From romantic beachfront views with gourmet tasting menus to convivial cafés with colouring-in for the kids, these are the most delicious restaurants in Queensland’s Tropical North, writes Daniel Scott.
Strong on sustainable regional cuisine, Ochre stands at the top of Cairns' dining tree. The six-course tasting menu is a culinary tour de force, from the entrée of Gulf bugs and Hervey Bay scallops in a hoisin butter sauce to the Davidson Plum mousse with macadamia pacoca and lemon myrtle and coconut ice cream for dessert. Asian influences are abundant – and there is a Japanese menu – but this is Modern Australian territory, with national emblems featuring in dishes like chargrilled kangaroo sirloin, wallaby topside and emu carpaccio.
LOCATION 43 Shields Street, Cairns
OPEN Lunch Monday to Friday 12pm to 3pm and Dinner daily 5:30pm till late
STYLE Gourmet, romantic
Waterbar & Grill
This absolute waterfront steakhouse is the best place in Cairns to wrestle with a prime cut of tenderloin or a 500g rump. It has plenty of atmosphere, too, with good music, a social buzz and views of yachts you wish you owned in Cairns’ Marlin Marina.
Waterbar also mixes a mean “mango colada” and an intriguing Martini based on lemongrass and kaffir lime leaf-infused vodka. A kids’ menu – chips with everything – makes this an excellent all-rounder.
LOCATION Pier Shopping Centre, Pier Point Road, Cairns
OPEN Daily for Lunch from 11:30am and Dinner from 5:30pm till late
STYLE Family, romantic, drinks
Waterbar & Grill's Espatada: 350g of skewered rump dripping with red wine and chilli sauce
Blackbird Espresso by Coffee NQ
Once named as the number two café in all of Australia by beanhunter.com, this stellar café makes up for its unpromising location inside a small shopping precinct by brewing the best coffee in Cairns. Come here for irresistible banana bread, among other sweet treats, and a positive social vibe that sees visitors and locals falling easily into conversation, encouraged by the welcoming owners, Troy and Daniela.
LOCATION Shop 13, Oceana Walk, 62 Grafton Street, Cairns
OPEN Monday to Saturday 7am to 4pm
STYLE Hip, breakfast
Perotta’s at the Gallery
Grab some culture with your coffee at this upmarket gallery café in central Cairns. Kickstart your day with the Americano breakfast sandwich – featuring a pork sausage patty, bacon, egg, American cheddar, avocado, pickled hot peppers and lemon mayo. At lunch, try the ricotta and spinach Italian dumplings (gnudi). And at dinner, indulge in the eight-hour lamb shoulder. Warm weather is a given in Cairns so sit out on the lovely patio with a glass of chilled wine and soak in the Tropical North Queensland vibe.
LOCATION 38 Abbott Street, Cairns
OPEN Daily 6:30am to 10pm
STYLE Gourmet, romantic
Nu Nu Restaurant
Palm Cove’s finest restaurant is located right on the beachfront and has won a swag of awards for its mod Oz menu, which includes everything from a spanner crab brioche bun to wok-fried north Queensland mud crab with ginger broth. At night, enjoy the view across the Coral Sea while indulging in the six-course tasting menu. The staff is as seamless as the food.
LOCATION 1 Veivers Road, Palm Cove
OPEN Daily Breakfast from 6:15am; Lunch 11am to 4pm; Dinner 5pm till late
STYLE Gourmet, romantic
Vivo Palm Cove
Housed in a sprawling Queenslander right behind a palm-lined beach, Vivo is a mash-up of modern Australian cuisine with locally sourced produce and Mediterranean and Asian influences. Open for breakfast, lunch, tapas and dinner, the restaurants also showcases local art in theartroom@vivo, giving the venue a hit of culture.
LOCATION 49 Williams Esplanade, Palm Cove
OPEN Daily 6:30am to 9pm
STYLE Gourmet, romantic, family, culture, hip
Sassi Cucina e Bar
The roll call of names who have dined here is legendary. Bill and Hillary Clinton. Tom Hanks. Kylie Minogue. Even George Clooney. They flock here for Tony Sassi’s simple but sophisticated cooking, which draws on the culinary traditions of Pescara, where he grew up, but adds splash of local flavour. The squid ink tagliatelle with prawns and chili is gorgeous and Sassi’s zuppa di pesce is jam-packed with fresh reef fish, bugs and clams. Try to nab an outside table.
LOCATION 4 Macrossan Street, Port Douglas
OPEN Monday to Saturday 11am to 12am
STYLE Gourmet, romantic, family, hip, drinks
Salsa Bar & Grill
A Port Douglas stalwart, Salsa is lively and friendly with a truly local feel. The standout dishes? Try the mountain pepper leaf rubbed kangaroo and the Creole jambalaya with prawns, yabbies, squid, smoked chicken and crocodile sausage. Desserts include an indulgent Daintree Estates chocolate and Cointreau soufflé, and cheeses that are made on the premises using local and biodynamically farmed milk. There’s a kids’ menu, too, which, as all good kids’ menus do, doubles as a colouring-in set.
LOCATION 26 Wharf Street, Port Douglas
OPEN Daily 12pm to 10pm
STYLE Family, gourmet, romantic
The Courthouse Hotel
Directly opposite Sassis, occupying an elegant Queenslander on the corner of Port Douglas’s two main streets, the “Courty” is the town’s oldest pub, dating back to 1878. Open from 9am every day and with a good range of food available in the bistro and regular live music from local talent, it has the feel of an inviting neighbourhood watering hole. With open-air verandahs, craft beers and a family-friendly ambience, it’s an inviting spot to settle into on a lazy afternoon.
LOCATION Corner Wharf and Macrossan streets, Port Douglas
OPEN Daily 9am till late
STYLE Family, drinks
Betty’s Bohemian Beach Café
Bohemian by name and bohemian by nature, this central Port Douglas café features vibrant colour and eclectic furnishings. This is the place to come for the best coffee in Port Douglas. The friendly staff adds to the convivial feel of the café, which offers plenty of healthy options, including a gluten-free breakfast and a beetroot falafel, tabouli and hummus wrap for lunch.
LOCATION 56 Macrossan Street, Port Douglas
OPEN Daily 7:30am to 2:30pm
STYLE Healthy, family, hip, breakfast