Where to eat in Cairns

Where to eat in Cairns

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When you’re in Cairns there are a million other things to think about before your stomach. Namely, the Great Barrier Reef and how many nights in a row is too many to hit up Gilligan’s.

But, the good great news is, if you consider yourself a bit of a foodie, you won’t have to hunt too far, with some of the best Cairns restaurants and cafes taking pride of place in the CBD.

Here are 10 of the best to check out next time you’re in Tropical North Queensland.

For the best brunch… Caffeind

Caffiend | 10 of the best restaurants and cafes in Cairns

Melbourne comes to the tropics in this laneway cafe, replete with a graffiti wall and the best chilli eggs. Order a cold drip and if you’ve got a sweet tooth, don’t go past the house-made banana and walnut bread served with flame-grilled banana, coconut gelato and coconut caramel sauce.

Open Monday to Saturday 7:30am-3pm, Sunday 8am-2pm.

For the best ramen… Ganbaranba

When there’s a line snaking up the street nightly, you know you’re in for a good feed. And when the ramen is fresh, delicious, cheap and comes with endless complimentary iced tea, you know you’ll just have to come back again tomorrow night.

Eat as the locals do at Ganbaranba and if you slurp through your noodles and have a hankering for more you can top up your bowl for $1.50. Genius.

Open daily 11:30am-9pm.

For the best steak… Waterbar & Grill

Waterbar and Grill | 10 of the best restaurants and cafes in Cairns

The secret to Waterbar & Grill’s melt-in-your-mouth steaks? Aged organic beef from the Atherton Tableland’s Morganbury Meat Company, keeping food miles low and flavours high.

Meat is the obvious choice here, whether you’re tucking into a mother of a 500g rump, a rack of ribs or the Espetada dripping with red wine and chilli sauce. (Don’t worry, there are plenty of vego options, too!)

Open daily for lunch from 11:30am and dinner from 5.30pm till late.

For the best Korean… Corea Corea

Tucked inside Orchid Plaza is one of Cairns’ best-kept foodie secrets: cheap and cheerful Korean street food with free mugicha (barley tea) on tap. Join the queue at Corea Corea, order any stone pot – they’re all amazing – and load up on kimchi.

Open Monday to Friday 11am-4pm and 6pm-9pm, Saturday and Sunday 12pm-4pm and 6pm-9pm.

For the best Thai… Tamarind

Tamarind | 10 of the best restaurants and cafes in Cairns

With a coveted chef’s hat awarded by the Good Food Guide, Tamarind at the Pullman Reef Hotel Casino is the place to go if you’re looking to impress. Offering nightly degustations – with or without matching wines – you can let the chefs make all the hard decisions for you and just concentrate on savouring dishes like Penang duck curry and beef tataki with coconut foam, masaman gel and rendang oil.

Ordering a la carte? You can’t go past the whole crispy baby barramundi on this modern Asian fusion menu. And with dessert options like cassava pudding and macadamia baklava, you know you’re smack bang in the tropics.

Open nightly 6pm-10pm.

For the best views… Salt House

Salt House | 10 of the best restaurants and cafes in Cairns

No doubt about it, Salt House offers one of the best seats in town. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, this is the go-to for locals and a damn fine spot to call in for a meal any day of the week.

With a set lunch menu on offer at $28 per person and high tea available (bookings essential), you’ll probably find yourself back here more than once during your stay.

Open Monday to Thursday 12pm-12am, Friday and Saturday 7am-2am, Sunday 7am-12am.

For Indigenous flavours… Ochre

Where else but in Cairns could you expect to nosh on emu carpaccio, salt and native pepper leaf crocodile, char-grilled kangaroo sirloin with a quandong chilli glaze, wallaby topside, and wattle seed pavlova?

Fusing Indigenous bush food ingredients with the produce of TNQ, Ochre is one dining experience you’ll want to book for.

Open for lunch Monday to Friday 12pm-3pm and dinner seven nights from 5:30pm till late.

For the caveman… Paleo Cafe

Paleo Cafe | 10 of the best restaurants and cafes in Cairns

Dairy, grains, sugars and preservatives are off limits at the original incarnation of popular Queensland chain, Paleo Cafe.

Fuel up with an acai bowl, indulge with a salted caramel thick shake (made on coconut milk), or go for broke with a Caveman Big Breakfast.

Open Monday to Friday 7am-5pm, Saturday to Sunday 7am-3pm.

For a leisurely lunch… Perotta’s at the Gallery

Perrottas at the Gallery | 10 of the best restaurants and cafes in Cairns

When you’re feeling the heat in Cairns CBD, take refuge on the deck at Perotta’s and tuck into fresh paw paw, strawberry and lime salad with buffalo labne, organic honey and sugared pistachio for breakfast, a zesty chilli salt squid salad popping with pomegranate and spiced popcorn for lunch, or Italian-style pulled pork tacos with pickled watermelon. Yep, we’re drooling too.

Yep, we’re drooling too.

Open daily 6:30am-10pm.

For gluten-free options… Candy Cafe

My Kitchen Rules chef Pete Evans is a fan of the duck confit breakfast with blood sausage at Candy Cafe and with 22 gluten-free options across the breakfast and lunch menu – including the haloumi-laden, beetroot and pumpkin-filled Garden of Eden salad – there are plenty of choices to keep your tummy happy at this cafe.

Open daily 7am-2pm.

Been to Cairns? Have we missed any you think should make the list? Leave us a comment with your hot tip!

  • Cairns Foodie

    Nice work, you are on the money! This is pretty perfect.
    1. There should probably be a Japanese entrant
    2. Bayleaf Balinese Restaurant deserves an honourable mention
    3. Mama Coco is widely-reputed for having some of the region’s best dishes, and is packed most lunchtimes despite it’s slightly out-of-the-way location. Is a definite favourite.

    • http://queensland.com/blog Queensland Blog

      Mmmm, yum! Thanks Cairns Foodie.

  • Rehab cafe

    Re:hab cafe cairns

    • http://queensland.com/blog Queensland Blog

      You guys are totally on the radar too – stay tuned for more posts to come! :)

  • Lizzie

    I would also add Yaya’s Hellenic Kitchen and Bar (verandah dining overlooking Esplanade) to the list for Greek Food. For a sundowner, the Blue Mango Cafe and Wine Bar Mercure Cairns Harbourside – comfortable seating, great view, excellent service – somewhere to go if you want to talk to each other without having to shout !

    • http://queensland.com/blog Queensland Blog

      Awesome, thanks for the great tips Lizzie!

  • Blackbird espresso by coffee n

    Blackbird Espresso for your finest morning drop!! :)

  • http://queensland.com/blog Queensland Blog

    Each to their own, bobbyboy. We happen to think each one of these spots deserves a place on this list but agree NuNu is absolutely on point! Definitely worth the drive from Cairns.