Ten Quintessential Places to Eat and Drink Like a Local in Tropical North Queensland
From fresh tropical fruit markets to luxe beachfront dining, there's something to please all palates in the tasty tropics.
January 19, 2022
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Palm tree-lined beaches and World Heritage-listed rainforests aren't all that Tropical North Queensland has in abundance — there's an array of tasty treats to experience, too. From tropical twists on classics to award-winning cuisine, there is truly something for every culinary craving in this picturesque holiday destination.
To help you curate your must-do dining destinations, we've uncovered ten places in the far north that the locals love. So whether you want a First Nations-led cultural experience, to peel piles of prawns on the back of a docked boat or to discover the delicious tropical fruits, bookmark this for all your food and drink needs in Tropical North Queensland.
LEARN ABOUT NATIVE INGREDIENTS WITH FIRST NATIONS PEOPLES
Walkabout Cultural Adventures is a 100-percent First Nations-owned and operated cultural tour company based on Kuku Yalanji Country, also known as Port Douglas and the Daintree. Owner Juan Walker has been working in the region for nearly two decades and prides himself on offering informative and personalised tours to all guests.
Under Juan's expert guidance, you'll discover the wonders of Kuku Yalanji Country, including where two World Heritage-listed sites — the Daintree Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef — meet. The half- or full-day tours will give you the opportunity to learn about food and medicines grown in the region and how Kuku Yalanji people have managed the land and its natural resources for millennia. You'll also get to sample bush foods, collect shellfish and try your luck at catching delicious mud crab.
TAKE YOUR PALATE TO PALM COVE FOR LUXE BEACHFRONT DINING
If you're looking for beachfront dining while in Tropical North Queensland (and why wouldn't you be?), Palm Cove's Nu Nu Restaurant is a must. With stunning views of the Coral Sea and picture-perfect palm trees framing your vista, this beachfront restaurant will satisfy both your visual senses and your tastebuds.
Open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner, the menu boasts a great selection of dishes that embrace locally grown produce. For brekkie, try the crab omelette with a zingy ginger caramel and white pepper broth or Nu Nu's take on bircher featuring pineapple and coconut cream-soaked muesli topped with mango, tropical fruit and toasted coconut. If you stop by for lunch or dinner we recommend starting with a tropical cocktail like the vanilla ginger mojito with Daintree vanilla sugar and a starter of Pacific oysters with finger lime. Then, follow it up with sake-poached octopus with pickled shiitake and spring onion oil or sugarcane-smoked duck with barbecued cabbage and rhubarb.
LOAD UP ON FRESH PRODUCE AT THE LOCAL FARMERS' MARKETS
A trip to the tropics isn't complete without a wander through Rusty's Markets in Cairns. Open every Friday, Saturday and Sunday, at Rusty's you'll find everything from exotic fruits, tropical tasting plates, freshly baked bread and more.
With over 45 years of trade under its belt and more than 180 stalls to visit, there are plenty of reasons locals love to load up on fresh food at this bustling marketplace. The top-tier produce found at Rusty's also attracts many of Tropical North Queensland's finest chefs who can often be spotted roaming the stalls as they source the best locally grown ingredients for their restaurants. Make sure you stock up on fresh fruit for your day exploring the local waterfalls — there's nothing quite like devouring your favourite fruit on a boulder before cooling off at a freshwater swimming hole.
TASTE TROPICAL TWISTS ON AUSTRALIAN CLASSICS AT OCHRE
Native ingredients take centre stage at Ochre, a Cairns institution that has been impressing diners with its creative cuisine for almost 30 years. It's a feast for the eyes, too, as its waterfront location on the Harbour Lights boardwalk offers picturesque views of the adjacent inlet and lush mountains beyond, serving as a reminder of the region's rich and abundant food sources.
Take it all in as you tuck into signature dishes like salt and native pepper leaf prawn and crocodile with Vietnamese pickle and lemon aspen sambal; char-grilled kangaroo sirloin with sweet potato fritter, bok choy and a quandong and chilli sauce; and wattleseed pavlova with davidson plum sorbet and macadamia biscotti. The dedication to local is also showcased via the drinks offering, which includes an exclusively Australian wine list with over 30 available by the glass, as well as an impressive selection of Australian spirits.
