Despite being a relatively small city (four million people) at basically the end of the earth, Melbourne has food that’s up there with places like New York City or London, and has the kind of variety you won’t find anywhere else.
While Sydney gets all the international attention, if you travel mostly just to eat a lot, Melbourne is where it’s at. The influence of multiple waves of immigration is felt at every level, from the city’s longstanding obsession with coffee to a European drinking culture to a whole lot of Vietnamese and Chinese food. Basically, any kind of food you want, Melbourne has it.
There’s plenty to eat in the main Central Business District (the locals just refer to it as “the city”), but a lot can also be found in surrounding neighborhoods like Fitzroy, Carlton, and Richmond. And while you can certainly go all-in on fine dining, these days a lot of the more interesting spots are casual, focused on family-style menus or small plates or things to share. And then you have the cafes. Melbourne is a coffee town, but “coffee shops” are unheard of - cafes are almost always table-service affairs with full menus with actually-exciting things to eat. Competition is fierce, which means you’re more likely to get ham hock benedict or a full Indonesian breakfast than plain old bacon and eggs at some of the cooler spots around.
The Melbourne food scene is interesting and insanely varied, and yes, also pretty expensive. But if you like to eat, you need to get Melbourne on your list. And maybe plan on doing more than just three meals a day - you’ve got a lot to get through.
Cutler & Co is the perfect example of A Melbourne Restaurant. Simple, bistro-like food (maybe some roasted flounder to start and then a giant rib eye to share), done in a fine dining setting that somehow also feels casual and relaxed. The same chef is behind a bunch of other fantastic restaurants in town, and you should definitely get to one before you leave: Cumulus Inc. is an all-day, no-reservations, small plates operation with the best tuna tartare in the city. Supernormal is basically the Asian version of Cumulus (although they’re only open for lunch and dinner), Ricky & Pinky is classic Australian-Chinese food gone kind of fancy inside a pub, and Marion is the ultimate in wine bars that don’t suck. Don’t leave town without eating at one of these places.
Cookie is like that one sweater that’s been shoved in the back of the closet: sometimes people forget it’s there, but then they eat here once and never forget it. Not that Cookie is ever empty or quiet, but it’s been around for so long and is so consistently good that Melbourne kind of takes it for granted. They serve some of the best Thai in town in a huge space that’s half bar, half restaurant, and fully one of our favorite places to eat in the city.
On a quiet street in Carlton, right near Melbourne University, is a pizza place that feels like it’s actually on a quiet street in Rome. The menus are handwritten photocopies and often covered in red wine stains, wine is poured into tumblers, and the seating is so cramped you’ll definitely be involved in the relationship debrief happening at the table next door. Yes the pastas are good, but we’d advise not using too much stomach space for those - it’s all about the thin-crust, simply-topped pizzas. And that includes the dessert pizzas too.
There’s no avoiding it: if you plan on going to Chin Chin, you’re going to have to plan on waiting. This no-reservations modern South-East Asian spot on Flinders Lane in the heart of the city is a very Melbourne take on Asian dining halls and is always a lot of fun. They’ve been slammed since opening in 2011, and a recent expansion of the space hasn’t slowed things down. Be here well before 7pm on a weeknight, put your name down, and grab a drink at GoGo Bar down the street behind the restaurant. Once you finally get to sit down, you might feel a bit weird saying “feed me” to your waiter, but after you do they’ll start bringing out dish after excellent dish.
While we can confidently say Melbourne has Chinese, Vietnamese, and Thai eating on lock, Japanese food hasn’t ever been a strong point. There are way too many $3 hand rolls filled with canned tuna to claim otherwise. But Minamishima is a true outlier, offering one of the only omakase menus in town and using both local seafood and fish imported straight from the Tokyo fish market. Unsurprisingly, locals are all about it, so make sure you book a spot at the sushi bar before you arrive.
Thanks to a constantly-growing Indian population, Melbourne has a bunch of good casual Indian spots. But when it comes to modern upscale Indian restaurants? Tonka is pretty much it. In addition to the more expected (tandoori chicken actually cooked in a tandoori oven), there are plenty of classics with a twist (duck korma with apple and beetroot). So yeah, we’re fine with just having Tonka on the scene. Also, you’ll be getting very familiar with eating and drinking down alleys in Melbourne, although they’re locally known as laneways and are generally less frightening than the word alley suggests. This one is down one of the central city’s many laneways.
