Everyone talks about Airlie Beach being the gateway to the Whitsunday Islands. But did you know it has a fantastic dining scene too? Each time I go there, I am both surprised and excited by the overall standard of restaurants and cafes, which is as good as anything dished up in many of the bigger cities in Australia. So what makes these venues so good?
Well, for a start, many offer superb locations looking out to the shimmering waters of the Coral Sea. Then there is the little matter of them offering an exquisite selection of freshly caught seafood. Throw in beautiful and creative plating and top-notch service, and you have all the ingredients for something extraordinary.
So where should I go? I hear you ask. Here are my recommendations of the ten best restaurants in Airlie Beach, presented in no particular order.
The Garden Bar Bistro is a unique dining destination situated on the waterfront at Coral Sea Marina. Boasting a magical setting amid fairy lights that create a warm ambience and stunning views of the Whitsundays islands and the Coral Sea, it’s an ideal spot to unwind with friends and family. The restaurant embraces fresh, locally sourced ingredients to create diverse dishes that cater to all taste preferences. It is known, in particular, for its exceptional tapas, which you can enjoy whilst watching the sun slowly set over the luxury yachts. Beautifully presented with table service that is second to none, you can enjoy your food menu with an excellent range of beers, wines and cocktails. Overall, the buzzy and friendly venue is one of the best restaurants in Airlie Beach. It is somewhere I usually eat at least once every time I visit the area.
If you judge a restaurant by the number of awards it has received, then Northerlies Beach Bar & Grill is the perfect spot for you. Located on the shores of Woodwark Bay, 20 kilometres north of Airlie Beach, this champion restaurant boasts a prime waterfront location surrounded by tropical trees and landscaped gardens. The easiest way to get there from Airlie Beach is by car, although the venue offers a short courtesy bus ride that will take you on a scenic journey around the bay. Once there, you can enjoy exceptional seafood, terrific wine and an al fresco, on-the-beach North Queensland dining experience that you will remember forever. Why not book a table at sunset and take in the fabulous views of it dipping below the Coral Sea with a delicious feed of Bakers Creek Queensland-bred pork or wild Whitsunday prawns? There is no better way to enjoy a date night!
Located on the esplanade, Fish D’vine is an institution in Airlie Beach. For almost 20 years, it has become a go-to destination for those who enjoy excellent food, dining and good times. Fish D’vine is the longest-standing independent restaurant in Airlie Beach. They are known for prioritising the abundance of local seafood available in the Whitsundays, from freshly caught Coral Trout to mouth-watering Mudcrabs. Their lunch and dinner menus are designed to replicate a traveller’s journey through Whitsundays, with each course representing a different aspect. Signature dishes such as whole crispy skin reef fish and local fresh mud crab are notable offerings to look out for. But, if seafood is something other than your thing, they also offer dishes like sticky pork belly bao buns and house-made chargrilled black Angus burgers to cater to everyone’s tastes. As well as its decadent food, the restaurant has a famous Rum Bar, which boasts over 150 types worldwide, and an impressive selection of cocktails.
Love Italian food? Then you should visit the Sorrento Restaurant and Bar. Named in honour of the famous Italian coastal town, it is known for being one of the best spots in Airlie Beach to watch the sunset. Located at the North End of Coral Sea Marina, this traditional Italian restaurant is a terrific place to dine. It is also the closest venue to get a drink or bite to eat after getting off a boat trip around the Whitsundays. Presenting a menu of classic Italian pizzas and pasta, the restaurant also serves a mean steak and a terrific wild mushroom & asparagus risotto. Additionally, it has a lively and friendly atmosphere to complement its food, partly due to the local live musicians that regularly perform there. As it is always busy, bookings are essential should you want to eat there.
