lygon street restaurants & cafes

What Are The Best Lygon Street Restaurants & Cafes?

Lygon is one of Melbourne’s best-known streets, but it cops a lot of unfair flak. It’s true that the Italian restaurant precinct – which roughly occupies the blocks between Carlton’s Queensbury and Elgin streets – has its fair share of tourist traps. Still, there are plenty of great restaurants hidden among the chequered tablecloths.

Carlton is in the middle of a restaurant renaissance, and that’s starting to show on its most famous strip. There are plenty of places to choose from now, don’t expect your options to stray too far from Italian cuisine.

Like the precinct’s spruikers, the choice is overwhelming when it comes to Lygon Street restaurants. One will tell you they have the freshest carbonara in the southern hemisphere, while the other will claim a 400 cheese pizza. Both worthy options, but dig deeper, and you’ll find a diverse culinary offering ranging from fiery ramen at one end and modern Australian at the other

While this list begins with some of the best Italian Carlton has to offer, it’s worth keeping your options open when it comes to which suburb of the street you plan on visiting and what cuisine you’re after, too. 

lygon street restaurants & cafes

10 Best Lygon Street Restaurants

Looking for fine restaurants in Melbourne but not sure where to start? No worries. Because Lygon Street is the answer to all your cravings, this leafy lane runs from Melbourne’s inner northern suburbs to the CBD and is jam-packed with restaurants, dessert shops, cafes and bars.

And FYI, it’s been dubbed ‘Little Italy’ because it’s home to many fine Italian eateries. But it does stop there; the street boasts a repertoire of Greek, Mediterranean, Japanese and sub-continental restaurants that have an alfresco setting, meaning you can enjoy your meal while admiring the liveness of this foodie hotspot!

Here are the best restaurants on Lygon Street.

400 Gradi

Proper pizza: the arguments about what it is and who does it best rage hard. But here, at Johnny Di Francesco's Lygon Street pizzeria (as well as his shiny outpost at Crown), they're confident they're doing it right, and they have the hat tip from the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana – Napoli's official pizza police – to prove it.

It's here that all the pizza is cooked at 400 degrees for 90 seconds, rendering the base crisp, lightly charred and pliable like a pair of starched pants. The fast scorch also preserves the integrity of the freshly sliced prosciutto, sweet tomato sugo and soft torn chunks of buffalo mozzarella they ship in from the homeland.

You can tell the die-hard locals from the itinerant crowd who nightly fill the twinkling, tiled trattoria. They're the ones with napkins spread far across laps – those who know that it's a race to get Margherita to face without the toppings slipping straight onto pants.

It's not all dough fun here. People are smashing through Aperol Spritz' cocktails and cheesy ricotta-stuffed zucchini flowers everywhere you look. You can also take all those cured meats and cheeses that adorn the bar straight up on big antipasti boards.

We're all about getting a bar side where you can watch them work the gates to pizza hell while downing crisp bottles of Menabrea – their alternative to Peroni – with meaty green olives made meatier with a veal mince stuffing. They sizzle those suckers in olive oil for a salty bar snack of champions.

The service and ethos are emphatically Italian. Winks are fired almost at random, and if you can't decide between the soft, creamy tiramisu and a hot-pocket calzone stuffed with Nutella, you can get a dessert board with up to three.

Hellenic Republic

The Hellenic Republic in Brunswick East will be 11 years old in 2019. Simply surviving in the choppy waters of the restaurant business is achievement enough. Still, thriving to the point of spreading your DNA to outposts in Kew, Williamstown and Brighton suggest serious hospo know-how, and a visit to the Brunswick mothership provides the evidence to back it up.

The ability to conjure the right atmosphere is key, and the Hellenic Republic feels warm and festive, hitting that smart/casual sweet spot. Families and friends break pita against a backdrop of lobster-basket lampshades and a stunning blue-and-white mosaic-tiled communal table. The energy of the open kitchen is palpable, and the smell of the lamb and chicken rotating on the spit is a siren song.

No one is reinventing the wheel here: the menu is full of simple, fresh flavours; portions are Olympian, and they arrive quickly. You’ll barely get your order in for a glass of the Yianni Ramnista Xinomavro before BAM! Your spit-roasted chicken has arrived. The glistening meat is sweet and succulent, fragrant with oregano and garlic, and a squeeze of lemon adds a bright citrus spark.

While traditionalists may tout the addition of the kaffir lime leaf to the great strips of battered calamari, it’s a subtle addition that works. Aleppo pepper flakes add chilli pep and colour, and a nifty swipe of boozy ouzo mayonnaise seals the delectable deal.

