Where to find Melbourne's best paleo food

Happy days: The Nutrition Bomb at happiness cafe Serotonin Dealer in Burnley.
Happy days: The Nutrition Bomb at happiness cafe Serotonin Dealer in Burnley. Photo: Wayne Taylor

Paleo people are so goddamn boring. All they talk about, as they sit basking in their yellow/orange paleo glow, is how goddamn good they feel. But take them out for a meal and it gets all awkward. "Err, do you have anything paleo?" they ask the hapless waiter. It pretty much goes downhill from there, as they sit with the result: a bunless burger resting on a piece of lettuce. Yep, it's almost like being a vegetarian in the '80s. So what is paleo? Essentially it's a diet consisting of what paleolithic people probably ate before agricultural practices kicked in: vegetables, nuts, seeds, fruit (especially berries) and meat. It's no dairy, no legumes, no wheat, no grains, no sugar and no processed food. No fun. Unless, of course, you grab this definitive list and get out of your cave to try it.

Combi

The word "combi" may evoke images of a rusty, noisy old bomb, peaced-out hippies and sunsets that never go down. Which is not like this cafe at all. Here's where the cool kids come for nut mylks ($8.50), raw cakes, raw pizza ($18) and kombucha (fermented sweet tea) on tap ($5). It's got packed communal seating in a very "now" setting (those white horizontal tiles get a good workout), but whether you'll be communicating with those around you is another matter.

1/140 Ormond Road, Elwood, wearecombi.com.au

Evolve Fair Food Store

Does it get any better than Evolve's Paleo Power Breakfast ($19.50)? Not really. It could be the dukkah and nuts on top, or the generous glump of avo, or the beetroot relish, but this is one combo worth grabbing.  Almond milk lattes? Yes. An open fire place? Yes. The perfect place to ponder paleo? Yes. The gorgeous weatherboard is just outside Belgrave. Be uber-paleo and do a couple of rounds of the nearby 1000 steps as an entree.

64-68 Monbulk Road, Belgrave, evolve4life.com.au

Combi cafe, Elwood.
Combi cafe, Elwood. Photo: Michael Clayton-Jones

Fresh Organic Foods (F.O.G)

Near Bridge Street, this two-month old cafe is more like a way OUT of the fog, with home-made grain-free, fructose-free granola being sold by the bowlful ($12) or 500-gram bag full ($20). Match it with a bottle of freshly made almond or cashew milk (large $9). F.O.G is also whipping up coconut milk for paleo hot chocolates and lattes. There are salads, slices (changing all the time) and while it's not all paleo, as you can tell by the name, it is all organic, and there's lots of gluten free.

276 Church Street, Richmond, freshorganicgoods.com.au

Mastic

George Calombaris' healthy food restaurant Mastic – adjoining Hellenic Republic – impresses with its large table-tennis table filled space and friendly waiters. Most dishes have one or two non-paleo ingredients, but ask for paleo changes and you shall receive. Some offerings tick the right boxes from the start, including the tasty Bunless Burger. The grass-fed beef pattie is burger-ised with roasted mushrooms and served with rainbow slaw and sweet potato chips ($21). Take home a fresh loaf of absolutely delicious paleo pumpkin bread for $7.50.

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26 Cotham Road, Kew, hellenicrepublic.com.au

Meatmother

One of the few paleo-friendly restaurants that doesn't have a "closed" sign up at night is American  barbecue joint Meatmother. It smells deliciously like a smokehouse; sit under seriously industrial lights upstairs (you'll feel like a chicken about to hatch) and admire the huge drawings of bones and flowers. Paleo folk will enjoy the dinners the best: the pasture-fed beef short rib cooks for 16 hours and doesn't need a knife (one meat and one side is $26). Its CBD sister – Meatmaiden (basement 195 Little Collins Street) has a beef and bone marrow burger, but with that burger and cheese it ain't paleo. Still, sides include red slaw and shaved fennel and pomegranate salad.

167 Swan Street, Richmond, meatmother.com.au

The interior of Mastic in Kew.
The interior of Mastic in Kew. Photo: Anu Kumar

Palate

Palate's been serving paleo dishes for  about five years, and has a grander looking two-year-old sister in Brighton (The Deck, 212 Bay Street). This eatery basks in the sun opposite Grattan Gardens, so you can sit back and enjoy the breakfast or lunch that you've created: choose five ($19) or seven ($23) paleo items (with one being meat). Super smoothies here ($9) include the Raw beetroot and cacao (fresh almond milk, beetroot, raspberries, banana, cacao, dates and cinnamon).

132 Greville Street, Prahran, palate.com.au

Paleo Den

Paleo Den is a great name for this no-frills restaurant, as the den-like cafe is hidden down Wattle Street. Muscled-up folk sit hunched quietly over their plates, indulging in wholesome goodies including sweet potato, salt & pepper chicken breast, salmon steak and omelettes. They have a pretty good meat and two veg takeaway deal too: 10 paleo meals for $100. The tiny space also holds classes: learn how to make bone broth on July 30 (book tickets at paleoinmelbourne.com.au).