Ask any local, and the chances are they will name 20 Degrees South Restaurant and Bar among their choices of the best restaurants in Airlie Beach. Situated within the Whitsunday Sailing Club, it offers uninterrupted views of Pioneer Bay, making it the perfect spot for lunch, small bites, or dinner. It is open every day of the year, including Christmas Day and features a superb menu of fresh seafood options, including the catch of the day and steamed black lip mussels. You can always indulge in one of their perfectly cooked steaks if you prefer something other than seafood, and they also offer an extensive wine list and an excellent range of beers to match them. One of the most notable features of the venue is its atmosphere, which is always warm and inviting, while the service is outstanding too.
When in Airlie Beach, keep one of your breakfast, lunch or dinner options open for The Deck. Located on the ground floor of the Heart Hotel and Gallery, just a short walk from Airlie Beach Lagoon, this restaurant presents a la carte dining with superb glimpses of the sparkling blue sea. In the morning, bacon brioche and smoked mackerel are popular choices for breakfast. While for dinner, hungry customers come in their droves for dishes like the 250g Black Angus eye fillet. For this reason, bookings are essential, as this dish is a local legend. Suppose you can’t get a table or prefer a casual experience; the hotel also has a café, which serves barista-made coffee in the morning and delicious pizzas for lunch and dinner. Alternatively, if you fancy a drink, you can pick from a fabulous range of cocktails, wines and craft beers or premium champagne for those wanting to celebrate a special occasion.
The Coral Sea Marina Resort has been a popular place to stay and eat at Airlie Beach for many years. Recently it has undergone a significant refurbishment, which includes its waterfront restaurant, bar, and pool club – called The Rocks. Subsequently, you can fully embrace your holiday spirit while enjoying breakfast, lunch, or dinner at a venue with a luxurious French Riveria-style atmosphere and a panoramic ocean view. Offering a variety of chef specials inspired by the seasons, their dishes are made with the freshest, highest quality and locally sourced ingredients to create delicious and flavorful dishes. For breakfast, it is hard to go past their superb buffet, while later in the day, the lobster pasta and black onyx striploin wagyu are excellent options. If you can, it’s worth coming here around sunset, when you can also enjoy a delicious cocktail, such as their signature Persian Cloud.
KC’s Bar and Grill
While the region is known for its seafood, you can also find an excellent steak in Airlie Beach. One of the best places to get it is at KC’s Chargrill and Bar. Here, they offer classic cuts like sirloin and eye fillet and local game meats such as kangaroo, crocodile, or emu that are always perfectly cooked and come in huge portions. Open for lunch and dinner, vegetarians and pescatarians need not miss out as there are several excellent seafood and other non-meat options on their menu as well. The lively venue is located on Shute Harbour Road and is known for having a good setting with a nice buzz. It also presents a good range of craft beers and features live music from up-and-coming local artists throughout the week, particularly at the weekend.
If you’re in Airlie Beach from Thursday to Sunday, I recommend you check out Anchor Bar. This terrific spot is a local favourite above Main Street and boasts a stunning view of the bay and nearby islands. It also has a pool and lovely outdoor seating for you to have a day of relaxation. As well as enjoying refreshing sea breezes and delicious cocktails, their food menu offers a variety of tasty options like Pork Belly Burgers, Fish Tacos and Arancini for when you are feeling peckish. If you are not sure what you feel like, try the ‘Can’t Decide Platter’, which, as its name alludes to, has a bit of everything on it! If you decide to visit this restaurant, you should know that it is on top of a hill. So catching a taxi from the marina is a good idea, as the walk up is very challenging!
You don’t have to be a guest at the Mantra Club Croc to enjoy the restaurant’s delicious local produce and wonderful dining setting. Thankfully, it is open to the public for lunch and dinner, presenting a menu filled with fresh seafood sourced from the nearby waters of Airlie Beach and prime beef from Central and North Queensland. Curated by Head Chef Matthew Hammond, you can treat yourself to appetisers like salt and pepper calamari with seaweed mayo and grilled lemon and lime wedge before indulging in mains like scotch fillet with garlic prawns. Additionally, on weekdays, the venue offers an excellent range of lunch specials, while on Saturday nights, it hosts a Barbeque Bistro Buffet, complete with live music and live cooking. Whatever you decide to eat, they also have an excellent range of cocktails, wines and beers to complement the food.