Lygon is one of Melbourne’s best-known streets, but it cops many unfair flaks. 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.
Best Restaurants on Lygon Street
Like the precinct’s spruikers, the choice is overwhelming for 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.
Carlton Wine Room reopened in February 2018 after two months of renovation. This striking 19th-century building on the corner of leafy Drummond and Faraday Streets is now occupied by a team that involves co-owner Andrew Joy, once the manager at Marion, and chef John Paul Twomey, formerly founding head chef at Cutler & Co., development chef for the McConnell group and head chef at Gilson in South Yarra.
There's a marble bar – the back bar is laden with rows of backlit glassware instead of spirits – and an oval communal table in the middle of the high-ceilinged space.
The venue is deceptively large; there are five levels. Upstairs there's a spacious second dining room. Keep going up, and you'll find two private event spaces, each taking up an entire floor. A bluestone cellar has also been converted into a private dining den for 20.
The menu is an elegant take on modern Australian food with a European influence that works well with wine and is seasonal. There is a kingfish Crudo – a monochrome dish of thick slices of raw fish on a streak of creme fraiche and topped with rough slices of translucent napa cabbage and shaved horseradish.
Leonardo’s Pizza Palace
The building was once home to Da Salvatore Pizza by the Metre, which opened in 1959. Some of that history has been maintained. Seventies-style timber panelling on the walls, stacked terracotta wine racks behind the bar and terrazzo floors all combine to make Leonardo’s feel like it’s been here forever.
In the front bar, under one of many brick archways, a DJ plays tunes from Journey, Johnny Cash and No Zu under the glow of neon Coors Light signage. Beanie-clad bartenders are quick to sort you out with a longneck of Melbourne or a minimal intervention wine and a crostini.
The den-like dining room serves old-school Italian. The shutters on the windows are closed, so even if it’s light outside, it’s always night-time here. Shouts and laughter rumble in from the front bar.
It’s the kind of place you could accidentally spend hours in and wake up dustier than you’d planned. It's almost always busy here. Luckily you can book ahead over the phone. Waiters zip across red carpeted floors between compact leather booths.
Faded photos of the original owner Salvatore Mercogliano making pizza back in the ’70s are on the walls, among other black-and-white pictures of the Beatles, Marylin Monroe and a plethora of vintage bombshells eating pasta.
At the back of the dining room, another arched opening frames Leonardo’s chef's plating standout eight-slice pepperoni pizzas, among others, served with little cups of ranch dressing “for dipping”. More current is the anchovy, roast pepper, olive and caper pizza, or a pork and fennel sausage option with garlic oil and sage.
Apart from pizza and house-made pasta, the kitchen also churns out smashable, approachable start-of-the-night dishes that lend themselves to a raucous evening. (There’s a reason the coasters say “drink and dine”, not the other way around.) Start with fried sardines and whipped bottarga on super-thin crostini, or a hunk of creamy, soft stracciatella with salt and vinegar marinated blisteringly hot jalapenos.
Chef Wall developed the unfussy and approachable menu after research trips to his home in the US. Shaved prosciutto (made in Ballarat) and pork neck gabagool (cured ham) come with house-made sourdough and spicy pickled fennel. Next, cheese pizza with pecorino, fresh and aged mozzarella. The slightly sour, fermented base has a good char, and at the pointy end what Wall calls "the New York flop"; a little sag. Takeaway pizza is available to order on Capitano’s website.
A dish of clam chitarra (guitar string) pasta arrives with a reduction of clam broth and dashi finished with butter, parsley and lemon. It’s restrained, clever cooking that doesn’t need to be analysed or explained.
Salads are bright and acidic; young kale and wild greens are coated in an anchovy-spiked dressing, blanketed in parmesan. Sliced apple, fresh fennel and aged ricotta work well with beef, pork and fennel meatballs. To share, there’s lasagne, veal parmigiana and dry-aged steaks.
Wine – as at Bar Liberty – is a big deal. Liberty’s list is 500-strong, but Capitano’s is tighter, including a few producers who “don't muck around too much” with their wines. Around 95 per cent of the wines are made in Italy or from Italian grapes. Whites have texture, weight and savouriness; reds are light with loads of acidity and bright fruit flavours with tomato-based sauces.
The owners (DOC Espresso, DOC Mornington, DOC Albert Park and DOC Delicatessen) are the godfathers of artisan pizza in Melbourne, and, for our money, this is some of the best. The focus is on imported ingredients (a map on the menu will help with origins) and the best-of-the-best for quality.
This is where you come if you want pizza like Italians to eat – simple and brilliant combinations that don’t overload the crust or the palate. It’s thin. It’s crispy - it’s the way pizza should be.
Then there’s the mozzarella bar.
