These inner-city cafes, bars and gelaterias are off the beaten laneway.
Agathe Patisserie Petite
Start your day with a croissant at Agathe Patisserie's city spin-off, a petite counter tucked behind the Royal Arcade's babushka shop and beside a barber. Agathe Kerr's pastries are couriered by bicycle from the mothership at South Melbourne Market. Try a signature matcha or green zebra-striped pandan croissant, or a classic jelly-mould-shaped canele. Pair your pastry with a takeaway coffee from Padre (nee Standing Room), located diagonally opposite.
Aperitivo hour at Bar Americano. Photo: Arsineh Houspian
This list would be amiss without Melbourne's teeniest watering hole, the 10-pax black and white tiled Bar Americano. Pop in for an aperitivo or classic cocktail – an Americano, naturally – or grab a bottled negroni to-go. Look for the blue tabacchi sign beyond the gallery wall of framed street art.
Bar Americano, open Mon-Sat 5pm-1am, 20 Presgrave Place, Melbourne, 03 9939 1997, baramericano.com
Barbarella in the historic Block Arcade (look for the italicised Gelateria neon sign on the archway). Photo: Ron Whitfield
Bypass the queue at Hopetoun Tea Rooms (stay tuned for the basement expansion), and seek out Barbarella, the latest from the European team. The narrow, arched cafe is tucked down an offshoot of the Block Arcade (as the crow flies from the Little Collins entry point), in a formerly empty alleyway dog-leg. Pastel pistachio green stools hint at the counter stocked with Gelateria Primavera – select a scoop or opt for a malted milkshake made with silky smooth fior di latte gelato. Weary shoppers can perch on a vintage leather stool for a glass of wine or an espresso poured from the gleaming beaten metal manual machine. Food-wise, it's a tight edit of all-day breakfast 'til 3pm, plus sandwich specials 'til close – an Italian spin on a club sanger swaps chicken for mortadella, plus parmesan and the usual suspects.
Barbarella, open Mon-Fri 7am-8pm, Sat 8am-8pm, Sun 8am-6pm (enter via Little Collins Street after 6pm), Block Arcade, 9663 2214, barbarella.melbourne
Rotisserie chicken with slaw and fries at Belleville. Photo: Wayne Taylor
This bar overlooking the first Chinatown archway is from the crew behind container bar Section 8 and grungy upstairs drinking den Ferdydurke. Belleville was one of the first venues to jump on the recent rotisserie chicken bandwagon. Like its sibling Ferdy, it features distressed walls, high ceilings and a DJ (Thu-Sat).
Belleville, open daily 11am-1am, level 1, 234 Swanston Street (enter via Globe Alley off Little Bourke Street), 9663 4041, belleville-melbourne.com
Challah French toast at the original Bowery to Williamsburg cafe. Photo: Kristoffer Paulsen
An ode to NYC subway system and the city's delis, this basement cafe is tucked down Oliver Lane (not far from Fed Square). Try the challah French toast or a Reuben with a side of mac 'n' cheese. Expect an American choccy atop your takeaway coffee.
Bowery to Williamsburg, open Mon-Fri 7.30am-3pm, Sat-Sun 8.30pm-3pm, 16 Oliver Lane, 9939 3553
Subway coffee shop Cup Of Truth. Photo: Paul Jeffers
Cup of Truth
Head to the salmon-pink tiled subway between Flinders Street Station and Degraves Street (accessible via the middle exit of the main station platforms, or the stairwell on Flinders Street itself) where you'll find Cup of Truth, a ticket-booth turned coffee stop. Popular with commuters in-the-know, grab a latte to-go (limited milk crate seating).
Also try: Stand-up espresso bar Patricia is located in an unmarked charcoal grey building in the CBD's legal-eagle district. If you're up the Paris-end of the grid, try the two-storey Tom Thumb – the digit-sized character is an apt moniker for this mini cafe. Likewise the angular Switchboard is housed in, you guessed it, a former switchboard, in the foyer of the Manchester Unity Building.
