A Foodie's Guide to Cairns
Queensland’s tropical north capital, Cairns, is known by many as the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef--the meeting point of two World Heritage places: the world’s oldest rainforest, the Daintree Rainforest, and of course, the Great Barrier Reef.
But, while it’s natural wonders and earthy beauty are world renowned, it’s rep as a foodie capital is only just making waves.
As a staunch advocate for the culinary wonder of Cairns, I’ve done the hard work--read: spent ages eating my around the city and surrounds--to bring you the ultimate foodie guide.
If you’re planning a trip, or are reading this in your hotel room as your belly rumbles before you hit the town, don’t worry: this guide has you covered.
Let’s dig in.
If it’s a banging brunch you’re after, then to Caffeind you must go. This spot delivers London-worthy coffee and a brunch menu made for Instagram. The chilli eggs come with home made chilli jam, while the avo and feta toast is the perfect way to experience the Aussie classic. Don’t leave without trying the seasonal smoothie bowl packed full of fresh, local, tropical fruit.
By the way, these guys do breakfast, lunch, and dinner so complete the trifecta while you’re in town.
For the best (and I mean BEST) coffee in town, you’re going to want to put Blackbird Espresso at the top of your list. Start your day exploring the reef with a quick pit stop here and you’re guaranteed a perfect start to your day. You’ll find them hidden down a laneway--very unCairns--which makes them that much cooler. You won’t find the full brunch spread here, but you will find delicious pastries and even more delicious coffee.
Fun fact: this spot is named after the black cockatoo rather than your typical British blackbird.
Annee’s Caphe Sua Da
An authentic Vietnamese brunch spot in the middle Cairns? You better believe it. Annee’s Caphe Sua Da does bang-on just like they do in Ho Chi Minh Vietnamese iced coffee (complete with biodegradable cups so you’re doing the environment a favour!) and moreish brunch style snacks, making them the perfect grab-and-go breakfast spot when you’re in town. They also do fresh, jam-packed salad cups which are perfect for packing on your day’s adventure.
This spot is little out of the tourist locales, so it’s real local’s secret. If you’ve hired a car, or are staying on this side of town, a visit is a must. Take a seat in the leafy courtyard, dappled with sunlight through the canopy of tropical flowering trees, as you chow down on the daily frittata, the falafel salad or their killer burger.
When you’re in Cairns, you need to try fresh seafood, that much is a given. The question is, where?! Prawn Star might have a questionable name, but this tiny boat in Cairns harbour is actually one of the best restaurants in town. Filled to the brim with tropical vibes, you’ll want to come hungry for this dining experience. Prepare to devour the day’s fresh catch, think: prawns, oysters, mud crab and more. Pro tip: get in early as (being a boat!) seats are limited, and they get busy fast.
By the way, you’ll find the boat just near the Reef Fleet terminal, so once you’ve returned from the reef, you can stop by for a fresher than fresh seafood dinner before you crash for the night.
Juan Walker Walkabout Cultural Adventures
While this one isn’t technically in Cairns, you’d be silly not to book yourself in for one of the area’s most delicious food tours. Join host Juan as he takes you a fully guided cultural adventure through the Daintree and the Kuku Yalanji country.
Aside from feeding you extremely well, you’ll learn about the Kuku Yalanji people’s connection with the land, different bush foods and learning about the area’s history and culture. You’ll get to sample shellfish and even catch your own mud crab if you’re lucky!
Salt House sits right on the Cairns Marina, meaning you’ll be pairing your meal with one of the best views in town, right across the marina and out into the towering mountains. Treat yourself to their fresh seafood tasting plate (shout out to the kingfish ceviche) or get stuck into literally anything from their wood fired grill. Be it a pizza or the local Atherton Tablelands pork ribeye, you can’t go wrong.
Any restaurant whose brand includes the motto “eat drink share”, I’m an instant fan of, and Noa is no exception. I’m even more so partial to restaurant’s which have whole section of their menus dedicated to share boards, which again, Noa delivers in spades. Think bountiful boards piled high with charcuterie and even a baked camembert dish. The best way to experience Noa is to order the ‘leave it to us’ option, and they’ll fill you up with the chef’s selections of the restaurant’s best dishes.
For a truly authentic Australian dining experience, you’re going to want to add Ochre to your foodie line up. This one is also located by the Reef Fleet docks, so you can stop by after a day exploring the reef as well. For an antipasto platter featuring smoked kangaroo, or for salt and native pepper leaf wrapped crocodile and prawns, Ochre is the spot for you.
Make sure you have Cairns’ first and only rooftop bar firmly planted on your agenda, because you don’t want to miss this one. You’ll find Rocco sitting pretty at the very top of the newly opened Riley by Crystalbrook hotel smack bang on the waterfront. Naturally, it’s the perfect spot to soak up 270 degree views of Cairns--you can even spy Green Island whilst perched at the bar.
You’ll find a menu jam-packed with all of the spices and flavours of the Mediterranean, like sumac grilled calamari and falafels with jalapeno sauce and chorizo or the chamula Far North Queensland prawns.
Pro tip: stop by at sunset, and watch the boats and helicopters return from the reef.
Daintree Ice Cream Company
Now, I hope you understand how damn delicious the spoils from Daintree Ice Cream Company are when I tell you I’ve only included a dessert section in this list so I could harp on about them. Again, these guys aren’t located in Cairns, but it would be remiss to visit the area without adding a very decadent stop here to your itinerary.
You’ll find them in the beating heart of the Daintree, quite literally surrounded by prehistoric rainforest and sweeping vistas across their 22 acre tropical fruit orchard, tropical gardens and even their own private, crystal clear creek.
The flavours they offer here aren’t your regular neapolitan, oh no, here you’ll sample everything from black sapote to roasted wattleseed. The best part? All the flavours are made with the fruit picked fresh from their on-site orchard.