Two pizzas going into a pizza oven
Photograph: Carmen Zammit

The best Lygon Street restaurants

Lygon Street: more than just Italian heaven

Sonia Nair
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Most commonly associated with tourist traps and waiters that stand on footpaths in hopes of luring diners in, Lygon Street stretches so much further than this relatively small strip, encompassing the suburbs of Carlton and Brunswick East and dotted with the city’s best Italian eateries, and so much more besides. Take your pick from the restaurants below.

While you're at it, check out these local's guides to Carlton and Brunswick.  

Best restaurants in Lygon Street

  • Carlton
  • price 1 of 4
Tiamo
Tiamo

A Lygon Street institution if there ever was one, Tiamo still attracts the same queues it did when it first opened some 50 years ago as Tamani (it rebranded as Tiamo in 1977). After Tiamo 1 started outgrowing its space, Tiamo 2 opened in 1996 as an extension of the original restaurant – these days, you’d be wise to make a booking for either one if you have any hope of getting in. Specialising in old-school Italian favourites like minestrone, veal palermitana, margherita and maccheroni della zia – served up on wooden tables surrounded by faded posters of Italy, checkerboard flooring and interiors that haven’t changed much in its decades of ownership by the same family. Tiamo is where you’d take a friend from out-of-town – it’s cosy, it’s homely and it’s a slice of Melbourne.

Best part: unlike everywhere else on Lygon Street, it’s open on Mondays for a quick bite before or after watching a discounted movie at Nova.

  • Carlton
  • price 2 of 4

If you’re on the Carlton end of Lygon Street and hankering for something other than Italian, Lagoon Dining is your place. Led by three Ezard alum – Ned Trumble, Keat Lee and Chris Lerch – Lagoon’s menu takes foods from across the world and transforms them into contemporary, Chinese-inspired dishes, all the while drawing upon Japanese and Korean influences too. The venue is clad in black-and-white tones, with whitewashed brick walls, a black wrap-around bar and a grid pattern that dominates the sides of the walls and greaseproof paper sheets.

The food, however, is light years away from the angular, monochrome interior. Lagoon’s welcomed take on the steak tartare sees beef spiced with chilli and lemongrass, while the immaculately fried chicken chop is accompanied by white pepper togarashi and tonkatsu sauce. Some of its dishes hem more closely to traditional Chinese cuisine, namely the tender charcoal-roasted char siu with an umami spring onion relish and the standout entrée of flash-fried shredded potato doused in a hot, sour sauce. Whatever you order, you can’t go wrong at Lagoon Dining.

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  • Brunswick East
  • price 1 of 4

At this old-school restaurant that’s well and truly a Lygon Street stalwart, the atmosphere is lively, the food is reasonably priced, and the menu showcases the best of Sicilian cuisine, made for sharing. It’s best to visit alongside hungry dining companions to make the most of the menu and litres of house wine. You’ll want to book nice and early – there’s not a day Bar Idda isn’t packed.

The menu changes seasonally but there are some mainstays that never go away. Don’t leave without trying the mulinciani – melt-in-your-mouth layers of baked eggplant layered with passata, buffalo mozzarella and pecorino. The pastas are always excellent, but a main we can never go past is the pisci m’panattu – pan-fried barramundi fillets with almond flakes and the most herbaceous, zingy salsa verde.

  • Middle Eastern
  • Brunswick
  • price 1 of 4

This Brunswick favourite churns out homestyle Middle Eastern food with provenance stretching from Iran and Iraq to Morocco and Tunisia. Mankoushe first opened as a bakery, milling Victorian wheat on site to turn out spinach and feta pastries, cult-status halloumi pies and vegetarian ‘pizzas’ before it took over the space next door and started offering sit-down meals over lunch and dinner.

Standout dishes are any of their woodfired pides – the batingen (roasted eggplant) and 3 abjen (Mankoushe’s answer to the Italian three-cheese pizza with halloumi, kasseri and Turkish feta) are our favourites – as well as the fava dip, the pearl couscous tossed around in an oily vinaigrette and chickpeas, and braised mussels in arak.

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Vegan Malaysian and Singaporean food has never looked as good as it does at the Origin Tales – think flatbread stuffed with curried potato and soy meat, golden-fried plant-based chicken morsels that would put KFC nuggets to shame, a vegan equivalent of Hainanese chicken rice that sees poached chicken swapped out for roasted plant-based chicken, and a char kway teow replete with mock prawns and pork.

Southeast Asian staples aren’t the only ones to be veganised, however. The Chinese noodle dish of zha jiang mian, a teriyaki unagi bowl and a double-decker cheeseburger that has tempeh and hash browns slathered with satay sauce are all available on the menu as well. A family-run business by restaurateurs Helen and Charlie Ong, the Origin Tales has an inviting indoor space as well as undercover tables out the front.

