The best places to eat fresh seafood in and around Cairns
Tropical North Queensland has hundreds of kilometres of coastline starting at Mission Beach in the south and ending at Torres Strait in the north. It’s where barramundi, coral trout and prawns are listed as top exports and there’s even a town called Flying Fish Point, on the mouth of the Johnstone River.
While casual fish and chip shops still pepper the coastline – enticing you to sample the region’s fresh seafood by the shore – the local food scene has changed and evolved.
Here are 7 of the best places to eat seafood in and around Cairns.
Dundee’s Restaurant on the Waterfront, Cairns
Dundee’s Restaurant on the Waterfront has been a local institution for about three decades. Back in the ’90s, it’s where fat-cat politicians, lawyers and journalists used to sit in their power suits over long, languorous lunches. While the restaurant has long since upped stumps from its original location – it’s now beneath Cairns Harbour Lights Hotel – you can’t come to Dundee’s and not have seafood.
Diners eddy and flow here all day, along with the tide, while overlooking glistening water and fleets of fishermen, flitting to and from the reef. Keep it simple with a bucket of bugs and prawns or go for the Ultimate Seafood Experience, an opulent tower of mud crab, yabbies, prawns, oysters, scallops, bug tails, lobster, calamari and mussels.
You can also anchor yourself to a table at Dundee’s at the Cairns Aquarium, where you can admire the shellfish, crustaceans and oceanic creatures you are about to ingest. This is for serious pescatarians only.
Nu Nu, Palm Cove
These days, in tropical North Queensland, chefs such as Nu Nu’s Nick Holloway create sophisticated seafood dishes such as wok-fried North Queensland mud crab, with tamarind, sweet pork, market greens, jasmine rice and ginger broth.
A table on the expansive deck at Holloway’s lauded Palm Cove restaurant, mentioned in our favourite restaurants list, is prime real estate as it overlooks the Coral Sea and Double Island and a stand of Insta-friendly palm trees that bend into the wind.
Osprey’s Restaurant, Port Douglas
Motor further north, past Kewarra Beach, to find Osprey’s Restaurant at Thala Beach Nature Reserve. The restaurant, which is named after the large fish-eating bird of prey, the osprey, is perched on the headland like an eyrie offering views over the Coral Sea, garbed in a velvety swathe of blue.
Order the line-caught yellowfin tuna tataki with tempura ginger nori roll to start and the reef fish of the day with tom yum sweet potato, coconut rice, cassava and Asian herb salad to finish.
Salsa Bar & Grill, Port Douglas
The food at Salsa Bar & Grill in Port Douglas also sails beyond the beachside classic of fish crumbed and battered with a pile of chips on the side.
Keep it simple with Old Bay spice school prawns with chilli and charred lime aioli, salt and pepper calamari and linguine pepperincino with a flashy little fry-up of Tableland red claw.
Flames of the Forest, Port Douglas
The gorgeously styled Flames of the Forest is listed as one of the best food experiences in Queensland. It’s where you will find a dining room set up on the forest floor under trees festooned with flickering fairy lights in Australia’s only rainforest dining experience. It’s as far away from a fast-paced dining scene as you will get and as romantic and charming as a scene from A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Tuck in at a communal tables of 10 amongst locals and visitors and enjoy locally sourced seafood in dishes such as pan-seared coral trout on sautéed seasonal greens with a lemon myrtle beurre blanc and house-made prawn tortellini.
The Beach Shack, Kewarra Beach
The Beach Shack, located near to Kewarra Beach Resort and Spa, is a seasonal eatery that opens May to January 1, in the dry season.
Follow the footprints in the sand along Kewarra Beach and watch the wind riffle the palm trees as you wait for a dozen oysters to be shucked to order.
Prawn Star, Cairns
The best thing about eating seafood in Cairns is that you can choose to scrimp or splurge. The Esplanade is still a top spot to enjoy a casual seafood dinner and Prawn Star on the harbour-facing side of the city – Marlin Marina – is squarely aimed at those who like to keep it casual.
Hearty eaters should opt for the share platter of prawns onboard the rustic eat-in trawler. Sit and sip on a cheap-as-chips beer and toast to fresh seafood in and around Cairns and how far the food scene here has come.
TOP 3 TAKEAWAY SEAFOOD OPTIONS
- Ocean World Seafood Market: This locally-owned business has been operating for almost two decades. Locals will always refer this place for its fresh seafood. Trust in their wisdom and order local wild-caught barramundi and a few crumbed prawn cutlets.
- Apex Milk Bar: Trace the route of the local high-vis colony of tradies and you will find them communicating like a bunch of squawking seagulls about where to source their fish for lunch. The squawks become deafening near to the Apex Milk Bar where they gather for a Far North Fish Burger (mackerel, tartare, cheese, pineapple and jalapeños).
- Prawn Star Cairns: There are now a total of three Prawn Stars barnacled onto the D Finger Wharf at the Marlin Marina. Visit one of the trawlers to eat A-grade prawns, mud crabs and painted crays served with seafood sauce.
WHERE TO BUY FRESH SEAFOOD IN CAIRNS
- AquaVerde Redclaw: Visit this hatchery and farm on the Atherton Tablelands to purchase native freshwater crayfish.
- Ocean World Seafood Market: Local red claw, mud crabs, crayfish, barramundi and prawns make regular appearances at this restaurant where the counter is always cramped with locals and travellers.
- Preston Fresh Seafood: If chef Nick Holloway, of Palm Cove’s Nu Nu, gets his seafood from Preston Fresh in Smithfield, then you know you’re onto a good thing. Live mud crabs are available in store along with fresh line-caught reef fish.