Admiral Cheng Ho
The good Admiral has more than new-breed veg cafe food (quinoa pancakes with banana, coffee soil, ice-cream and butterscotch sauce); it's a small-batch coffee roaster (six grinders, for espresso and pourover), with speciality tea too.
Details: Open Mon-Fri 6am-4pm; Sat-Sun 8am-5pm, 325 Johnston Street, Abbotsford, 9417 1887, admiralchengho.com.au
This chaat cafe almost redefines what most of us know as 'Indian' with its huge range of street food dishes that swing from yoghurt-tangy to stainingly strong. The bottomless thali – big silver tray with lentil and chickpea-based dishes ladled on, endlessly – are good value.
Details: Open Daily 5.30-10pm; Sun 12.30-3.30pm, Shop 1, 141 Waverley Road, Malvern East, 9571 1188, gujjus.com.au
Monk Bodhi Dharma
With a speciality, small-batch coffee roaster and an all-veg brunchy menu, this hard-to-find cafe (off a laneway) has spunk in spades. Try buckwheat apple pancakes, or slow-roasted mixed mushrooms on pumpkin polenta bread. Friday dinners are vegan, sugar- and gluten-free.
Details: Open Mon-Fri 7am-5pm; Fri 6.30-10.30pm; Sat-Sun 8am-5pm, Rear, 202 Carlisle Street, Balaclava, 9534 7250, monkbodhidharma.com.au
Moroccan Soup Bar
No meat, no menu, no booze, no loitering – there's likely to be at least a dozen people in the queue outside waiting for their turn at the legendary, long-running Soup Bar's fab-value banquet or parade of warmly spiced dishes.
Details: Open Tues-Sun 6-10pm, 183 St Georges Road, Fitzroy North, 9482 4240, moroccansoupbar.com.au
In a humble corner shop, with simple Deco-inspired fixtures, Matt Andrews (Tofu Shop alumni) makes a spread of 20 or so impossibly tasty dishes.
Details: Open Mon-Thurs 9am-4.30pm; Fri-Sat 9am-8.30pm, 371 St Georges Road, Fitzroy North, 9489 4420.
- Recipe: Matt Andrews' vegie burger
Pearl Oyster Espresso
Making Mondays meat-free is part of Pearl Oyster's overall sympathy with ethical food. It offers its full menu, with Asian accents, minus the meat: scrambled tofu with dark soy and shiitake, and rolls like Vietnamese tofu and Japanese salad.
Details: Open Mon-Sat 8am-4.30pm; Sun 9am-4pm, 114 Miller Street, Preston, 9480 2500.
From the original and 40-year veg veteran, Shakahari in Carlton, comes Shakahari Too. Its contemporary menu is a mash-up of cuisines, like udon-noodle laksa in a Thai green curry coconut stock. Everything's vegan, except some desserts: pandan coconut cheesecake.
Details: Open Tues-Sat noon-3pm; Wed-Sat 5-10pm, 225 Clarendon Street, South Melbourne, 9682 2207, shakaharitoo.com.au
Superfood smoothies and raw cakes (beetroot, date and caramel) supplement raw-food lunches and dinners (in small and large) made up of three dishes. They'll likely include a 'wow' ingredient like spicy, crisp clusters of 'buckwheat green pop vegies'. Sunday brunch offers raw 'bread', porridges and pancakes (dehydrated banana and flaxseed served with raw 'Nutella').
Details: Open Wed-Sat 11.30am-4pm; Sat 6-9pm; Sun 11am-4pm, 120 High Street, Northcote 0403 569 019, shokuikuaustralia.com
Tofu Shop International
Into its second generation, this Japanese-inspired eatery has been dishing out made-here tofu in veg dishes since 1982. Choose a size of plate (large could be shared), then from a daily selection of dishes in the bain-marie, including stews, curries and vegetables – most including the justly famous handcrafted tofu.
Details: Open Mon-Fri noon-8pm; Sat noon-5pm, 78 Bridge Road, Richmond, 9429 6204.
Yong Green Food
Yong is jumping. This hip pan-Asian caff offers raw dishes, including the impressive 'rawsagna' (lasagne); macrobiotic dishes; mock meat ('chicken' burgers); vegan aplenty; organic dishes and even Ayurvedic dishes without garlic or onion.
Details: Open Tues and Thurs-Sun noon-3.30pm; Tues-Sat 5-9.30pm; Sun 5-8.30pm, 421 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy, 9417 3338.
Simone Egger is the editor of The Age Good Food Under $30 guide. The 2014 edition is available in selected bookshops and at The Age shop for $9.99.