When visiting the Great Barrier Reef, many travelers will find themselves spending some time in Cairns in Far North Queensland. The city is also a popular destination thanks to its proximity to the Daintree Rainforest and resort towns like Port Douglas.
Cairns is located 1,500 miles north of Sydney, but it more than holds its own when it comes to dining and nightlife. Its tropical climate and strong agricultural history mean the food is fresh and innovative, with influences from all over the world.
Best Modern Australian: Ochre
The chefs at Ochre go above and beyond to incorporate bush tucker (native proteins, fruits, and vegetables) into the menu. The Australian antipasto, comprised of emu, green ants, crocodile, scallops, and Kakadu plums, is complemented by a wide-ranging Australian wine list.
Located at the recent Harbourside Lights development, the interior features a large artwork by local Indigenous artist Shane Woodinda Wallace and is inspired by the Aussie outback. The lunch platter is a great deal for groups of two or more.
Best Fusion: Tamarind
At the Reef Hotel and Casino, Tamarind serves upscale Thai fusion perfect for a special occasion. The seven-course tasting menu is legendary in Cairns, with a focus on seasonal ingredients and contemporary techniques. If you'd rather order a la carte, you'll have a choice of some of the city's top seafood, with wine pairings also available. The luxurious interior adds to the warm and romantic atmosphere.
Best Ramen: Ganbaranba
The lines outside Ganbaranba give a clue to the quality of Cairns' best budget dining. The sunshine ramen—with pork, garlic and chili—is the most popular dish, followed by the gold ramen with pork, chicken, and black pepper
There is a full vegetarian menu and, if you're feeling adventurous, you can order extra toppings or noodles for just a couple of dollars more. The friendly staff and efficient service make Ganbaranba a great lunch option during your trip.
Best French Cuisine: C’est Bon
To some, a French fine dining restaurant in the tropics may seem a little incongruous, but C’est Bon executes the concept with style, elegance and a replica Eiffel Tower on the roof. This beloved spot opened its doors in 2003 and prides itself on impeccable service.
The menu covers duck terrine, ocean trout, Pacific white shrimp, and lamb cutlets, as well as top-notch traditional French entrees and desserts. Ask about the two- and three-course seasonal lunch menus.
Best seafood: The Backyard
This waterfront restaurant and bar overlooks the Cairns marina, with three separate dining spaces: a bar, a garden grill, and a covered deck. The Backyard has a lively, family-friendly atmosphere with plenty of seating to soak up the sunshine.
Next door to the Shangri-La Hotel, it serves a full breakfast plus a gastropub-style lunch and dinner menu with burgers, tacos, chicken wings, and the famous shell seafood platter.
Best Steakhouse: Waterbar
Also on the marina, Waterbar has been keeping the carnivores of Cairns happy since 2006. Head Chef Dumi Dlamini's South African roots shine through in his famous Lekker sauce, which is served on everything from buffalo wings to pork ribs.
Grain-fed, aged organic beef is sourced from the nearby Atherton Tablelands and all steaks are basted and chargrilled for a distinctively tropical taste. The wine list is excellent and a kids menu is also available.
Best Italian: La Fettuccina
La Fettuccina is an unassuming neighborhood favorite, serving up fresh pasta and seafood for over 30 years. There is sidewalk seating and a traditional restaurant inside, plus a well-stocked bar and a full wine list. The eye fillet steak with creamy mushroom sauce is a crowd-pleaser, as is the seafood pasta. Portions are generous, but a kid's size is available on request.
Best Cafe: Caffiend
In the heart of the city, Caffiend pours a mean flat white made with beans from the local Tattooed Sailor Coffee Roasters. The all-day breakfast menu has everything you need for a typical Aussie meal, including poached eggs and smashed avocado, plus daily specials that make the most of seasonal produce.
The menu offers vegan options and there are cocktail specials on weekends. This cafe also functions as a gallery, with the work of local artists covering the walls and occasional evening events.
Best Balinese: Bayleaf
Despite Australia's proximity to Indonesia, authentic Balinese food is hard to come by. This local gem is the exception to the rule, located just north of the city center at Bay Village Tropical Retreat and Apartments.
Bayleaf specializes in home-style share plates, including classics like nasi goreng and spicy grilled fish. The staff are happy to help with any questions about the menu and lunch specials are available Tuesday to Friday.
Best for Groups: Bushfire Flame Grill
This Brazilian-inspired grill on the Cairns Esplanade serves diners churrasco-style. Kangaroo rump, pork, lamb, beef, and spicy sausage is carved off skewers onto your plate. The meats are accompanied by a strong Australian wine list, as well as local and imported beers.
A buffet breakfast and an a la carte menu are also available, with fish, chicken and even vegetarian gnocchi. Early bird prices apply for the churrasco experience before 6 p.m.
Best for Families: Dundees at the Aquarium
Dine inside a saltwater aquarium at Dundee's, with the choice between a quick cafe meal or a full dining experience. The restaurant, which opened in 2019, serves seafood with a modern Australian twist alongside pork, crocodile, and light salads. The original (but slightly less entertaining) Dundee's establishment can be found over by the Cairns harbor.
Best Bar Food: Fusion Art Bar
Fusion is an eclectic, industrial restaurant located next to the UnderArt gallery that lives up to its name. Sip on creative cocktails or a glass of wine accompanied by charcuterie, cheese, and tasty Mediterranean share plates in this fun space that is a hub for Cairns' artistic community. Bookings are recommended on Friday and Saturday nights.
Best Atmosphere: The Chambers
Inside a 1920s bank building, The Chambers is a chic cafe, restaurant, and bar. Since 2018, this elegant venue has become the place to be seen in Cairns, with on-trend decor and professional service.
Each space has a different menu to keep diners happy throughout the day, from wholesome breakfast classics to elevated Mediterranean-inspired dishes to fun bar snacks.