Melbourne is often called the culinary capital of Australia.
Not only can you find a dazzling array of restaurants and cuisines to choose from, but the city boasts the country’s (perhaps the world’s) best coffee and is home to several quality markets as well. You could spend your entire time here just eating and drinking your way around town.
For travellers, it can be difficult to figure out where to go. Many remarkable establishments are hidden down laneways or are a short tram ride away from the central business district. This is not a list of the top budget eateries, though there are plenty of those if you’re looking for them.
But if you’re going to have at least one splurge while in Australia, this is the city to do it in.
Here are some special places to check out next time you visit:
Restaurant price guide (main dishes):
$ under A20
1. Balzari Most visitors to Melbourne have heard of Lygon Street, but most of the restaurants there are overpriced tourist traps, even with the freebies you can finagle from the doormen. Balzari is, however, a breath of fresh air, serving delicious Mediterranean cuisine in a warm and inviting space.
2. Berlin East meets west in this city-inspired theme bar. Ring the bell to be let in (don’t be shy, the staff are very friendly) and then enjoy a cocktail, beverage or bite from the colourful menu.
3. Borsch, Vodka & Tears For pierogi like your great-grandmother made them and a divine vodka list, head to this Windsor favourite. The menu is Eastern European and lengthy, as is the wait if you don’t book a table in advance.
4. Bottega This slick eatery offers modern Italian cuisine and a fabulous wine list. My favourite of the Bourke Hill restaurants.
5. Brunetti A Melbourne institution with CBD, Carlton and Camberwell locations, Brunetti has been serving cakes, pastries, biscuits and gelati since 1985. You’ll also find excellent crepes, chocolates and savoury dishes.
6. Cicciolina This is a very hot spot in St. Kilda, thanks to its interesting wine list and simply prepared but outstanding classic Mediterranean dishes.
7. Cookie Climb the stairs and try not to get too distracted by the bar. You’ll be leafing through a massive drinks menu once you reach your table. Thai cuisine is the star here, with three different sizes of dishes to share. Your meal will have a storybook ending. Be sure to book ahead.
8. Giuseppe Arnaldo and Sons A relative newcomer to the city’s Italian scene, a no-booking policy means it’s always packed until late on Friday and Saturday nights. You can make a meal of cured meats, cheeses and antipasto, or go all the way with one of the excellent mains. Steaks here are incredible as is the wine list.
9. Greasy Joe’s A St. Kilda institution serving all-day breakfasts and delicious beef, chicken and fish burgers.
10. Jacques Reymond This is the place to come for an elegant yet inventive meal. The restaurant resides in an 1800’s era Victorian mansion, though the food is anything but old-fashioned. Be sure to dress up.
11. Kri Kri The focus of this excellent value Greek restaurant is mezedes, so grab a group and share.
12. Let Them Eat Cake Artist and Pastry Chef, Christopher Montebello creates beautiful edible designs at this South Melbourne favourite. You can find wonderful little cupcakes, petit fours, traditional cakes, intricate display cakes and specialty items during the holidays.
13. Little Cupcakes Cupcake shops have been cropping up all over Melbourne, but the original (and the best in my opinion) is Little Cupcakes. Soft and delicate, with a light creamy frosting, you can have these precious desserts in a variety of flavours including vanilla, chocolate, carrot, pistachio and red velvet. Get to one of the two city locations early to avoid disappointment.
14. Longrain With locations in both Sydney and Melbourne, Longrain is as popular as it is delicious. Take a seat at the communal tables, order a cocktail or glass of wine from the impressive list and prepare to feast on exciting Thai dishes in a busy atmosphere. No bookings taken for groups smaller than eight.
15. Madame Brussels “Want to do Pimm’s at Madame Brussels?” a friend asked me once. This self-proclaimed “Rather Fancy Terrace and Public House” must be seen to be believed and is one of Melbourne’s many fun rooftop bars. Enjoy cocktails and cupcakes served by polo-shirted pool boys while you slip off your sandals and plant your feet in the AstroTurf.
16. Maha Bar and Grill Enjoy Middle Eastern hospitality and flare in this Bond Street basement restaurant. Maltese chef Shane Delia has created an inspired regional menu (his wife’s background is Lebanese) and the service is friendly and helpful.
17. Misty Sweet, unassuming Misty is positioned just across from Federation Square in the Hosier Lane Alley. Drink in dim lighting and enjoy one of two lounges that are nothing short of warm and inviting.
18. MoVida This is the top Spanish restaurant in Melbourne and with the recent opening of MoVida Next Door and MoVida Aqui, you now have three chances to experience the flavours from Frank Comorra.
19. Murmur Another alley hideaway, Murmur looks like a Cuban outpost, though nothing is held back from the cocktail and tapas menu. Wine and beer are also popular here with an excellent international selection.
20. Pure South If you don’t have time to make it across the Bass Strait to Tasmania, you can still experience the gastronomic goodness of the island. Pure South sources meat and produce from the smallest state and brings it to your table in Southbank.
21. Rockpool Neil Perry’s Melbourne outpost serves fine steaks and incredibly fresh seafood at the Crown Casino. Inspired by the opulent North American steakhouses, this is a big meat, big-deal kind of place.
22. Sarti The menu at Sarti is exciting and stylish, with a unique take on the classics. Enjoy the rooftop terrace when the weather is warm.
23. Shoya This Japanese establishment offers six levels of dining options and some of the best sushi and cooked dishes in Melbourne. You can BBQ your own meat downstairs on smokeless table grills or book a traditional table upstairs near the sushi bar. The third and fourth floors are home to karaoke rooms, which you can book by the hour, and an executive lounge for business entertaining.
24. Tutto Bene Perched high atop the Southgate complex sits this quaint, fun little risotteria. That’s right: don’t ask for pasta here. You’d be silly not to try one of the delicious risotto dishes, though there are plenty of excellent traditional Italian staples to savour as well.
25. Waterfront at Station Pier Take a short tram ride from the city over to Port Melbourne to enjoy seafood by the bay. You can find any kind of seafood here, from live tank crustaceans to a variety of fish and shellfish. The views are lovely and you can wander along the promenade after your meal.
Related Travel guide
Travel Guide Australia, DK Eyewitness
DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Australia is packed with color photographs, illustrations, and detailed maps that will help you discover Australia region-by-region, from the aboriginal sights of the Northern Territory to the wilderness of Tasmania.
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Do you know any of these places? Please share your opinion as a comment!
Written and contributed by Andrea