  • Brunswick East
The B.East
The B.East

The lively, slightly grungy, always fun B.East is a Brunswick East banger – hence the name – with burgers that gained cult followings long before vegetarian and vegan burgers became mainstream. The Morrissey might evoke unfortunate associations with a certain vegan rockstar, but its Southern-fried mock chicken patty is unparalleled, as is the chargrilled plant patty layered with vegan cheese, maple facon and pickles in the Rattlesnake. There’s more fun to be had with burger names on the B.East menu – Ron Swanston invokes the Parks & Rec character’s predilection for meat with its Wagyu beef patty, while the Clint Beastwood supplements its Southern-fried (real) chicken fillet with honey mustard barbecue sauce and jack cheddar.

Don’t leave without trying the poutine, which can be veganised on request. More than a meeting place for food, B.East is also a live music venue with free entry for all.

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  • Bistros
  • Brunswick East
  • price 2 of 4

Etta has wowed Melbourne diners since opening in 2017, but it’s become altogether buzzier since rising star Rosheen Kaul took over as chef in late 2020. The restaurant’s impeccable design is mirrored by stunning dishes. You’ll be as taken as we were by the greenlip abalone and lardo skewers, subtly rich and slick with rendered fat from lardo.

Like Lagoon, Etta has a splendid take on the Chinese dish of shredded potatoes, with Kaul pairing the al dente tendrils with the rich creaminess of stracciatella and the savouriness of burnt garlic. Kaul’s pork belly, served with oyster and navets, has a reputation that precedes it – in co-owner Hannah Green’s words, “that pork belly got her the job”. It’s easy to understand why we’re seeing Kaul on so many cover shoots: her exuberant menu is exciting not just for the restaurant, but Victorian dining in general. It’s an agent of positive change in a traditionally male- and white-dominated space.

  • Brunswick East
Teta Mona
Teta Mona

Teta Mona is a favourite neighbourhood local, a boho-chic restaurant where brothers Antoine and Bechara Taouk are serving home-style Lebanese fare with plenty of pickles and very little fuss. It’s loud and it’s BYO, with friendly service in an intimate space. There are streetside seats for locals with dogs, while inside you’re sitting in an elongated room with couches, plenty of intricately carved tables and a big display of blown glass water pitchers.

Out the back is a big shady courtyard perfect for big groups. The menu vibrates with freshness and pep – the falafel are soft, fragrant balls made with a green and yellow split pea base for a sweeter spin on the chickpea classic, and you can’t go past the honeyed pastry parcels of samboosek bi jebne with halloumi and feta. On the meat front, the buttery wild rice and quinoa dish of rez wa djaj layered in with flaked almonds, pulled chicken tenderloins and verdant leafy spinach is a highlight.

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  • Brunswick East
  • price 2 of 4
Kumo Izakaya
Kumo Izakaya

Modern Japanese cuisine doesn’t come to mind straight away when you think of Lygon Street, but Kumo Izakaya is a must-visit spot for fans of fine sake and sochu. Housed in a cavernous space that is industrial yet cosy, with large window frontage out onto the street, Kumo’s izakaya menu is made for sharing and tends toward fresh, protein-heavy Japanese offerings. Just the thing to soak up all that sake.

If you’re familiar with Mr Miyagi’s infamous salmon nori taco, Kumo Izakaya has its own rendition in the form of a spicy tuna taco with the luxurious addition of avruga caviar. Kumo Izakaya does the classics – Japanese fried chicken, aburi salmon and agedashi tofu – with aplomb, but be sure to try its inventive dishes that blend Japanese cuisine with European influences: cod roe pasta, octopus pepperoncini and deep-fried spaghetti sticks with a nori seasoning.

  • Brunswick East
  • price 1 of 4
Rumi
Rumi

A mainstay on Lygon Street, Rumi has set the bar for restaurants of its ilk. There are draping fabrics and wooden panels etched with gold calligraphy – touches of glitz, minus the pretension. Settle into your night with a glass of Rumi’s own King Valley red or white, or cocktails boasting the likes of a Turkish Delight Martini and Iced Beirutea. Don’t drink? The mocktails are just as good (go the sour cherry). As for food, beeline for the flaky Sigara Böreği cigars oozing with salty halloumi, feta and kasseri, and the heavily spiced school prawns mollified with earthy tahini – eat them whole and savour the crunch.

Fried cauliflower florets dusted in allspice are accompanied by sautéed onion, currants and pine nuts (the second most iconic Melbourne cauliflower dish, after Miznon’s). Arguably, Rumi’s two most famous dishes are the fall-apart lamb shoulder crusted with advieh and the onion-marinated chicken wings spiked with Aleppo pepper and perched atop everyone’s favourite Levant condiment, toum.

