From Carlton, Fitzroy and Collingwood north of the Yarra, to Prahran, Richmond and St Kilda to the south, Melbourne’s food scene is as diverse as the city itself.
When it comes to eating out, Melbourne is a city that is truly divided.
It’s divided geographically, of course, by the Yarra River, but more noticeably by its eclectic inner-city postcodes with their unique cuisine and culture.
Greek, Italian, Middle Eastern and Asian influences reverberate across the city creating a dining scene that is as authentic as Europe and as varied as Asia.
A short tram ride north of the CBD you’ll find the working-class enclaves of Carlton, Collingwood, Fitzroy and Brunswick, all built up by generations of Greek and Italian immigrants.
At Collingwood and Fitzroy – two of Melbourne’s smallest and most densely populated inner suburbs – old-school, family-run eateries thrive alongside grungy new bohemian upstarts.
Head south of the Yarra and the vibe does a 360, as designer labels go hand in hand with fancy bistros and fine food.
The Melbourne food scene is a movable feast that won’t disappoint.
In upmarket suburbs like South Yarra, Toorak and even Prahran and St Kilda, you’ll find boutique burger joints alongside award-winning paddock-to-plate fine dining venues.
Prahran is also home to Australia’s oldest continually-running fresh produce and gourmet food market, as well as the ever-popular Greville Street.
Further afield, 20km outside the city centre, is Oakleigh, the epicentre of Greek suburban life and a thriving food scene.
Head to the busy pedestrian centre, Eaton Mall, where you’ll be spoiled for choice with countless Greek tavernas, cake shops and souvlaki eateries.
Some of the city’s most iconic restaurants and wine bars are actually within the bluestone streets of the CBD, from Pellegrini’s Espresso Bar on Bourke St (above) to the nearby Waiters Restaurant at Meyers Place.
If chargrilled cuts paired with local wines is your thing, head to Rare Steakhouse in Little Collins St, or it’s two other CBD locations.
For alfresco dining with a European feel, Hardware Lane, between Lonsdale and Little Lonsdale Streets, is a popular go to for Indian restaurants, tapas and wine bars. If you’re a fan of Asian fusion, check out Hawker Boys (85 Hardware Lane) and their crumbed lemongrass chicken or crunchy soft shell crab ‘bun me’.
No matter whether you’re searching for a reliable, old-time favourite or one of the newer dining hotspots, the Melbourne food scene really is a movable feast that never ceases to amaze.
After a short ride on the 86 tram, just two kilometres from Melbourne’s CBD, you’ll find yourself in Fitzroy. It’s not only the hippest suburb in the city, it’s also the oldest, dating back to 1839.
Home to many a broke uni student, Fitzroy is well-known for its cool street art, music scene and culture of bohemianism.
This gentrified inner-north suburb is also fast becoming a foodie enclave with the main drag of Brunswick Street popular for its cheap restaurants, busy cafes, late-night bookshops, art galleries, and pubs. Gertrude Street is also great for all-day brunches and late-night cocktails.
A popular haunt is Po’ Boy Quarter (295 Smith St), a New Orleans inspired restaurant serving southern soul food like crispy baguettes stuffed with Cajun catfish (pictured); gumbo; pulled pork; and a deep fried shrimp sandwich.
Martha Rays (85 Brunswick St) is a low key cafe that has breakfast nailed. The menu includes a breakfast roll filled with omelette, bacon and tomato pickle. They also serve black pudding and New England-style corn chowder.
If you’re a fan of oysters, the so-called aphrodisiacs of the sea, head straight to the Panama Dining Room (Level 3, 231 Smith St) where you can enjoy $1 oysters every night during Happy Hour, from 6pm to 7pm.
Nearby Johnston Street is a growing Spanish quarter with tapas bars, flamenco restaurants and Spanish clubs. The Kanela Bar is a popular flamenco restaurant that serves up a mouth-watering selection of traditional tapas, paella and Spanish flavours. The sangria is pretty good too.
While you’re in the area, why not pose for a selfie in front of the large graphic mural (pictured), at the corner of Johnston and Young Streets.
It was painted in 2009 by Sync of the Melbourne street art crew Everfresh.
Getting there: Take the #11 tram from Collins Street in the CBD.
