The Best Restaurants in Ballarat – Plus Our Favourite Cafes & Bars

Everywhere you look in Ballarat, there are signs of the city’s illustrious history.

Nestled in the Central Highlands of Victoria, about a 90 minute drive west of Melbourne, Ballarat’s fame and fortune were founded on the Victoria gold rush of 1851. The discovery of gold near the settlement saw it grow and prosper. Especially as Ballarat turned out to be blessed with a particularly productive gold field.

Gold Rush Memorial - Best restaurants in Ballarat

Although the gold is now long gone, the early wealth of the town is still evident in many of its impressive civic buildings, the width of its roads and the grandeur of many of the old hotels.

But a visit to Ballarat doesn’t just offer history and the echoes of former glory. As befits the third largest town in the state, Ballarat has a dynamic food scene. From Spanish tapas and Mexican tacos to smart Thai-centric Asian fusion and European-influenced fine dining, Ballarat restaurants have all this and more. Plus there’s a great cafe down every side street and numerous wine bars and cool drinking dens to discover.

So come with us as we introduce you to our best restaurants in Ballarat, along with a few brunch and cocktail spots worth checking out.

Another of our favourite places in Victoria is vibrant Bendigo. Read where we like to eat and drink when in Bendigo, here.


Location: 213 Mair St, Ballarat Central, VIC 3350 Ph: (03) 5309 3070

We’re kicking off our guide to the must-try restaurants in Ballarat with one of the most colourful eateries in town – Pancho.

Pancho is a love letter to all things South American. From its dusty pink walls – adorned with everything from wooden crucifixes, Mexican wrestling masks and wee busts of Fidel Castro – to its pots of cacti and vibrant strings of flags. It’s an eclectic mix of Latin American cultures that totally works.

And the same is true in the kitchen.

Why not start with the Ceviche ($27)? At Pancho, this is petals of Kingfish, kissed with just enough lime to give it a milky hue and then sprinkled with Chilli and Coriander. In our view, a South American cantina lives and dies on what it does with corn on the cob. Luckily, the team at Pancho score high with their Elote A La Parrila ($12). It’s a wonderfully sweet/savoury serve of Charred Corn, Chilli, Cheese & Mayo.

Pancho - Best Restaurants in Ballarat

But what the Tacos, I hear you cry? Stellar, is my response. The Taco De Pescado (2 for $17) are possibly the best fish tacos we’ve ever eaten. Juicy Fish in a batter that would make a tempura chef weep, balanced with Cabbage, Pineapple, Guacamole & Salsa.

Apart from the fabulous food, Pancho also does some pretty memorable Cocktails. We can vouch for the authenticity of the Mojitos and love their punchy Maragritas.

But don’t take our word for it. Make sure you pop in to Pancho next time you’re in Ballarat.

Read all about our top Mexican Restaurants in Melbourne by clicking this link.

Cattleya Thai

Location: 805 Mair St, Ballarat Central, VIC 3350 Ph: (03) 5340 0502

Now we are well aware that virtually every town in Australia seems to have a Thai restaurant on some description. However, we’re fairly sure that few have one as wonderful as Cattleya Thai in Ballarat.

Housed in a beautifully maintained heritage workers’ cottage, this is actually 2 businesses in one. During the day, Flory Cafe dishes up a fusion menu of Australian and Thai dishes – perfect for hearty brunch. Come the evening, the kitchen switches to fully Thai fare with an impressively comprehensive menu of delights.

Whether you opt for the Homemade Thai Spring Rolls with Chicken (4pc $10), the Moo Krob Pad Ped ($26)- Stir Fried Pork Belly w/ Red Curry Sauce, Green Bean, Coconut Cream, Onion Capsicum & Basil, you’re in for a treat. All of the dishes dance with authentic Thai flavours. And what’s more, the portions are pleasingly generous.

Add in delightful service and a warm, calming ambience and this is a real gem of an eatery that deserves to be on every visitor’s list of the finest restaurants in Ballarat.

Incidentally, this is the second venture from the team. There is also a Cattleya Thai in Warrnambool, if you find yourself in that neck of the woods.

From Ballarat, it’s only a short drive to the fellow Gold Rush town of Bendigo, another regional town with plenty to keep foodies happy. Click here for our tips on the Best Restaurants and more in Bendigo.

The Forge Pizzeria

Locations: 14 Armstrong St N, Ballarat Central, VIC 3350 Ph: (03) 4317 4981 & 1771 Sturt St, Ballarat Central, VIC 3350 Ph: (03) 4317 4981 & (For Takeaway) 200 Victoria St, Ballarat East, VIC 3350

If ever there was a great food story in Ballarat, surely it is The Forge Pizzeria. After all, this buzzy pizza joint currently has to eateries in the centre of the town, and a dedicated takeaway outlet. So they must be doing something right.

Pop into either venue and the obvious charms of these laid-back Italian restaurants hit you immediately. The vibe is chilled, yet cosy and deeply welcoming. The rustic-chic of exposed brick walls and reclaimed feature timber and warm down lighting makes is very appealing. And whilst there are tables for 2, this is really the kind of place that works for groups of family and friends who are looking for a good, honest feed.

The Forge Pizzeria - Best restaurants in Ballarat

Pizza – not surprisingly – is king here. And rather good ones at that.

The Forge Pizzeria specialises in a light, crispy pizza dough with plenty of flavour. For the meat-eaters, the Blacksmith ($29) is a stand-out. It’s a well-balanced pie of Mozzarella, Salt Kitchen Pork & Fennel Sausage, Mushrooms, Garlic & Parsley. Meanwhile, for the vegetarians we recommend the Potato ($21) – where Potato, Mozzarella, Garlic, Parley, Rosemary and a liberal sprinkling of Salt & Pepper combine magically.

Aside from the wood-fired pizzas, The Forge does a number of other Italian trattoria favourites.

The Pumpkin & Goat Cheese Arancini ($15 for 3) with their crunchy exterior and toothsome centre are addictive and the Calamari Fritti ($29) are wonderful to share. There is a fragrant Mushroom Linguine ($31) and a yummy Rigatoni Amatriciana, but our go-to is the Gnocchi Gorgonzola ($33). Yes, it’s rich and filling. But damn! Those house-made Potato and Parmesan Gnocchi are heaven with that piquant sauce!

Editor’s Note: We are in the process of updating our guide to the best restaurants in Ballarat. Come back soon for more recommendations.

Faye Keenan
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