This old-school Italian restaurant is all about the classics. Eggplant parmigiana, marinara, calamari salad – and there's even a Hawaiian pizza. Some scoff at pineapple on pizza, but we say haters gonna hate.
BYO: Free, wine only
This is Greek food at its home-style best, and even though there is no menu, don’t let it put you off. There are always a couple of Greek grandmas (yes, the food really is just like back home) in the restaurant to give you some guidance.
BYO: Free for beer and wine
They make everything from scratch at Charntra, be it roti, spring rolls, curry pastes or desserts, and conveniently this cheap and cheerful Thai joint is open seven days a week.
BYO: Free for beer and wine
Don your loosest pants and get ready for dumpling madness. First you'll want an outrageous number of soup-filled dumplings, all wobbly with their satiny thin skins. Then you'll need some of the soft, gelatinous, red-braised pork and a big dose of green beans sautéed with fried pork mince.
BYO: $4.50 per person, wine only, City Dumpling Bar only
This South Yarra treasure is the place where the chilli is hot and the Sichuan pepper is tinglingly, numbingly fresh. And while none of the food is what you’d call dainty, it’s certainly way up there with the best Sichuan we’ve ever had the pleasure of burning our mouths on. It’s cheap, too.
BYO: $2 per person
The Supper Inn has been providing Melbourne revellers with cheap and delicious Chinese food at all hours for the past 20 years. Not much has changed over the years, and for that, we’ll always remain loyal and head straight to the Supper Inn when we’ve got the late-night munchies.
BYO: $3 per person for beer and wine
The two-person banquet at Woo Ga is amazing. Load up on unlimited banchan (little side dishes of kimchi or sesame-slicked vegies) before getting stuck into three cuts of beef cooked on your own individual charcoal grill.
BYO: $3 per bottle, wine only
This Fitzroy institution is still going strong after two decades of deceptively simple Afghani food. Highlights include a qorma slow-cooked with chunks of tender eggplant; lightly spiced meat samosas with homemade yoghurt; and a smooth, delicately flavoured yellow dhal.
BYO: $3.50 per person
They serve roti here in all its forms – savoury, with pools of curry sauce and a lentil mix, or as a sweet sugar-coated cone with fresh banana slices and a melting blob of ice cream. Plus they stuff them with minced pork, cabbage and egg (murtabak).
BYO: $2 per person for wine and beer
Specialising in slow-cooked meats, the guys behind Big Boy BBQ serve up massive platters of wings, ribs, pulled pork, beef pastrami and lamb shoulder. You can also get a sandwich piled with your smoked meat of choice, cheese, pickles and Big Boy's signature sauces.
BYO: $1 per person for beer and wine
At Binh Minh the chow is cheap, and MSG stands for Mega Song Grandslam. If you want a power ballad with your pho, groups of ten can get a private room at no extra charge, banquets start at $19, it’s BYO, and the karaoke is yours all niiight long for $20.
BYO: $3 per bottle
Porgie and Mr Jones café is open for breakfast, brunch and lunch seven days, and on Friday and Saturday nights they open up shop on evenings as well. Set dinner menus are $55 per person for two courses or $70 for three – and that includes BYO.
BYO: Free on Friday and Saturday nights
Just off Lygon Street is DOC – a pizza bar that means business. Thin crispy bases make the perfect partner for the simple core Italian ingredients – buffalo mozzarella, fior di latte and Italian smallgoods. Wash it down with a Campari or Italian beer, and finish up with a dessert pizza.
BYO: $8.50 per bottle
Camy Shanghai Dumpling and Noodle Restaurant, often abbreviated to the Shanghai Dumpling House, has been a part of the Chinatown culinary scene since, well, forever. Line up on Tattersalls Lane, wait for a table, and then get amongst the all-you-can-eat menu.
BYO: $6 per bottle of wine, $1 per beer
The Ocha kitchen combines traditional and new techniques in its approach to Japanese fare, and it is are reintroducing its evening 10-course degustation menu held on the last Monday of every month with no BYO corkage fee.
BYO: $7.50 per person
Easily the most familiar establishment on the strip, thanks to the falafel, tabbouleh, kafta and halva and baklava for dessert. Being a BYO restaurant has its perks, but book before you go – there's a waitlist.