Cafe Di Stasio
Cafe Di Stasio is one of the Melbourne restaurant big guns, but also off the radar of most tourists. If a local invites you for dinner at Di Stasio, it basically means they’re in love with you. Waitstaff in white jackets will treat you like royalty and bring you plates of some of the best upscale Italian food you can find in town. The newer, more casual bar next door serves as both a pre-dinner drinks spot and a laidback place for a bite for St. Kilda locals.
Pacific Seafood BBQ House
You won’t find chicken chow mein or General Tso’s anything at Chinese restaurants in Australia. The Chinese food here is pretty different - a lot less sweet and arguably a bit closer to the Chinese food they eat in China. Despite its location amongst pho shops and Vietnamese restaurants on Victoria Street in Richmond, Pacific Seafood BBQ House is one of the best options for Chinese food in town. The tables are always a little sticky and there are specials written in Chinese on colored paper taped to the walls. Get the salt and pepper calamari, half a peking duck, and a hot pot.
Pellegrini’s is the definition of a Melbourne institution. This simple Italian spot is open all day, plonking down bowls of spaghetti bolognese and glasses of watermelon granita like they’re doing you a favor just by serving you. And they kind of are: this time capsule (they’ve been open since the 1950s) is a perfect spot for an afternoon fuel-up between tourist sites in the city.
No place celebrates Australian ingredients like Attica, a dark, world-renowned restaurant in Ripponlea, a Melbourne neighborhood better known for being full of historic houses and families than anything cool. Throughout what can sometimes be a twenty-course tasting menu, you might get dishes like a vegemite pie, a wallaby blood pikelet, giant emu eggs, and probably some kangaroo. You need to be feeling adventurous to come here, but Attica never feels overwhelming or stuffy.
Charcoal Grill on the Hill
Charcoal Grill is not the kind of place you’re going to walk past as a visitor (it’s in Kew, a twenty-minute drive from the center of town), and it’s certainly not the coolest place in town, but it’s also one of our all-time favorites. This suburban spot is a temple of steak - you’ll be greeted by a huge case of raw meat right as you walk in. While there are a few starters and non-beef things, you’re here for the main event: pick your cut and weight and it comes out perfectly-grilled with a huge basket of chips (sorry, fries) and a green salad. The entire restaurant is red (even the carpet), the crowd is older, and the wine list is nuts, and while that might sound serious and uptight, Charcoal Grill is a whole lot of fun. If you’re in town for a while, this is a meal you won’t regret.
Vue De Monde
There aren’t many places to eat with a view in Melbourne, but Vue de Monde, on the 55th floor of the Rialto building, is the best one. Vue is a fine dining restaurant where you can only do a tasting menu, but despite this it feels pretty casual. The space is dark and modern and the food is serious (and often includes little-seen native Australian ingredients), but service is laid-back and there are no hushed tones. Be warned: you’ll be dropping some serious money. For a less-expensive option with a view, have a cocktail and a snack at Lui Bar next door.
Australian burgers are not like American burgers - order one with “the lot” and it will have less cheese, more bacon, a fried egg, and slices of beetroot, and will be generally less likely to make you fall asleep after eating one. Except at Huxtaburger, where the burgers lean more In-N-Out than local fish and chip shop. What started as a single store in Fitzroy with a consistently long line has become a mini-chain that hasn’t sacrificed quality at all. Think of it as Melbourne’s Shake Shack and ignore the Cosby Show theme that wasn’t quite so weird when they opened.
Chinese food has all its bases covered in Melbourne - dumplings, yum cha (what we call dim sum), modern takes, traditional takes. But if you want traditional Cantonese done at the highest of levels, Flower Drum is where it’s at. They’re known for their peking duck, but regulars will always get an order of abalone in there as well. They’ve been doing their thing for 41 years, and we’re not entirely sure things have changed much since then, but that’s just the way we like it.
Hutong Dumpling Bar (胡同)
Hutong kicked off the xiaolongbao obsession in Melbourne, and is still the best spot for soup dumplings in town. There are locations in the city and Prahran, and both work for big groups as well as dates, although the Prahran location is a little fancier. You might have to wait at peak times, but these dumplings are worth it.
Movida is single-handedly responsible for bringing authentic tapas to Melbourne, and considering that Spain and Australia are about as far from each other as you can possibly get, this is no small feat. Down a graffiti-filled laneway in the city, Movida has been open for more than 15 years and is still the best place for Spanish food in town.
Victoria Street in Richmond is wall to wall Vietnamese restaurants, and it can be hard to pick just one. But if you’re in the mood for pho, I Love Pho has to be your move. This family-owned shop has become so busy in recent years that they’ve opened up another one right across the street. On a cold day, there’s no better meal in town than the beef pho with some spring rolls on the side.
