With less than a week until the release of the Good Food Guide 2020 we go beyond the Hats and applaud another side of Melbourne – cocktail bars with only five seats, midnight spaghetti, sublime cannoli and life-affirming hotpot.
There are many reasons to love this bar: its late-night hours, rotating roll call of DJs, open-air courtyard, correctly made, non-bottled cocktails. Then there's the snack list that gives the people what they want in the wee small without dumbing it down. A classic prawn cocktail at 1am is a service to society.
12 Bourke Street, Melbourne, angelmelbourne.com
Melbourne's night owls are well served these days. This bar, brought to you by the Grossi family, dispenses quality service, booze and food well past midnight. The cocktails are worthy of attention but the food menu deserves its own round of applause with star players like big-flavoured 'midnight spaghetti', jaffle bolognese and bone marrow risoni leading the charge.
Mornane Place, Melbourne arlechin.com.au
Those after breakfast with a Turkish accent should head to this light-filled corner cafe in Carlton North. Great baked goods – Turkish, simit and zaatar breads, haloumi pies – vie for attention with more substantial dishes like an impeccable crab and haloumi omelette, menemen (baked eggs with spiced tomato and pistachio dukkah) and rose, cardamom and mastic rice pudding.
713 Nicholson Street, Carlton North, babajan.com.au
This Fitzroy bar's specialty – Australian-made booze and jaffles – is the kind of nationalism we can all get behind. Even better, they do it well, both with cocktails (Snugglepot and Cuddlepie is a heady combo of rum, macadamia, pineapple and anise) and jaffles (a meat pie jaffle for the savoury lovers, lamington for the sweet). Aussie hearts should beat proud.
141 Greeves Street, Fitzroy, badfrankie.com
Baker D. Chirico
Daniel Chirico is acknowledged as one of Melbourne's great bakers and some would fight to the death to defend the claim he makes the city's best bread. But there's also his bomboloni. They're a classic of the species, correctly sugared with the silkiest of custard fillings and a texture that doughnut dreams are made of.
various locations, bakerdchirico.com.au
A trigger warning for the decision-phobic: the breadth of choice at Lebanese sweet shop Balha's Pastry can be overwhelming, even for the most level-headed. The upside? There are no bad choices, whether you stick with the classics – baklava in pistachio, cashew and walnut varieties – or expand the repertoire to semolina and cheese pastry sweetness with the halowet.
761-763 Sydney Road, Brunswick, balhaspastry.com.au
This tiny standing-room-only bar located in a laneway off a laneway with a Wes Anderson-esque precision to its Euro bar decor and a tiny menu of classic-only cocktails might seem like an art installation or well-rehearsed immersive theatre, but somehow it all comes together to enhance the flavour of the drink. Remember: no photos.
20 Presgrave Place, Melbourne, baramericano.com
There are good things to be had besides cake, but to come here and not order a slice is missing the point. Owner-baker Nat Paull has impressive and wide-ranging cake moves but her way with a classic sponge – perhaps with passionfruit icing – can bring misty-eyed nostalgia even to those who've never eaten it before. Alchemy.
688 Queensberry Street, North Melbourne, beatrixbakes.com
Blu by Australian Seafood
The argument over the best fish and chips will never end but to eat at this fish and chippery attached to a family-run wholesale seafood business is to accept it as a contender, not least for the all-Australian array of fish and the quality from batter through to chip.
146 Gaffney Street, Coburg North, blubyasg.com.au
The Borek Bakehouse
Just down the road from the Queen Victoria Market is this minimally signed bakehouse. Look for the women kneading dough in the often-fogged front window and then enter for truly delicious gozleme and borek stuffed with spiced lamb or potato and cheese and spinach. Word is out so prepare to queue.
481 Elizabeth Street, Melbourne
Achille Mellini is the Sicilian-born, third-generation pastry chef at his son's cannolificio, so the authenticity is understandable. Shells, piped with ricotta and mascarpone, chocolate chips and candied citrus or, less traditionally, Nutella or Oreo, are as they should be, with a hint of marsala and flaky in all the right places.
23 Riviera Road, Avondale Heights
Collingwood's favourite Japanese cafe and homewares store has moved to a bigger space. Now there's even more of what it does well – simple, clean, flavoursome Japanese dishes and covetable stuff for the home – plus cooking classes, groceries and fresh produce. The serene, light-filled space makes you feel better just being in it.
33-39 Keele Street, Collingwood, shop.cibi.com.au
There are many notable bar snacks vying for attention in Melbourne but the pig's head sanga has turned many heads. The terrine is set with chicken fat so, after it's been crumbed, fried, encased in fluffy white bread and daubed with deep green mustard leaf mayo, there's a rich, salty juiciness as you bite into it.
49 Peel Street, Collingwood, congresswine.com.au
New York-style pizza by the slice needs to be done properly. Fortunately, Connie's, the pizzeria in city dive bar Heartbreaker, has done its homework. The slices coming out of the tiny server window on paper plates are the real molten-mozzarella-and-pepperoni deal. Shakers with chilli, oregano and dried parmesan up the authenticity.