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  • Barbecue
  • Brunswick East
  • price 2 of 4

Bluebonnet Barbecue has had a nomadic journey around Melbourne. It first opened in Collingwood in 2014, lost that venue to a fire, moved to temporary residences in Carlton’s Curtin Hotel, finally found a permanent home at the North Fitzroy Star and then when that didn’t work out, it set up shop on Lygon Street and hasn’t looked back.

Smoked meats are texturally perfect at Bluebonnet, and like most barbecue places, they come by the 100g portion. Enjoy the likes of barley-fed beef brisket, smoked lamb ribs and crisp pork belly alongside the best sides in town, ranging from smoked mash potato blanketed in brisket gravy to good old-fashioned mac and cheese. It works best when you’ve got a big group to divide and conquer the menu.

  • Japanese
  • Brunswick East

Kura Robata recently came to sit in the spot where the critically acclaimed Faye used to be (RIP), joining the many esteemed dining venues found along the Brunswick East end of Lygon Street. Executive chef Ken Ibuki, who has previously worked at Nobu and Kisumé, has put together a menu offering a modern take on Japanese flavours and techniques.

Much of the menu is centred around the age-old method of cooking over binchōtan (Japanese charcoal) encased in stone, and dishes are centred around fresh seafood and premium protein. Think butterflied local fish dressed with fiery yuzu kosho butter and capers, and charcoal-scorched skewers of giblets and chicken heart. The delicacy of Japanese cuisine is paired with punchy flavours and bold ingredients, all served in an inviting space where guests can witness first-hand the magic of the robata grill.

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It’s rare to find Malaysian restaurants that branch out from everyone’s stock standard favourites of laksa, char kway teow and chicken rice – not that there’s anything wrong with these perennially popular dishes – but Mr Lee’s is one of them (though it has the aforementioned dishes too).

Sample popular Chinese Malaysian dishes like the crisp fried marmite chicken wings, the prosperity yam basket (mashed yam which is shaped into a ring, deep fried – order it topped with kung bao chicken, which has a pleasantly soy-rich sauce tinged with heat from dried chillies) and deep-fried prawns coated in a rich, salted egg yolk sauce. The restaurant itself is no-frills, but what it lacks in ambience it makes up for with convivial service and expertly rendered Malaysian dishes.

  • Wine bars
  • Brunswick

The food is noteworthy at wine bar Old Palm, especially under the guidance of co-owner and chef Almay Jordaan, who is taking the opportunity to inject flavours from her South African heritage into a daily changing seasonal menu and by cooking over a grill not too dissimilar to a braii, which imparts char and smoke. In the running for Bar Snack of the Year is the fried shallot, splayed out but connected at the root, battered and fried before receiving a dab of cashew sour cream and a touch of diced, pickled jalapeño, which eats like a very grown-up Bloomin’ Onion. A close runner-up is the oily, pillowy soft woodfired flatbread served with a dollop of labne sprinkled with sumac.

Old Palm Liquor is probably as Brunswick as you can get with its daggy-but-beautiful fitout, natural wine list and menu imparted with flavours we rarely see, but it’s a winning formula that has it packed out every night it’s open. Book to avoid disappointment.

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  • Brunswick

Evoking audiophile ‘listening bars’ of Tokyo and other such cities, Waxflower is joining a growing slew of Melbourne wine bars as concerned with their food as they are with their music program (think of community radio station and wine bar Hope St Radio and Music Room, the soundproof bar and listening room nestled within the Her building.)

Sharing the spotlight with records at Waxflower is wines, with a decent selection of by-the-glass options scrawled on a chalkboard on a wall. Food doesn’t follow the Japanese theme, instead taking influence from Italy and, less explicitly so, Latin America. The menu changes often, but what stays (for good reason) is the dadinhos de tapioca, Waxflower’s riff on the deep-fried Brazilian snack, complete with salt and vinegar seasoning and fermented chilli oil. Equally of note is the fiery Italian spreadable salami of ’nduja – made from octopus in Waxflower’s iteration – coupled with brown butter and shallots before being spread on thick doorstopper wedges of toast.

The newest kid on the Lygon Street block it sits on is the highly vaunted Figlia, brought to you by the same people behind Tipo 00 and Osteria Ilaria. While pasta is the name of the game at its forebears, pizza is what you come to Figlia for. Taking its cues from the famed Brooklyn pizzeria Roberta’s, Figlia (pronounced with a silent ‘g’) expands beyond margherita and funghi pizzas to include the lingua, where ox tongue finds itself on a base alongside roasted garlic, pecorino and endive, and crostaceo, where true to its shellfish-inspired name, Moreton Bay bug is allowed to shine surrounded by the complements of marjoram and heirloom tomato.

Unlike its sister restaurants, you can walk in and expect to find a seat at Figlia – but this may not last for long.

 

Swap pasta for soba at these Japanese restaurants

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