Stay on the 86 tram and you’ll land in Collingwood, a grungy, industrial suburb that has earned a reputation as the new home of Melbourne’s coffee culture. And where good coffee goes, great food often follows.
Smith St, Johnston St, Peel St, Oxford St and Cromwell St are teaming with cafes and all kinds of cuisine.
Proud Mary’s (172 Oxford St) is a popular warehouse-style café offering a unique range of coffee blends. Its green beans are sourced directly from farmers in Africa, Asia and the Americas.
Proud Mary’s also serves all-day brunch and a small selection of lunch offerings.
Terror Twilight (11-13 Johnston St) has one of the healthiest breakfast menus in town. Standout breakfast dishes include three grain porridge with fresh figs, winter fruit, toasted seeds and coconut flakes, and a roast chicken sandwich with pistachio, bacon, prune and lemon mayo.
For burgers and fries with a difference, try Easey’s (48 Easey St). It’s impossible to miss this railway/graffiti-themed restaurant – just look to the sky and you’ll see three old train carriages perched five storeys high on an office rooftop (pictured).
In keeping with the railway theme, menu prices are printed like train times, while tables are also laminated with rail maps.
If you’re looking for some of the most authentic and understated Greek fare Melbourne has to offer, stop by Jim’s Greek Tavern (32 Johnston St). It’s a long-standing favourite in Collingwood and it’s often packed, so bookings are essential if you have a large group.
You won’t be offered a menu here, so do your homework before arriving if you want to order specific dishes.
First-timers will automatically be given a selection of starters, as we were, so speak up if you have something else in mind.
Without much consultation, our young Greek-Australian waiter delivered four starters, including homemade dips with bread, halloumi, a meze plate and thinly sliced chargrilled octopus. We also ordered a carafe of the house red.
But be careful not to fill up on the bread and dips because the slow-cooked lamb, calamari and seafood are also excellent.
It’s impossible to walk down Smith St, Collingwood, without passing half a dozen kebab shops. One of the best is trendy kebab diner Biggie Smalls (86 Smith St), named after late rap legend Christopher Wallace, aka The Notorious B.I.G.
This isn’t your typical kebab shop though: rather than pita bread you’ll find puffy Turkish bread stuffed with pulled lamb shoulder, smoked hummus and sweet harissa jam. They also have a store south of the Yarra at Windsor.
Drop by the Robert Burns Hotel (376 Smith St) for outstanding tapas that includes ham croquettes and garlic and chilli prawns.
Getting there: Take the #86 tram from Bourke St or the #11 from Collins St and walk.
Whether it’s lunch or dinner, the Brunswick food precinct around Sydney Road, Lygon Street and Brunswick East is dotted with great cafes and affordable eats.
Headlined by the Asian share dishes at the very arty Howler (7-11 Dawson St), Brunswick serves up the flavours of the world all within a 1 km radius.
Tom Phat (182-184 Sydney Rd) has all bases covered with a menu that includes breakfast and coffee to curries and cocktails.
With its South-East Asian inspiration, it’s ideal for a weekend breakfast, a quick drink or a late night dinner.
There’s a strong middle eastern influence here too with standout restaurants like Rumi (116 Lygon St) with its Arabic fare, and Very Good Falafel (629 Sydney Road) with an Israeli-Iraqi take on the traditional falafel.
Close to Coburg and Carlton is The Cornish Arms (163A Sydney Rd) – a rooftop gastro pub that has a vegan twist.
The Cornish Arms knows the locals well and delights with dishes like a mock chicken parma and vegan souvlaki. Fear not, there’s plenty for the carnivores too, along with a solid selection of cocktails and tap beers.
Sadly, George Calombaris‘ Greek restaurant Hellenic Republic (which later changed its name to Crofter) is a distant memory after the group’s highly-publicised collapse.
An American-style BBQ restaurant was due to open at the Brunswick East location in early 2020, with new owners at the helm.
Getting there: Take the #1, #6 or #19 tram from Swanston St to Brunswick.
Carlton, just north of the CBD, is Melbourne’s de facto Little Italy and it’s where the city’s café culture was born.
A tram trip from the centre of Melbourne will have you wandering among cafes, bars, restaurants and clothing boutiques in under 10 minutes.
