Salsa Bar & Grill

Consistency and community - a recipe for success

Port Douglas is renowned as the jewel in the tropical north, with stunning Four Mile Beach, the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree rainforest. But it’s the world-class restaurants that keep visitors coming back time and again.

Salsa Bar and Grill is one such venue. Having welcomed new and old friends through the doors since 1994, Salsa’s ethos has always been about consistency. It’s the first key to the restaurant’s success - delivering high-level service and amazing food every time. With a customer base that is now generational, guests keep returning to Salsa as they know service will be on point and the food exceptional.

The second key to Salsa’s longevity is the phenomenal employees and their connection to the establishment. Fortunately, the calibre of staff that Salsa attracts has been amazingly high. They’re passionate professionals who treat the venue as if it were their own. They work incredibly hard to deliver the Salsa ethos and have remained long enough to now be considered family. Two members of this Salsa family are head chef Goran Zonai and restaurant manager Paul Kelly.

German-born and French-trained Goran has guided the Salsa kitchen over his 18 years in the venue, constantly innovating his dishes to highlight local produce. He strives to introduce new techniques and flavours, many of which are ahead of the times, demonstrating new and traditional skill sets to younger chefs that they may not have encountered. Many of the chefs coming out of Salsa have gone on to open their own establishments – a lot of that stems back to Goran, his training and extensive knowledge base.

Salsa’s menu is constantly evolving, incorporating local produce wherever possible, while still retaining the traditional favourites that have made Salsa a much-loved institution. It’s so popular that you’ll often see day visitors drive up from Cairns just to lunch or dine there. Some of those favourites that keep people returning and attracting new visitors include linguini pepperincino with Tableland red claw, the Thai chicken spring rolls, and, an all-time favourite, the Daintree Estates chocolate Cointreau souffle. Also well-loved are the yellowfin tuna tataki, Salsa’s jambalaya, and margaritas.

At the helm of Salsa’s legendary front-of-house team is Irishman Paul Kelly. Paul started at Salsa as a backpacker and like many FNQ locals fell in love with the region and has never left. Over his 14 years at Salsa, Paul worked his way to restaurant manager and now proudly leads a team of industry professionals who love their trade and have also been with the restaurant for a number of years. Their food and wine knowledge, combined with their friendly and professional demeanour, make everyone feel welcome.

“We treat everyone with kindness and respect, and sometimes a little cheek,” says Paul. “We try to create an environment that is warm and familiar.”

The staff are also a close-knit group. Like most hospitality professionals, they work closely with the same like-minded group of people with the same work hours, so they become more like family. And the Salsa family is big after 28 years.

Stemming back to the original Salsa ethos, co-owners Bill Conway and Rhys Bawden have worked hard to create an environment that makes both staff and guests feel welcome. If there was a word to describe Salsa Bar and Grill other than family, it would be community -  supporting the community that supports Salsa, both inhouse and within the region.  

“Bill has always made sure that people who walk in the door are recognised and are well taken care of,” Rhys says. “And when they come back, he knows who they are, and they are made to feel very welcome, as are all guests whether they’re newcomers or regulars.”

It’s true what they say – a trip to Port Douglas is not complete without a visit to Salsa, a genuine tropical North Queensland experience. As it is often booked out weeks or even months in advance, it’s best to book a reservation ahead of time to avoid disappointment. And you will be disappointed if you are in Port and miss out on visiting this sensational restaurant.

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