Guilty-pleasure junk foods tend to revolve around suspect meats to which we're happy to turn a blind (pie) eye at the time. But what about those who want to indulge and keep it cruelty-free? Vegetarians and vegans can say yes to these 10 wicked alternatives so delicious, carnivores will happily tag along for the ride.
When you've had a few drinks and the night is starting to get sloppy, the classic souvlaki is irresistible. At Jimmy Grants, the Homer will get you crunchy falafels, slaw and a good wallop of Greek yoghurt rolled into a fat, soft pita, while at white, bright Kalamaki in the CBD, you can get chickpea keftes with salad, tahini and yoghurt as well as a haloumi version.
Jimmy Grants, various locations, including Fitzroy, Emporium and Ormond; Kalamaki, 389 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne, 9602 4444
2. Fried "chicken"
Southern fried food has made a major impact on Melbourne and you can't swing a cat without knocking over a basket of wings and a Pabst Blue Ribbon. So what about vegetarians who want to get greasy fingers with the best of them? At Belle's Hot Chicken, Morgan McGlone's temple to spicy, crunchy goodness offers up mac 'n' cheese, crinkle cut chips, or a basket of fat field mushrooms cut in half and liberally crumbed and fried. Choose your heat level (from mild to nuclear), pick a sauce (ranch goes well), grab a side of pickles and let Foghorn Leghorn walk out on his kept legs.
Belle's Hot Chicken, 150 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy, 9077 0788
3. Sausage roll
At first glance, and despite the name, La Panella looks like your everyday Asian bakery on Preston's busy High Street. But this 20-year-old bakery, with the friendliest pastry-pushers behind the counter, does a delicious line in vegan pies and the sausage rolls, made with soy, vermicelli and onion ($2.20), are a knockout. The pastry is firm and toasty, less flaky and more like a pastie case, and the filling is a highly convincing, tasty meat substitute.
La Panella, 465 High Street, Preston, 9478 4443
While not a classic Melbourne meat dish, a big juicy Reuben – that most New York of New York sandwiches – is a teetering, meaty delight of pastrami, pickles, sauerkraut and dressing rarely afforded a vegetarian or vegan. Until now. Dip into the block of backstreets between Smith and Brunswick, where you'll find Smith & Deli, a sassy, bustling deli and grocery store where spunky, bandanna-d staff can hit you up with all manner of mock-meat sandwiches. The Reuben features a red and peppery gluten-meat version of pastrami, amid the rest of the ingredients, on toasted rye.
Smith & Deli, 111 Moor Street, Fitzroy, 9042 4117
At nearly 35 years in the pizza biz, Nostralis is still an unwavering and delicious go-to for vegetarian and vegan pizza. The wholemeal bases have a lovely, soft texture (they also do gluten-free bases for vegan coeliacs), cheese is rennet-free (or dairy-free if you ask for soy cheese) and the toppings are fresh and simple – pumpkin with feta, olives and sesame seeds, maybe eggplant with mushrooms, egg and herbs.
Nostralis, 55 Hawthorn Road, Caulfield North, 9528 4961
6. Hot dog
Who doesn't love a sausage sizzle in front of Bunnings or a cheeky hot dog after a gig? They're simple pleasures and ones that should not be denied if you're not a meat eater. For a primo dog, head to the Snag Stand in the city, where it's not just a standard vegetarian sausage with different toppings. They make spicy chorizo with gluten meat, or a Toulouse sausage with a seasoned potato base, among others, to sit under toppings such as like sauteed onions, rosemary mushrooms, you name it.
The Snag Stand, corner La Trobe and Swanston streets, Melbourne,9639 6544
Footscray's The Reverence has had a menu renaissance and now you can get excellent Mexican food, including vegetarian and vegan dishes, before heading into the bandroom. The tacos use tortillas from nearby La Tortilleria and fill them with battered mock fish and red cabbage slaw, or tofu with guac and chipotle lime mayo, or you can go for a straight-up black bean version.
The Reverence, 28 Napier Street, Footscray, 9687 2111
8. Banh mi
Melbourne loves its Vietnamese food and a banh mi is one of this city's default lunches on the run, but it can be traditionally a bit of a meat-fest, what with all the pate and the pork belly. Join the queue at Trang Bakery for the full banh mi experience with either lemongrass-marinated tofu or vegan pork. Made to order in a flash, it's quick, fresh, meat-free and fab – and five bucks.
Trang Bakery, 382 Smith Street, Collingwood, 9722 4352
These tasty mini burgers are the bar snack du jour but they're more likely to be loaded with pulled pork than not. For a meat-free option, head to Shebeen for a few beers and a delicious smoked tofu slider with a tongue of miso-grilled eggplant, cucumber and chipotle aioli. Profits go to the developing world so it's a feelgood eat all round. For a crunchier take, Kokido does panko-crumbed tofu sliders with a range of added fillings, including the "Paco" - smoky corn salsa, corn chips and spicy mayo.
Shebeen, 36 Manchester Lane, Melbourne, 9650 6931; Kokido, 467C Hawthorn Road, Caulfield South, 9532 8881
10. The Double Down
If Homer Simpson was vegan, the Cornish Arms would be Moe's Tavern and he'd be ordering the Double Down - cheez, facon and tomato wedged between two southern-fried mock chicken fillets. I know, right? In fact, The Cornish Arms deserves the Vegan Rock and Roll Award for the biggest range of meat-free dishes for the pub crowd, from vegan parmas (mock chicken) to battered tofu "fish" and chips, corn dogs, pizzas, souvas, the works.
The Cornish Arms, 163A Sydney Road, Brunswick, 9380 8383