Melbourne is arguably Australia's foodiest city, welcoming a wide range of exotic cuisines and making them part of the city's culture. While famous for its coffee shop culture and a liberal, forward-thinking scene, you'll still find the 'true blue Aussie classic dishes in Melbourne – especially meat pies if you go to watch live rugby or cricket. Have a look at some of the best food to eat in Melbourne.
It doesn't matter if you're a local or a visitor: Melbourne is at its absolute best when you go in face first and let your tastebuds lead the way. Make sure you put these 34 Melbourne dishes on your hit list.
To truly understand Melbourne, you need to look at everything it eats, from the cheap takeout shops selling deep-fried dim sims (no, not dim sum) to tasting-menu temples championing native ingredients like saltbush and finger lime.
Melbourne seems to have an infinite number of restaurants and cafés, but something as simple as lunch or dinner can become overwhelming with so many options. Culture Trip has gorged through Melbourne's menus and found the dishes that best represent this multi-cultural city. Tip: wear your stretchy pants.
Much like the U.S., Australia is a country of immigrants. Its second-largest city — sandwiched between Port Phillip Bay and mountain ranges, straddling the Yarra River — is among the most culturally diverse in the world. A list of its defining dishes reads like a history of the last several centuries of global migration: meat pies from the Brits, parma from the Italians, souvlaki from the Greeks (or, if you're one of the city's 42,000 people of Lebanese descent, you might call it a kebab), and dumplings from the Chinese.
Indigenous Australians have been eating here for more than 60,000 years as well, and in the last decade or so, their influence has finally started to penetrate the local restaurant scene. Most recently, Melbourne's greatest export has been its cafe culture — the all-day coffee and fancy-toast phenomenon that's led to the brunchification of planet earth.
Today's Melbournian diet hits on it all — smashed avocado on toast for breakfast, a banh mi from a Vietnamese bakery for lunch, and handmade pasta at some new natural wine bar for dinner. Throw in a few flat whites or magics throughout the day and a sauce-smothered halal snack pack for a nightcap, and you've got the entirety of Melbourne in a single stomach.
These are the dishes that showcase the cultural hodgepodge that has made Melbourne one of the world's ultimate places to eat, as well a few broadly Antipodean staples the city couldn't live without.
Salt and Pepper Calamari
Salt and pepper calamari is a uniquely Australian twist on classic calamari from Cantonese cuisine. The squid or calamari is covered in a salt-and-pepper batter of rising flour and deep-fried, then served with a side salad and dipped in a spicy-sweet chilli sauce.
With this simple preparation and flavours, the crunch and crispiness of the finished batter and the firm texture of the calamari rings give the dish its lightness and distinctive taste. The basic seasoning of the batter also works with the sweet heat and thickness of the chilli sauce.
Croissant at Lune
Run by brother-sister team Kate and Cameron Reid, Lune Croissanterie has lines snaking out of the store nearly every day that they open, and their pastries fly out of the shop by noon most days. Created in a climate-controlled lab, Lune croissants are almost mathematically perfect: crisp and golden with visible layers of delicate pastry.
There's nothing more Aussie than a Sunday roast. Since the first days of British colonization, we've been a sheep-rearing nation, so lamb is common and inexpensive here, and a leg of lamb, roasted with potatoes and served with peas and gravy, is a home-cooked weekend ritual that symbolizes the Australian dream. You'll also find a Sunday roast special in nearly every pub and in some pretty serious restaurants, too. The Mediterranean influence is obvious: Ingredients like lemon, olives, oregano, and tomato often find their way into Melbourne's Haute lamb roasts. Cumulus Inc. serves a now-iconic version with almond and red pepper. Rumi — one of the best Middle Eastern restaurants in town — serves theirs rubbed in spices and topped with halloumi, feta, and kasseri cheeses.
