Footscray is rapidly becoming Melbourne's must-visit food destination, with new restaurants and cafés opening constantly. From American barbecue to Vietnamese food, fish and chips to fine dining, here are some of our favourite restaurants in Footscray.
And if you want to look further afield, here are the 50 best restaurants in Melbourne right now.
Best restaurants in Footscray
Dong Ba may not be in Hue where bun bo hue originates, but it serves up one of the best examples of this noodle soup in Melbourne. This lemongrass and chilli-based beef broth is particularly lemongrassy (like really lemongrassy), balanced with a light chilli hum and supported by rare or well-done slices of beef, blood jelly, pork loaf and refreshing slices of raw onion over thick rice noodles. It's no wonder locals flock to Dong Ba from the early hours of the morning for a revigorating spa of spicy soup.
Rudimentary – a cream-and-caramel-coloured shipping container conversion – has sprouted up like a metallic mushroom on the site of a former car park in Footscray. Yes, it’s in once rough-as-guts Footscray, an area known for its plethora of cheap Vietnamese street eats, not its banging brunch spots. We wish we were one of the lucky locals, contentedly nesting here with their Macbooks and Small Batch Roast lattes. Those locals get seven-day access to chef Shane Donelly (owner of nearby Yellow Ledbetter café; ex-Duchess of Spotswood). Any man who serves up a breakfast dish of braised pork belly is all right by us, especially when pork scratching-style pig’s ear crisps, two perfectly fried eggs, red chilli shards and a slice of sourdough, licked with sweet-sour tamarind sauce, are added to the mix. We’ve got a beef with pork-loving Shane, though. How are we supposed to choose between a sourdough toastie with Gypsy ham, house-made waffles with crunchy pancetta, or that pork belly: butter-soft in one mouthful; pork-toffee-caramel chewy the next?
Diego Portilla Carreño (ex-Lake House and Annie Smithers Bistrot) and his wife, Bec Howell, are behind Small Graces. Carreño’s fine-dining pedigree is front and centre in the inventive, wholesome brunch dishes made using ingredients ethically sourced from Victorian farmers. The café has an intimate community vibe that’s so symbolic of the west: think vintage furniture, an inviting cushion-laden banquette, lots of greenery, a stack of books to entertain wriggly kids, and an outdoor area big enough for your pets. The menu is constructed around what’s in season, and everything on it – down to the sriracha, peanut butter, and ferments and pickles – is housemade.
Pho Tam isn't the most modern restaurant in Footscray, with its wear and tear unashamedly on display in its restaurant. But that just means it is one of the most loved Vietnamese joints in the suburb. Pho is the typical fast-food choice here, with beef and chicken broths built on a mix of sweet spices in its kitchen and adorned with your choice of sliced or poached meats, herbs and aromatics, but it is by no means the only dish that it produces well. Vietnamese-style congee is a popular order, as is the bo la lot (grilled beef in betel leaf) served with a perfectly balanced nouc mam cham, banh bot lot (banana leaf-wrapped tapioca dumplings filled with caramelised prawn and pork) and the anchovy-based noodle soup, bun mam. It may seem crazy that Pho Tam is open from 8am, daily, but it is just a testament to its loyal, local following.
On the Irving Street strip, you'll find Konjo Café serving up large platters of pulse-based curries on large plates of spongy, soured injera. Split peas, red lentils, green lentils, cabbage and beetroot are cooked down individually with spices and are scooped up onto a platter of Ethiopia's traditional bread for a mere $14. Coffee is served traditionally out of a clay pot and poured at the table to accompany the rib-sticking meal. Vegan buffets and feast nights are put on regularly alongside a spiced tea and coffee ceremony.
We’re starting with dessert because you might not get the insider tip that one of the wait staff gave us. While all three desserts on Up in Smoke’s menu sound desirable, we were told – in a Highlander movie “There can be only one!” fashion – that the banana cream pie was non-negotiable. Now we know why: with its sturdy biscuit crumb base, velvety banana-and-caramel filling and cream dab crown, it’s sensational. Sweet without being cloying, every billowing mouthful will make you want to shout “God bless America!” So save some precious stomach space. As unlikely a location for an American barbecue restaurant as Footscray might seem, on a Sunday night, the joint’s going gangbusters.
Locals and steak aficionados can select from a menu that offers premium grain- and grass-fed steaks from Australian beef, including 300g Great Southern Pinnacle porterhouses to 200g Sher Wagyu. Modern and imaginative specials don’t veer too far from beer-swilling territory, and mains are sized for pub appetites, with thick slabs of charred and tender steak. Thoughtful beer notes are chalked on boards around the bar, and the six taps pour Carlton for the penny pinchers, Trumer Pils for the Europhiles, and four local craft numbers for the trendies. Station is happy to embrace the folks of Footscray both old and new.
Co Thu Quan may serve more familiar Vietnamese dishes like pho and rice paper rolls, but it specialises in northern dishes that are less visible in Melbourne Vietnamese restaurants. Rice paper salads where sheets of rice paper are merely moistened before it is muddled with beef jerky, herbs, peanuts, dried shrimp, cumquat and a hard-boiled quail egg are signatures to Co Thu Quan, while any dish adorned with grilled meats, like the grilled pork with rolled rice sheets receives a complexity from charcoal cooking, are insanely popular dishes.
