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Food at Sunda
Photograph: Graham Denholm

34 must-eat Melbourne dishes

From croissants to fish dumplings, these are the dishes you must try

By Time Out editors
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It doesn’t matter if you’re a local or a visitor: Melbourne is at its absolute best when you go in face first and let your tastebuds lead the way. Make sure you put these 34 Melbourne dishes on your hit list.

While you're in town you should check out these 25 tourist attractions that don't suck and in between grab a drink at Melbourne's 50 best bars.

Recommended: The 50 best restaurants in Melbourne

Melbourne dishes you must try

croissants at Lune Collins Street
Photograph: Graham Denholm

1. Croissant at Lune, $5.50

Restaurants Patisseries Fitzroy

Run by brother-sister team Kate and Cameron Reid, Lune Croissanterie has lines snaking out of the store nearly every day that they open and their pastries fly out of the shop by noon most days. Created in a climate-controlled lab, Lune croissants are almost mathematically perfect: crisp and golden with visible layers of delicate pastry.

2. Fish dumplings at ShanDong Mama, $16.80

Restaurants Melbourne

This Chinatown hidey-hole makes one of the CBD’s best fish dumplings. Shandong Mama’s mackerel dumplings are best boiled (though the fried ones are nice too), as the soft mousse-textured filling with ginger and coriander turns pillowy and super light after a flash in boiling water.

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3. Vegemite curry buttermilk roti at Sunda, $16

Restaurants Melbourne

It’s the roti with Vegemite curry, OK? Sunda has made the year’s most spectacular play for the hearts and minds of Melbourne with a crazy-brave combination of wickedly buttery deconstructed roti and a deeply savoury curry sauce with a Vegemite-umami backbone. Add the fact that it’s an off-menu secret with only 25 serves available a night, and you've got a must-eat dish.

Freid shallots at Old Palm Liqour
Photograph: Parker Blain

4. Fried shallot at Old Palm Liquor, $7

Bars Wine bars Brunswick

In the running for bar snack of the year is Old Palm Liquor's 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 jalapeno, which eats like a very grown-up Bloomin’ Onion. Better yet, it is entirely vegan, which is no wonder every single person is eating one when you walk into Old Palm Liquor.

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Burger at Butchers Diner
Photograph: Butchers Diner

5. Burger at Butcher's Diner, $9.50

Restaurants Burgers Melbourne

Where in Melbourne can you get a premium burger made with a mix of full and half-blood Robbin’s Island wagyu, 24 hours a day? Butcher’s Diner, that’s where. This is the newest offering from the Con Christopolous empire where there is a focus on all things meaty. This particular burger comes with a thick, juicy and cooked-to-medium 160g patty, expertly made house-made pickles, tomato, iceberg lettuce, onion and just enough sauce and mayo.

The American Doughnut Kitchen
Photograph: Graham Denholm

6. Jam doughnuts at the American Doughnut Kitchen, five for $6.50

Restaurants Bakeries Melbourne

One nibble of American Doughnut Kitchen's hot jam bliss bombs shows you why generations have been happy to queue for them. This beloved family business has been operating since the ’50s, and on many market mornings, there’s a line of doughnut devotees peering through the windows of the blue and white van. Staff are busy within, cutting dough, frisbeeing it into the fryer and dusting it with sugar – the recipe is unchanged after almost 70 years. What makes these doughnuts elite is the heat factor – minimal fryer-to-mouth time keeps them hot and crisp on the outside, soft and pillowy on the inside. Then there’s the shock of molten red jam that threatens to stain your workplace attire. 

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Fairy bread at French Saloon
Photograph: Supplied

7. Fairy bread at French Saloon, $30

Restaurants French Melbourne

You wouldn’t think that fairy bread could be savoury, but head chef Todd Moses had a nostalgic moment when playing with the five different types of caviar he has on the menu at French Saloon. Each variety is offered individually, but on occasion, Moses takes the cheapest white bread from his supplier, laminates it with whipped cod roe, and rains down a mixture of oscietra, baerii, white sturgeon, gold and Yarra Valley caviar to bring back the party favourite for an older audience. In the past, it’s just been served to friends and regulars. But now, with a nod and a wink, you can request it from the staff if Moses has the ingredients on hand. Keep an eye out on his Instagram. And yes, he cuts the crusts off.