BYO: $7 per bottle
Real authentic Thai food is what you'll get from Abbotsford's family-run Jinda Thai restaurant. A lunch and dinner menu offers made-to-order rice paper rolls, signature street food dishes such as kao kaa moo (stewed pork shanks on jasmine rice with spices, Chinese broccoli, pickled cabbage and a homemade garlic sauce) and favourites such as tom yum. Just be sure to book ahead, or you'll be standing out in the street waiting for your table.
BYO: $5 per person, daily
Preserve Kitchen may be small, but its owners run a tight ship with professional staff and contemporary cuisine. There are only about 30 seats inside, but you can also dine in the cute courtyard out the back.
BYO: $5 per person drinking, wine only
Malaysian and Chinese fare is this joint's bread and butter, plus it does yum cha daily with a staggering 60 different dim sim. The menu won't break the bank and it's vegetarian and gluten free friendly, so bring all your dietary-restricted friends.
BYO: $8 per person, wine only. Not available all day Monday or Tuesday lunch.
Set in an old red roofed house in Dandenong, Kluska doles out traditional Polish dishes like cabbage rolls, potato cakes, sauerkraut stew and pork schnitzel – just the thing to put a coating on your ribs against the cold.
BYO: $5 per bottle
It's no secret that Greville Street's Ladro dishes out some of the tastiest pizzas in Prahran. The selection manages to be creative and diverse without engaging in any banana-bacon shenanigans. Get the 'Badabing' with pork sausage, chilli and oregano; it's the perfect beer companion.
BYO: $15 per bottle except Monday when it's $5, which is donated to charity
David Zhou’s more casual Chinese restaurant is a pristine white wash room where your placemat is the menu, and regional-style share dishes are what's hot. Braised eggplant with garlic, chilli and black vinegar; a bowl of chilled, hard-boiled quail eggs, steeped in oolong tea with fragrant wolf berries, and little flash fried school prawns are all winners.
BYO: $10 per bottle, wine only. All days except Saturday
The Recreation Bistro is smart pub dining without the pub. You can pop by for an easy drink- it has a modern-style bottle shop where you can drink a searching, global and local list alongside its Euro-smart menu. But, if nothing on their list or walls takes your fancy, you can bring your own bottle any night of the week. A number of wine-savvy locals are already in on the secret.
BYO: $20 per bottle, daily
True to the Italian name, St Kilda's long-standing modern European/Italian restaurant Sapore does not disappoint on the flavour front. The food is approachable – no soils or foams here – but executed with precision.
BYO: $15 per bottle, Sunday to Thursday
Turin-born chef Paolo Masciopinto has come on board (via Stokehouse and Grossi Florentino) to give this North Melbourne olde Italian a refreshing take on traditional flavours. If you can't hit the five-course degustation make sure you don't go past perfect buttery scampi and the delicate duck tortellini with a little duck liver parfait on the side.
BYO: $15 per bottle, Tuesday to Thursday
The chef here offers a seasonal rotating menu of Italian favourites made from Victoria’s finest local produce. They have an impressive cellar, but also encourage BYO. Hell, they can even tailor menus to match your wines if you are a serious oenophile. BYO corkage is $10 per bottle.
If this neighbourhood wine bar game-changer doesn't have that particular drop you're after, they invite you to bring a bottle from home on Monday nights. It better be good, cos their list is expansive and impressive. Extra points for having a menu that's been specifically designed to match wine, and not the other way around.
BYO: $20 per bottle, Mondays only
Emilia is helmed by Luca Flammia and Francesco Rota (Tea Rooms of Yarck), who hail from Emilia-Romagna. This trattoria experience is just about bang-on for our Italian-loving town, where BYO is the game Monday to Wednesdays.
BYO: $15 per bottle, Monday to Wednesday
Mixing the flavours of the old and new worlds, VicAsia offers contemporary and classic Cantonese dishes as well as its popular yum cha on the weekends. The wine list is nothing to sneeze at, but BYO is also welcomed.
BYO: $15 per bottle
For a post-dinner nightcap...
Consider this list a scavenger hunt of Melbourne's most interesting tucked away bars, and remember where they are for next time.