in development can also be tasted.

Highlights from the menu include paratha with umami dots of black garlic and Kashmiri aioli, heady Moroccan spiced lamb with cucumber labneh and ghee confit cauliflower with crisp chickpeas, fried curry leaves and vadouvan. The Cape Malay market fish highlights Nair’s fish butchery skills and artistic talents with lemon butter and coriander oil splashed Jackson Pollock style on the plate.

No cheesecake will ever live up to Nakita’s burned chai Basque-style iteration and her caramelised waffle with bacon icecream has quickly become legendary.

Address: 3/5 Church St, Queenstown

Botswana Butchery

Botswana has been here for the milestones and celebrations in the lives of Central and Southland folk for a few years shy of two decades. It’s still the go-to and quite possibly the first meal reservation made by travellers planning a Queenstown sojourn — they’ll struggle to fit you in without one.

Consistently good food is efficiently served by knowledgeable staff in a homely historic cottage — windows taking in lake breezes in summer, fires roaring in winter — with velvet banquettes and high-back chairs that say “settle in and let us take care of you”.

Long lunches are a thing at Botswana with a lighter yet still extensive menu plus the celebrated butcher’s block menu that runs from slow-roasted lamb shoulder through a range of beef, to grilled Australian banana prawns with sauces, salads and sides to please everyone.

Cocktails, yes, but with this cellar selection you’ll want to savour those oysters with one of more than 20 Champagnes. And for the crispy half duck with kūmara mash, orange, eggplant and cherry and cinnamon compote? Thirty-two pinots from Central Otago alone.

Address: 17 Marine Parade, Queenstown

Perched on Marine Parade, restaurant The Grille takes in sweeping views of Lake Wakatipu.
Perched on Marine Parade, restaurant The Grille takes in sweeping views of Lake Wakatipu.

The Grille

Chef David Kennedy has taken control of the kitchen at The Grille and is doing a fine job of ensuring the fairly traditional brasserie-style menu delivers on quality and flavour.

Oysters, caviar with blinis, French onion soup, seafood chowder, moules frites, a variety of steaks and sauces, burgers, Caesar salad … We paired a rare venison loin on a bed of horopito pickled cabbage with a side of seasonal vege (roasted Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and an unctuous cauliflower puree) and duck fat potatoes and it was faultless. This is fresh New Zealand produce cooked very well indeed.

Banquette seating breaks the large dining room into more intimate spaces but try to nab a table in front of the Marine Parade-facing windows for some serious people watching.

A well-curated wine list starts with an extensive Champagne selection and moves into all the right whites and reds from near and far.

The restaurant services Eichardt’s and benefits from the private hotel’s experienced management and staff for whom nothing is a problem. Breakfast, lunch and dinner, The Grille is here for you.

Address: Marine Parade, Queenstown

The Lodge Bar will reopen on King's Birthday Weekend.
The Lodge Bar will reopen on King's Birthday Weekend.

The Lodge Bar

From his renowned Michelin-starred Musket Room in New York, the fact that we have access to Matt Lambert’s culinary skills in Queenstown is still, four years after he returned to New Zealand, unreal and cannot be overlooked even though it is currently closed for renovation.

It’s all under wraps until the King’s Birthday Weekend reopening but we do know they are expanding the size and capabilities of the kitchen, which will result in a wider array of food options, more in line with The Lodge Bar in Auckland’s Commercial Bay.

They have reassured us that the cosy “settling into the lodge after a hard day’s adventuring” feel to the interior will remain. We shall keep you posted.

Address: 2 Rees St, Queenstown

A quickfire round of the best of the rest

You’ll find Malaysian Hawker food at Madam Woo.
You’ll find Malaysian Hawker food at Madam Woo.

Whether fried chicken and a Hawker pilsner or beef rendang, char kway teow and ginger mojitos, Madam Woo totally hits the spot with flavours from the Malacca Straits, cooked deliciously well at friendly prices. Leave room for a Portuguese custard tart.

White + Wong’s also brings the west to the south with a broad menu of dumplings, buns, baos, soups, curries, Peking duck pancakes, crispy soft shell crab, Chinese roast pork, curries and hot wok dishes. Banquet menus make group dining easy in a fun, bustling environment.

We’ve said farewell to some favourite faces at Blue Kanu but new owners have ensured the “Polynasia” menu’s consistency. Steamed dumplings are still handmade and change daily, the kokoda transports you to Fiji, lamb jungle curry is fiery, and the cocktails are dangerously good.

Margo's apricot pastor pork belly bao. Photo / @margos_qt
Margo's apricot pastor pork belly bao. Photo / @margos_qt

Judging a Mexican restaurant by its michelada may be unconventional but Margo’s does it good. Salsa, guac, queso, nachos, tacos, fajitas … the gang’s all here and vegan is a vibe with a separate menu that will have you saying, “meat who?” Everything is literally loaded with flavour.

Good food is made with love at Farelli’s by Giovi, an authentic Italian ristorante with homemade pasta and pizza with quality toppings. Seasonal mains currently include lamb ossobuco and porcini mushroom risotto. Enjoy tiramisu for dessert and a glass of wine from owner Giovanna’s family vineyard in La Montina.

More to explore in the South Island

From a cottage cafe to the best place for brunch.

First look: Queenstown’s stunning new dining precinct Ayrburn will take your breath away. A hospitality offering of this scale needs to be seen to be believed.

Where to eat, stay and play in Frankton, Queenstown. Look beyond the layovers: This quiet South Island suburb is a secret star.

Where to eat, drink and play in Wānaka for a weekend. From an elegant taqueria specialising in house-made tortillas to a banquet-style feast.

Why is Sherwood chef Chris Scott planting a massive garden on the side of a Queenstown mountain? “A lot of places have got a few herbs in buckets. We’re actually walking the walk.”

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