Bucatini alla cacio e pepe at Bar Liberty
Photograph: Michael Bascetta

8. Cacio e pepe at Bar Liberty, $19

Bars Wine bars Fitzroy

Bar Liberty is better known for its booze than snacks, but even with a change of guard in the kitchen, one dish that remains is the cacio e pepe. Here, thick tubes of bucatini are coated in a thick emulsion of cheese and pepper, a perfect partner to any low-fi wine on the list.

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9. A roll from the country wheel at Baker Bleu, $1

Restaurants Bakeries Caulfield North

Baker Bleu is probably best known for supplying the likes of Attica, Cutler and Co and the Carlton Wine Room with their bread, so you know it is outrageously good. Baker Bleu’s high-hydration, long-fermented and deeply caramelised loaves play such star roles that the bakery only produces sourdough for most days and only offers viennoiserie on Wednesdays and Thursdays. You can enjoy their most popular country roll for only $1, or buy the whole wheel for $30. Get in early because it is not unusual for them to sell out before then. 

The best seafood at Bacash
Photograph: Carmen Zammit

10. Fish of the day at Bacash, market price

Restaurants South Yarra

Head to South Yarra’s Bacash restaurant for the ultimate seafood experience. Specialising in high-quality fresh seafood, restaurant owner Michael Bacash lives up to the hype by offering up a quality menu alongside helpful and attentive service. Bacash is an expert in seafood cookery and seafood suppliers worship at his feet. Whatever the day, order the whole fish, which is cooked in the best way possible to showcase the fish and served alongside a simple green salad and fries. Perfection. 

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People eating inside at Cumulus Inc
Photograph: Graham Denholm

11. Whole roast lamb shoulder at Cumulus Inc, $48/$80

Restaurants Melbourne

'Eating house' doesn't quite cut it. 'All-day diner' falls worryingly short. In fact, when trying to sum up the place Cumulus Inc plays in Melbourne’s hungry heart, 'favourite clubhouse' comes as close as any description. The lamb shoulder encapsulates the convivial nature of dining at Cumulus Inc by being a dish that must be shared. It speaks volumes that since day dot, the dish has barely changed and remains on the menu.

A close up shot of the cripsy eggplant dish at Lee Ho Fook
Photograph: Graham Denholm

12. Crispy eggplant with red spiced vinegar at Lee Ho Fook, $22

Restaurants Melbourne

Doused in a sticky soy and red vinegar sauce, and scattered with little nubs of fried garlic and Sichuan peppercorns, the crisp eggplant is a textural treat. A caramelised coating gives way to a fluffy, silken interior, so each bite is crunchy and soft, sharp and sweet making it a must-order, every time you visit Lee Ho Fook.

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13. Cecina at MoVida, $25

Restaurants Melbourne

Legend has it, when MoVida first put the cecina on the menu, its wagyu supplier could not keep up with demand. This dish of air-dried wagyu topped with a soft poached egg obscured by a cloud of whipped truffle foam is the stuff that date nights are made of. 

Food at Builders Arms Hotel
Photograph: Graham Denholm

14. Whipped cod roe at Builders Arms Hotel, $10

Bars Fitzroy

As a general rule, your local pub shouldn't be doing food this good. Come here for the creamy drift of whipped cod roe with Turkish toast soldiers out on Gertrude Street; settle in by the windows for a Mountain Goat steam ale for super easy drinking or a sour and citrusy spelt ale from Two Metre Tall for driving flavour; spend an afternoon under the bougainvillea in the beer garden; or go an all-out fancy feast. 

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Food at Dainty Noodle
Photograph: Graham Denholm

15. Cumin lamb slices at Dainty Sichuan, $30.80

Restaurants South Yarra

Can you think of a name less appropriate for a Sichuan restaurant? The chilli is hot and the Sichuan pepper is tinglingly, numbingly fresh, not exactly what you’d call dainty. Order thin slices of lamb encrusted in cumin and laced with chilli. There are always dishes you'll want to try at Dainty Sichuan, but this is the one you will keep coming back for. Don't forget to order a bowl of rice.

Pasta at Pellegrini's Espresso Bar
Photograph: Graham Denholm

16. Lasagne at Pellegrini's Espresso Bar, $16

Restaurants Melbourne

There's something special about sitting at a 65-year-old bench on a 65-year-old stool and looking at a 65-year-old menu while you shovel into a sliding colossus of lasagne ($16). We recommend it highly. A white shirt, not so much.

