Asking, “What is Australian food?” is sort of like asking, “What is American food?” There’s the tired answer — something about meat pies and Vegemite — and there’s the real answer: a complicated, heavenly mess of banh mi, souvlaki, pippies in XO sauce, steaming bowls of bun bo hue, crisp cannoli, and yes, okay, sure, meat pies. Cities like Sydney, Brisbane, and Perth have their own spins on this story, warmer ones with slightly better beaches, but nowhere does it all come together quite so deliciously as Melbourne.
On the southeastern edge of the continent, gracefully aging Victorian architecture mixes with street art in a sprawl of distinct neighborhoods that converge along the Yarra River, among the soaring towers and narrow alleyways of the Central Business District, or CBD. It’s often said that Melbourne is the San Francisco of Australia. We’d argue it’s actually more of the Chicago, with the brusque spirit of New York and the diverse food culture of LA, but that’s beside the point: Melbourne is Melbourne, and despite the parade of analogies Americans love to throw at Australia’s second-largest city, it is wholly unique. And it is here, amid the gum trees, corner pubs, and cricket fields, that you’ll find one of the world’s most exciting places to eat.
Melbourne might be known today for its all-day cafe culture — the easy pairing of great coffee with sophisticated brunch food that grew out of the city’s Italian espresso bars of the 1950s, which has since taken over the world. But beneath Melbourne’s neon-lit veil of avocado toast is a food scene that mirrors the undulating demographics of its population: Greek, Italian, African, Lebanese, Southeast Asian, and Chinese flavors collide and spark in fascinating ways, while thriving immigrant-run restaurants preserve the cooking of a thousand different homelands. Increasingly, those homelands are in Asia — walk around the CBD today and you’ll see that the majority of ground-floor storefronts are selling milky boba, hand-pulled noodles, and crackling hunks of Asian fried chicken.
Despite the street-level bounty, Melbourne is not a street-food town. It’s a restaurant town — a really, really good restaurant town. Inside cramped cafes, cozy trattorias, and elegant dining rooms that are repeatedly hailed as among the world’s best, chefs dial up the city’s melting pot motif, presenting everything from crispy Chinese eggplant to handmade pasta to still-squirming native wichetty grubs with a spirit of hospitality that transforms diners into mates.
The Eater Guide to Melbourne is a chance to revel in all of it: fluffy ricotta hotcakes, ochre bowls of laksa, profound tasting menus, stiff espresso martinis, and late-night souvlaki stuffed with fries (sorry, chips). If the southern hemisphere can make Santa come in summer and toilets swirl clockwise, maybe — just maybe — it can help the food taste better, too. Bajillion-hour flight be damned. It’s high time you got here to find out.
Ready to go? You can actually book a trip with Eater right now, brought to you by travel experts Black Tomato. And download one of our mouthwatering Melbourne phone wallpapers and start getting inspired.
From Sichuan eggplant to late-night souvlaki to, yes, avocado toast,
these are the defining dishes of Australia’s culinary capital
From hip Turkish breakfast to extraordinary espresso to late-night souvlaki,
there’s not much Australia’s dining capital doesn’t do well
Tim Tams, Cheezels, and of course Vegemite — the best souvenirs
are found in the Australian supermarket snack aisle
A local’s guide to the best bites at the revered Queen Victoria Market
How a meal at Melbourne’s most famous restaurant
restored one critic’s faith in fancy food
Love the photography in this guide? Take it with you with
these downloadable phone wallpapers
Editorial lead: Lesley Suter
Consulting Editor: Besha Rodell
Creative director: Brittany Holloway-Brown
Contributors: Adam Moussa, Audrey Bourget, Besha Rodell, Fred Siggins, Jess Ho, Meister, Milly McGuinness, Russell Jackson, Tristan Lutze
Photographers: Jacinta Moore, Jez Hunghanfoo, Tristan Lutze, Audrey Bourget
Illustrator: Barry Patenaude
Editors: Monica Burton, Lesley Suter, Matt Buchanan, Erin DeJesus
Copy editors: Rachel P. Kreiter, Emma Alpern
Fact checkers: Dawn Mobley, Lisa Wong Macabasco
Engagement editors: Adam Moussa, Milly McGuinness
Project manager: Ellie Krupnick
Special thanks to Sonia Chopra, Patty Diez, Amanda Kludt