It’s well-known for its iconic waterfront location, but Cairns is also home to an array of fabulous places to eat and drink.
Spectacular seafood and fresh produce remain the backbone of the dining scene in Cairns. Its proximity to bountiful waters provide plenty of opportunities to indulge in local fisherman’s bounty – but that’s not all. Thanks to an ever-growing list of popular restaurants, markets, cafes and hole-in-the-wall eateries, choosing where to eat and drink in Cairns is becoming an overwhelming task. Feast your eyes on our pick of the best.
Caffiend is easy to spot, thanks to the incredibly large mural that dons it entrance. The artwork, created by local artist Caroline Mudge, depicts the profile of an Ethiopian girl who watches over the café’s satisfied customers. Stop here for delicious and interesting food made with locally-sourced seasonal ingredients.
Well-known for its chilli eggs – cooked your way with the café’s famous chilli jam – order a generous helping alongside your pick of specialty coffee blends. Local roasters, The Tattooed Sailor, provide the beans for the blend of your choice. Try the house-made coconut and caramel infused latte for a uniquely addictive morning caffeine hit.
If Bondi and Byron Bay got together to create a light, airy hospitality baby and plonked it right in a former 1920’s NAB Bank, they’d give birth to The Chambers. You’ll find the who’s who of Cairns inside this unique landmark that is located right in the heart of the bustling CBD.
It features a charming cafe, two bars, a cosy restaurant and an in-house patisserie/bakery. Try the smoothie bowls topped with your choice of fresh matcha, local fruit, goji berries, pepitas and house-made buckwheat crunchies. The space is also home to an in-house pastry chef, who creates irresistible freshly-baked sweet and savoury treats daily. Or perhaps you take your breakfast in liquid form? The Pantry and Juice Bar serves smoothies and cold drinks ready to-go.
Those in town for the weekend should set their sights (and stomachs) on this iconic Cairns institution. What began as a modest, community food market has now transformed into a bustling three-day event showcasing 180 stalls. Both tourists and locals convene from Friday to Sunday to browse the region’s best. You’ll find local produce – exotic fruit, artisan bread, samosas, coffee, smoothie’s organic meats and the like – as well as international foods, jewellery, clothing and more.
The Riley is one of the newest boutique hotels to grace the city of Cairns. Its part of the premium Crystalbrook Collection, and delivers the same level of understated luxury as other portfolio heavy-hitters. Greenfields is their on-site café and the menu places emphasis on all things raw and simple, with health and sustainability at the forefront of all they do.
For lunch, try the poké bowl with raw salmon, avocado, brown rice, edamame – and complement it with a cold-pressed juice made in-house. All fruit is locally-sourced, all meats are grass-fed, all fish sustainably-caught, and the packaging is also bio-degradable. You’ll leave Greenfields feeling refreshed and energised, ready to conquer the day ahead.
Remember jaffles? The 1950 toasted sandwich maker that was a staple kitchen appliance in every Australian kitchen for decades to follow? Well, Jafflehead is keeping the vision alive with their hole-in-the-wall institution that serves up the humble favourite to hungry Cairns residents.
Try the El Chapo with Mexican spiced chicken, red beans, corn, jalapeños, sour cream and cheese; the Reuben with corned beef, sauerkraut, Russian mayo and cheese; or the classic Can O’ Worms with tinned spaghetti and cheese. Those with a sweet tooth shouldn’t go past The Floyd – stuffed with Nutella, marshmallows, banana and puff pastry. Hot tip: pair your choice of jaffles with one of the café’s famous thickshakes.
Dining out at Ochre for dinner in Cairns is a no-brainer. The waterfront spot is best known for incorporating unique native foods throughout its menu, and is an award winner many times over. Head Chef and owner Craig Squire is renowned for showcasing Australian produce to the world. Diners from far and wide come to sample an inventive array of dishes such as salt and native pepper leaf crocodile, Daintree tea smoked duck breast, or an Australian antipasto platter that comprises of emu wonton and salmon green ant gravlax. Book a table at Ochre to experience it for yourself.
Make time for a meal at Salt House and take in those famous marina views. Located right on the heart of the esplanade, this place is almost as iconic as the scenery that surrounds it. The atmosphere is bustling and trendy, so those seeking something quiet and intimate should find an alternative.
The menu changes frequently depending on the seasonal produce on offer in that moment. Brick-fired pizzas are a staple, alongside a number of meats cooked on the custom-built Argentinian wood-fired grill. This hip hangout is filled with tables, both big and small, as well as flowing ponds and fire features. The outdoor daybeds are another drawcard, providing a bevy of sunset viewing spots for those keen for a sundowner.
When in Cairns, do as the locals do and eat ramen at Ganbaranba Noodle Colosseum. You’ll recognise this place by the (socially-distanced) line that snakes up the street seven nights a week. Once you’re in, you’ll be rewarded with a bustling, wholesome joint that serves an array of traditional ramen soups and gyoza in a casual setting.
The ingredients are both locally sourced and super fresh, with emphasis placed on authenticity. They’ll even ask you how you want your noodles cooked; say medium. Every meal comes with bottomless serving of iced tea, cementing this cheap-and-cheerful jaunt as one of the greats.