Thousands of refugees settled in Melbourne after the Vietnam War, and with them came a wave of incredible Vietnamese bakeries. The baguette-bound banh mi sandwich — layered with pate, pork, mayo, cucumber, pickled carrot, daikon, and cilantro, to start — has since become a beloved lunch staple for Melbournians, especially in the predominantly Vietnamese neighbourhoods of Footscray and Springvale, where you'll be spoiled for choices. If you believe the lines, though, Bun Bun Bakery, To's Bakery & Cafe, and Nhu Lan Bakery are the best. At the same time, in and around the Central Business District (CBD), N. Lee Bakery is known for having a killer grilled-pork banh mi, and Trang Bakery and Cafe is all about the crispy pork version.
Ricotta Hotcakes at Top Paddock
As picturesque as a Monet masterpiece, the blueberry and ricotta hotcake at Richmond's Top Paddock looks too good to eat. The popular brunch spot serves fluffy hotcakes with seasonal fruits and berries, crunchy seeds, organic maple syrup and a dollop of cream. Stare in awe, take an Instagram-worthy shot and then dig in.
Margherita Pizza at 400 Gradi
Claiming the top spot at the World Pizza Championships in 2014, Johnny Di Francesco's Margherita Pizza is smeared with homemade tomato sauce, dotted with creamy Fior di latte cheese and sprinkled with basil leaves. The pizza has an impossibly thin base and is cooked for 400 degrees for 90 seconds. The entire menu at 400 Gradi is so authentically Italian you can practically hear Dean Martin singing it to you.
Baller Bucket at Belle's Hot Chicken
Now with three locations in Melbourne, it's easier than ever to satisfy your craving for succulent chicken. The Baller Bucker includes 16 fried chicken wings, four sides and four sauces. Still hungry? Order mac and cheese, roast yam salad or old bay fries. Belle's Hot Chicken also has a beer selection because you can't have a chicken without a pint.
Desserts at Din Tai Fung
Din Tai Fung might be renowned for their dumplings, but their refreshing list of desserts keeps people coming back for more. Black sesame, taro, green tea, or mango sorbet are just some of the simple but delectable flavours on offer. Don't leave Din Tai Fung without indulging in dessert.
Meat Fruit at Dinner by Heston
Inspired by historic British gastronomy, Dinner by Heston dishes up unexpected and delightful meals in typical Heston Blumenthal fashion. The enchanting Meat Fruit is a fantastical starter featuring spiced red wine and chicken liver parfait with a side of grilled bread. The refined and surprising meals date back to the 1500s.
Coconut Yogurt at Kettle Black
Start your day with the coconut yogurt at Kettle Black. Made in-house daily by head chef Jesse McTavish, dairy-free yogurt uses vegan culture, coconut cream, and agave syrup. The yogurt is topped with grains, nuts and seeds, and seasonal fruits with a sprinkling of citrus powder.
Burgers at 8bit
While you may have to stand in line, the wait will be worth it after you've tried one of the burgers at 8bit. Their signature 8 Bit with cheese is layered with all the usual suspects on the patty and red onion, pickles, 8bit sauce and melted American cheese. Wash it down with a peanut butter milkshake.
Korean Pork Hock at Lucy Liu
The most dramatic dish at Michael Lambie's new pan-Asian diner Lucy Liu is the Korean pork hock which arrives at the table stabbed by a carving knife. With a prep time upwards of 36 hours, the pock hock is packed full of flavour, and the crisp exterior sits beautifully in contrast to the gelatinous flesh. The meal is served with steamed pancake and apple kimchi salad which adds a sweet bite.
Saganaki at Hellenic Republic
Traditional Greek cuisine with a modern twist is what George Columbarias does best at the Hellenic Republic. Golden on the outside and stringy in the centre, the saganaki is presented as a bronze wedge of kefalograviera topped with a spoonful of subtlety peppered figs drenched in finger-licking syrup.
One of the specials at Gelato Messina
The array of ice cream flavours at Gelato Messina is anything but vanilla. You can order vanilla, but Culture Trip recommends trying one of their specials. Each week five new flavours are written on the chalkboard in eye-catching calligraphy, and past favourites include hot cross bun, key lime pie, Mr. Potato head, and wagon wheel.
