Food and Wine 24 April 2024

Where to eat and drink in Cairns and Port Douglas

The palm trees are swayin’ and the beaches are beckonin’...but while Tropical North Queensland might be renowned for its laid-back lifestyle and crystal-clear waters, you shouldn’t underestimate the region’s culinary prowess.

Whether you’re craving succulent seafood plucked from the ocean, or locally sourced meats infused with indigenous ingredients, your taste buds are in for a real treat in Cairns and Port Douglas.

Here are our top dining destinations to take you from sunrise to sunset in the tropical north.

For breakfast

NOA, Cairns

Image via NOA on Facebook

Just ten minutes drive from the CBD to the leafy suburb of Edge Hill lies one of the best dining experiences Cairns has to offer. NOA isn’t just good – it’s brunch royalty.

This trendy neighbourhood eatery is a culinary gem, serving up Far North Queensland’s finest local produce on a platter.  With dishes boasting truffled Tableland mushrooms and a delectable Shark Bay crab omelette (*drool*), NOA could give Melbourne’s famed food and coffee culture a run for its money.

Can’t make up your mind? Go for ‘The Spread’ (yes, breakfast boards are back, baby!) and let the flavours do the talking. And for those who’ve always fancied a cocktail with their morning eggs, you’re in luck because NOA offers just that.

With a beautiful deck to soak in the sunshine, it’s no surprise Google reviewers are dubbing this place “Probably the best breakfast ever”.

Find it at: 1 Pyne St, Edge Hill, Cairns
Open seven days a week for breakfast, lunch and dinner from 6:00 am to 10:00 pm.

Little Larder, Port Douglas

Image via Little Larder on Facebook

Sure, you could go for a spot with “views”, but why overlook this inconspicuous gem on Port Douglas’s buzzy Macrossan St? Trust us, every aspect of this breakfast joint is a winner – from the service to the food, to the people-watching, and even the surprisingly reasonable price.

Expect twists on breakfast classics like chilli scrambled eggs served with a spring onion rosti, house-smoked fish, or a loaded pulled pork croissant with a black garlic hollandaise that’s the stuff of dreams. You can even build your own breakfast complete with extra hash browns, because you deserve it.

With cool vibes and a refreshing breeze, Little Larder is an ideal spot for foodies and families alike. It’s a solid 10/10 from us.

Find it in: The Portico Shopping Centre at 61 Macrossan St, Port Douglas 
Open seven days a week for breakfast and lunch, from 7.30am to 2pm.

In your room (duh)

Staying at Oaks Hotels? If you’re chasing good coffee, the good news is you don’t even need to step outside for your caffeine fix. Start your day in Cairns or Port Douglas with a selection of quality in-room pod coffee from The Coffee Club, available in premium rooms. Because Happy Folks are happier once they’ve had their morning brew.

For those craving a leisurely breakfast experience, head over to The Lilypad and indulge in a tropically inspired breakfast buffet at Oaks Port Douglas Resort, or make your way to the Oak & Vine rooftop restaurant at Oaks Cairns Hotel and take in spectacular views over the esplanade and harbour.

Feeling even more laid-back? Take your brekky back up to your room and relish the comfort of your bed. The choice is yours to make your morning (and your coffee) just the way you like it.

Find it in: Cairns and Port Douglas.

For Lunch

Prawn Star Trawler, Cairns

Image via Prawn Star on Facebook

We love places that do one thing and do it well, and when it comes to seafood, Prawn Star reigns supreme.

Permanently moored at Marlin Marina, Prawn Star is made up of three restored fishing trawlers bobbing gently in the port. No fancy frills here, just the freshest seafood in town – think succulent prawns, crayfish and oysters – all served in its simplest, most glorious form.

Sit back, soak up the sea breeze and enjoy a couple of cold bevvys while you destroy some delicious prawnies. Now that’s livin’.

Find it at: Marlin Marina, E Finger, Berth 31, Cairns
Open every day from 11am to 9pm

Watergate Restaurant & Lounge Bar, Port Douglas

Image via Watergate Restaurant on Facebook

It may be called Watergate, but the only scandal here is how good the food is.

This restaurant is located in the middle of Port Douglas, but walking inside feels like stepping into the VIP section of the rainforest. You’re surrounded by lush tropical foliage and the majestic canopy of a huge tree – minus the mosquitoes.

Wet your whistle with a cocktail while perusing the innovative menu from Executive Chef Lee Neate. Rumour has it the yellowfish tuna, kangaroo loin, and the duck are all nothing short of extraordinary. And for our gluten-free friends, fear not, because Watergate offers a range of options that are as delicious as they are accommodating.

After lunch, head over to the cocktail lounge for a delightful tipple to cap off your midday meal. Just remember to book ahead, because this hotspot tends to fill up quickly.

Find it at: Shop 5, 31 Macrossan Street, Port Douglas
Open for lunch from Midday and dinner from 5:30pm, seven days a week.

Guyala Cafe, Cairns North

Image via Guyala’s website

Welcome to Guyala, where good vibes and great food collide in Cairns North!

Created by hospitality extraordinaire Oliver James (not to be confused with hospitality extraordinaire Jamie Oliver), Guyala is all about intentionality. Pronounced goo-ya-la, this cafe also happens to be a fully accessible community centre for the not-for-profit Spinal Life Australia. Talk about feel-good food!

Guyala’s menu is an ode to local and indigenous ingredients, featuring dishes like Good Morning Vietnam – a turmeric rice flour crepe with twice-cooked pork belly and paperbark-smoked five-spice bean sprouts; the Smoked Roo-Ben – a classic reuben sandwich made with kangaroo loin (we see what you did there, and we like it); and avocado toast, tropical-style – that’s smashed avo with finger lime, lemon myrtle, dried mango, macadamia and shaved coconut dukkah, and chilli threads. Chilli threads!