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Food at Carlton Wine Room
Photograph: Graham Denholm

17. Potato focaccia and stracciatella at Carlton Wine Room, $14

Restaurants Carlton

The Carlton Wine Room 3.0 is here, and it's redefining the wine bar as we know it. Chef John-Paul Twomey has perfected his focaccia recipe to contain both a strong, exterior crunch and light, interior airiness and comes served in four fingers with a puddle of the soft, creamy and super lactic cheese stracciatella, plus a mound of shaved zucchini with a dose of bright chive oil. It’s bread and dip, but not as you know it and a must order on every visit.

Food At Bar Saracen Melbourne
Photograph: Graham Denholm

18. Hummus at Bar Saracen, $22

Restaurants Middle Eastern Melbourne

Hummus is a divisive dish, but Bar Saracen's is universally adored. An impossibly silky hummus is dressed with picked spanner crab, a rubble of diced prawns, paprika and olive oil is something you could easily eat with a spoon, but it comes with two pockets of warm, house-made pita that is perfect for wiping up the chickpea dip.

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People sitting inside venue at Capitano
Photograph: Carmen Zammit

19. Veal parma at Capitano, $65

Restaurants Italian Carlton

Capitano is a fundamentally social place, the menu’s purpose is to lubricate and satisfy rather than draw focus from your companions. The stated inspiration here is Italian-American, and you can see the influence in the vodka sauce and square 'pies.' But, it's the veal parma that has won Capitano endless attention; veal on bone is crumbed, deep fried, bathed in a sweet, tomato sauce, dotted with mozzarella and finished with fresh basil. It's best the share between two, but we'd forgive you if you ate it all on your own.

Food at Ablas
Photograph: Graham Denholm

20. Chicken and rice at Abla's, $28

Restaurants Middle Eastern Carlton

Abla loved feeding people so much that meal-making for her family turned into hosting Sunday feasts for the community – and then came the restaurant. Abla’s opened in 1979 in the same location it’s in today and upon entry, you experience a pleasant time warp. Don't leave without ordering Abla’s signature pilaf, which is a majestic dome of rice flecked with minced spiced lamb and topped with cinnamon-pepped chicken and slivers of toasted almonds and pine nuts.

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Cutler and Co
Photograph: Graham Denholm

21. Fruits de mer at Cutler and Co bar, $38 per head

Restaurants Fitzroy

Andrew McConnell has given his major Gertrude Street address a thorough going over after eight years and the fruits de mer has emerged as the go-to dish in the early stages of the reinvention. An impressive selection of in-season seafood comes raw and cooked, piled high and served with an array of accompaniments including some stellar sourdough and cultured butter.

22. Pig's head sanga at Congress, $8

Restaurants Collingwood

You’ve heard about the pig’s head sanga, of course. The breaded puck of pig jowl goodness larded with chicken jus that explodes in juiciness in the manner of a xiao long bao. Lordy, it’s good. Ably supported by a peppery mustard leaf mayo and sandwiched between two rounds of fluffy white bread guaranteed to put any carb dodger on a glycaemic high, it’s a must-order at a place that has several dishes vying for that status. 

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Old Kingdom Peking duck
Photograph: Supplied

23. A whole Peking duck at Old Kingdom, $58

Restaurants Richmond

Old Kingdom might have a full menu featuring soups, stir fries, noodle dishes and desserts, but we all know the main attraction is the duck. When you make a booking, you will be asked how many ducks you would like per booking- the general rule is one between two (we assume you like duck). You'll receive your crisp, laquered duck in Peking duck form, a stir fry (where you can opt-in for noodles) and a soup. Take advantage of their super cheap BYO, everyone in the venue does.

Chicken sandwich at Gin Palace
Photograph: Cameron Cooke

24. The chicken sandwich at Gin Palace, $12

Bars Cocktail bars Melbourne

A grande dame of the Melbourne bar scene, this louche, basement-level cocktail lounge has been keeping people loose and liquored for over 20 years. And it's the chicken sandwich that Gin Palace has been serving up all this time which has been saving lives after one too many martinis. Sandwiched between two heavily buttered pieces of white bread is a mayo-heavy chicken mix accompanied by bacon salt and a fistful of cornichons. Ask nicely for Tobasco and thank us later.

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25. Chilli Margherita naan pizza at Daughter In Law, $18

Restaurants Melbourne

Daughter In Law is not steeped in any sense of authenticity; this restaurant is meant to break the rules and dabble in fusion, which is seen precisely in its series of naan pizzas. Beautifully charred and pliable naan is used as a base for fior di latte, mozzarella and a spicy, chilli-spiked sauce which makes this pizza the perfect foil to a big night out. Weird? Not at all. We challenge you to stop at one.