Massaman Curry of Coconut Braised Beef at Chin Chin
Waiting in line is just part of the experience at Chin Chin – one of Melbourne's most successful restaurants, but the wait is totally worth it. Make the most of your time inside and order the Massman curry of coconut braised beef with Kipfler potatoes, nuts and fried shallots. It will leave you drooling.
Fish Dumplings at ShanDong Mama
This Chinatown hidey-hole makes one of the CBD's best fish dumplings. Shandong Mama's mackerel dumplings are best boiled (though the fried ones are nice too), as the soft mousse-textured filling with ginger and coriander turns pillowy and super light after a flash in boiling water.
Vegemite Curry Buttermilk Roti at Sunda
It's the roti with Vegemite curry, OK? Sunda has made the year's most spectacular play for the hearts and minds of Melbourne with a crazy-brave combination of wickedly buttery deconstructed roti and a deeply savoury curry sauce with a Vegemite-umami backbone. Add the fact that it's an off-menu secret with only 25 serves available a night, and you've got a must-eat dish.
Progressive and provocative, Sunda draws on the flavours of Southeast Asia – the tectonic plate it is named after – marrying these with native Australian ingredients in a sophisticated, distinctive interpretation of modern Australian cuisine.
The menu, by Khanh Nguyen, is intricate and ever-changing. Together with the location, down a nondescript city laneway in a structure of steel, glass and mesh inspired by the glowing lanterns of Asia, Sunda is a destination that has come to typify Melbourne’s gastronomic scene.
Fried Shallot at Old Palm Liquor
In the running for bar snack of the year is Old Palm Liquor's fried shallot – splayed out but connected at the root, battered and fried before receiving a dab of sour cashew cream and a touch of diced, pickled jalapeno, which eats like a very grown-up Bloomin' Onion. Better yet, it is entirely vegan, which is no wonder every single person is eating one when you walk into Old Palm Liquor.
Jam Doughnuts at the American Doughnut Kitchen
One nibble of American Doughnut Kitchen's hot jam bliss bombs shows you why generations have been happy to queue for them. This beloved family business has been operating since the '50s, and on many market mornings, there's a line of doughnut devotees peering through the windows of the blue and white van. Staff are busy within, cutting dough, frisbeeing it into the fryer and dusting it with sugar – the recipe is unchanged after almost 70 years. What makes these doughnuts elite is the heat factor – minimal fryer-to-mouth time keeps them hot and crisp on the outside, soft and pillowy on the inside. Then there's the shock of molten red jam that threatens to stain your workplace attire.
Fairy Bread at French Saloon
You wouldn't think that fairy bread could be savoury, but head chef Todd Moses had a nostalgic moment when playing with the five different types of caviar he has on the menu at French Saloon. Each variety is offered individually, but on occasion, Moses takes the cheapest white bread from his supplier, laminates it with whipped cod roe, and rains down a mixture of society, baerii, white sturgeon, gold and Yarra Valley caviar to bring back the party favourite for an older audience. In the past, it's just been served to friends and regulars. But now, with a nod and a wink, you can request it from the staff if Moses has the ingredients on hand. Keep an eye out on his Instagram. And yes, he cuts the crusts off.
Cacio E Pepe at Bar Liberty
Bar Liberty is better known for its booze than snacks, but even with a change of guard in the kitchen, one dish remains the cacio e Pepe. Here, thick tubes of bucatini are coated in a thick emulsion of cheese and pepper, a perfect partner to any low-fi wine on the list.
Pippies in XO
Pippies in XO sauce defines Melbourne's old-new approach to Chinese cuisine. Pippies are a kind of Australian surf clam, so prolific along these tens of thousands of miles of seaside that a half-hour digging in the sand could easily yield enough for a meal. XO sauce was developed in Hong Kong in the 1980s, a sweet umami bomb of dried shellfish and Chinese ham chopped and fried with chile and garlic. Pippies in XO sees the little clams tossed in the sauce to cook, then served in their own broth with savoury Chinese doughnuts to soak it all up. You can find them perfectly unadorned at Ling Nan in Chinatown, at modern Chinese restaurants like Lee Ho Fook, and at Bar Liberty, one of the city's best wine bars.
