Thinking back, I couldn’t tell you the name of even one of the cafes I visited on my last trip to Cairns, more than a decade ago. Not a single cup of coffee sticks in my mind to this day. Fast forward to today and the foodie landscape in this North Queensland hub has completely evolved. From the well-known Cairns Esplanade restaurants serving up seafood to the beautiful backdrop of Trinity Inlet, to the cool city laneway coffee shops and wine bars, the Cairns food scene is buzzing. This time, I rolled out of Cairns with a few favourite finds and more local recommendations ready to be road-tasted on our next trip to the tropical north.
A Cairns Food Guide
When a Melbourne export who now calls Cairns home told me Sing Sing Espresso had the best coffee in Cairns, I zeroed in on the cute cafe tucked away off busy Lake Street. Outside, wooden seats, straddled each side of the narrow walkway bathing in the famed Queensland sunshine. Inside, a simple white-walled room is decorated modestly with eclectic pieces mixing wood, marble and white – a retro vibe if you will. Bare walls were dotted with colourful prints and soft light flares bounced off the walls, warming the space. The coffee machine was working overtime with owner Richie serving up morning brews with a side of familiar conversation. It’s easy to see why Sing Sing is a regular morning stop off for a number of locals I met.
“Oooo this is goood” was the exact thought that went through my mind as I took the first sip of my almond milk latte at Blackbird. Walking into Blackbird it is clear this is a popular hang out, not just a caffeine pit stop. A long, high communal table sits in the middle of the internal dining space with smaller tables and stools outside in the arcade (Oceana Walk Arcade). An oversized blackboard runs the length of the wall behind the barristers, covered in rallies of regulars’ pours, counting down to their free coffee hit. Cakes sits on display near the tills next to packets of their own beans – with the smell of others still roasting wafting through the cafe.
There was standing room only the morning I dropped in for some road trip fuel in the form of a strong, long black from Caffiend. Despite the weekend crush of people, dining on some drool-worthy breakfast eats, the staff was super nice and the wait was super fast. The coffee? Just as delicious as I had been promised by a regular that gave me the tip to drop in.
Related: A Healthy Eating Guide to Bali
Healthy Cafes in Cairns
Hippy meets healthy at this cosy Sheridan Street cafe. Mismatched furniture, a plant-based menu and friendly smiles aplenty welcome diners through these doors. Stop in for an organic tea infusion or cold brew with a sweet vegan treat, or dine in on a nourishing vegan delight like a smoothie bowl, wrap or Earth bowl and don’t forget to grab a glass or a bottle of their house-made kombucha. I grabbed a green smoothie and finished it in lightening speed.
Pantry 15 was pumping the morning I walked in for breakfast. A large, open space welcomes health-conscious diners with a completely gluten-free menu featuring dishes for vegans, vegetarians and the Paleo set, and just damn delicious food for those after breakfast on the Cairns main drag. After hearing the breakfast there was their strong suit, I ordered a Breaky with Benny (poached free range eggs on sweet potato and herb rosti, fresh spinach, house-made hollandaise sauce and leek rings) and cosied up in the corner. The portion was modest but it was enough to get me started for the day.
The usual suspects make the rest of the menu, from smoothie bowls to cold pressed juices, salads with bulletproof brews, red velvet and matcha lattes to boot. If you’ve left your MCTs or gelatin at home, you can grab that here too with some ready-made meals in the fridge for those in self-contained accommodation who don’t feel like cooking.
I never would have found Snoogies Health Bar if it hadn’t been for a tip-off from a health-conscious Cairns local. Located in the somewhat drab Main Street Arcade on Grafton Street, owner Aron will brighten your day with a genuine smile, an interest in your day and a delicious fruit or vegetable concoction. They also have a range of delicious vegetarian and vegan fare.
Cairns Bars and Breweries
This Edge Hill restaurant is said to have one of the best breakfast offerings in Cairns. But, with a glowing recommendation about their cocktail menu, I had to stop on for a late afternoon tipple in the form of a Tropical Spiced Margarita. I would have settled in for a couple of their famed tapas plates if it weren’t for a private function setting up when I arrived.
I only wished I had my girl gang with me when I sat down for a drink and some tasty tacos at Hemingways Brewery on Cairns Wharf. This place looks like it could be a whole lot of fun, particularly as part of a group. The venue is located in the Cruise Liner Terminal which means it’s made for families and larger parties. There is a 19-metre long bar, 20 beer taps and plenty of comfort food options on the menu. Sitting in prime position overlooking Trinity Inlet, walk off your food and drinks along the esplanade or take the kids to play in the park next door. There is a ticketed car park on site.
Cairns Restaurants Locals Love
While we usually don’t recommend places we haven’t road tested ourselves, there were a few additional Cairns restaurants that came highly recommended by locals but we couldn’t get to, this visit;
- Salt House is a name that jumped off everyone’s lips when I asked for recommendations for the best restaurants in Cairns beyond the long-time favourite Cairns Esplanade restaurants. A chic venue in a prized Marina location (walking distance from most esplanade and city hotels), settle in on the day beds for sunset cocktails overlooking Trinity Inlet or book a table for a bigger seafood selection or a cut of meat cooked on their Argentinian grill. For more casual dining, they also have a pizzeria next door.
- The Prawn Star boats are moored just next to Salt House at the Marina. While you are spoilt for choice when it comes to seafood in Cairns this is a truly unique casual Cairns dining experience.
- Haruka Japanese Cuisine in Edge Hill serves up bento boxes and super fresh sushi in a casual, suburban setting.
- Four Cinq or Ganbaranba for the “best ramen in Cairns”.
- Fusion Art Bar & Tapas is a centrally located spot for small plates and cocktails located on Spence Street.
- Try the Smoke on the Water or one of the other crafty cocktails at Three Wolves small bar.
- The Conservatory Bar is another small Cairns Bars which features live music on weekends while you enjoy a charcuterie board and glass of wine.
- The Chambers is one of the newest kids on the Cairns culinary block and is gaining popularity. Featuring bar, cafe and more upmarket restaurant offerings there is something to suit every palette.
- C’est Bon and Tamarind are still considered go-to options for fine dining Cairns style.
The Fit Traveller was a guest of Tourism Tropical North Queensland for this trip. However, none of these meals were hosted. As always, our words, images and opinions are authentically our own.
Skye is the founder and editor-in-chief of The Fit Traveller. She is a journalist, writer, photographer, intrepid traveller and a former personal trainer with a passion for helping others reach optimal health. As a TV journalist and producer, Skye has worked for household names such as 60 Minutes, Sunrise, TODAY and Nine News. She has also written for Women’s Health, Fodor’s Travel and Yahoo7 Travel, among many others.
Skye created The Fit Traveller as a beautiful online space and community where people feel inspired to escape the desk to move and explore more.
Equally comfortable in a 5-star resort or hiking a far-off mountain, Skye loves the unexpected and enriching life experiences that each trip brings and can often be found in a backstreet chatting to locals with her camera in hand.
Skye is based in Sydney, working to master the balance between motherhood and her insatiable appetite for adventure.