Where to get the best seafood in Cairns and surrounds
Tropical North Queensland boasts hundreds of kilometres of coastline from Mission Beach in the south to 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 classic 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 seven places you can experience the best seafood Cairns and neighbouring towns have to offer.
Dundee’s Restaurant on the Waterfront, Cairns
Located at the Cairns Marina, Dundee’s Restaurant on the Waterfront has been serving up fresh seafood and stunning water views to guests for over 30 years.
Diners flow in and out of Dundee’s like the tide. Those in the know opt for one of the prime seats practically in the water, and browse through the extensive menu. For a true Aussie experience, choose something from the Bush Tucker menu – you’ll find Kangaroo and Crocodile skewers among other delicacies. If you can’t decide, go for the Australian Sampler plate, which is more or less outback Australia in a dish.
If you’re looking for a more immersive experience, Dundee’s also offers a mesmerising dining set up at the Cairns Aquarium that will transport you to the depths of the ocean. Dundee’s at the Cairns Aquarium is home to the largest tank in an Australian restaurant, giving visitors a unique experience of dining with coastal aquatic life.
Osprey’s Restaurant, Port Douglas
Further north, in the luscious Thala Beach Nature Reserve, is Osprey’s Restaurant, where you can dine among the treetops. Named after the large fish-eating bird of prey, this restaurant is a must-visit for panoramic views and local food.
Produce is ethically sourced each day from local suppliers and markets, with some of the ingredients deriving from the Atherton Tablelands and the Coral Sea. Dive headfirst into the extensive seafood offering by way of the tempura soft shell crab bao bun before moving onto the crab and banana prawn fettuccine with garlic and chilli.
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.
Nu Nu, Palm Cove
If you feel like dipping your toes in the sand, not just the water, head over to Nu Nu Palm Cove for a tropical meal by the beachside. Head chef Nick Holloway (you may recognise him from his stint as guest chef on Masterchef) creates sophisticated seafood dishes with only the best local, tropical produce that the region has to offer. So whether you’re after the freshest barramundi, the juiciest tiger prawns or sweet local surf clams, Nu Nu has you covered.
Scoring a table on the expansive deck at Holloway’s lauded Palm Cove restaurant, is prime real estate as it overlooks the Coral Sea, Double Island and a line of Instagram-friendly palm trees that bend beautifully in the wind.
Flames of the Forest, Port Douglas
As the name suggests, Flames of the Forest is a magical rainforest dining experience that will leave you in awe of this beautiful part of the world. Renowned for being one of the best food experiences in Queensland, you’ll be seated at a communal dining table on the forest floor surrounded by flickering fairy lights.
Enjoy the enchanting surrounds while digging into the exceptional locally sourced seafood on offer. For a true taste of Queensland, try the pan-seared coral trout on sautéed seasonal greens with a lemon myrtle beurre blanc and fresh herb salsa.
Book a seat for a Tuesday and Thursday evening, and you’ll also receive an unforgettable Australian cultural experience. Learn about Australia’s Indigenous people and heritage through storytelling, didgeridoo playing and song. Plus, enjoy an eight-dish banquet while you immerse yourself in Aboriginal culture.
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.
Salsa Bar & Grill, Port Douglas
The food at Salsa Bar & Grill in Port Douglas sails beyond the beachside classic of battered fish with a pile of chips on the side. The airy, relaxed setting has been a popular hub for good food and good company for over two decades.
Chef Goran Zonai has an international Masters in Cookery and his skill, along with that of his talented team, results in beautiful seafood dishes worth travelling for. The produce is sourced locally and the accompanying wine list features predominantly Australian and New Zealand wines.
Everything’s good here, but we can’t go past the Old-Bay-spiced school prawns doused in chilli and charred lime aioli, salt and pepper calamari, and linguine pepperincino with a choice of local tiger prawns or Tableland red claw crayfish.
The Beach Shack, Kewarra Beach
The Beach Shack, located right on the private beachfront at the Kewarra Beach Resort and Spa, is a seasonal eatery that opens in the dry season from April 17 to early January.
Set over 30 acres of lush landscaped rainforest gardens, this private beachfront property provides an authentic tropical Queensland holiday experience, and The Beach Shack is the perfect spot to relax and enjoy a meal.
Follow the footprints in the sand and watch the palm trees sway, as you dine on perfectly cooked seafood, caught just around the corner. Order the twice-cooked octopus tentacle with citrus or the ever-changing catch of the day, wash it down with a cold beer or a tropical cocktail, and you’re pretty much in heaven.
Prawn Star, Cairns
The best thing about eating the abundance of seafood Cairns is lucky enough to have on its doorstep 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 perfect for those who like to keep it casual.
Hop onboard the rustic eat-in trawler and enjoy a share platter of prawns fresh from the local waters. Take in the tranquil views of the Cairns Marina while sipping on a beer and toast to the fresh seafood Cairns offers and how far the food scene has come in this beautiful part of Queensland.
Top takeaway seafood options
- Ocean World Seafood Market: This locally-owned business has been operating for just shy of 15 years. The local go-to for fresh seafood, as well as for a number of leading restaurants who come here to source their ingredients, this is the place to go for top-notch Cairns seafood. Order the local wild-caught barramundi and a few crumbed prawn cutlets and see for yourself.
- 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 family-run hatchery and farm on the Atherton Tablelands to purchase native freshwater crayfish.
- Ocean World Seafood Market: Local prawns, crayfish, barramundi and oysters make regular appearances at this restaurant where the counter is always crammed with locals and travellers.
- Preston Fresh Seafood: If head chef of Palm Cove’s Nu Nu, Nick Holloway, gets his seafood from this family owned-and-operated business, then you know you’re onto something good. Live mud crabs are available in store along with fresh Tableland Red Claws.