Like New York and Chicago, Melbourne has developed its own distinct style of pizza. The pies are smaller and less floppy than in New York and with thicker, denser crusts. Probably the most striking difference is the number of toppings Melbourne likes to pile on. The capricciosa (based on a pizza with the same name you can find in Italy) gets olives, shredded ham, and mushrooms. On Melbourne's iconic Italian strip of Lygon Street in Carlton, the capriccioso can be found on every menu of the old-school pizza and pasta joints, their walls plastered with Polaroids and sports memorabilia. And while you can now get great Neapolitan-style pizza in Melbourne, too, it's the capricciosas of Lygon Street that speak to a longstanding Italian-Australian food culture all its own.
Pretty much every Australian home has a jaffle-maker, which is sort of like a panini press, in the cupboard. Two slices of bread are buttered on both sides, filled with something saucy — maybe baked beans or leftover Bolognese — then sealed in a hot jaffle-maker until four crispy, sealed, clamshell-shaped wedges emerge: jaffles. While mostly the stuff of home-cooking — jaffles are prepared by Australian mums everywhere — restaurants are leaning into the nostalgia, with innovative takes on this de facto after-school snack like the map tofu jaffle at Super Ling or Bad Frankie's vegan butter chicken and Lamington jaffles.
Souvlaki and Gyros
Melbourne boasts the largest Greek population in the world outside of Greece, so you're never far from a souvlaki shop here — which is good for the thousands of pubgoers who spill out into the streets each night in search of the city's premier drunk food. The classic souvlaki shops are small, family-run establishments with ultra-late hours. The menu revolves around spit-roasted or skewer-grilled meats (the term "souvlaki" tends to interchangeably for both). The most popular sources (because every word has a shorthand in Australia) are made with lamb, sauce (tzatziki, mustard-mayo, or both), tomato, onions, lettuce, and fries. In Fitzroy, the Real Greek Souvlaki Bar makes a typical souva, with the addition of feta, and in the CBD, Stalactites serves souvlaki, gyros, and other Greek dishes 24/7. Or follow the recommendation of Attica's Ben Shewry, and head to Kalimera Souvlaki Art in Oakleigh.
It's the ultimate Australian pub staple: a chicken schnitzel covered in ham, a tomato-based Napoli sauce, and melted cheese (usually mozzarella and Parmesan). Typically served with fries and a salad, you can find it elsewhere in the country under the names "parmi" and "parmy," but in Melbourne, it's parma. The specific origins are unclear — the oldest mention of a chicken parma on a menu can be traced to the Pimlico Restaurant in the Melbourne neighbourhood of Kew in 1980 — but like America's chicken parmesan, it's likely an Italian immigrant riff on Italy's eggplant parmigiana. Every respectable (and not) pub in town has featured a parma on its menu and often a special night dedicated to it. For a traditional one, go to the Birmingham Hotel in Fitzroy, or walk over to the Napier Hotel, where you can swap the ham for a slice of smoked kangaroo.
Sichuan Fried Eggplant
Melbourne is home to one of the world's oldest Chinatowns (thanks to the gold rush of the 1850s) and an energized young Chinese community that continues to innovate and influence the city's cuisine. As such, one could name a hundred Chinese dishes that help to define Melbourne food: xiao long bao, Peking duck, abalone in oyster sauce. But the one that gives us midnight cravings and causes cross-table chopstick brawls like no other is Sichuan fried eggplant. The spears of gooey eggplant — lightly breaded and fried for a crisp exterior — come in a Jenga-like stack drizzled with a sticky salty-spicy-sweet sauce that'd make you fight your grandma for another bite. For the old-school, bring-the-whole-family-and-your-own-wine version, Dainty Sichuan in South Yarra is the go-to. And for a more refined and modern but equally joyful take on the classic by Chinese-Australian chef Victor Liong, hit up Lee Ho Fook and prepare to meet your new favourite foo.
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