Melbourne is a city of wide and varied culinary delights, but a visitor could easily be led astray. There’s always a hot newness, begging for your attention and dollars. But the driving force that makes this city remarkable is not newness — which often mimics newness in other Western cities. Rather, it is the layers upon layers of immigrant foodways, meaning that you can eat a Turkish breakfast bolstered by a Lebanese mid-morning snack, followed by a modern Italian lunch and a haute cuisine Chinese dinner. Eastern European cakes and Greek drunk food are optional, but highly recommended.
One of the city’s best qualities is how user-friendly its eateries are. You could easily spend an unplanned day drifting from cafe to pub to pasta bar to wine bar, with a little vintage shopping and market-going in between. But if unplanned isn’t your thing — and if you want to eat a lot of great food — this itinerary just might work for you.
There’s nothing here you can’t access using the city’s fantastic tram system. It’s fairly focused around the inner city, with one brief foray to the beach neighborhood of St Kilda in the mid-afternoon, but you’ll begin and end in Fitzroy, your day bookended by two very different kinds of carbs. Bring sunscreen, and a raincoat — Melbourne weather is notoriously fickle — and brace for an onslaught of deliciousness.
7:30 a.m. Pre-breakfast croissant at Lune Croissanterie
A Frenchman once got angry at Lune founder Kate Reid because her croissants were “too perfect.” This reputation for perfection, plus Reid’s penchant for creativity, plus the beautiful “lab” space (Reid used to be a Formula 1 aerodynamicist before she became a baker) have turned Lune into a bona fide phenomenon. Which means by mid-morning there’s often a line down the block of Instagram-thirsty tourists, waiting to get their hands on a plain or almond croissant; a lychee, raspberry, and rose cruffin; or an apple pie croissant with brown butter hazelnut frangipane. If you go right at opening, the pastries are fresher and the line is shorter.
Lune Croissanterie 119 Rose St., Fitzroy (multiple locations)
8:30 a.m. Breakfast at Babajan
There are countless cafes in Melbourne where you might start your day with the city’s famously creative breakfast options. Babajan in Carlton North is one of the best, adding a Turkish flair to its eggs and avocado toast. The Etli Bezelye is a gorgeous pile of tender shredded lamb tossed with peas and mint, served with potatoes, spinach, poached eggs, and tahini. Here, the all-Australian cheese toastie is served open-faced with eggplant, Aleppo peppers, fermented chile, and sumac onions, topped with a fried egg. If your breakfast doesn’t come with a house-made Turkish simit, the chewy sesame-crusted O-shaped roll, be sure to order one on the side. The flat whites are top-notch, and there are beautiful Ottolenghi-ish salads you can take to go.
Babajan 713 Nicholson St., Carlton North
10 a.m. Food crawl at Queen Victoria Market
If you follow Google Maps to Queen Victoria Market, it will deposit you in the midst of the retail sheds where most stalls sell clothing and trinkets to tourists. This is not where you want to be; the deli section (located in the Dairy Hall) is where it’s at. Enter on Therry Street, near the corner of Elizabeth, and prepare to be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of food you’re about to encounter. This is the perfect place to shop for a picnic at nearby Flagstaff Gardens, or simply stuff yourself with bratwurst, Greek yogurt, gozleme (the Turkish flatbread), and more. When you’re done in the deli section, walk out through the produce sheds, find the American Doughnut Kitchen bus, and buy a bag of hot jam doughnuts.
Queen Victoria Market Queen St., Melbourne
11:30 a.m. Lebanese pizza at A1 Bakery
Jump on the 19 tram in front of the market, and head up Sydney Road into Brunswick, where Middle Eastern shops and eateries abound. A1 is a longtime favorite for its fantastic Lebanese food and great prices. Soft, warm, pliant flatbreads, called Lebanese pizzas here, are available with all manner of ingredients — but why venture beyond the meat pizza, which is topped with minced lamb flavored with tomato, onion, and mixed spices, and which costs 3.50 Australian dollars ($2.40)? The bustling dining room is populated by a lovely cross-section of the neighborhood.
A1 Bakery 643-645 Sydney Rd., Brunswick
1:30 p.m. Lunch at Osteria Ilaria
See Melbourne’s Italian heritage come full circle at Osteria Ilaria, which bills itself as an Italian restaurant and wine bar but is also a beautiful representation of modern Australian sensibilities. You can order a bowl of chestnut gnocchi with pine mushrooms and wild garlic, and get a tempura-fried heirloom carrot with smoked almond and caraway. This is one of those restaurants where skipping dessert would be a mistake — confections like juniper meringue with white chocolate and desert lime are as delicious as they are creative.
Osteria Ilaria 367 Little Bourke St., Melbourne
3 p.m. Espresso at Pellegrini’s
Melbourne’s original espresso bar, practically unchanged since 1954, is still going strong. Its red signage and checkerboard floors are an icon of Melbourne’s Italian history and the city’s love affair with the espresso machine. Sipping an espresso at Pellegrini’s, surrounded by regulars who have been leaning on this worn counter for decades, is an act of devotion: a respectful nod to the traditions that helped to make Melbourne one of the greatest eating cities in the world.
