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Grossi Florentino pasta
Photograph: Supplied

The best Italian restaurants in Melbourne

Mangia, mangia! Travel from Tuscany to Sicily at Melbourne's finest Italian eateries

By Time Out editors
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If there's a cuisine that is made for long leisurely meals shared with a group, it has to be Italian. More often than not, meals are spread out over three to four courses: you'll start with an aperitivo while you enjoy an antipasto spread, next comes the primo course (usually a hot dish like pasta), then you'll have the secondo (a meat dish) with a contorno or side dish. Finish off with some formaggio or something dolce (sweet) and you'll have one molto bene feast. Buon appetito

If you're after more Italian cuisine, visit our guides to Melbourne's best pizza, pasta and gelato.

Melbourne's best Italian restaurants

1. Grossi Florentino

Restaurants Melbourne

It’s been some years since gents were expected to keep their jackets on at all times, but it’s good to see Grossi Florentino is a restaurant that continues to sweat the small stuff. The grand Mural Room is one of Melbourne’s last bastions of lavish European dining charm where the lighting is set to dim, and the mood set upon arrival by the proffering of a handbag stool. 

2. Di Stasio Citta

Restaurants Italian Melbourne

Città sees Ronnie Di Stasio return to the neighbourhood where he pioneered Rosati in the heady days shortly before the fringe benefits tax and the stock market crash cruelled the excesses of the 1980s. And the augurs are good. It’s a place of arrestingly clean-lined brutalism – concrete walls and pillars, a remarkable terrazzo floor. White-jacketed bartenders shake things behind a slab of white marble. Red leather chairs make like a mid-century Thornbury espresso bar, a younger Di Stasio’s stomping ground. It’s a gallery and salon, as well as a bar and restaurant.

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3. Il Bacaro

Restaurants Melbourne

Il Bacaro serves up a modern twist on classic Italian fare in its small, crowded restaurant. We're not talking foams or sands or molecular tech on the plate. The seared quail comes with caramelised figs and blue cheese ice cream, and the roasted duck breast and baked duck leg with blueberry and coco beans. Subtle creativity and high-end dining are the name of the game here. 

4. Tipo 00

Restaurants Melbourne

Melbourne’s a town that does pasta either really well or terribly badly. Tipo 00 is a stand-out member of the first category and just as well for them. Pappardelle, thick ribbons boasting the suppleness of Nadia Comaneci and the right resistance to the teeth, is jumbled up with rabbit braised in white wine, with the toasty crunch of hazelnuts and green specks of marjoram. This is happiness in a bowl. 

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5. Bar Carolina

Restaurants Italian South Yarra

Gosh, the Italians do glamour well, and Bar Carolina, the newest addition to Joe Mammone’s boutique Italian stable exudes Latin charm from its terrazzo foyer to its bar clad in charcoal steel. And we haven’t even mentioned the quorum of liltingly accented waiters who marshal the crowds one ‘ciao bella’ at a time.

Rissoni at Arlechin
Photograph: Graham Denholm

6. Arlechin

Restaurants Italian Melbourne

This laneway bar has long marble bar, seating for 40, and a good part of the Grossi cellar stored behind glass like a votive offering to the god Bacchus. And even if you’re planning to be tucked up in bed by 10pm, the midnight spaghetti will play ball with your timetable. This is no booze-sopping gut-buster – it’s a dainty twirl of rigorously al dente spaghetti capturing a flavour burst of sugo, salty giant capers and sweet basil leaves.

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7. Café Di Stasio

Restaurants St Kilda

It’s all in the pacing. It’s the make or break factor of great dining, and it's something Rinaldo 'Ronnie' Di Stasio’s mainstay Italian has been nailing for 26 years. A three-course lunch can take four hours – maybe three if you’re just here for a glass of Champagne and a plate of calamari. This is a restaurant that’s well and truly earned its reputation as one of Melbourne’s greats. 

