10 of the best Cairns restaurants and cafes
Being so close to the natural splendour of the Great Barrier Reef, it’s easy to overlook some of Cairns’ other drawcards. Namely their proximity to some of the freshest seafood and produce in Australia, which forms the backbone of the local dining scene.
Whether you’re after fresh seafood, degustations, authentic ramen, or just a burger and fires, this pocket of tropical paradise has it all.
If you’re on the lookout for a world class meal you won’t have to hunt far, with many of the best restaurants in Cairns located conveniently in the CBD.
Here are 10 of the best to check out next time you’re in Tropical North Queensland
Moku Bar and Grill
Sitting pretty within Novotel Cairns Oasis Resort, the swim-up bar, melon coolers and daybeds aren’t the only evocations of island paradise. Moku Bar and Grill prides itself on creating delicious, refreshing dishes that respond to the tropical climate and enhance The local mood of an endless summer.
If you’ve come with a group, Moku offers a spread of island-inspired share plates that include soft shell crab bao buns and lime-cured tuna, as well as chilled salads, fragrant grilled meats, and whole fish for when you go all out.
Melbourne comes to the tropics in this coffee-first cafe. Unlike Melbourne, the clientele aren’t so much looking for something warm and comforting in their morning brew. Instead, Caffeind is something more like Melbourne on holiday, with a specialty cold drip that will invigorate and refresh you in swift sip.
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, or dip into the chilli eggs for a savoury breakfast.
Apex Milk Bar
Fresh fish and chips, great burgers, and frothy classic milkshakes make Apex Milk Bar one of Cairns’ most beloved tenures.
Everyone has a treasured memory of their favourite diner, whether it’s a plate piled high with golden fries or the first sip of an icy cold milkshake after school. Apex Milk Bar trades in precisely that feeling,
Their classic diner-style food has been flying off the pass since 1960, which means they not only have decades of experience backing them, they also have the added pull of nostalgia. This isn’t to say they’re stuck in a time warp, quite the opposite. Apex’s longevity is down to their ability to refresh their menu to stay ahead of the curve without compromising on value or losing touch with their roots. Ergo, menu standouts like the roast pork belly roll and the loaded waffle fries.
The rule of thumb when travelling in a foreign place is to look out for the places packed with locals. When there’s a line snaking up the street nightly, you know you’re in for a good feed, and that’s just what you’ll find in a bowl of Ganbaranba’s authentic ramen.
Besides being heartwarming and affordable, these noodles are super fresh and every bowl comes with a bottomless flow of iced tea. Add to your order a size of gyoza and you’re eating like a local.
If you’re looking to pull out the stops, Tamarind, inside the Reef Hotel Casino, is the place to go. It’s the kind of restaurant that always impresses, offering fine dining Thai food delivered a la carte or as a degustation that punches with the power of the entire city of Bangkok.
This is the only hatted restaurant in Cairns, so to make the most of the kitchen’s talent a banquet is that way to go. The chefs take care of the selection so you can just concentrate on savouring dishes like Penang duck curry with caramelised pumpkin and roasted peanuts. It’s the perfect balance of sweet and spicy and will stay with you long after you leave Cairns.
Waterbar & Grill
The secret to Waterbar & Grill’s melt-in-your-mouth steaks lies not in the cut or even how the steak is cooked, but in where it’s sourced from. If meat consumption gives you pause, you can rest easy knowing that the meat getting aged is sourced locally from the Atherton Tablelands’ Morganbury Meat Company, an operation in paddock to plate.
Though steak is the obvious choice here, there are plenty of other grill options including ribs and Portugese-style chicken, as well as burgers, seafood, and even a formidable range of meat-centric salads.
No doubt about it, Salt House offers one of the best seats in town. Right on the marina, they serve lunch and dinner before an enchanting view of the Trinity Inlet. This is the go-to for locals and a damn fine spot to call in for a meal any day of the week.
Their whole operation is designed to complement the tropics, case in point the chilled seafood tasting plate that perfectly cuts through the North Queensland heat and celebrates the quality of the local seafood simultaneously. Perfect for seafood lovers.
On cooler nights, it’s all about their custom-built, Argentinean wood fire grill. Choose from the decorated Darling Downs Wagyu, Oakley Black Angus, or certified humane raised sirloin from Bass Strait and Salt House will roast it to a gorgeous char.
Tucked inside Orchid Plaza is one of Cairns’ best-kept foodie secrets. Built to emulate a classic Korean lunch bar, Corea Corea is where you’ll find authentic, tasty Korean street food, with free mugicha (barley tea) on tap.
Offering a series of fragrant warmers like bibimbap, barbecue ribs and soups, it’s the stone hot pot that shines brightest on Corea Corea’s menu. Whether it’s spicy octopus, barbecued beef, or a mixed seafood, they’re all guaranteed to transport you to a rowdy Korean lunchroom. And make sure you remember to add a side of kimchi.
Where else but in Cairns could you expect to nosh on an emu wonton, a char-grilled kangaroo sirloin with a quandong chilli glaze, or wattleseed pavlova? Fusing Indigenous bush food ingredients with the produce of north Queensland, Ochre is one of the most unique dining experiences in the state, maybe the world.
The major pull of their perspective is how expertly they utilise native Australian flora and fauna. Davidson plum, quandong, riberry – these ingredients aren’t found anywhere else in the world, so by this sheer fact alone you can guarantee that Ochre will hit buttons you never knew you had. Their entire menu is a love letter to Australia, and makes for one of the most memorable experiences you will ever have.
There’s a reason calamari and champagne dominate dining tables across the Mediterranean coastline: they go so well with sweeping vistas of crystal waters. Being Cairns’ premier rooftop bar with a panoramic view of the Coral Sea, it makes sense that Rocco’s would draw inspiration from the Mediterranean.
Sitting atop the five-star resort Riley, this skyscraping restaurant is indiscriminate in its love for Mediterranean cuisine. Saffron chicken, grilled halloumi, Moroccan spiced meatballs, and patatas bravas all get a look in, and a special mention must go to the kingfish ceviche, which is really the perfect thing to go with the Cairns weather and the Rocco view.