Welcome to Good Weekend's inaugural 52 Best Brunches, designed with one thing in mind – to turn a good weekend into a great one.
Go-to dish: Chilaquiles divorciados.
Why: Well, the name is great for a start. Chilaquiles ("chill-uh-kil-ehs") can be thought of as breakfast nachos; they're typically made from leftover tortillas, fried and layered up with meat, beans, cheese and salsa. When they're served "divorciados" ($16), it means that the duo of red and green salsas are kept separate on the plate in a divorce that lasts as long as you keep the sauces from mingling.
The experience: Bright, colourful and about as authentically Mexican as you can get this side of the Pacific, Hotel Jesus is an easygoing cantina which does rollicking brunches on weekends. There's coffee if you must but you can also relax into the weekend with a michelada, beer loaded with tomato, black salsa and chilli with a salt rim.
174 Smith Street, Collingwood, 03 9650 6054, hoteljesus.com.au
Gilson's crumpet toast. Photo: Supplied
Go-to dish: Crumpet toast.
Where: South Yarra.
Why: Crumpets are always a good idea but when they're the double-baked, butter-lathered crispy golden slabs of joy ($14) at Gilson, they are compulsory. If you stay on menu, you'll get them with house-made chocolate-andhazelnut spread and whipped ricotta, but regulars have them with Vegemite or jam too.
The experience: Morning to night, Gilson is a buzzing slice of South Yarra life, welcoming Tan-walkers for coffee, school prefects for smoothies and muffins, bubs for birthday parties and well-heeled retirees for tea and cake. The dog-spotting is excellent too, with pooch-perfect pavement seating.
Other brunch favourites include baked eggs with rainbow chard and spicy tomato sauce, and taleggio omelette with herb salad.
171 Domain Road, South Yarra, 03 9866 3120, gilsonrestaurant.com.au
Potato latkes at Danish Nosh. Photo: Supplied
Go-to dish: Potato Latkes.
Why: Finely grated potatoes, bound with a suggestion of egg and just the right amount of salt, are fried to a golden crisp then topped with poached eggs, smoked salmon, sour cream and little basil pesto in a brunch dish ($16) that embodies continental contentment.
The experience: Israeli chef Yaniv Rosen recently took over the 25-year-old bakery and has given it a big boost. The dining area has expanded into adjacent premises and the brunch menu includes challah French toast, a pretzel plate with beetroot and walnut salad, and a frisky Tel Aviv-style platter with dips, salad and one of the excellent boiled bagels that Rosen starts making at 4am each day. The Friday scene is a particular treat: challah buyers clamour in a hubbub of Hebrew but any day is a good day for great cinnamon babkas, cherry strudels and biscuits.
983 Glen Huntly Road, Caulfield, 03 9563 6578, danishnosh.com.au
Go-to dish: Coffee with "mushroom mind".
Why: Because you want to repair your brain and enhance cognitive function and that's the promise of "mushroom mind", a powdered concoction of lion's mane mushrooms and maca (an Andean plant prized for the purported medicinal properties of its root). Add a scoop ($2) to the coffee of your choice then dispatch the Good Weekend sudoku in record time.
The experience: We're in a gritty, traffic-clogged stretch of the inner north but this corner cafe always feels calm with ever-golden light filtered by Venetian blinds and upbeat tunes on vinyl. Most of the menu is a happy confluence of health and hipster – build-your-own broths and bowls, high frequency kimchi – but there are blow-out beauties too, like the ridiculously oozy ham-and-gruyere toastie with jalapeno mustard and bechamel.
11-13 Johnston Street, Collingwood, 03 9417 0129, terrortwilight.com.au
Wild Life Bakery
Go-to dish: Congee.
Where: Brunswick East.
Why: If anyone at Wild Life thinks it weird to focus on the rice porridge ($15) and not the amazing sourdough that is their chief mission then there's a simple solution: don't make it so good. Brown rice is plumped up in a green-tea stock and finessed with pickled mushrooms, soy-dredged egg and furikake (a nori and sesame sprinkle that Wild Life also tumbles with crisp kale). It's absurdly comforting, delicious and - like most food here – vegetarian.
The experience: Set back from the street behind a dog-friendly terrace, Wildlife is a huge brick and concrete shell that somehow feels inviting. Customers can view the sourdough breadmaking process through large portholes: eat bread on site (there'll generally be someone swooning over a toastie) or take a loaf home. The team is always trialling heritage grains and unleashing interesting experiments like the popular porridge bread and a sprouted quinoa loaf with marbled interior. Baker Huw Murdoch is an ex-barista; the coffee is suitably superb.
90 Albert Street, Brunswick East, 03 8060 0547, wildlifebakery.com
Brunch tapas are a highlight at Small Graces. Photo: Eddie Jim
Go-to dish: "Can't decide?".