8. Osteria Ilaria

Restaurants Italian Melbourne

What we have here is not so humble as an osteria. Sure, it has an underlying rustic Italian brief, exemplified by the chargrilled whole octopus brutishly splayed over a sauce made of the fiery Calabrian spreadable salami, 'nduja. On the other end of the spectrum, lamb tartare arrives gussied up for the red carpet with a custardy froth of smoked eggplant, purple Congo potato crisps and winks of rosemary oil. 

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9. Rosa's Canteen

Restaurants Melbourne

Here they're doing the kind of devotedly rustic, no-frills Italian food that you can feel doing you good, body and soul. Let’s call it Italian penicillin. Its strength is its simplicity. The brutishly ugly, utterly delicious cauliflower fritters are a nod and a wink that this is Rosa as she is known and loved. Just as good under the list of antipasti are the grilled chicken livers, interleaved with fat cubes of fried bread.

10. Capitano

Restaurants Italian Carlton

Capitano, brought to you by the Bar Liberty crew, is bigger, brighter and louder than its Johnston Street sibling, offering far more approachable food and booze but keeping the quality, fun and delightful service. Capitano is a fundamentally social place, the menu’s purpose is to lubricate and satisfy rather than draw focus from your companions. The inspiration here is Italian-American, and you can see the influence in the vodka sauce on one of two pasta dishes. But fundamentally, Capitano is all Melbourne. 

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11. Trattoria Emilia

Restaurants Melbourne

This quasi-secret laneway haunt boasts implicitly of Melbourne’s fabulousness. Con Christopoulos has plenty to do with Melbourne’s fabulousness. The City Wine Shop, European, Kirk’s Wine Bar, Neapoli, Siglo… the list goes on. From Gill’s looser European menu they’ve drilled down into the particular delights of regional Italy here.

Food at Lello
Photograph: Graham Denholm

12. Lello Pasta Bar

Restaurants Italian Melbourne

Lello is where you’ll find chef Leo Gelsomino, who put Richmond’s the Grand on the Italian food map before moving to the corner of Exhibition and Flinders Lane in 2011. At its heart, Lello remains a convivial and uncomplicated place that tastes like the regions of Italy you’ve never been to. Lello might be taking the pasta road less travelled but the church is much the same: excellent produce, intensive kitchen labour, and the added X-factor to put it in the pantheon of Melbourne’s noteworthy Italians.

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13. Pinotta

Restaurants Fitzroy North

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.

14. Marameo

Restaurants Italian Melbourne

Marameo is destined to be catnip to the corporate army’s junior recruits. It’s not a place for people still practising their restaurant manners, but the phrase “cheeky Italian”, found somewhat alarmingly on the website, ought to shine some light on its regime. The food pitch from chef Geoff Martin goes contemporary, fun and progressive, albeit with the same rollcall of showy ingredients at the heart of good Italian dining. 

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Food at Cicciolina
Photograph: Graham Denholm

15. Cicciolina

Restaurants St Kilda

Cicciolina is an indispensable bastion of south-side dining: an ace of Acland Street. St Kilda has changed since Cicciolina opened in 1993. The section of Acland Street that Cicciolina sits on, a one-time boho hotspot, is now reduced to a cut-copy mall. Stars of the menu may sound uncomplicated and a little retro, but that's part of its assured charm. Cicciolina is an institution, not a revolution. 

Food at Mr Pietro
Photograph: Graham Denholm

16. Mr Pietro

Restaurants Italian Carlton

The name Pietro Barbagallo should be familiar to anyone who appreciates a Neapolitan-style pizza. His new venture, is a slightly more adult offering, taking the focus away from pizzas and putting forward some lesser-known traditional Sicilian plates. Mr Pietro’s charm comes from its quiet confidence and understated décor. 

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Margherita pizza at DOC
Photograph: Supplied

17. DOC Pizza and Mozzarella Bar

Restaurants Italian Carlton

Just off Lygon Street, DOC is a pizza bar that means business. At the casual diner portion of this Italian empire (which also includes DOC Delicatessen and DOC Espresso), 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. 

