Etsu Izakaya, Mermaid Beach: When a restaurant has no need for a sign out the front, you can generally assume that great things lie within. This traditional Japanese izakaya den is a favourite among local foodies, effortlessly combining its eclectic interior and bustling atmosphere with its renowned contemporary izakaya-style menu (sharing is caring) and noteworthy bar offering. This is a must try.
Kiyomi, Broadbeach: Located at The Star Gold Coast, cutting-edge dining space Kiyomi serves an innovative yet distinctly Japanese menu curated by esteemed head chef Chase Kojima. Expect unique, exciting and surprising dishes, a refined cocktail offering and a plentiful collection of Japanese whiskies.
Yamagen, Surfers Paradise: Spend the night at Yamagen and you’ll be transported into the bustling backstreets of downtown Tokyo. Much like the impressive interior, the food also blends old-school traditions with innovative culinary techniques – it’s designed to be true to taste, but not necessarily true to format … all prepared under the guard of celebrated head chef Adam Lane.
Itoshin, Mermaid Beach: Longstanding eatery Itoshin is the go-to for truly authentic fare. Into sashimi? It’s as fresh as it gets here. Love a good bubbling hot pot in winter? Join the queue. In a nutshell, if you set your standards pretty high when it comes to authentic Japanese, you’ll be in good hands here.
Iku Yakitori Bar, Burleigh Heads: This authentic yakitori bar specialises in skewered meats, sashimi and share plates, all designed to be grazed on as you sip sake cocktails and top-shelf whisky from your tatami seats. There’s also a late-night menu with secret dishes like wagyu-beef katsu sandos.
Little Itoshin, Miami: Tucked in the backstreets of Miami, Little Itoshin (which opened in May 2019) is the offspring to the longstanding Itoshin. Owner Hibiki Ito’s newest addition seats just 25 locals, serving a seasonal menu that puts a contemporary lean on traditional Japanese comfort food, whilst retaining the level of quality that the original Itoshin has become renowned for. Think sushi hand rolls, fresh-as-it-gets sashimi and soul-warming dishes like ebifry curries.
Kemuri, Carrara: Kemuri is a casual Japanese eatery, where pillow-soft bao and piping-hot handmade gyoza are the heroes. While bao isn’t traditional to Japan, the buns, which are made from scratch on site daily, are jammed with fillings like deep-fried eggplant with aburi miso to give a subtle Japanese lean. Alongside the authentic pork gyozas, there’s also pork and karaage chicken rice bowls, simply garnished with shiso salad and yuzu sauce. It’s top-notch Japanese nosh, minus the fuss.
Goto, Southport: Landing in Southport Central in early 2019, this sleek Japanese dining den dishes up fresh and colourful sashimi platters and intricate sushi creations, alongside smaller bites like crispy karaage chicken, agedashi tofu, donburi (rice bowls) and authentic udon noodles. Champon noodles, the regional dish of Nagasaki that is regarded as ramen’s healthier cousin, is the signature here.
Anekawa, Mudgeeraba: Anekawa is owned and operated by Japanese chef Koki Anekawa (ex Rick Shores), who set out to create a culinary concept that applies traditional techniques from his hometown of Saga (a prefecture in Japan’s south) to ethically sourced local and Australian produce. Nestled in Mudgeeraba Village, Anekawa’s menu is constantly changing, covering small plates, raw delights, mains and a series of clay-pot rice dishes. There’s also a quality selection of sake and wine to sip.
Bistro Lamp Deux, Mermaid Beach: This quaint and unassuming dining space needs to be on your hit list. Grab an Orion beer (or a whisky highball) with some miso chips to start before embarking on the difficult task of deciding what to order. The signature okonomiyaki sizzle is a must-try delight, or opt for the chef’s tasting platter and allow head chef Jiro Umakoshi to create something spectacular.
Cocotte Dining, Robina: Unless you frequent the Robina hood, Cocotte is not easy to stumble across in your travels. It’s nestled off Robina Parkway (near RQ’s Tavern) and is well worth seeking out. Passionate owner and chef Shunichi Tanabe puts an exciting French spin on traditional Japanese fare to create an impressive and intricate menu – it’s warm, homely and the epitome of a hidden gem.