Carlton’s top dining spots are mostly clustered along leafy Lygon Street, near the corner of Elgin St. Here you’ll you’ll find some of the city’s best pizza, fettuccine, pappardelle, not to mention coffee, and gelati.
Lygon Street does pizza and pasta well, but if you are after Italian fare that is more refined you might find better options in other parts of the city. Be warned, the area can sometimes be a bit of a tourist trap, so it’s a good idea to dine where the locals are eating.
Try the classic capricciosa pizza (pictured) from Papa Gino’s, a classic Italian trattoria at 221 Lygon St. It’s piled high with leg ham, mushrooms, artichoke and mozzarella cheese.
The food and service here is simple and quick and the servings are generous.
Tiamo is also popular for its mix-and-match pasta menu, while the chicken and eggplant parmigiana is a crowd pleaser.
D.O.C. Espresso (326 Lygon Street) has transformed from a simple coffee shop to a popular pasta and focaccia bar. It’s popular with tourists and out of towners looking for a good Italian feed.
Getting there: Take the #1, #5, #6, #16 or #64 tram from Swanston St to Carlton.
Admittedly, Footscray is actually west of the CBD but it would be a sin not to include it.
This working-class suburb has the most eclectic mix of cultures that you’ll find in Melbourne, including Vietnamese, Ethiopian and Italian.
Whether you’re in the mood for a goat curry with fresh injera, a bowl of Pho, or fresh cannoli, Footscray has you covered.
The main-stay Vietnamese and African restaurants are found on Barkly Street and surrounds. Café Lalibela (91 Irving St) is one of the oldest Ethiopian institutions in Melbourne, serving traditional and authentic Ethiopian food and beverages.
Abesha Restaurant (327 Barkly St) is another popular Ethiopian experience and the food here is meant for sharing. The colourful curries are served in Injera – a type of sourdough flatbread with a slightly spongy texture that’s perfect for mopping up sauces.
Due to Footscray’s large Vietnamese population, it’s often said there are more pho joints than petrol stations.
For one of the best fresh noodle soups laden high with sprouts and Vietnamese mint, try Saigon Pho (73a Nicholson St).
The Station Hotel (59 Napier St) is another local institution serving traditional western pub food including possibly the best steaks in town. The menu includes premium grain- and grass-fed steaks from Australian beef, including 300g Great Southern Pinnacle porterhouses to 200g Sher Wagyu.
Getting there: Take a train from Southern Cross Station to Footscray.
Richmond has long had one of Melbourne’s best pub scenes, and most are packed to the rafters most weekends before any big AFL game.
Whether you’re looking for cool rooftop bars to bask in the sun along Swan St, hidden wine bars for a nightcap down Church St, a cheeky cocktail on Bridge Rd or one of Victoria Street’s top local pubs, Richmond has you covered.
The Grand (333 Burnley Rd) awarded the title of “Australia’s Best Pub Dining Room” at The National Restaurant Catering Awards for its simple Italian fare. It’s also the only pub in Melbourne to be awarded a Chef Hat for 11 years running.
The Bridge Hotel (642 Bridge Rd) is another local icon, popular for its modern take on traditional pub food. You can grab a $16 chicken parma or a $10 steak here every Tuesday and Wednesday. It also has a $16 weekday feed Monday to Thursday.
The Mountain View Hotel’s ‘A Bar Above’ (70 Bridge Rd) is a rooftop cocktail bar and beer garden with some of the best views of the Melbourne city sky line.
Check out the old Vaucluse Hotel (157 Swan St) which has morphed into Richmond Social – an airy and open space with an extensive tap list and a mean chicken parma (pictured).
But there’s more to Richmond than just great pubs. The dining scene in this enclave 3km south-east of Melbourne’s CBD has also exploded with a heap of new restaurants cementing Bridge Road, Swan Street and Church Street as all-day food havens.
Victoria Street, known as Melbourne’s Little Saigon, is a popular haunt for fresh and fast Vietnamese food.
One of the best-known is I Love Pho 264 (264 Victoria St). It’s highly regarded for its steaming bowls of Pho, but the rice paper rolls and spring rolls are equally satisfying.
Getting there: Take tram #48 or #75 from Flinders Street to Bridge Road; #70 from Batman Avenue at Princes Bridge to Swan Street; #109 from Bourke Street to Victoria Street.