Cup of Truth, open Mon-Thu 6.15am-3.30pm, Fri 6.15am-2.45pm; 12 Campbell Arcade, Degraves Street subway, cupoftruth.com.au
Patricia, open Mon-Fri 7am-4pm, corner Little Bourke and Little William streets, patriciacoffee.com.au
Switchboard, open Fri and Mon 7am-3pm, Tue-Thu 7am-3.30pm, shop 11-12 Manchester Unity Building, corner Swanston and Collins streets
Tom Thumb, Mon-Fri 7am-4pm, Sat 8am-1pm, 53 Flinders Lane
Lee Ho Fook's new addition. Photo: Josh Robenstone
Victor Liong's mod-Chinese restaurant relocated from its Smith Street site (now Ides) to street art strewn Duckboard Place (the multicultural lane that's also home to mod-Indian Tonka, Danish steakhouse A Hereford Beefstouw, and Peruvian restaurant Pastuso). Look for the neon sign, and pop into the ground-floor restaurant holding pen for a Macanese-style pork chop bun – a beloved street snack of Anthony Bourdain – and don't miss the Yotam Ottolenghi-approved crispy eggplant.
Lee Ho Fook, restaurant open Mon-Fri noon-2.30pm, Mon-Sun 6pm-11pm; Bar open for lunch and from 5.30pm-late, 11-15 Duckboard Place, 9077 6261, leehofook.com.au
The well-stocked bar at EDV, Melbourne. Photo: Supplied
Sister to Sydney's Eau De Vie, this award-winning cocktail bar still slides into the World's Best Bars longlist (coming in at number 90 last year). Look for the large Arabic lantern in the service laneway beside the Adina hotel. Once inside, apparently there's a hidden whisky room hidden behind a bookcase (RIP Fall from Grace).
Eau Die Vie, open Mon-Thu 5pm-1am, Fri-Sat 4pm-1am, Sun 4pm-11pm, 1 Malthouse Lane, eaudevie.com.au/melbourne
Mason Dixon's porky cubano, served with a pickle spear and pretzels. Photo: Tim Grey
This American sandwich stall is a surprising find in an unassuming food court opposite the Rialto. US expat Garrett Huston's menu straddles the North and South Dakota divide, with forays to Miami (¡Hola Cubano!) and NYC deli staples piled with pastrami. Stay tuned for Mason's big brother, which will soon bring diner-style brunches such as biscuits and gravy and cheese 'n' bacon grits to a spruced up Bourke Street food court, alongside build-your-own Reuben sandwich kits.
Oaks Food Plaza, Mon-Fri 9am-3.30pm, 7/480 Collins Street; Bourke Place, open Mon-Fri 8am-4pm, 600 Bourke Street; 8610 6316, masondixon.net.au
Pan-fried prawn dumplings at ShanDong MaMa. Photo: Eddie Jim
You'll find this no-bookings, no-fuss cash-only dumpling house in a nondescript Chinatown shopping arcade. The plump, steamed vegan-friendly zucchini dumplings will impress sceptics, while pan-fried cylinders might come filled with a local 'Melbourne' mash-up filling of seafood, chicken and lemon. After a beer with your dumplings? Hot-foot it to Shandong MaMa Mini in foot-traffic-heavy alley Centre Place (pan-fried dumplings only).
Also try: Legit Thai boat noodles in a carpark at Soi 38.
ShanDong MaMa, shop 7, Mid City Arcade, 200 Bourke Street, 9650 3818 (also in Richmond); ShanDong MaMa Mini, shop 5 Centre Place, shandongmama.com.au
Soi 38, open Mon-Sat 11.30am-4pm, 38 McIlwraith Place (inside the Wilson carpark), soi38.com
What did we miss? Share your CBD discoveries in the comments below.