We recommend the sample degustation of three different varieties, including the smoked fior di latte – the ashy flavour will blow you away. Make sure to ogle the fire-engine-red pedestal-mounted meat slicer, too.
The decor is simple in this tightly packed corner wedge of the restaurant. On a typically busy night, it can be hard to squeeze between boisterous tables, but that’s how it was intended: excellent pizza in a buoyant atmosphere.
The Lygon restaurant strip has long been a destination for weary sightseers and out-of-towners looking for Italian food. Answering the call of these bemused travellers and local foodies alike is DOC (formerly Carlton) Espresso.
From its more humble beginnings serving coffee, Italian hot chocolate and bomboloni (bombe), DOC Espresso has transformed into a pasta and focaccia bar of venerable mention. Open seven days a week. They offer a new section of breakfast focaccias and piadinas filled with such tasty fillings as prosciutto San Daniele and Pugliese buffalo mozzarella.
From lunch onwards, look out for the daily house-made pasta special. Also, please take a look at their spun it (snack) selection of cured meats and cheeses, which is perfectly accompanied by a Peroni on tap or a glass of Montepulciano d'Abruzzo.
Whilst the menu and coffee machine has been supersized. The bombe is now a Saturday special. Many of the traits that made this local haunt so popular, even before the DOC juggernaut (DOC Delicatessen next door, DOC just around the corner, DOC Mornington and DOC Albert Park), continue to set it above the rest.
It translates to I love you – and the locals couldn’t agree more. This little Italian joint on Lygon Street has become so popular over the years that it opened a little sister Tiamo 2, right next door, to focus on the pizza aspect. But there’s still something about the dog-eared original that draws regulars back.
Dating from the seventies, it’s a family-run venture that has stood the test of time. The black and white checkerboard floor, dim, secluded tables and coffee bar by the front door are brought alive with the cheerful banter of staff as they ferry huge pasta dishes to and from the kitchen cubbyhole.
There are bowls of brodo delivering mildly sweet broth, sprinkled with pillowy ravioli and fresh parsley, mopped up with mountains of buttered, crusty white bread, or vibrant, ruby red plates of Napoli pasta peppered with verdant green basil – lunchtime treats worth plotting into your day.
Ever popular as a dinner destination, there’s often a queue for tables, but with efficient staff, it’s not a long wait and one that’s eased by a tumbler of gutsy house-red while you run your finger down the menu.
Clusters of mature Italian men lounge at the bar in the front window, taunting the young barista with friendly jeers as the coffees roll out. You might not get to Italy, but you can get damn close.
A 1996 extension to the ever-popular Tiamo Coffee next door – Tiamo 2 is all about the pizza and a slightly updated take on Italian favourites.
Like the original, there’s a true feel of Italy here, with the bustle of Lygon street-side tables before you head into the streamlined and unfussy interior. The decor is nothing special – but the staff's energy gets this place going.
Set over two levels and a little on the noisy side of an evening – there’s a real family-party atmosphere here, almost like your cousins are serving the pizza and pasta as they yell at your uncle on the other side of the room.
As a result of the positive, casual approach, service is a bit hit-and-miss, so don’t be surprised if you have to check on items from your order.
In an age where we most value mod cons and on-trend renovations, it’s refreshing to pay tribute to the old school. Jimmy Watson purchased an 1890s wine saloon and made it one of the nation’s first wine bars in 1935. His son and grandsons have set about keeping it alive.
Very little has changed in the main restaurant since influential architect Robin Boyd’s do-over in 1963. The old-world bar and velvet-lined couches upstairs are usually reserved for functions. An original Pentridge Prison door is a feature.
The 2012 additions are a little bit edgier. Wolf’s Lair is an intimate, eccentric bar with a cocktail focus. In summer, the Astroturf-lined rooftop featuring crates and comfortable cushions is a hotspot.
Food is reliable comfort plates of lamb shank, seafood bouillabaisse or a steak for your red. There’s also an affordable range of pizzas.
The wine list shows off each region’s best varieties. Pinot noir is sourced from Mornington Peninsula or Central Otago, rather than Margaret River. Top Shirazes come from South Australia’s Fleurieu Peninsula.
The highly sought-after Jimmy Watson Trophy honours the late pioneer by recognising the best one- or two-year-old red wine. It’s awarded every year by a panel of experts at the Royal Melbourne Wine Show. Past winners include Home Hill Winery’s Kelly’s Reserve pinot noir and syrah from SC Pannell in the Adelaide Hills.
Di Stasio Pizzeria
Di Stasio Pizzeria is the third Melbourne venue for Rinaldo “Ronnie” Di Stasio and Mallory Wall, the prolific behind Cafe Di Stasio in St Kilda and the inimitable Di Stasio Citta. And it’s the first time in their decades-long history that they’re serving pizza.