Why: Surely deciding to come out for brunch was enough. Do you really need to choose what to eat too? "Can't decide?" ($22) swoops in for the rescue: house-made granola, toast and OJ, plus a couple of the brunch tapas that are a highlight here. You might luck onto Korean-fried short rib, braised wild mushrooms or crispy spuds with preserved lemon mayo.
The experience: Walking in feels arriving at a friend's place. A communal table dominates the cosy dining room and kitchen clatter combines with cafe chatter in happy harmony. Seasonal eating is taken seriously: there's even a warning on the menu that regulars refrain from getting attached to particular dishes because they'll likely be gone next month. Coffee is superb, they do one of Melbourne's best chai lattes and brunch cocktailing is heartily approved. The kids' menu respects small appetites with single-egg scrambles and the first babychino comes free!
57 Byron Street, Footscray, 03 9912 6429, smallgraces.com.au
Lobster benedict at Hardware Societe 2.0. Photo: Eddie Jim
Go-to dish: Lobster benedict.
Where: Melbourne CBD.
Why: If you've queued for the hour it can take to nab a table here, you deserve something deluxe, very probably the lobster benny ($26), a tarted-up classic that's indicative of the cafe's approach. Sweet poached shellfish is set off nattily against a charcoal bun, soft poached eggs and a zippy hollandaise: it's a cracker.
The experience: After a decade on Hardware Lane, this destination for elegant French-accented brunches has expanded into a grown-up space that melds warehouse chic with bistro bonhomie. "No eggs on toast" is declaimed in neon signage but eggs go pretty much everywhere else: baked with chorizo and potato, perhaps, or served "dippy" with extraordinary toast soldiers. Elaborate latte art and a commitment to great dairy-free coffee are extra drawcards.
10 Katherine Place, Melbourne, 03 9621 2100, hardwaresociete.com
Go-to dish: Breakfast fried rice.
Why: In Thailand, this dish ($14.90) is called "khao pad American" (American fried rice) and is a standard breakfast for children, though legend suggests it was originally created for US GIs on R&R in Thailand during the Vietnam War. Ketchup-stained fried rice is spiked with sultanas, peas and ham, topped with a sunnyside-up egg, and garnished with bacon, a fried chicken wing and a hot dog "blossom" (a cross-cut cocktail sausage that curls once fried). It's fun comfort-food fusion, at the slightly trashy intersection of Thai snacking and diner brunching.
The experience: Up the city end of pho-focused Victoria Street, Oneyada is an inexpensive and charming nook for casual Thai food. Other than the rice, there are noodle soups and a comforting, warmly spiced steamed egg custard in tom yum broth. The espresso is on point but Thai milk tea with grass jelly is a perky option too.
239 Victoria Street, Abbotsford, 03 9041 1525
Go-to dish: Traditional hopper.
Why: Hoppers are a Sri Lankan pancake made with fermented rice flour and coconut milk. They're bowl-shaped so you can fill them with curry and sambal, tearing off crisp shards and mopping up as you go. The menu jumps around a bit – there's a beetroot hopper with Vegemite and avocado, and another with bacon crumb and baked beans – but there's much to be said for the classic version ($14) with dhal, coconut sambal and spiced onion. Add extra curries if you like: the crab is a local favourite.
The experience: There's a Sri Lankan influence at this cruisy warehouse cafe though you can get all your standard eggs-n-extras too. Coffee is treated with due seriousness, though you're just as likely to see Fitzroy hipsters duck in for kombucha or a golden latte.
401 Smith Street, Fitzroy, 03 9416 4336
Toast with kinako peanut butter at Taiyo Sun. Photo: Luis Enrique Ascui
Go-to dish: Butter toast.
Where: Fitzroy North.
Why: Toast ($5) is the thing here, fat, fluffy slices of lightly golden white bread, etched like a Playschool window to let butter soak in. The pick of the toppings ($1 extra) is peanut butter, dark roasted, lightly salted and mixed with kinako (roasted soybean flour).
The experience: At the base of an apartment block above Merri Creek, this just-so tiny sliver is modelled on a kissaten, a style of Japanese cafe that works as a local lounge room as much as a place for tea and nibbles. Seating is on low stools; the atmosphere is contemplative and intimate. As well as toast, there are filled croissants, a daily curry and excellent drinks like the macchapuccino, a surprisingly pleasing blend of matcha tea and coffee.
394 St Georges Road, Fitzroy North, no phone
Lune's spin on a cheese and Vegemite scroll. Photo: Supplied
Go-to dish: Cheese and Vegemite escargot.
Where: Fitzroy (There's also a CBD "express" offshoot in Russell Street.)
Why: Blending bedrock Aussie flavours and French fabulousness with typical Lune flair, croissant pastry is slathered with black gold and cheesy bechamel, rolled into a scroll then topped with gruyere. It's a deluxe spin ($8) on a lunchbox staple.