Pellegrini's Espresso Bar Minestrone Soup
Photograph: Graham Denholm

18. Pellegrini's Espresso Bar

Restaurants Melbourne

The grand old dame of Melbourne's restaurant scene offers comfort food at comfort prices (unless you're gluten intolerant, then you shall seek little comfort here). There's something special about sitting at a 70-year-old bench on a 70-year-old stool and looking at a 70-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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19. Il Melograno

Restaurants Northcote

Along with some of the best and freshest gelati this city has ever seen, this house of iced treats also serves boards laden with Italian cheeses, a couple of hot dishes – whatever chef Alesandro Spicchia has cooked for staff lunch – and Melbourne’s first coffee blend fired in a wood-fuelled roaster. 

20. Lupino

Restaurants Melbourne

Eggplant melanzane? Foil butter sachets? Unapologetically old school with mod-Melbourne lines, Lupino is hammering out pan-Italian classics like they’re going out of style. It’s all polished concrete, terracotta tiles and holy hell – is that macramé? Sure is, and whilst the hard lines, echo factor, and city locale mean that by day it's all business, by night its a soft-lit haven for casual rendezvous. 

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Photograph at Ombra Bar
Photograph: Graham Denholm

21. Ombra Bar

Restaurants Melbourne

You know Guy Grossi’s joints. He’s got Italian fine diner Grossi Florentino – home of the $50 pasta entrée – and Cellar Bar downstairs, the old school trattoria where flirting knows no age limits. But you can forget about both of those when looking to Ombra, a salumi bar with polished concrete floors, and bareback tables designed for building makeshift meals of pickles and meats. 

22. Heartattack and Vine

Restaurants Carlton

It feels like this is the place that Lygon St, needed. It's inspired by Italy, the country who’s immigrants gave Melbourne hospitality its heart, but unlike the old-school Italian cafés that define this strip of Carlton, Heartattack looks forward to a bright future of casual eating and drinking, not back to a nostalgic past. 

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23. Lagotto

Restaurants Fitzroy North

Lagotto is for the hard-working residents of North Fitzroy who need a comforting day-to-night place – a café, restaurant, wine bar and food store – that can massage away the stresses of the corporate world, the annoyance of Linton in HR and the drama of who took the last of the oat ‘mylk’ in the staff kitchenette.  

24. Bar Nonno

Bars Northcote

Welcome to Bar Nonno: Northcote’s first biodynamic wine bar with a strong, traditional Italian focus and even stronger traditional Italian charm. The entrance feels like a retail shop until you get past the racks and hit the dining room filled with dark, deep reds and polished floorboards. 

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25. Bar Idda

Restaurants Brunswick East

This lively Sicilian joint, where the music pumps and the snacks come out thick and fast, has fast become a Lygon Street favourite. You’ll want to book nice and early – there’s not a day Bar Idda isn’t packed. For a crash course on Sicilian food, turn your menu over – Bar Idda, along with sketching out a map of the region, have provided an illustrated timeline. 

Lasange at Mario's
Photograph: Nathalie Saldumbide

26. Mario's

Restaurants Fitzroy

Three decades in the business and Mario's is still going strong on Brunswick Street. Take the window seat and order a heaping bowl of spag bol or slick fettuccine pesto with some house wine for a classic Fitzroy experience. We love the service here, the black vest-clad waiters are old-school (the head waiter Massimo di Sora has been around since day one) and can often be seen chatting to regulars.

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27. Project 49

Restaurants Italian Collingwood

A restaurant, a café, a function space, a bottle shop, and a deli make up Project 49, inhabiting a wide swathe of the ground floor in one of Collingwood’s brick warehouse-turned-apartment buildings. During the day, you can swing past for a coffee in the spacious café-deli area, where fried eggs are served with anchovy gremolata, and fat sardines grace even fatter slices of crusty toast, spread with rich, spicy tapenade.

Finish off with a sweet treat

A malted milk soft serve covered in sprinkles
A malted milk soft serve covered in sprinkles
Photograph: Graham Denholm

Melbourne's best ice cream and gelato

Restaurants Ice cream and gelato

Nothing beats a scoop (or three) of ice cream or gelato for dessert, but not all frozen desserts are created equal. We've licked and scooped our way across the city in search of Melbourne's best cone artists.

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