234a Russell Street, Melbourne, conniespizza.com.au
This compact and raucous Indian street food cafe delivers the light, refreshing flavours not often found in local Indian restaurants. Sweet and sour puffed rice salads, crisp-edged masala dosa, build-your-own thalis, papri chaat (zingy Indian nachos), and a thumping Indian pop playlist explain the often-capacity crowd.
22 Katherine Place, Melbourne, delhistreets.com.au
You'll see chefs here, late at night, selecting ingredients (meat, vegetables, noodles, seafood, offal) and lining up to have them weighed, priced and cooked in broth. The soup will clear your head and make you understand why they're all here.
213 Russell Street, Melbourne
A pint-sized cafe with a (deserved) reputation for good breakfasts may not be the first place you'd seek out game meat. But with game-loving chef Riccardo Momesso on board, and the cafe open Friday and Saturday nights, game nights here feature everything from wild goat to kangaroo.
8 Railway Parade, Pascoe Vale
One of the many things to love about this Melbourne institution is that it's open until midnight every night. There's an innate retro cool to slipping into the neon-lit dining room for a post-show supper, sitting down at a linen-dressed table to feast on oysters, steak frites and vintage burgundy at 11pm.
11-13 Toorak Road, South Yarra, france-soir.com.au
A flavour-packed vegan pho with kombu and shiitake stock and a multitude of mushrooms is one of the wonders of this Vietnamese diner. Getting a seat at peak times is another, but the quality of the pho (the chicken and beef versions are made with ethically sourced meat) and gems like an addictive chicken rice make the wait bearable.
165 Sydney Road, Brunswick, good-days.com.au
The downstairs bar at Lee Ho Fook should also have a place on your radar. Theme-appropriate cocktails like a five-spiced margarita are a good place to start, but the food menu impresses by matching the delicious drinks with dishes like lo-mein noodles with vegan XO and benchmark-level fried rice.
11-15 Duckboard Place, Melbourne, leehofook.com.au/good-luck
Melbourne has a well-established love affair with xiao long bao with good soupy dumplings to be had across the city. This is one of the originals of the current dumpling wave and still one of the best for the quality and sturdiness of the dumpling skins and for the deep, clean flavour of the pork and broth filling.
14-16 Market Lane, Melbourne, hutong.com.au
It's not hard to find souvlaki in Oakleigh, but those chasing authentic (pork, not lamb) head here. Owner-chef Thomas Deliopoulos meticulously sources his pork (lady pigs only) imports his oregano from Greece and chargrills the Greek-style pita before stuffing it with meat, tzatziki and chips. A little slice of Athens.
41 Chester Street, Oakleigh, kalimerasouvlakiart.com.au
Supermarkets tend to be places of dread, not excitement, but this is no ordinary supermarket. For starters, it's enormous – 10,000 square metres enormous – and stocks an incredible range of produce ranging from fresh marron to mollycoddled cheese to humble spuds. There's a patisserie, juice bar, bakery and cafe, too. Arrive with an empty boot.
10 English Street, Essendon Fields, lamannas.com.au
The chacarero steak sandwich served at Latin Foods and Wines. Photo: Chris Hopkins
Those on the hunt for exemplary empanadas both baked and fried should set the GPS for this South American bakery, deli, cafe and bottle shop in Deer Park. Fillings range from spicy chicken to abalone and the pastry is sturdy but never too tough or too bready. Well in the running for Melbourne's best.
809 Ballarat Road, Deer Park, latinfoodsandwines.com.au
Those after a party with their pizza, look no further. The good-times master stroke was preserving its predecessor's exposed brick and timber panelling moves then adding a DJ, late licence, great attitude, a strong list of quality guzzleable booze and big-flavoured Italian-ish food like pizza topped with Chinese bolognese.
29 Grattan Street, Carlton, leonardospizzapalace.com.au
There are Mexican restaurants in Melbourne with larger menus and tonier fitouts but the grungy bar vibe and taco focus delivers a true taqueria experience. A strong tequila game and excellent margaritas play backdrop to the spice and texture of a menu that runs the gamut from slow-cooked lamb tacos to pickled cactus salad.
339 Victoria Street, Brunswick, los-hermanos.com.au
You can't be a card-carrying Melburnian without having lined up for one of Kate Reid's precision crafted croissants. From entry-level plain to coconut pandan and lemon curd-filled cruffins, there's know-how in every bite, an antidote to any queue-affiliated resentment.
119 Rose Street, Fitzroy and 161 Collins Street, Melbourne (enter via Russell Street), lunecroissanterie.com
Maker & Monger
Cheese guy Anthony Femia attracted a cult following with cheese toasties served from a cart. Permanent digs have added a cheese shop alongside the dedicated toastie counter where raclette and American cheese favourites are joined by the Calabrese, a combo of smoked scamorza, 'nduja and oregano.
