Let's face it, Preston isn't going to win any beauty pageants. It's a long, wide concrete jungle of For Lease boards and lacking in the tree department. Not especially pretty, it is highly functional; there's plenty of residential construction going and the public transport options are many – it's got all the makings of The Next Big Thing.
There's plenty to eat, too, many ethnicities reflected in its varied cuisine: Greek delis, Indian sweet shops, and more noodle joints that we can count. Take this list as a starting point and hit the streets for an edible adventure.
An ornate latte at Pomona Coffee Roasters. Photo: Eddie Jim
Rise and shine
There's plenty of decent coffee spread out across the 'burb if you'd like to start your day the old fashioned way – not your average eggs-on-toast cafes either.
Almost-vegan cafe Disco Beans is delightfully strange; the menu swings between home-style Japanese cooking (a breakfast okonomiyaki of potato and cabbage, sukiyaki tempeh stir-fried with udon noodles) and Mexican-influenced dishes (scrambled eggs with black beans and guacamole). Pomona Coffee Roasters is known for its gluten-free menu (attention coeliacs, gluten-free sausage rolls!) and specialty coffee from its own roast; newcomer Sartoria brings specialty coffee and brunch cocktails to the area along with a progressive menu: think sticky black rice pudding, matcha foam. Excellent mod-Middle Eastern fare can be found at all-day eatery, United Arab Eatery (you may remember their prior incantation in Thornbury) but if you come in the morning you can have socca (a chickpea-flour pancake) topped with quinoa tabbouleh and fried eggs for breakfast.
Those favouring a late breakfast (or early lunch) can partake in some of Melbourne's best yum cha upstairs at the recently renovated Gold Leaf Chinese Restaurant. The revitalised space is host to 200-odd seats (we still suggest you book) and a daily service of fried and steamed treats from 11am (11.30 on weekends).
Had a late night or just feeling poorly? A traditional Vietnamese breakfast of steaming noodle soup will fix what ails you. There are a number of near-identical pho joints on the high street but the broth is best at Pho Huong Viet (also in Box Hill). Bowls of thick rice noodles come topped with rare beef, brisket and (or) offal, accompanied by endless hot tea and a generous serving of bean shoots, basil, mint and many plastic squeeze bottles of fragrant sauces.
Disco Beans, 539 Plenty Road, 9478 146
Pomona Coffee Roasters, 474B Murray Road, 9478 0026
United Arab Eatery, 107 High Street, 9480 4044
Gold Leaf Chinese Restaurant, First floor, 7/419 High Street, 9470 2882
Pho Huong Viet, 471 High Street, 9478 3072
Dumpling production at One Noodle Friendship. Photo: Arsineh Houspian
Being a market town Preston is the kind of place that likes to get up early and move fast. Hit the shops for continental small goods, seafood, meat and greenery at old-school market prices then refuel with a freshly griddled soft corn taco (two for $6!) from the Cornutopia van, or a fancy snag-in-a-bun from new hot dog stand, Best of the Wurst.
Even on non-market days there's plenty of hand-held options for those on the run. Macedonian Balkan Fresh Burek does three things, and three things well – generous rectangular pastries made from thin, flaky dough are pulled thin and folded around a ricotta cheese filling with optional ground beef or spinach.
Phillips Dim Sum is the culmination of 30 years' experience – Phillip is the original dumpling master, and can be found behind the small counter waiting to set you up with a stash of stuffed-then-frozen dumplings and buns to accompany you home for later, or a selection hot, steamed and ready to eat.
Lamian noodles at One Noodle Friendship. Photo: Arsineh Houspian
Local favourite One Noodle Friendship turns out steaming bowls of hand-stretched wheat flour lamian noodles in its tiny no-frills arcade shopfront – try a $10 bowl of dry tumeric-stained curry beef noodles with accompanying clear aromatic broth for a satisfying lunch that'll hit the table within minutes.
Preston Market, corner Murray and Cramer streets, 9478 3130
Cornutopia, inside Preston Market, 2/30 Centreway, 0403 030 119
Best of the Wurst, Preston Market stall 211, 0488 111 224
Balkan Fresh Burek, 351 High Street, 9470 2433
Phillips Dim Sum, 393 High Street, 9939 6969
One Noodle Friendship, 417-419 High Street (in the arcade), 9478 4590
The kitchen at Tina's Noodle Kitchen. Photo: Supplied
Save room for later
If the past experience of the Dainty Sichuan empire is any indication (this is their ninth venue), newcomer Tina's Noodle Kitchen will have nightly queues for their outrageously inexpensive signature spicy broth/rice noodle and offal combos. There's been quite a boom of higher-end venues in the last 12 months, the kind of joints you'd expect to see on Flinders Lane not in the 'burbs. Take Dexter, for example, a game-changing American (ish) barbecue joint with a high-end decor (all exposed brick, and blonde wood benches) and pig's head burgers and brisket-stuffed doughnuts served up with a side of Sriracha; not something you would have seen on the High Street 10 years ago.
Spicy stewed beef at Tina's Noodle Kitchen.
Likewise the arrival of Stray Neighbour, a multi-zoned Euro-leaning restaurant/bar, in July of this year had us sit up and take notice – head chef Romina Gagliardi (ex-Bistro Gitan) is turning out some refined tucker in an unrefined area and it's really working for the locals. It's also part-owned by Andrew Chew, the man responsible for a couple of other local gems including Chew Burger, a great drop-in burger joint with medium rare patties as standard and lots of extras to heat things up – sauces with names like "reaper mayo" and "smoke n fire" should give you some idea.
Crispy pork belly, white bean puree and red cabbage served at Stray Neighbour. Photo: Paul Jeffers
One of the great things about Chew Burger is their reciprocal arrangement with next door dive bar The Raccoon Club. It's totally fine to grab some burgers then head next door to the bar and smash them down with a couple of beers. They'll even page you when your order is ready to collect. There's only one catch – no kids allowed – but if you're after adult entertainment (by that we mean craft beer and free pool) you're in the right place.
Tina's Noodle Kitchen, 352 High Street, 9470 6389
Dexter Meat & Buns, 456 High Street, 9973 3577
Stray Neighbour, 463 Plenty Road, 9471 1948
Chew Burger, 147 Plenty Road, 9484 9720
The Raccoon Club, 145 Plenty Road, 0433 827 003