The experience: Fitzroy's temple to the croissant has become a pilgrimage site for pastry lovers from all over the world. There's often a queue. Aim for a seat at the bar, overlooking the glassed pastry studio ("The Cube") Where bakers use rulers and knifepoint to craft with precision. The ultimate Lune brunch – and one of Melbourne's hottest tickets – is the Lune Lab, held every weekend, Where just eight guests are treated to a three-course pastry banquet. Stalk the website for bookings.
119 Rose Street, Fitzroy, 03 9419 2320, lunecroissanterie.com
Cambodian five-spice noodle soup at My Cambodia. Photo: Chris Hopkins
Go-to dish: Noodle soup.
Why: Because soup is so fortifying and sustaining, especially when it's this big bowl ($11) of gently spiced beef broth, laden with rice noodles, tender beef cubes, jelly-like tendon and spongy tripe. If you make it to the bottom of the bowl, lunch is cancelled.
The experience: There's nothing salubrious about this family-run, cash-only Cambodian diner but the food is fresh and the family recipes are tried and true. It's busy: peak-hour crowds ensure that the food is fresh and also mean you may be asked if you're happy to share a table. The Vietnamese pancake makes for good brunching too: an enormous rice-flour crepe is folder over minced chicken and prawns. Lettuce, herbs and a peanutty sauce are on hand for wrapping and dipping. Jasmine tea comes complimentary and the avocado shake puts a smooth Asian spin on smashed avo.
28 Buckingham Avenue, Springvale, 03 9540 3551
Go-to dish: Ultimate Japanese breakfast plate.
Why: The breakfasts at Cibi are so poised and elegant that eating them feels like partaking in a ceremony. Each nutritious platter ($28) of tamagoyaki (Japanses omelette), salmon (if you so desire), rice, soup, pickles, natto (sticky fermented soy beans) and umeboshi (sour plum) comes with a pamphlet explaining the elements and niceties: don't douse your rice in soy sauce, for example.
The experience: Everyone loves Cibi – it's always a pleasure to be in this backstreet warehouse cafe and shop. Though it's busy on weekends and there can be a wait for a table, one sip of the "heartful" miso soup restores equilibrium. The coffee is good but the Japanese tea – sourced from organic Japanese farms – is sublime. The cafe merges into Cibi's Japanese homewares store, a great place for gift-buying and personal coveting.
33-39 Keele Street, Collingwood, 0481 398 686, cibi.com.au
The eggs benny changes regularly at Toorak Tracktor. Photo: Supplied
Go-to dish: Tracktor Benny.
Why: The schtick here is a menu that changes every week so, even though you can count on an eggs benedict, you'll be surprised by its exact composition. One week the big benny ($21.50) might come with brisket, pickled slaw and horseradish bearnaise, the next hot-smoked ocean trout with vanilla-and-lime hollandaise and potato hash. Whatever it is, count on the Tracktor's signature of good produce well-wrangled.
The experience: Within whistling distance of Toorak Station and anchoring the swank Toorak Park residential development, this cafe-bar-provedore has a sheltered dog-friendly deck, swish service and a kitchen that applies fine dining smarts to cafe fare. It's a fab local lounge room for residents and a worthy destination for drop-ins. Walk in hungry, walk out caffeinated, sated and with pantry staples for later.
8a Evergreen Mews, Armadale, 03 8592 6948, thetracktor.com.au
Go-to dish: Mum's bougatsa.
Why: Kathy Pandeleon's crunchy filo pastry ($12) is stuffed with semolina custard and served over apple and rhubarb compote. You'll taste vanilla and cinnamon too but – more than that – the culture of Thessaloniki, Where the family is from and Where the best days always start with bougatsa.
The experience: Laikon has been here and in the same family since 1976, first as a butcher, then a deli, and now as a warm and welcoming pitstop for continental breakfasts, all-day antipasti and cruisy tunes on vinyl. Bow-tied waiters add to the retro feel. Kathy's deft fingers also roll a mean dolmade, a top choice for a build-your-own deli platter to eat in or take home for later.
324 Bridge Road, Richmond, 03 9428 8495, laikondeli.com.au
Check out the salad cabinet at Babajan. Photo: Simon Schluter
Special mentions go to ...
■ Babajan, Carlton North: for outstanding Turkish baked eggs.
■ Gold Leaf, Docklands: for daily trolley yum cha.
■ Piggery Cafe, Sherbrooke: for house-baked pastries followed by croquet.
■ Tokyo Tina, Windsor: for Saturday's Bingo Academy with fun Japanesque brunching and bottomless booze.
■ Brunetti, Melbourne CBD: for great espresso and the bustling energy of an Italian railway station.
■ Marios, Fitzroy: for blazing a trail three decades ago and still trucking on.