And while we’re on the subject, you should drink some ouzo and something off the all-Greek wine list, and you should ask the staff for assistance if you’re in unfamiliar terrain. They possess both the knowledge you need and the genuine desire to assist you.

Baked prawns (head and tails intact, plus whiskers) are cooked in crushed tomatoes and topped with crumbled feta so that the tomato sauce bobs with prawny flavour, and the cheese adds an extra layer of land-based saltiness. As a side, sautéed Horta (wild greens, including kale and spinach) is satisfactory, but a refreshing cabbage coleslaw is zippy with herbs and more memorable.

Owner George Calombaris’s mum says a sweet tooth should be nourished, and the rizogalo (rice pudding) supports her position. Creamy, vanilla bean-flecked rice gets crunch from the bashed shortbread crumbs and pistachio topping, and plenty of gooey sweetness from the perfectly judged salted (but not overly) caramel sauce.

Calombaris has been very busy this past decade, building an empire and hosting MasterChef. What’s surprising is that his flagship’s excellence has not suffered. It’s as fresh and as relevant as ever – may it sail successfully through another ten years odyssey.

Heartattack and Vine

There’s a lot to like about Heartattack & Vine. Even if you’ve never set foot inside, you can appreciate a venue named after a Tom Waits album. And it feels like this is the place that Lygon St needed. 

It's inspired by Italy, the country whose immigrants gave Melbourne hospitality its heart. Still, unlike the old-school Italian cafes that define this strip of Carlton, Heartattack looks forward to a bright future of casual eating and drinking, not back to a nostalgic past.

The tiny shotgun venue manages to feel bright and open, with antique glass lights hanging from old metal window frames lending warmth and depth to the room. During the day, it operates as a café, serving simple breakfasts, coffee, sandwiches and interesting options like Spanish iced chocolate with hints of chilli and orange for a spicy jaffa effect. 

But we’re here for a drink, and after dark, they deliver in spades. Service is a bit cold and patchy at first, but as they ease into nighttime service, the crew relaxes and gets chatty about the trickle of food that soon turns into a torrent hitting the bar top. 

Cicchetti, Italy’s version of tapas, are tiny bites made to accompany drinking. The volume, variety and quality here are hard to overstate and put most other attempts at aperitivo to shame. Get your growling belly to Heartattack and find out.

Chicken liver parfait with the consistency of clotted cream comes on brioche toast with a slice of sage roasted pineapple. The combo is a bit of a revelation, taking the traditional jammy accompaniments and shoving them off on a slow boat to the tropics. 

A slice of tuna sashimi on seaweed rice crackers with avocado lingers with ocean funk after the freshness fades, and cold steamed artichoke comes with a mustard sauce so that you can dip the vegetable, leaf by leaf. The hardest part will be trying to stop ordering as the bar top overflows with little plates that whisper “eat me.”

The wine list is well curated and fun. Fiano is bright and floral, while a Pecorino has an earthy finish that makes it much more interesting than the average aromatic by the glass. On the cocktail list, "Tall & Refreshing" denotes cheaper low alcohol options that still have the creativity and complexity of full-strength cocktails – the highball revolution is here to stay. 

The Rebujito with sherry, lemon leaf syrup and rosemary is a bit on the sweet side, but a cracker combo of flavours on par with the city’s best cocktail bars. It also matches perfectly to a skewer of anchovies with lemon stuffed olives and fresh basil.

There are rotating specials like a fizz with gin, rhubarb and Pedro Ximenez sherry, and a brilliant bitter twist on the Manhattan with Bourbon, dry sherry and Cynar (an artichoke-based digestive). Although these guys could tighten up on technique and sequence of service, what they’re doing is creative and delicious and a great expression of the clean and easy Italian cocktail tradition. 

The last year or so has seen a welcome expansion of ideas and a serious uptick in quality on Melbourne’s oldest hospitality strip. Right in amongst it is Heartattack & Vine, putting a new coat of paint on this lonesome old town.  

Brunetti

brunetti

Brunetti, the famous pasticceria, is a dammed Melbourne institution on Lygon Street. Sure, the I-only-like-hole-in-the-wall-hipster-digs crowd will tell you it's just a chain, but this place is a survivor for a reason. Have you tried hot chocolate? The stuff is so dark it's bordering on black, and so thick you could stand a spoon in it. 

The macarons? Those brightly coloured puffballs are the perfect balance of crunch, crumble and creamy ganache, and they're consistently ace.

A triple threat with a café, piazza and restaurant, you could spend the whole day at Brunetti, going from meal to meal and then browsing the pastries and cakes in the interim hours.

Milk the Cow

Need a nocturnal nibble? Head to this stylish fromagerie and wine bar where, until 1 am. You can unleash your inner house mouse.

