Albury, Wagga Wagga and Griffith are home to fabulous restaurants, quirky cafes and excellent wineries that showcase the great produce of the rich Riverina.
Whether you’re planning a restaurant and winery hop or just passing through, these three vibrant destinations have much to offer on the culinary scene – plus a big side serving of warm hospitality.
Innovative chefs, passionate producers and acclaimed winemakers are showcasing their serious culinary credentials, and you won’t be disappointed.
Cosmopolitan Albury hugs the Murray River opposite its twin city, Wodonga, and has a buoyant dining scene that showcases the area’s great produce.
Yardbird restaurant opened last year in a renovated industrial building – once a mechanic’s workshop – boasting a 13-metre bar and an eclectic feel. Head chef Simon Arkless stars here, enticing diners to try European-themed cuisine and fabulous wines.
“Our menu is all about fantastic produce, great wine and bold flavours from Spain, France and Italy, and the season’s best local produce,” says Simon, whose kitchen features a specially imported Spanish Mibrasa oven. “We love bold flavours without fuss or fanfare, and the intense heat of the imported oven does just that.”
Favourites include charcoal-grilled Wagyu hanger steak with watercress and fresh horseradish with a salad of roast Jerusalem artichoke, local blood orange, goat curd and hazelnuts.
Charcuterie, tortilla, croquettas and Padrón peppers star in tapas offerings, and the drinks menu has more than 200 wines plus craft beers on tap as well as traditional cocktails highlighting local distilleries. The Murray River Sea Monster with spiced rum and bitters has a following.
Love Italian? Head to East Albury’s new Italian restaurant, Mamma Mia Italian Kitchen, where owners Serena McGuffie and Italian-born Alessandro Destri serve traditional pizza and pasta dishes inspired by family recipes. The former corner shop features a Cinque Terra theme and an environmentally friendly pizza oven imported from Italy.
Also new on the scene is gastro pub The Lincoln, in revamped premises on the Lincoln Causeway between Albury and Wodonga. It offers casual family dining and grab-and-go options.
Popular favourites include the Level One Wine Bar in Dean Street, with a menu focused on local produce and 300 wines to tempt you, while nearby Aida restaurant offers traditional Mediterranean cuisine and a fun atmosphere.
Spanish cuisine is at the heart of Saludos near the garden end of Dean Street, with Spanish treats and tapas to share. You may even catch a flamenco dance performance!
Bistro Selle, a small European-style bistro in central Albury, does the classics with a twist, while chef Ludo Baulacky offers a cosmopolitan menu at The River Deck Cafe on the banks of the Murray at Noreuil Park. The Italian-inspired Norma Wine and Pasta, located in a converted corner shop, serves Italian fare deserving of a nonna’s praise.
Need a drink and a trim? The quirky Two Fingers bar and gentlemen’s barbershop offers both. Or you can indulge in high tea and lunch at the Vintage Rose Tea & Coffee House in East Albury, where French patisserie-style desserts are served on beautiful china.
For a picturesque wine tasting, cross the heritage-listed Bethanga Bridge on Lake Hume to Websters Estate, a boutique family-run winery offering guided wine tasting and delicious platters – it’s all about graze and gaze, with sweeping views over the lake.
Across the river in Wodonga is award-winning Miss Amelie, where David Kapay’s eclectic modern European fine-dining menu shines.
Straddling the meandering Murrumbidgee River, the city of Wagga Wagga has become an exciting foodie centre. Food entrepreneur Tania Sibrey of Food I Am, who runs a cooking school and organises private dining experiences and food tours, is confident the Riverina is set to become the next top dining destination.
“The food and wine scenes have really matured in the Riverina, and we’ve had a lot more cafes, bars and restaurants open, offering what used to be just the metro experience,” she says.
Jamie Shepley, co-owner of Mr Lawrence cafe and bar on the Murrumbidgee, agrees that Wagga is ready to take on that food destination mantle.
Mr Lawrence, named for the original owners of the premises T. Lawrence & Sons, features local produce and serves great coffee and cocktails – making it the perfect spot for a Pick Me Up Espresso Martini.
Jamie and his business partner Luke Kerlin also own Hide Steak & Bar, which is devoted to tender cuts of meat, sides and sauces.
The Oakroom at the Townhouse Hotel Wagga is another dining hotspot. A menu standout is the lamb backstrap served with pea puree, toasted macadamia, Persian feta and artichoke – and you can’t pass up a grand finale of strawberry ‘lamington’ with mascarpone and coconut.
Pastorale by Meccanico on Sturt Street is a European-inspired restaurant nestled inside the heritage Riverine Club, where co-owner Richard Moffatt sources the best regional produce to be cooked over charcoal and a naked flame.
“We have fabulous produce in the food bowl area – great vegetables, Murray cod and meats – the standard has really improved over the years,” he says. “I don’t believe in over-complicating the cooking process, and we remain very true to European-inspired dishes where the flavour talks.”
Other popular restaurants include The Charles in the heart of Wagga and Magpies Nest. For great coffee and food try the Trail Street Coffee Shop and Mates Gully Cafe & Restaurant.
If you love craft beer, drop into the Thirsty Crow Brewing Co. It’s been going since 2010 and offers a great selection of lagers, stouts and everything in between.
On the wine front, Boutique Wines by CSU has its cellar door on the edge of the university campus, and produces award-winning wines made on the premises by students of the wine science and viticulture program. Its bounty has attracted a swag of medals from boutique wine shows.
