10 of the best Cairns restaurants and cafes

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 foodie, you won’t have to hunt 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 caramelised banana, coconut gelato and coconut caramel sauce.

Open: 7am-3pm daily.

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 can expect to be back here again tomorrow night.

Eat as the locals do at Ganbaranba and slurp through your flavoursome noodles with a side of gyoza.

Open: 11:30am-2:30pm and 5pm-8:30pm daily.

For the best steak… Waterbar & Grill

Waterbar and Grill I Cairns restaurants and cafes

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: Lunch from 11:30am and dinner from 5:30pm till late daily.

For the best poolside snacking… Moku Bar and Grill

Muko I Cairns restaurants and cafes

Photo by @moku_cairns

As if Cairns couldn’t get any more tropical – enter Moku Bar and Grill and its endless-summer vibes. Sitting pretty within Novotel Cairns Oasis Resort, the swim-up bar, melon coolers and dreamy daybeds aren’t the only Insta-worthy goods here.

Gather your mates for island-inspired share plates including soft shell crab bao buns, mussel fritters with kiwi mayo, and Fijian-style corned beef casserole with coconut cream. Daybed for one? You can have a lime-cured tuna or green paw paw salad all to yourself.

Open: 10am till late daily.

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 – from spicy octopus to barbecued beef, 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 – inside the Pullman Reef Hotel Casino – 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. 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: 6pm-10pm nightly.

For the best views… Salt House

Salt House I Cairns restaurants and cafes

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.

Get stuck into the chilled seafood tasting plate on a summer’s day or warm up on a rainy night with the Australasian seafood hot pot. Not into the food of the sea? The Argentinean wood-fire grill serves up grass-fed Angus.

Open: Monday to Thursday 8:30am-2am, Friday to Sunday 6:30am-2am.

For Indigenous flavours… Ochre

Ochre I Cairns restaurants and cafes

Photo by @ochrecairns

Where else but in Cairns could you expect to nosh on emu wonton, 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 north Queensland, Ochre is one dining experience you’ll want to book for, now served with marina views from its new location.

Open: 11:30am-3pm and 5:30pm-9:30pm daily.

For a leisurely lunch… Perotta’s at the Gallery

Perottas I Cairns restaurants and cafes

Photo by @perottascafe

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 house-made yoghurt, organic honey and sugared pistachio for breakfast.

Time for lunch? What about a zesty chilli salt squid salad popping with pomegranate and spiced popcorn, or twice-cooked pork shoulder tacos with kimchi and pineapple? Yep, we’re drooling too.

Open: 6:30am-10pm daily.

For a Mediterranean feast… Rocco

Rocco | Cairns restaurants and cafes

Panoramic views of Cairns and the Coral Sea are on the menu here at the city’s highest – and freshly opened – rooftop bar and restaurant. Sitting atop new five-star resort, Riley, Rocco’s food offerings turn all the spices of the Med on their head.

With dishes like grilled sumac calamari, falafels with jalapeño sauce and braised beef check on couscous, your senses won’t be complaining.

Open: Monday to Wednesday 4pm till late and Thursday to Sunday from 12pm.

What are your fave Cairns restaurants? Share below.

*This post was first written in 2015 and updated in April 2019.