We haven’t seen such a delicious menu since… well, since the last restaurant in this article. It’s a little bit fancy, sure, but every meal at Guyala is a culinary piece of art.

Find it at: Spinal Life Healthy Living Centre,2 Smith St, Cairns North
Open seven days a week, from 7am to 9pm, except on Monday and Tuesday when they close at 2:30pm.

For Dinner

Ochre, Cairns

Image via Ochre on Facebook

There is truly no shortage of fancy bush food in the tropical north, and Ochre, located on the bustling Marlin Parade boardwalk, offers up one of the most unique menus in the region.

Founded by award-winning chef Craig Squire, Ochre is brimming with native game, herbs and seafood. Adventurous foodies will love trying dishes like salt and pepper crocodile, grilled kangaroo with quandong chilli glaze, and an Australian antipasto platter that includes emu wontons. Don’t leave without trying the wattleseed pavlova for dessert!

Whether you dine inside or soak up the sunshine on the covered terrace, you’ll be treated to panoramic views of Trinity Inlet, where you can watch ships sail by as you savour every bite.

Find it at: Harbour Lights Boardwalk, 1 Marlin Parade, Cairns
Open Monday to Saturday for lunch, tapas and dinner.

Nautilus, Port Douglas

Image via Nautilus on Facebook

You could stroll past Nautilus a hundred times without ever knowing it’s there. But lucky for you, you’ve stumbled upon this article. So, when you spot a gravel path about 30 metres from the main street, you’ll know to follow it and behold Nautilus emerging from the rainforest.

This open-air restaurant has no walls or ceiling, save for the canopy of palm trees above. On offer is an ever-changing five-course degustation menu thoughtfully crafted to reflect the tropical surroundings – think torched Shark Bay scallops, flame-grilled beef tataki and spiced whole baby barramundi. And with pescatarian, vegetarian and seafood-free options available, there’s something to please every palate.

With 65 years of culinary excellence and more than a few Chef’s Hats adorning their walls (if they had walls), Nautilus is the kind of place that will linger in your memory, inspiring future visits with your grown-up kids in tow. It’s fine dining at its… well, finest.

Find it at: 17 Murphy St, Port Douglas
Open for dinner Tuesday to Saturday from 5:30pm. 

Oak & Vine, Cairns and Port Douglas

Looking for a sky high dining experience? Head to the top of Oaks Hotels Cairns and you’ll find Oak & Vine, a restaurant with views that will dazzle you every bit as much as their cocktail menu.

Fancy a crispy pork belly taco, or perhaps Chef Jorg’s ribeye with broccolini and duck fat potatoes? They’ve got it, but be warned: severe relaxation may ensue.

Not to be outdone, you’ll also find Oak & Vine inside the tropical oasis that is Oaks Port Douglas Resort. Between the lush tropical lilies, the cascading waterfall and the traditional brick oven pumping out sourdough cob loaves and charred beef pizzas, it’s casually charming and dangerously delicious.

Both locations offer a serene retreat from the street hustle, and parking woes can be avoided by simply making it a staycation. But whether you’re staying at Oaks or not, drop in and let Oak & Vine take care of everything but the conversation. 

For Drinks

Salt House, Cairns

Image via Salt House on Facebook

With its lantern-lit bar and trendy ambiance, Salt House beckons the stylish crowd for sunset cocktails and bites.

Situated at Marina Point, Salt House is a dining, bar and entertainment hub offering panoramic views of the ocean, marina and city waterfront in Cairns.

The cocktail list is extensive, with bespoke creations crafted with in-house ingredients, like coal-fired pineapple syrup and vanilla-pod infused liquors. They also have one of the largest back bars in Cairns, offering a treasure trove of spirits to suit every preference.

Whether you fancy a cold beer, a crisp chardonnay or a very well-made cocktail, you can happily while away an afternoon here. While Salt House is known for its chilled-out vibes and live music, don’t overlook the menu, centred around an Argentinian wood-fired grill and fresh local seafood.

Cairns sunsets are beautiful. Salt House is the perfect place to watch them and let your worries fade away.

Find it at: Marina Point, 6/2 Pierpoint Road, Cairns
Open seven days a week from 11:30am to late.

Three Wolves, Cairns

Image via Three Wolves’ website 

Inside you there are three wolves, and they’re all going to this bar.

Tucked away in a hidden laneway, Three Wolves has the allure of a speakeasy. It’s dark, moody, and has that classic old Hollywood vibe where Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman would feel right at home. And it stands shoulder to shoulder with some of the best small bars in the country.

The bartenders here are masters of their craft, serving up exotic cocktails and top-shelf whiskey. Should you desire something that doesn’t appear on their very excellent menu, the brains trust behind the bar can whip up just about anything you want. If you’re feeling peckish, they also have a tasty tapas and charcuterie menu to pair with your libation of choice.

Whether you’re slipping in early for a quiet dram or settling in for a night of revelry, Three Wolves is the place to be for those seeking an extraordinary experience – or a run with the wolf pack.

In short, it’s the coolest bar in Cairns.

Find it at: Wolf Lane, 32 Abbot St, Cairns
Open seven days from 4pm to 12am.

Planning your stay in Cairns or Port Douglas? Choose Oaks Cairns Hotel or Oaks Port Douglas Resort, with spacious accommodation for solo travellers, couples or families looking for a tropical getaway. Enjoy an extra in-room perk with Coffee Club pods available in premium rooms. Book now and let your beachside vacation begin!