Borambola Wines, owned by Tim and Naomi McMullen, produces beer, cider and an array of wines. Pop along for a tasting in beautiful surrounds about half an hour from the city.
“People are sourcing local produce and it’s great to see local restaurants supporting growers,” says Tim, who planted his first vines almost 30 years ago.
Gin lovers will enjoy Riverina Gin, established by Jake and Tessa Eaglesham. The distillery produces a dry gin with local botanicals inspired by the Riverina, handmade in a copper still using the traditional one-shot distillation method. Scottish-born Jake says the couple fell in love with the process of gin-making and their signature blend reflects the tastes of “place”.
Often referred to as Little Italy, with more than 60 per cent of its residents claiming Italian heritage, Griffith has a vibrant food bowl with an emphasis on big tastes and top wineries producing swoon-worthy drops.
Chef Luke Piccolo, who opened , describes the city as home to “genuine” food, where amazing produce stars – with much of it grown on the Piccolo Family Farm. Here farm to fork rules, with a focus on seasonality.
“We are in a bit of a bubble in Griffith, and everything is centred around great food and great experiences,” says Luke, who thrives on cooking food that reflects his heritage and story. “That’s what I love about cooking with the diverse selection of fresh produce – we have it all,” he says.
Casual cucina Zecca Handmade Italian, where co-owners Ben Di Rosa, his wife Michaela Cangelli-Di Rosa and friend Daniel D’Aquino create authentic Italian recipes, has a big following. It’s housed in the original Rural Bank building, and “zecca” means means mint in Italian, a nod to money. The menu changes daily for lunch and dinner and the pasta dishes are divine.
A farm-to-table philosophy is also central to the Bull & Bell Steakhouse, known for its established traditions, dynamic wine, food and produce with a background of European flair and a strong Italian heritage.
“Farm-to-table philosophy is all about ensuring every step your food has taken, between being in the ground and on the hoof to your dining table, is carefully monitored, to ensure sustainable practices and that the food is kept as fresh and unprocessed as possible,” says executive chef Anthony Fullerton. “We have set ourselves a 300-kilometre radius where we have worked with farm gate producers to provide us with the best local ingredients,’’
Another popular Griffith institution, La Scala, opened its doors in 1977. Open in the evenings, it serves up traditional wood-fired pizza, homemade pasta, gelato and delicious desserts.
Fill up your picnic ballast at La Piccola Grosseria, a small family-owned authentic Italian deli run by Salvatore, Michele and Maria Trimboli, who specialise in coffee, cold meats, antipasti, homemade bread, biscuits and Italian treats.
Wineries include Yarran Wines, established by the Brewer family, with organically certified vineyards and a cellar door on the outskirts of Griffith, where you can go for a guided tasting.
Calabria Family Wines is another family-established winery that dates back to 1945. The estate is home to a Tuscan-style cellar door where visitors can try award-winning Italian grape varietals including Nero d’Avola and Montepulciano.
It’s also worth dropping into De Bortoli’s cellar door in Bilbul for a tasting, garden tour and delicious platters, and Whitton Malt House just outside of Griffith for food and beverages where local sustainably sourced produce is the star of the show.
But be warned: it’s hard to resist food souvenirs when you visit the Riverina. You may well return with a carload of goodies.
Where to stay in the Riverina
Best Western Plus Hovell Tree Inn
Perfectly positioned on the Murray River, the Best Western Plus Hovell Tree Inn is an unbeatable venue for leisure guests, events and weddings.
The hotel is easily recognised by its large bay windows overlooking landscaped gardens and features comfortable King Joil bedding, plush linen, Wi-Fi, air conditioning and many other amenities. Take a moment of relaxation in the heated outdoor swimming pool and spa or enjoy the indoor sauna and gym.
The Hovel Bar and Grill at the hotel offers modern Australian cuisine with a Mediterranean twist. Guests can enjoy a relaxed dining experience overlooking immaculate gardens and parkland. The Cocktail Bar is open daily and offers an excellent range of wine from the local region, Peroni and Asahi tap beer and local craft beers. Enjoy an afternoon beverage in our courtyard or by the pool.
Best Western Plus Bolton On The Park
Wagga Wagga, NSW
Offering premium accommodation in the heart of Wagga Wagga, this sophisticated and stylish property is perfectly situated in the city centre – just a short walk away from cosmopolitan dining, bars, shopping areas, Robertson Oval, The Oasis and more.
With quality dining options, spacious king and king single beds and off-street parking, you can sit back and relax in this 4 star accommodation.
Best Western Ambassador Motor Inn & Apartments
Wagga Wagga, NSW
Close driving distance to the city centre, the show ground and race course, the Best Western Ambassador Motor Inn & Apartments offers quality accommodation for both leisure guests and families. The spacious ground floor rooms all include comfortable queen size beds, free high-speed wireless internet, with two-bedroom apartment options for longer stays or larger families.
The property also offers use of the in-ground saltwater pool, BBQ and garden area plus delicious home cooked meals via room service. Continental breakfast items can be delivered to your room as well.
Fast food facts
Griffith has so many kilometres of trellised vines they could lap Australia’s coast three times, and the region recently planted one million hazelnut trees for chocolate maker Ferrero.
Chiko Rolls originated in Wagga Wagga. Invented by Francis Gerald McEnroe, a boilermaker from Bendigo, the popular Australian hot snack made its first appearance at the Wagga show in 1951.
Want more to explore in the Riverina? Check out gourmet offerings in Griffith.