Cauliflower at Miznon
Photograph: Graham Denholm

26. Cauliflower at Miznon, $13

Restaurants Middle Eastern Melbourne

Cauliflower is the star of Eyal Shani’s menu. Baby brassicas adorn the walls of the restaurant before they’re brined and whisked into ovens, roasted whole with olive oil and salt until they’re crisp and deep brown. They’re served atop a thin sheet of paper for two or more diners to share.

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27. Mixed giros souvlaki at Stalactites Restaurant, $17

Restaurants Melbourne

Whatever the size of your night, you really can’t go wrong with a late-night souva. Luckily, Stalactites is open 24 hours, and their giro rotisserie set-up doesn’t stop spinning day and night. They’ve got their prep game down to an art here: souvas arrive at the table or ready for takeaway in five minutes or less. The lamb souva comes with copious amounts of crunchy lettuce and yoghurt sauce – just the hit of freshness you need with the smoky lamb. 

28. Paccheri at Osteria Ilaria, $25

Restaurants Italian Melbourne

Ilaria's de facto signature is pasta. It's the only one on the list: thick tubes known as paccheri, Italy's answer to the Cantonese chee cheong fun, strewn with nubs of Crystal Bay prawn meat, grounded in tomato and sorrel purees and anointed with the heady cologne of prawn oil. An Insta-classic, and a big part of what won them Time Out Restaurant of the Year for 2017.

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Supernormal, Flinders Lane, Melbourne
Photograph: Josie Withers

29. New England lobster roll at Supernormal, $17

Restaurants Asian Melbourne

This dish has carried over from Golden Fields, and Supernormal has been unable to remove it from its menu since flinging open the doors at its Flinders Street location. The New England lobster roll is a magical balance of soft, warm brioche and the cool, Kewpie mayo-slathered crustacean that makes eating in Melbourne feel like Maine.

30. Xiao Long Bao at HuTong, $12.80

Restaurants Melbourne

The triple-tiered space on Market Lane, where it set up shop in 2010, boldly eyeballing the august Flower Drum, is kind of eclectic. But that’s all irrelevant. Start with the xiao long bao – the Shanghainese soup dumplings with their pork and soup filling deserve their reputation: saddle up your spoon with threads of ginger and a slosh of black vinegar, nibble a hole and slurp away while trying to keep any spillage from ruining your own threads. 

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31. Seiro soba at Shimbashi Soba, $12

Restaurants Melbourne

Shimbashi mills its Tasmanian buckwheat daily and hand-roll their noodles before each and every service, resulting in a smooth, bouncy noodle for you to dip in your wasabi and spring onion dashi-based broth. Once you've finished your noodles, you're given the protein-filled cooking liquid to thin out your dipping sauce to create a delicious, cloudy soup.   

Beef soup at Soi 38
Photograph: Vince Caligiuri

32. Boat noodles at Soi 38, $10

Restaurants Thai Melbourne

Everyone knows about these stellar boat noodles in a car park. There are four dishes (all $10) available: beef or pork boat noodles, tom yum noodles or the braised duck noodle soup. The boat noodles are loosely comparable to Vietnamese pho but the fragrant beef-based broth is more complex and bold in flavour from a mix of soy sauce, star anise, cinnamon, lemongrass and galangal. The meaty and herbal fragrance, combined with the filling warmth of the noodles, makes for a seriously satisfying meal. Our tip: try the beef. 

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Food at O.MY
Photograph: Graham Denholm

33. Snacks at O.My, part of degustation, $145

Restaurants Beaconsfield

This degustation restaurant is the stamp of overachievement from the Bertoncello brothers Blayne (head chef) and Chayse (sommelier and front of house manager) who are both under 30. All vegetables in their food come directly from their farm, which keeps the dishes ever-evolving and hyper-seasonal. Snacks come in place of a traditional amuse bouche in this degustation restaurant celebrating the most pristine produce as an overture to the meal.

34. Margherita at 400 Gradi, $22

Restaurants Southbank

Having once won the World Pizza Championships, you’d expect 400 Gradi to know what they’re doing. And they do. With the pizza oven cranked up to 400 degrees, the bases are chewy and puffed up around the edges. It’s a beautiful canvas for the simple pleasures of a tomato base, fresh mozzarella and basil.

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