Scurry along with the five-metre-long cheese cabinet, drinking in the sights and smells of over 150 artisan cheeses. If you’re paralysed with choice, cosy up on the green banquette seating and let the in-house experts choose: perhaps a ‘cheese & booze flight’ where sparkling wine, sake and cider are matched to the creamy stuff.

Warm-up on a cold night with fondue pots, baked cheeses and even a luxe truffle oil macaroni cheese (a far cry from the Kraft boxed version). 

If you’ve reached peak sloth and can’t bring yourself to roll off the couch, get a cheese box delivered. And if you’re planning a knees-up, have a cheese up in their upstairs function room­.

Bar Idda

This lively Sicilian joint, where the music pumps and the snacks come out thick and fast, has become a Lygon Street favourite. You’ll want to book nice and early – there’s not a day Bar Idda isn’t packed. You’ll find this cosy neighbourhood trattoria on the old Rumi site (Rumi have moved to, uh, roomier digs).

For a crash course on Sicilian food, turn your menu over – Bar Idda, along with sketching out a map of the region, have provided an illustrated timeline. Find out when fruits such as oranges, lemons and melons were introduced (827 AD) and when chocolate and tomatoes first made an appearance (1487 AD). Handy!

Don’t bother with the small-planet-sized arancino (a rice ball filled with ragu, cheese, boiled egg and peas) unless that’s all you’re eating. Instead, head straight for the puppet Dolci – beef meatballs fragrant with cinnamon and covered in a thick tomato sauce. 

And make sure to try the mulinciani – a sort of eggplant bake layered with pecorino, tomato and basil. It’s excellent with a side of lenticchia d’estate – a dish of fresh peas, lentils, ricotta and mint – and a refreshing salad of salted cucumber and onion.

The chicken caponata – chicken leg, cooked with bitter chocolate, capers, green olives and tomato – isn’t available on our visit, but we’ll be back for it. Big ups, too, for the all-Italian beer list, including Menabrea, Ichnusa and Moretti. Want wine? Order a litre of ‘Bar Idda red’ or ‘Bar Idda white’ for $20.

Tiamo

It's another pizza, pasta and all things Italian joint, but the thing about Tiamo is the customers it attracts. Students, professionals and skaters from Lincoln Square gather at this family-run restaurant to enjoy cheap spaghetti bolognese. If you can’t decide, go for pizza.

The Green Man's Arms

The Green Man’s Arms is an Israeli-influenced and 100 per cent vegan and vegetarian pub on Lygon and Elgin streets.

Led by actors-slash-publicans Alison Whyte and Fred Whitlock (who used to run Abbotsford's Terminus Hotel), the Green Man’s Arms came about after the couple decided to take their hospo careers in a meat-free direction. Food at the Arms comes courtesy of Israeli head chef David Raziel who serves up an ethical and seasonal selection of dishes.

Falafel is on the menu (made to a secret Jerusalem recipe rumour has it), as is fluffy, crumpet-like la huh bread, which comes served with either falafel, fried eggplant, or green beans and mushrooms. 

For those looking for a proper pub meal, there's the roasted veggie couscous (so good they named it twice) or grilled vegetable salad complete with beets, almonds, pita bread and silky labneh.

Being a pub, beer is naturally centre stage. The Green Man’s Arms owns all its taps and pours local craft brews like Hawkers Pilsner, Stomping Ground Saison and Holgate Mt Macedon Pale Ale. Keeping in line with the food, all the pub’s wines are also vegan and primarily local. But if you want to drink something that screams 'Melbourne vegan', sample the pub’s Kombucha spritz.

Kumo Izakaya

Modern Japanese cuisine doesn’t come to mind straight away when you think of Lygon St, but Kumo Izakaya is a must-visit spot for fans of fine sake and shochu. The izakaya food menu is made for sharing and tends toward fresh, protein-heavy Japanese offerings—just the thing to soak up all that sake.

lygon street restaurants & cafes (2)

Teta Mona

While the inner city has been flooded by a tidal wave of new restaurants offering modern twists on insert-exotic-cuisine-here, Brunswick East remains a stronghold of simple, honest dining. 

Just past Albion Street, you have Stone Mill 347, the new Italian restaurant doling out made-to-order gnocchi and kisses for the girls, and now there’s Teta Mona: a boho-chic all-day restaurant where brothers Antoine and Bechara Taouk are serving simple Lebanese with plenty of pickles and very little fuss.

This is everything a neighbourhood restaurant should be. It's loud, and it’s BYO, with service that's personal if a little bit shambolic during peak times. 

There are street-side seats for locals with dogs, while inside you’re sitting in a room that looks like a cross between the share house of an anthropology enthusiast and a stall at the Dandenong markets: couches, plenty of intricately carved tables and a big display of those blown glass water pitchers (aka bricks).