Wazen, Tallebudgera: For traditional Japanese with a modern twist, you can’t go past Wazen. From its casual digs nestled along Tallebudgera Creek Road, Wazen serves a flavour-packed menu ranging from fresh sashimi and sushi through to katsu, karaage, teriyaki and spicy miso dishes, using only free-range chicken, local fish and organic vegetables.
Oi Izakaya, Burleigh Heads: If you’re a fan of traditional Japanese bites like okonomiyaki, takoyaki and sweet mochi, then Oi Izakaya will be right up your alley. Nestled in James Street, the moody 50-seat dining spot gives a nod to the bustling izakayas of Tokyo and beyond, with an open kitchen putting the chefs in full view of diners. You’ll find a raft of Japanese whisky and sake to sip.
Harajuku Gyoza, Broadbeach: Sure, Harajuku is famous for its gyoza, but the Japanese delights extend well beyond these handmade parcels of goodness. You can slurp on ramen, munch on takoyaki (octopus balls), devour some agedashi tofu and wash it all down with an ice-cold sake or three.
Izakaya Midori, Reedy Creek: This is the coast’s first-ever all-vegan Japanese restaurant. Located in Reedy Creek, the quaint neighbourhood izakaya dishes up an eye-catching menu of Japanese favourites, from ramen to katsu, karaage curries and gyoza – all creatively reimagined with a plant-based spin.
Hachi, Palm Beach and Nobby Beach: These longstanding eateries are well known for serving all of your Japanese favourites in a fun and friendly atmosphere. Start with an ice-cold Suntory then get stuck into everything from made-to-order sushi, okonomiyaki (Japanese pancake), sashimi, tempura everything, udon noodles and go-to hot dishes like teriyaki chicken and teppan beef. If you haven’t eaten the karaage curry here, you haven’t lived.
Project Tokyo, Mermaid Beach: The menu here is designed to strike a balance between authentic Japanese flavours and modern innovation, with a sole focus on local produce. You’ll find familiar moreish classics (hello there, giant bowl of fried karaage chicken) alongside lighter, more intricate delicacies like vibrant sushi plates and kingfish sashimi with jalapeno and yuzu.
Cafoo Izakaya, Palm Beach: Sashimi fiends are in good hands at Cafoo Izakaya, with a series of intricate arrangements of trawler-fresh tuna and salmon to start, alongside light bites like lotus-root chips, char-grilled sumiyaki skewers and seafood salads topped with marinated fresh salmon, tuna and prawns. There’s also authentic dishes like Osaka-style okonomiyaki, wagyu-beef tataki, handmade gyozas and onigiri agedashi on offer across lunch and dinner.
Zipang, Currumbin: This gem is incredibly popular with southern locals. It’s tucked along Currumbin Creek Road and you’ll find a wide variety of share-style dishes from gyoza to sesame-crusted salmon, sashimi, beef tataki, katsu curries, hot pots and more. There’s always a killer specials menu on offer, too – helloooo salmon karaage.
Izakaya Ichi, Southport: Want to eat where the Japanese expats eat? Go here. This unassuming hang, located right across the the tram stop on Nerang Street, is where you’ll find authentic Japanese hot pots, curries, gyoza, fresh sashimi, noodles galore, ice-cold sake and plenty of Japanese beers. Finish with a sweet mochi or indulge in an eye-popping bingsoo – a popular Asian shaved-ice dessert.
Honourable mentions: This list is really just scratching the surface. Hit ip Motto Motto at Pacific Fair for a Japanese curry set and a green-tea ice-cream, tuck into okonomiyaki or a poke bowl at Okazu Sushi Bar, enjoy fresh-as-you-can-get sushi at Maruya in SoPo, experience the ramen goodness at JFX Noodle & Tapas Bar, or get your lunch-time karaage fix at Mamas Kitchen.
Want more? Check out our recent round-ups of where to find the coast’s best ramen. That should keep you busy … and full.