Where to eat in Cairns

Where to eat in Cairns

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

Melbourne comes to the tropics in this coffee-first kinda cafe, replete with 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 Cairns

Photos by @kristaeppelstun

After a multimillion-dollar renovation to Pullman Reef Hotel Casino, Tamarind now has the interior design to match the artistry that’s always been in the kitchen. Tamarind is the kind of place you go in Cairns when you’re looking to impress, offering nightly degustations and an a la carte menu that punches with the force of Jeff Horn in the heavy-weight flavour division.

We suggest you let the chefs make all the hard decisions for you and just concentrate on savouring dishes like Penang duck curry with caramelised pumpkin, roasted peanuts and scented rice. With no word of a lie – this is a dish of death row proportions –  so sweet, so spicy, so saucy that you’ll be looking over your shoulder to see if it’s okay to drink the sauce. Ps: It totally is. Just ask for a soup spoon!

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 (meal and drink) menu on offer at $20 per person, 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, served now with marina views from its new location.

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.

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!