Chapel Street / Prahran/ Windsor, 3181
Yes, South Yarra has a gold-plated postcode but you don’t have to break the bank to eat on Chapel Street or around Prahran.
In fact, the concentration of well-priced restaurants, cafés and bars within a one-kilometre square radius is mind-boggling.
For some serious Vietnamese salad roll satisfaction, don’t go past N Tran Bakery (263 Chapel St, Prahran). Or drop by Windsor Deli (33 Hornby St near James St, Windsor) for gourmet coffee, fresh sandwiches and house-made cakes, biscuits, slices, loaves and muffins.
Journeyman Cafe (169 Chapel St, Prahran) is also at the Windsor end of Chapel St and it’s a popular local haunt, particularly on a Saturday morning. The menu includes apple crumble porridge, Belgian waffles and eggs any which way you like.
After a busy day shopping, stop by recently refurbed The Smith (213-210 High Street, Prahran) for a cocktail or beer. Try the milk bun with tempura soft shell crab, the freshly shucked oysters with ponzu and red chilli or the barramundi tortilla with avocado and smoked paprika. You can thank me later.
For something more casual but equally satisfying, the Oriental Tea House (455 Chapel St) serves up one of the area’s best dim sum experiences.
Enjoy a variety of dumplings and crispy prawn wontons while you sip one of the many hand-blended teas at this stalwart on Chapel St.
The two-storey tea house also doubles as a retail store, so be sure to grab a pack of frozen dim sum to cook at home.
Another favourite in the precinct is the modern Japanese joint Tokosan (142 Greville St, Prahran) where it’s all-you-can eat sushi and gyoza every Tuesday for a set price of $29.
On Wednesday tuck into $7 dumplings and sip on $5 bubbles or enjoy half price drinks every Thursday night.
Of course, no visit to Chapel Street would be complete without dropping by Prahran Market – Australia’s oldest food market.
It’s a food-lover’s paradise with fresh fruit and vegetables, fine cheeses and smallgoods, pastries and bread, organic and free range meats, seafood, spices and pantry staples, pastries and fresh flowers.
Even if you’re not there to buy, staring in wonder at the produce and sweet treats on display makes it time well spent.
Getting there: Tram #8 or #72 from Swanston Street at Federation Square.
St Kilda, 3182
St Kilda is Melbourne’s beachside playground located 27 km from the CBD. It’s also home to Luna Park and the iconic Palais Theatre.
Many of St Kilda’s eateries are located along Fitzroy St and Acland St, with a mix of cafes, Jewish cake shops and bakeries, wine bars and fine dining restaurants all in close proximity.
There are so many cake shops on Acland St, you could easily eat your way from one end to the other. Just peering in the windows at all the eye-popping sweet pastries can be entertaining in itself.
If you love European-style pastries, stop by Le Bon Continental Cake Shop (93 Acland St) and get your hands on one of its incredible vanilla slices made with flaky puff pastry and layered with thick creme patisserie (pictured).
If you’re a fan of baked cheesecake, beat a path next door to Europa Cake Shop (81 Acland St).
Morning is possibly the best time to experience St Kilda, and if you’re heading out for breakfast there are plenty of decent cafes to choose from. You can’t go wrong at Leroy Espresso, Abbey Road Cafe or Iddy Biddy – they all serve a hearty breakfast and great coffee, and the tram stops right at their doorstep.
For lunch or dinner, the quirky Latin American tapas bar Pablo Honey Tapas Bar (68 Acland St) is a good choice.
Aside from its classy, relaxed layout (including walls adorned with life size canvases of scenes from Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill), the restaurant is popular for its share plates and 49 different varieties of tequila.
The mouth-watering menu includes crispy skin pork belly, smoked chicken wings, Asado lamb neck with black bean puree and smoked potato chilli croquettes.
You’ll also find plenty of great wine and cocktail bars close to Acland St, including Big Mouth (168 Acland St), St Moritz (138-140 Acland St) and La Roche (185 Acland St). They all serve food as well.
Getting there: Take the #16 tram from Swanston Street, the #96 from Bourke Street or the #12 from Collins Street to St Kilda.
Updated March 2020 following the collapse of Hellenic Republic.
© 2019 Bernard O’Riordan (Travel Instinct). All Rights Reserved
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