The restaurant is split into three different spaces: the front Bar Sport; the Ladies’ Lounge; and the Caravaggio Room, named after the Italian painter who was active in the late 16th and early 17th centuries.
As with Citta, the venue seamlessly blurs the line between restaurant and art gallery, courtesy of Di Ritter from Hassell Architects. Shaun Gladwell's sculptures are a statement on liberty, while three large-scale artworks by Kamilaroi/Gamilaraay/Gummaroi artist Reko Rennie cascade colour into the rooms.
Il cortile (the courtyard), meanwhile, could be an entirely different restaurant – or country. Tables for two line the narrow laneway between the restaurant and the neighbouring Grown Alchemist store. Down a gravel path, the sound of water trickling into the 17th-century Italian stone fountain grows louder. Dozens of plants in ornate pots and urns come into view, and a dedicated green-painted bar completes the picture.
Up to nine pizzas on the tick-box menu, from a classic Margherita to another with lobster, lard, fior di latte and herbs. Extra basil is supplied on ice, as are olives when you order a Martini.
Chef Federico Congiu makes the fior di latte using St David Dairy jersey milk from Gippsland. San Marzano tomatoes are grown at the owners’ Yarra Valley property, and a custom flour blend is milled especially for the pizzeria in Tamworth.
Primi comes small or large and includes plates like fish carpaccio with whey dressing saved from the cheese-making process; the second might be a Milan-style Berkshire pork cutlet. There are also a few pasta and snacks, such as trip frittata (salty, deep-fried tripe batons served with lemon).
And if you only have room for one dessert, make it the fior di latte soft serve; it’s salted, drizzled with Mount Zero olive oil, and has textural bursts underneath from olive-oil cake cooked both regularly and in crouton form.
Heartattack and Vine
Heartattack and Vine draw upon old-world Italian hospitality and the history of Lygon Street while remaining thoroughly modern.
Much of the space is dedicated to a striking wooden bar that invites you to sit and watch the assembly of the delicate Cicchetti, a Venetian take on tapas.
The bar is owned by co-owners Emily Bitto and Nathen Doyle (who've worked at A Minor Place and Wide Open Road). The Cicchetti menu will rotate to use each season’s best produce with dishes such as slow-cooked meatballs and baccala on crostini.
The Italian-focused bar offering features a mix of international and Australian wines and an impressive range of vermouth, including Casa Mariol 'Vermut' Negre from Catalonia in Spain and Contratto Rosso from Piedmont in Italy.
Heartattack and Vine will open daily for a European breakfast of Noisette pastries and Wide Open Road coffee. The equally pared-back lunch menu includes a moreish salt-rubbed porchetta roll, as well as a poached prawn on brioche with lime and dill mayo.
Evenings are reserved for Cicchetti and drinks. Guests can enjoy a quick bite before heading off to a movie or grab a seat at one of the communal curbside benches.
The Green Man’s Arms
Green Man’s Arms is the fifth hotel venture for Alison Whyte and their husband Fred Whitlock, who previously owned and operated The Terminus in Abbotsford and Yarra Valley Grand. If you were a regular at the former, you’d recognise the kooky art collection on the walls.
It’s just one part of the purposely dated fit-out, which was completed in late 2017. The couple added burnt orange upholstery; green leafy wallpaper from England; wonky antique light fixtures from Grandfather’s Axe in Northcote; and an old Yunca fireplace that matched the existing burgundy tiles.
The menu is vegetarian and vegan, with several salads and Israel staples such as tabbouleh and house-made falafel and hummus. CousCous is made in-house, using a traditional hand-rolled technique. As much as possible, ingredients come from Whyte and Whitlock’s 10-acre property in the Yarra Valley.
FAQs About Melbourne Restaurants
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.
Confusion abounds over who the street was named after: it might have been Lord Lygon from the 1830s. David predates the 'Italian' Carlton, born in the 'Jewish' Carlton. By the 1950s, the Italian coffee houses began to move in.
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.
Lygon Street is synonymous with the Italian community of Melbourne, forming the nexus point of Little Italy. It is home to many Italian restaurants and alfresco cafés.
If you're looking for authentic Italian food in Melbourne, Lygon Street is the place to be. With a wealth of Italian restaurants to choose from, it can be not easy to know where to start. So we've put together a list of the top Italian restaurants on Lygon Street so that you can enjoy an authentic Italian dining experience.
Whether you're after classic dishes like pasta and pizza, or something a little more adventurous, there's sure to be a restaurant on this list that will take your fancy. So why not check out one of these amazing Italian eateries today? You won't regret it!