Ask a Footscray local what they eat for lunch, and most would tell you to fetch a banh mi. And where from? Our recommendation is Nhu Lan. Pictured banh mi with shredded pork skin. It’ll cost you less than the train ticket you bought to get there, too.
By day this Footscray bakery is all about jaffles (mac'n'cheese; bacon and egg; or meatballs) and 5 and Dime bagels with your choice of spreads. But by night they bust out the cocktail shakers to make lemon meringue pie cocktails and fog Old Fashioneds. They also sneak a little booze into their baked goods, with rum in their pecan pie and banoffee pies. They use locally sourced bread, milk, butter and eggs, and even the barbecue and tomato sauce are made in-house. And if someone you like deserves a treat, you can order a tray of eight giant mashmallow and pretzel cookies, a tray of brownies or a birthday chess pie. And because Melbourne is great at inclusivity, there are vegan pies and vegan cream cheese spreads for your bagels. Everybody wins.
Slice Shop Pizza serves 18-inch pizzas by the slice, with slices a steal at $5. Burn City Smokers co-owners Steve Kimonides and Raphael Guthrie have swapped wood-smoked meat for enormous hand-tossed pizzas in their latest venture, inspired by the famous New York slices, which are eaten on the go while folded in half. Head chef Tano Pennino developed the pizza bases over a few weeks, careful to ensure the slices don’t lose their structural integrity when folded.
They do a whole mess of Malaysian curries and also a few laksas at the pan-Asian eatery, but we’re all about the roti. The buttery, tissue-thin flatbread flies fast and free around the Footscray restaurant. Every now and then, one of the team steps out from behind the counter and spins the dough in the air like a set of nun chucks.
Ebi serves up excellent Japanese/British fusion fish and chips, and it totally works. Try not shouting ‘banzai!’ (hurrah!) as a pudgy, oblong hunk of blue grenadier in bronze beer batter is sprinkled with dried nori and accompanied by a bountiful serve of crunchy chips and sweet kewpie mayonnaise arrives at your table. Order a perky green side salad with Japanese pickles, lotus root and sesame dressing to help negate the grease guilt. This tiny shop also turns out bento boxes, tofu cheesecake and their legendary springy veggie balls that have made them a prime lunch destination for local hospital staff. Surely if health care workers are eating it, that’s a green light for the rest of us?
A crowd is a testament to an eatery, and you’ll find one at 3pm on a Wednesday at video game-themed burger joint 8bit. They’re used to the business here, and burgers are made to order about as quickly as you can say “Pac Man”. The burger assembler piles fillings with utmost care, stepping back for a split second to admire his ingredient tower before it’s whipped away, wrapped in pixilated paper and served upright in a cardboard container. The Double Dragon is the way to go: double the beef, double the cheese, double the bacon and double the fun. Pair it with cheese and bacon fries and a salted caramel milkshake – you'll need a Donkey Kong-sized appetite to finish it all off, but it'll be oh so worth it.
Best bars in Footscray
There’s something particularly satisfying about walking into a bar with a big bag of take-out dumplings and dropping them on your table of beer-hungry mates. That’s the move at Mr West, Footscray’s newest venue for lovers of good booze. They offer simple meat and cheese boards themselves, but are happy for you to bring your own nosh from the myriad of local take away joints serving everything from banh mi to barbecue. Craft beer, good wine, better spirits and great cocktails are the big draws here.
Brought to you by Jerome Borazio's Get Notorious group responsible for city drinking holes Sister Bella, Ponyfish Island and 1000 Pound Bend, Footscray's Back Alley Sally's has brought the crew's signature good time bar vibes to the west. There's a definite student vibe with the drinks list, cocktails are served in red solo cups and the beer list include tinnies of Corona and Budweiser. The former T-shirt printing warehouse has retained its industrial feel, and punters drink among upcycled decor – spot the nanna trolley hanging mysteriously above a booth and Indonesian prawn cracker containers.
The updates to this faded beast of a building are loving rather than transformative, with more respect paid to the venue as it stood. Big panes of frosted glass overlook comfortable booths built of fresh wood, and the classic rock on the stereo completes the picture of a true local. To wet your weary whistle, the drinks list is short and to the point, aiming for simplicity and quality over choice and intrigue. Beers on tap include the mass market (Kirin, Carlton) and the accessibly crafty, like Cricketer’s Arms Summer Ale – all juicy peaches, mango and honeyed hops – and Moon Dog Old Mate, for a little more grippy bitterness while still ranking high on the drinkability scale.
Want to deep-dive into Footscray?
When they came up with the phrase ‘west is best’, they must have been thinking about Footscray. This inner-city suburb is the brightest jewel of Melbourne’s west, primarily thanks to the migrant communities that have come to call Footscray home. A melting pot (or wok pan) of cultures spanning from Vietnam to Ethiopia have given back to the suburb with touches of their home countries, which means you can scoop up a goat curry with fresh injera, slurp up pho and hunt down the best cannoli in town all in the same street.