Pellegrini’s 66 Bourke St., Melbourne; no website
4:30 p.m. Cake shopping at Monarch Cakes
Take a tram out to St Kilda and wander down Acland Street, which was once the heart of Melbourne’s Jewish community and is now geared toward backpackers and beach bums. There are a few delightful remnants of that Jewish heritage in the form of cake shops, the best of which is Monarch Cakes. Monarch has been around since 1934, selling beautiful pastries, whole cakes, and slices. Pick up a chocolate kooglhoupf, which is kind of like babka but less bready, more cakey, and baked in a bundt pan.
Monarch Cakes 103 Acland St., St Kilda
5:30 p.m. Cocktails at Hotel Esplanade
The newly renovated Espy is a stunning revival of one of Melbourne’s grand oceanside pubs. There are 12 bars to choose from over five levels, as well as a number of dining options. Head up the grand staircase to the left, and then turn right and into a dream of deco-inspired design: emerald-green circular booths, vintage Australiana, and botanical wallpaper that will make you want to redecorate. Speak to the hostess on the ground floor, and she may allow you into an elevator and up to the top floor to a semisecret cocktail bar. There’s a rotating list of modern drinks, but the bartenders also do the classics incredibly well. If you position yourself in front of the right window, you’ll get to watch the sunset over Port Phillip Bay.
Hotel Esplanade 11 The Esplanade, St Kilda
7 p.m. Dinner at Flower Drum
One of Melbourne’s greatest fine dining restaurants is nearly 50 years old, Cantonese, and fantastic. Down a back street in the Central Business District’s Chinatown, Flower Drum is known for its impeccable service, complete with tableside preparation of much of the menu. This is a special-occasion restaurant for a wide swath of the city’s dining public: It’s not unusual to see politicians, professional sports teams, suburban couples, and famous chefs sprinkled throughout the large dining room. The menu is overwhelming, but it’s hard to go wrong. Xiao long bao are filled with delicate mud crab in a subtle seafood broth. Peking duck is presented and served tableside, its crisp skin and rosy flesh wrapped in light-as-air pancakes and finished with plum sauce painted in the shape of a swan. Fresh seafood is a highlight, but beware: There’s no way to get out of Flower Drum without dropping some cash, and the seafood might make your bill astronomical.
Flower Drum 17 Market Ln., Melbourne
10 p.m. Drinks at Embla
After dinner, duck around the corner and grab a table at Embla, the much-loved wine bar. The blackboard above the bar will tempt you with late-night snacks — the menu is ever-changing, but if the chicken liver pate is available, get it — and the glow from the open kitchen gives the place a cozy vibe. This is a great place to explore Australia’s explosion of natural wines, but there’s also an impressive selection of European bottles, and cocktails too.
Embla 122 Russell St., Melbourne
12 a.m. Midnight snack at Joomak
Down some stairs through a doorway of what looks like an old office building is Joomak, Melbourne’s best Korean late-night joint. Open until 1 a.m. on Monday and Tuesday, 3 a.m. Wednesday and Thursday, and 5 a.m. on Friday and Saturday (closed Sunday), the place is packed with young people slurping from cauldrons of bubbling soups and sipping on soju and fruit slushies. The kimchi pancake is the must-order dish here, but no one will judge you if you just want to eat a big pile of corn smothered in melted cheese.
Joomak 407-409 Swanston St., Melbourne
1:30 a.m. Cocktails at the Attic at Black Pearl
Black Pearl is internationally recognized as one of the world’s great cocktail bars, and on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights a second bar opens on the second floor, up the Pearl’s winding back staircase. Yes, you have to press a buzzer to get in, but once inside, the service could not be warmer. With a large arched window overlooking Fitzroy’s Brunswick Street, the bottle-lined room is intimate and inviting, and the drinks are top-notch. And if you’re starting to fade, they make a killer espresso martini, the city’s official unofficial late-night top-up.
Black Pearl 304 Brunswick St., Fitzroy
3 a.m. Souvlaki at Real Greek
Melbourne’s ultimate drunk food is the souvlaki, and one of the best purveyors of late-night souvlaki is Real Greek in the heart of Fitzroy. The revelers are thick on Brunswick Street on weekend nights, but the folks behind the counter at this family-run establishment suffer no fools; they just churn out delicious meat wrapped in pita, with all the right creamy and crunchy things — and grease-factor — to soak up a night’s worth of booze. You can buy fantastic dips, moussaka, and other Greek delicacies from the cold case, but that’s not why you’re here at 3 a.m. Souvlaki. Chips. Beer. Then go home.
Real Greek 315 Brunswick St., Fitzroy; no website
Besha Rodell is a James Beard award-winning writer who has reported on food and culture in multiple cities across two continents. She was the critic at LA Weekly before joining the New York Times Australian bureau as its dining critic in 2017. She also serves as global dining critic for Food & Wine and Travel & Leisure, compiling the 30 Best Restaurants in the World list for the two magazines.
Fact checked by Dawn Mobley
Copy Edited by Rachel P. Kreiter