Rita's Cafeteria

Rita's Cafeteria's timeless appeal and good, honest food make it an enjoyable spot.
Rita's Cafeteria's timeless appeal and good, honest food make it an enjoyable spot. Photo: Ken Irwin

239 Johnston Street Abbotsford, Victoria 3067

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Opening hours Daily 7.30am-11pm
Features Vegetarian friendly, Gluten-free options, Licensed
Prices Moderate (mains $20-$40)
Payments eftpos, AMEX, Mastercard, Visa
Phone 03 9419 8233

There are times you want to eat rather than dine, keep it real instead of keeping up with the foodie Joneses, and blather on randomly rather than engage in meaningful discourse. At times like that, Rita is your lady. Well, she's not really because there is no Rita here, but if there were, you'd love her for her friendly welcome, her wholesome food and her empathetic aura. She's simpatico.

As it happens, the cafeteria is named after a sister of one of the owners, a trio of young men, two of whom also own Bottle of Milk burger boutique and Pizza Pizza in Lorne. Rita's does bedrock Italian food: pizza, pasta, risotto and a few cooked dishes. It's open all day and is very much a neighbourhood restaurant, luring locals who would rather not cross Hoddle Street before the first coffee or after the last wine.

Breakfast favourites include mushroom bruschetta with poached egg and for weekday lunch you might luck onto ciabatta with braised lamb and coleslaw. The food is of good quality without overreaching.

Orecchiette with cauliflower, breadcrumbs, blond raisins and olive oil.
Orecchiette with cauliflower, breadcrumbs, blond raisins and olive oil. Photo: Ken Irwin

The place has been here since May but the look is instantly timeless with enamel crockery, chequered cloth napkins and a black, white and tan theme in timber and tiles. There's one large communal table, covetable high-backed booths, bench seating and side alley tables, which are begging for lazy summer nights. It's not perfect: the bar stools leave little room for knees and you'd have to be pretty lucky to walk in with a few friends and get a table. (Bookings are accepted for groups of six and above.) Solo diners or small gaggles will be luckiest and happiest here.

No wheel needs to be reinvented, not even pizza. Rita's turns out basics and new basics on nice, bready crusts backed with semolina. Gluten-free bases are available. I like the Cavolo Nero pizza with nuggets of gorgonzola, sweet chunks of walnut, shrivelled kale and halved grapes. It's like a hearty salad you can eat by the fistful. The most luxurious dish is a properly starchy risotto of prawn and crab, peas, basil and mascarpone. Golden in colour and worthy of a gold star is the orecchiette tossed with little cauliflower florets, breadcrumbs, blond raisins and a fruity slick of olive oil. It's comforting and easy to enjoy, which makes it Rita's Cafeteria on a plate.


Rita's does bedrock Italian food ...

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