Gourmet Traveller, 2019

A food lover's guide to the Byron Bay region

The beaches are as magical as ever and the locals just as herbal, but the towns and countryside around Byron are also home to a host of ambitious new eating and drinking experiences (and some plush places to stay).

Byron Bay

Relax. Byron is still Byron. True, house prices have headed well north of a million bucks, a cottage industry has sprung up around Chris Hemsworth, and the density of shops that sell floaty linen and gussied-up camping gear is greater here than anywhere else in the southern hemisphere. But new Benzes and Beamers rolling through town carry surfboards and NO COAL SEAM GAS stickers. And the good news for visitors is that this influx of money has lifted standards, especially where food, drink and hotels are concerned.

At the top end of the business, there's excellent service, beds draped in French linen from Hale Mercantile and well-crafted lists of drinks taking in everything from the outré aromatic blends made by Jared Dixon at Jilly Wines in nearby Clunes to cool things from Sicily, the Loire, Basket Range and wherever interesting wine is made. And the big change in good food is that there's more of it in more places, and it's better and more local than ever.

Local, that is, but Mexican. At least some of the time. This part of the world has long been enamoured of variations on the theme of lime, chilli and avocado, and there's never been any shortage of places to order frozen Margaritas and a plate of vegetarian nachos. But now, in an exciting plot twist, three of the best regarded food operators in the region – Astrid McCormack and Josh Lewis from Fleet in Brunswick Heads, Mark LaBrooy and Darren Robertson, aka the Three Blue Ducks from The Farm at Ewingsdale, and the team behind Harvest at Newrybar – have opened or are planning Latin American side ventures. The quality of tequila and mezcal available in the Northern Rivers has improved dramatically, while the likes of sapotes, tomatillos and fresh epazote are seen at farmers' markets with growing frequency.

Combine all that goodness with a wave of new chef-talent, a renewed interest from local farmers in growing native food plants, lush places to stay, the leafy beauty of the hinterland, some great coffee and spectacular beaches and Byron Bay looks more than ever like the coast with the most. Here's the latest of the best.