This is a good place to be while summer burns on. Out the back is a big shady courtyard, and the menu vibrates with freshness and pep.

Vegans get a solid look-in here. Green beans are liberally sliced in a jammy reduction of olive oil, chilli and garlic, and falafel is soft, fragrant pucks made with a green and yellow split pea base for a sweeter spin on the chickpea classic. We’re also keen on a squishy, cumin-y plate of cauliflower florets and eggplant fried with dukkah and served cold for running through a creamy tahini dip. That’s a good way to start whichever way you sway.

Please don’t order the pickles or bread as a side as we did. The bright pink batons of beetroot-stained turnips and briny Lebanese cucumbers come with almost everything, as do soft stacks of the pliable flatbread.

They made a good case for sobriety too. A house-made slushie sees pineapple or pomegranate juice blitzed with fresh mint and ice. Or how about invigorating your kisser with the tartest lemonade in the land? They make it with the whole lemon - skin, seeds and all - it’s like sucking on a citrusy Warhead.

It’s all fresh and wholesome stuff, from pan-fried fillets of snapper dressed up with chilli, walnuts and squiggles of tahini right through to the baklava. They make their pastry dessert with agave nectar, chia seeds and coconut oil rather than butter and sugar, but it still has a perfect balance of crispness, chews and nutty crunch. That’s a win for all eaters, great and small.

FAQs About Melbourne Restaurants & Cafes

Carlton

Little Italy in Victoria, Australia (sometimes referred to as the "Italian Precinct" or simply "Lygon Street"), is a "Little Italy" cultural precinct of the Italian community of Melbourne. It is situated along Lygon Street in the inner-Melbourne suburb of Carlton.

According to the 2006 Australian census, Victoria has the largest Italian-Australian population in Australia (around 200,000 statewide), with much of its inner-Melbourne population recorded in the suburbs of Carlton and nearby Brunswick.

Lygon Street is home to many Italian restaurants and is the birthplace of Melbourne's "cafe culture".

Named after Lord Lygon, a British cabinet minister of the 1830s, this street extends several kilometres north from Victoria Street, Carlton, through North Carlton to Albion Street in East Brunswick. 

The northern section, between Park and Albert streets, was originally named Cameron Street but renamed Lygon Street in 1872. The East Brunswick section of Lygon Street features long rows of shops, restaurants and cafés and several textile and clothing factories. 

The North Carlton section is almost entirely made up of small terrace houses opposite the Melbourne General Cemetery. The Lygon Street electric tram route was built in 1916 and ran south through these suburbs from Nicholson Street in Coburg to Elgin Street in Carlton (where it turns west and then south into Swanston Street).

The Carlton section of Lygon Street dates from the government surveys conducted by Robert Hoddle in 1852. The street features some outstanding 19th-century landmarks that include the Trades Hall. 

The interwar period saw the greatest changes to the nature of this part of the street, with the large local Jewish and Italian populations opening shops and cafés, marking Lygon Street with its distinctive cosmopolitan flavour. 

Some of these businesses, famous throughout Melbourne, survive today: King & Godfree, University Café, Jimmy Watson's Wine Bar, and Toto's. The Italian influence strengthened with postwar migration and eventually led to the establishment of the Lygon Street Festa in 1978. 

The street is a mecca for students and academics from the University of Melbourne and RMIT, as well as for tourists.

The Carlton Italian Festa, also known as La Dolce Italia or the Lygon Street Fiesta, is a melting pot that showcases Italy's diverse culture in Melbourne. 

The celebration of Italy's culture brings together locals of Italian descent as well as those who are interested in Italy's culture.

Lygon St is famous for its restaurants, cafes, bars and liveliness. It's part of Melbourne's CBD and runs all the way up through the city's northern suburbs.

400 Gradi is the best Italian restaurant on Lygon Street. The restaurant specialises in wood-fired Neapolitan pizza and mains.

Conclusion

The Italian food in Melbourne is hard to beat; however, Lygon Street offers some of the best Lygon Street Cafes & Restaurants. Whether you want something light like gelato or something hearty like pasta, there's sure to be a restaurant here to suit your appetite. 

One of the most popular areas in Melbourne, Lygon Street has a variety of restaurants and cafes that offer delicious meals. It is known for its Italian cuisine and culture, which means it's recommended to visit this area when you're in the mood for spaghetti bolognese or some other tasty dish! There are many different cuisines on Lygon Street, so you will find something that suits your taste buds. 

Resources:

Best Restaurants on Lygon Street

Your Guide To Lygon Street’s Best Restaurants For 2021

14 Best Lygon Street Restaurants

The best Lygon Street restaurants

Scroll to Top