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Food spread at Fred's Bar
Photograph: Melanie Desa

The best lunches in Melbourne's north

Heading north? We've lunched our way around town to bring you the best of the boozy, cheap and power lunches.

By Jess Ho
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Not sure where you can get a quick and cheap meal once you jump off the 86 tram? What about where you can sink back with a glass of wine and lunch your way into dinner? No worries, we have got you sorted with our list of lunches when you trek it up north. Continue the celebration elsewhere at Melbourne's best wine bars, and cap the night off at a whisky bar

Northside lunches

1. The Carlton Wine Room

Restaurants Carlton

Best for: The boozy lunch

Get well looked after in this light-filled wine bar. The strength of the food here is in its simplicity, and everything from the olives to potato focaccia, daily pasta and roasted chicken is finessed and perfectly suited to the varied wine list. Desserts and digestives aren’t an afterthought, either.

2. Oneyada Thai Cafe

Restaurants Thai Abbotsford

Best for: The casual catch-up

Can't get a table at Jinda? No worries, Oneyada Thai Cafe is the laid-back brunch counterpart to the juggernaut that is Jinda. The charming, 20-seater transports you to the open-air, brick-and-mortar eateries in Bangkok, except there is a front door to keep the elements out. Settle in for excellent coffee, traditional Thai beverages and a range of grill, stir-fry and soup dishes. Lingering is not discouraged.

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Chicken food at Napier Quarter
Photograph: Graham Denholm

3. Napier Quarter

Bars Restaurants Fitzroy

Best for: The boozy lunch

This all-day cafe-cum-wine bar is tucked away on an often forgotten corner in Fitzroy. Napier Quarter uses the best of the season, so dishes celebrate a single ingredients like beetroot, mushrooms or persimmons at their peak. Settle back with a glass of wine or a coffee during your daytime yarn and watch the day fade away.

Crispy pig ears at Epocha
Photograph: Cameron Cooke

4. Epocha

Restaurants Carlton

Best for: The power lunch

For that old, European charm with service to match and delicious food, this is the place to go if you want to impress. Make a booking, and the staff will take care of the rest. Use the balconies overlooking the gardens for a celebratory digestive for when you close that deal.

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Food at Rat the Cafe
Photograph: Graham Denholm

5. Rat the Cafe

Restaurants Cafés Thornbury

Best for: The casual catch-up

‘Rat’ is an acronym for ‘root and tip’, and owner/chef Callum MacBain adopts a waste-free approach to building his menu by looking to parts of an ingredient that would usually be thrown away for inspiration. Care for the planet while downing creative, waste-free food.

6. Hector's Deli

Restaurants Cafés Richmond

Best for: The casual catch-up

Hector’s Deli is a café in Richmond dedicated to sandwiches – classic combinations made with high-quality ingredients and decked out with extra flourishes. The menu offers six options (three available from 7.30am and three from 11am) and that’s about it. Grab an extravagant sandwich, roll up those sleeves and wash it all down with a coffee. 

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7. Industry Beans Fitzroy

Restaurants Fitzroy

Best for: The casual catch-up

Specialty coffee roaster Industry Beans operates in an open-plan warehouse, which also dishes up some of the most interesting breakfasts and lunch in this part of town. Have a brew over a bowl of steel-cut oats dressed up with dragonfruit and a roasted pineapple mousse, or go elbow-deep into a coffee-rubbed wagyu burger with a side of polenta chips. Who said a quick café lunch had to be boring?

8. Fred’s Bar

Bars Wine bars Cremorne

Best for: The boozy lunch

Fred’s Bar, the casual, all-day diner serves bircher muesli and Five Senses coffee from 7am daily, half-size Martinis and Boulevardiers next to an eclectic wine list from 11.30, charcuterie and croquettes next to perfectly cooked, grass-fed porterhouse steaks all night long. Grab an old mate and be prepared for a long lunch, French bistro style.

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9. A1 Lebanese Bakery: Brunswick

Restaurants Brunswick

Best for: Cheap eats

This bakery looks more like a warehouse than bakehouse, but this no-frills Lebanese café is popular among locals for its no-fuss, all-flavour pies and wraps. Get your bread simply brushed with zaatar or load it up with a variety of cheeses and chopped onion, tomato, olives and fresh herbs to have a meal that can double as dinner – all for under $10.

Lasange at Mario's
Photograph: Nathalie Saldumbide

10. Mario's

Restaurants Fitzroy

Best for: Cheap eats

Mario’s hasn’t changed anything except the prices in the 30-odd years it has been open, and that’s only due to inflation. This institution is good for anything from a quick espresso to a solitary lunch or a casual date. The all-day breakfast means late risers still get eggs without feeling like they’ve missed the boat, but the spaghetti with mussels and meatballs make an appearance on everyone’s tables for a reason.

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11. Pinotta

Restaurants Fitzroy North

Best for: The casual catch-up

Since opening sometime back in the Qing dynasty in 2011, Pinotta has calmly plied its trade as the Platonic ideal of the neighbourhood haunt. The troika of good, unfussy Italian food, a punchy and intelligent wine list and service sprinkled with X-factor fairy dust works a convincing game. Grab a seat on the footpath, soak up the rays.

12. The Lincoln

Bars Carlton

Best for: The casual catch-up

Wedged between a bunch of unions, Melbourne University and RMIT, the Lincoln is somewhere you can grab a pint and a stellar pub meal without having to feel like you have to make an effort. The food is unpretentious, but it is far from sloppy. Start with some cheddar and mustard croquettes before tucking into a chicken schnitzel topped with chicken skin butter next to a side of sticky glazed eggplant with ricotta. Take a seat in the front bar if you want to keep things super casual.

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13. DOC Espresso

Restaurants Carlton

Best for: The casual catch-up

Be surrounded by fast-paced Italians screaming over each other while tucking into a perfectly cooked plate of pasta and a glass of wine. Footpath dining makes for some excellent people-watching. Expect things to get very busy during lunchtime. Get in extra early or slip in for a late lunch if you don’t want to feel rushed.

14. Very Good Falafel

Restaurants Middle Eastern Brunswick

Best for: Cheap eats

There is truth to its name; VGF stick to the traditional Israeli take on the Middle Eastern pita wrap and platter. Options are limited to the falafel, sabih (fried eggplant), and ktzitzot (meat patties), which can be served in pita bread or on a plate of dips, pickles and salad. The falafel is exactly what it should be: still steaming hot, with a thick brown crust on the outside from a flash in the deep fryer, and bright green on the inside from the parsley-and-chickpea mixture. And of course, it’s perfect eating when you’re on the run.

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Pizza at Kaprica
Photograph: Graham Denholm

15. Kaprica

Restaurants Carlton

Best for: Cheap eats

To the side of Lincoln square, you’ll find some of the cheapest and best pizzas around town. Pietro Barbagallo has been keeping the student population of Melbourne University fed for years with his signature Neapolitan-style pizzas in his converted warehouse space. Do yourself a favour and order the gnocchi while you’re there; it’s the pillowiest in Carlton.

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