Stall 25 Prahran Market, 163-165 Commercial Road, South Yarra, makerandmonger.com.au
Joseph Abboud (Rumi, Bar Saracen) serves "inauthentic" pizza at his Thornbury outpost, a love child of his passion for Italian pizza and Middle Eastern flavours. Manoushe (round) and pide (boat-shaped) pies holding combinations like garlic, prawns, black chilli, tomato and coriander suggest that authenticity can be overrated.
Rear 774 High Street, Thornbury, themoorshead.com
The special banquet at Moroccan Soup Bar. Photo: Joe Armao
For more than two decades, this vibrantly coloured shopfront has packed them in with its booze-free, menu-free, bookings-free, meat-free approach. But freewheeling only goes so far – the key to its success is the big-flavoured, small priced, beautifully spiced and comforting food from dolmades and haloumi salad to cult classic chickpea bake and rich tagines.
183 St Georges Road, Fitzroy North, moroccansoupbar.com.au
Stand-up CBD coffee bar Patricia Coffee Brewers. Photo: Angela Wylie
The simplicity of Patricia is perhaps its most endearing quality. Besides great coffee that is, roasted by the owners at Bureaux Collective with an occasional guest roaster in the mix. The coffee is served black, white or filtered. There are some pastries. The place is small so you drink your coffee and go. Fuss free. We like.
Corner Little Bourke and Little Williams streets, Melbourne, patriciacoffee.com.au
There are venues in the city and in Windsor, but its spiritual home is the Lygon Street original where joining the queue for authentic gelato scooped up with wooden paddles from pozzetti has become as Carlton as pasta at Tiamo or book shopping at Readings. The gelati flavours, made with top ingredients and only fresh fruit, change seasonally.
299 Lygon Street, Carlton, pidapipo.com
A cafe dedicated to coffee and katsu sandos is very Melbourne Now but it's not just posturing. Saint Dreux katsu, based on the traditional Japanese sandwich of panko-crumbed pork, mayo and tonkatsu sauce on fluffy white bread, start with the pork and then raise you prawn, egg, chicken and wagyu. They're good. So's the coffee.
Level 2, St Collins Lane, 260 Collins Street, Melbourne
For those not in the neighbourhood, it's easy to forget the impressive city views from Williamstown. An excellent place to be reminded is from the beach-adjacent timber deck of Sebastian, the La Concha-channelling Spanish joint inhabiting a 1930s bathing pavilion. Snack on sardines or a beef cheek sandwich over jugs of sangria.
26 Esplanade, Williamstown, sebastianbeachgrill.com
This backstreet aperitivo bar's abbreviated menu is a masterclass in quality over quantity. Top of the to-do list? Nonna's meatballs, golfball-sized things of beauty made with beef and pork and served in a brick-red sugo with a flavour that goes long and deep – they're some kind of benchmark.
1d Michael Street, Brunswick
Smith and Deli
Shannon Martinez is a magician who can bend vegan food to her will, making it taste as it would if livestock were involved. At her deli, glass cabinets are filled with things that look and taste like (but are not) buffalo mozzarella, pastrami and turkey. Find vegan doughnuts here, filled with vanilla bean marsala custard.
111 Moor Street, Fitzroy
Smith Street Alimentari
There are plenty of good reasons, from breakfast through to dinner, to pull up a chair in this always bustling diner but sometimes the call of home and couch is louder. Alimentari's excellent take-home meals – addictive pork and fennel lasagne, ricotta gnocchi, lamb curry, rotisserie chook – bring the best of both worlds.
302-302 Smith Street, Collingwood, alimentari.com.au/smith-st
Mapo tofu jaffles (top left) and other share-friendly plates at Super Ling. Photo: Kristoffer Paulsen
Lunchtime emphasises noodles, made in-house by chef Michael Li. He laminates the noodles, giving them a little crunch and bite, before mixing them with a choice of five sauces including mapo tofu, offal and eggplant. Add a master stock egg or pork broth for one of the tastiest, best-value lunches around.
138 Queensberry Street, Carlton, superling.com.au
Tuckshop Takeaway's 'major' burger and a Nutella milkshake. Photo: Ken Irwin
Whether you opt for a "minor", single beef patty, or the two-patty "major", the cheeseburgers here bring a delightful burst of both flavour and nostalgia. Good tomatoes, crisp lettuce, pickles, onions, American cheese and secret sauce come sturdily constructed on a seeded bun, as satisfying as they are easy to eat.
273 Hawthorn Road, Caulfield North, tuckshoptakeaway.com.au
Very Good Falafel
Louisa Allen and Shuki Rosenboim grind chickpeas grown by Louisa's farmer father in the Mallee to make falafel from Shuki's family's recipe. There's other good stuff – the hummus, people, the hummus – but order the falafel plate with pickled vegetables and warm Israeli-style fluffy pita to truly understand the meaning of truth in naming.
629 Sydney Road, Brunswick, shukiandlouisa.com
The Good Food Guide's third annual national edition, with hats awarded across Australia, will be launched in Brisbane on Monday, September 30, with our presenting partners Vittoria Coffee and Citi. The Good Food Guide 2020 will be on sale from October 1 in newsagencies and bookstores, and is also available to pre-order at thestore.com.au/gfg20, $29.99 with free shipping.