PIG OUT ON PRAWNS ON BOARD A PARKED FISHING TRAWLER
If a tropical holiday gets you prawny for seafood, then push Prawn Star to the top of your culinary list when visiting Tropical North Queensland this summer. Serving fresh, locally sourced seafood right off the back of a repurposed fishing trawler, this fleet of four floating restaurants is an experience that reflects Cairns' laidback lifestyle.
The succinct menu showcases the best seafood that Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef has to offer, and includes platters of prawns, bugs, crayfish and oysters that are best enjoyed with simple condiments or juicy chunks of fresh lime. Head to Prawn Star for lunch or dinner from 11am any day of the week and pair your seafood feast with its very own tap Prawn Beer or Prawn Cider available for $7 all day long.
DIG INTO DAIRY IN THE ATHERTON TABLELANDS
The Mungalli Creek Dairy farm in the Atherton Tablelands is much more than cows and pasture — it's one big living organism. With over 30 years of organic biodynamic farming practices under its belt, this family-run farm has mastered the art of cultivating delicious dairy products for decades.
At the heart of the property, you'll find The Farmhouse Cafe, which was once the house that owners and brothers Rob and Danny Watson grew up in. Take a seat on the cafe's verandah overlooking the Johnston River Gorge, World Heritage-listed rainforest and Bartle Frere — Queensland's highest mountain — and enjoy a meal loaded with the farm's biodynamic dairy products and locally sourced organic produce. The cafe is also BYO, so take a bottle of tropical wine to pair with one of its cheese platters. Hot tip: make sure you leave room for the crepes — they're a family recipe and are served with Mungalli's luxurious lactose- and gluten-free Broken Nose vanilla ice cream.
TRY TROPICAL TREATS AT CHARLEY'S CHOCOLATE FACTORY
Charley's name may invoke a well-known chocolatey tale, but the Mt Edna property is as unique as they come — it's home to Australia's only cocoa tree to chocolate bar experience. The concept of showcasing the full chocolate journey at Charley's is the brainchild of Chris and Lynn Jahnke, the husband and wife team who, a decade after uprooting themselves from Melbourne to farm cattle near Mission Beach, planted their first cocoa seeds in 2012.
Since then, the pair have crafted a tour at Charley's that is hands-on, hugely informative and most importantly, includes tasting the delicious chocolatey treats. Charley's core products are single-origin 70 percent dark chocolates and milk chocolates with rare Tropical North Queensland flavour combinations like the davidson plum dark chocolate, lemon myrtle milk chocolate, tropical pineapple milk chocolate and beach coconut dark chocolate.
SIP COCKTAILS BY THE SEA AT SALT HOUSE
Salt House is a popular waterfront watering hole for locals seeking delicious cocktails by the sea. Marrying inspiration from a custom-built Argentinian wood-fired grill with fresh seafood and local fare, Salt House's menu aims to champion local produce and the exciting flavours of Tropical North Queensland.
Sip on a refreshing rainforest sour packed with davidson plum jam before ordering a dozen fresh oysters, followed by mains like gnocchi with woodfired vegetables, ratatouille sauce, blistered tomatoes, coconut feta and pine nuts. If a seaside seafood feast is what you're craving, try the generous seafood sharing platter or the yellow curry loaded with mussels, local tiger prawns and wild barramundi.
DINE IN DECADENCE AT TAMARIND
If you're craving decadence after a day on the water, Tamarind Restaurant will put a fresh wind in your sails. The multi-award-winning restaurant combines Australian cuisine, local produce and exceptional service for dinner between Tuesday–Saturday.
Start with the market fish ceviche and follow it up with the slow-braised duck curry loaded with lychee, caramel pumpkin and spiced peanuts or the abalone ravioli with roasted scallop, lemongrass and ginger. If making decisions is something you like to leave behind while on holiday, opt for the five-course tasting menu to take the work out of it.
Want to extend your summer with a trip to the tropics? Time to book a holiday to Tropical North Queensland. For more information and to book your autumn getaway, visit the website.
Top images: Tourism Tropical North Queensland