French food might not be very cool anymore, but don’t tell that to France-Soir. This isn’t fussy Michelin-style French food - you’ll eat classic bistro dishes like escargot and steak frites. They’ve been open for thirty years, and not much has changed since then: we’re pretty sure you have to be French to work here, and there’s always a table of businessmen in the corner who’ve been there since lunch.
Who knows if the World Pizza Championships is a real thing, but it sounds impressive and it turns out the guy who won it in 2014 is in Melbourne, not Naples. 400 Gradi started as a small pizza place in a little-trafficked part of Brunswick, but now has three locations around town. If you want pizza that’s as authentic as it gets, this is your spot.
If you think New Yorkers take brunch seriously, you haven’t met Melbournians yet. While we prefer to call all morning meals involving eggs “breakfast” and typically turn our noses up at the thought of having a burger before 12pm, our devotion as a city to what Americans would call brunch is all-consuming. And Top Paddock is one of the city’s best spots for all-day breakfast any day of the week. They have everything from a simple egg and bacon roll to eggs benedict with pork jowl, yuzu apple, and bacon crumb. Do you even need us to tell you the coffee is excellent too? Go on a weekday to avoid a long wait.
A Lune croissant was once the mythical food item of Melbourne - something that required standing in line at a tiny shop early in the morning (which still didn’t guarantee you’d receive one). But now, with their new huge bakery in Fitzroy, the lines might still be long (and there’s a six-pastry limit), but you’ll get to sample croissants and French pastries that are both traditional and creative. If you plan ahead too, you can book a spot at Lune Lab (a nine-stool bar) and be served a three-course pastry meal that includes new things they’re developing and bottomless cups of coffee.
In a city that seems to prefer tiny cafes down hard-to-find laneways, Higher Ground isn’t afraid to go big. The double-story cafe/restaurant hybrid is open all day and in a rarity for Melbourne cafes, won’t mind if you open up your laptop and do some work. The menu goes way beyond the usual avocado toast (although there is still one of those) with things like steamed fish and a minced lamb “fry up” during the day and graduates to serious things like pork shoulder at night.
A larger offshoot of the tiny Brunswick Street Alimentari close by, the Smith Street version has everything we love about an Italian deli. There are plenty of things you can take to go, but you’re likely to get distracted by the dining room and end up sitting down for breakfast before you leave.
Have we mentioned yet that the people of Melbourne take their coffee very seriously? We may not drink as much of it as Americans, but our undying love for espresso drinks is obvious everywhere you go. One of the most “Melbourne” of our many, many coffee specialists is Market Lane, a roaster and cafe with a few locations around town. The power move is to head to their Carlton location, grab a cafe latte, and pop in to Baker D. Chirico next door for a pastry.
You better believe we put a gelato shop on this list. The owner comes from a legendary Melbourne restaurant family, but went to Italy to learn all about gelato making. Even in the dead of winter (which, fine, is no New York winter), there’s likely to be a line out the door for scoops of peanut butter with toasted brioche and nutella. Oh and they have chocolate on tap.
Unlike those weird wine bars that are unnaturally quiet except for when they start lecturing you about the difference between cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc, Embla is completely approachable and ridiculously cool. Their food menu is available from midday until 3pm and 5pm until close, there’s a $50 set-menu lunch on Sundays, and they have small bar snack available all other times..
Speakeasy-style bars are far and few between in Melbourne (mostly because we never did anything as stupid as banning alcohol), but The Everleigh feels like it came to us out right out of New York in the ’20s. Up some stairs and overlooking Gertrude Street in Fitzroy, there’s a long list of old-school cocktails, but the move here is to tell the bartenders what you’re in the mood for and let them steer the ship.
The building that houses the restaurant Cookie is essentially an adult playground. Once you’re done with dinner, head to the next floor up for espresso martinis and maybe a show at The Toff In Town (a bar and venue showcasing local DJs and bands), or all the way up top to Rooftop Bar. Rooftop is relaxed during the day, has a big program of outdoor movies in the warmer months, and gets downright rowdy at night. If you’re here in the summer, it’s a must-visit.
Siglo could be the best bar in Melbourne. It might not have the most carefully-made drinks, or the coolest crowd, but this rooftop spot has a view over the State Parliament building and a genuinely great vibe. Come here after a weeknight dinner for multiple glasses of prosecco and the feeling that there’s nowhere else you’d rather be.