Sardi Cafe in Hawthorn.
Sardi Cafe in Hawthorn. Photo: Josh Robenstone

321 Chapel Street, Prahran, paleodenmelbourne.ozeats.com.au 

Paleo Cafe

This is a 100 per cent paleo cafe, so unlike other spots where you still might have to ask for a paleo version of a dish, or go through the: "Quinoa is not paleo" debate, you can be assured that whatever is on the menu here is completely paleo. Paleo Cafe's Mornington manager Andrew Birks has been paleo for five years, and reckons this cafe also does so well because it offers the cheapest breakfast on Main Street. The popular Queensland chain (there are seven in the sunny state, where it originated) also has a branch in Ballarat (413 Sturt Street).

89 Main Street, Mornington, paleo-cafe.com.au

A colourful raw pizza at Combi.
A colourful raw pizza at Combi. Photo: Michael Clayton-Jones MCJ

Pana Chocolate

This understated shop front sits among flashy furniture stores on busy Church Street. Lined with posters spouting feel-good messages, it's where raw chocolate lovers come to salute the bean. They quietly select their favourite chocolatey morsels, pay, and slip out to devour their, um, "nutritious" (it says so on the website, which also mentions "guilt free") treats as they wish. Many of Pana's  raw slices are paleo (some contain agave nectar, which is not paleo, and some have coconut nectar, which is). Grab yourself a jar of chocolate truffles ($13.50) then count down how many days (hours?) they last for. Thank God, there's no calorie counting in paleo.

491 Church Street, Richmond, panachocolate.com

Patch

The little [P] that indicates, you guessed it, paleo, appears many times on the Patch menu, and most excitedly beside the Banana and almond hotcakes (yum). [PI] means paleo inspired, which is good for the 80/20 crew (see sidebar). The restaurant, which is part of the old Channel Nine studios, is packed on the weekends but on a weekday you'll get a space in the converted building.

Thr1ve paleo pancakes are made with coconut and almond flour.
Thr1ve paleo pancakes are made with coconut and almond flour. Photo: Supplied

1/32 Bendigo Street, Richmond, patchcafe.com.au

Red Robyn

Sometimes it gets complicated. When Robyn opened her namesake cafe three years ago, it was so people with gluten allergies could eat in a safe space, with fantastic food, and coffee up to Melbourne standards. Now Red Robyn demonstrates the puzzle that eating can be. It's 100 per cent gluten and nut free, meaning that if you want an almond latte, it's not going to happen. But you can get a coconut milk latte instead. Robyn's so determined to get it right that the coffee machines have dedicated nozzles for each type of milk used. The desserts are off the paleo menu, but the mains are much more flexible, so ask away.

393 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, redrobyn.com.au

Salmon salad at Paleo Cafe in Mornington.
Salmon salad at Paleo Cafe in Mornington. Photo: Salona Chithiray

Sardi

High on a hill, on a corner spot away from the madding crowds is loud, eight-month-old Sardi. It's loud in both signage – sparkling white and in your face  and music – the volume is up. Sardi's paleo bread is great. Owner Sarah Whitfield admits that it's not entirely paleo, but she says that when they took the parmesan cheese out it just wasn't right. Still, if you're a paleo inspired eater you'll be impressed with its light texture and savoury taste. Another must-try? Sweet potato fried with avocado, salsa and lime. It's busy: by a Wednesday arvo this place will have gone through a two-page wait-list of names.

111 Church Street, Hawthorn, sardicafe.com.au

Serotonin Eatery

Two months ago, when this bright corner cafe/gym/learning spot opened, owner Emily Hazell saw 1000 people through the doors in one weekend. That's quite an achievement for a "plant-based" eatery with a focus on the rather unattractive term "gut health". While you're not going to get a meaty fix here – yes, "plant-based" is code for vegetarian – you certainly are going to increase your daily dose of fruits and vegetables. According to Emily, the vegetable rostis are popular with the paleo crowd: "we can't make enough of them!" she says. With all dishes refined-sugar free and dairy free (though there is cows milk for your coffee), the idea is that you'll have a serotonin boost but avoid a sugar rush. Swings and peacock chairs add to the fun, and there is a bucket of sports balls by the outside tables to encourage kick-to-kick at the park across the road.

Neil Hamblen of Meatmother.
Neil Hamblen of Meatmother. Photo: Simon Schluter

52 Madden Grove, Burnley, serotonindealer.com

The Wooden Elk

On the St Kilda Road side of Park Street, The Wooden Elk serves up dishes including pretty tasty Paleo pancakes and eggs on paleo bread during the day. It doesn't get too busy, so you can get a seat. When darkness sets in it's all about the wood-fired Paleo pizza.

52 Park Street, South Melbourne, thewoodenelk.com.au

Combi at 140 Ormond Road, Elwood.
Combi at 140 Ormond Road, Elwood. Photo: Michael Clayton-Jones

Third Wave

Does Prahran have the highest concentration of gym junkies in Melbourne? Judging by the lycra, muscles, supplement shops and paleo cafes, let's assume so. Third Wave Prahran (there's also one  at 189 Rouse St, Port Melbourne) is perfectly located for the gym-going paleo. Walk out of the gym, cross the road and chow down on American barbecue, slow cooked and smoked meats. There's a paleo page in the menu, and the breakfast menu lists one of the yummiest dishes: Spicy ratatouille baked eggs ($19.90). They'll replace the cheese, chorizo and bread with smoked brisket for the paleos.

30 Cato Street, Prahran, thirdwavecafe.com.au

Three Ducks in a Row

Breakfast can be the piranha of the paleo world – with bread, cereals and most pancakes off the menu. So it's awesome that this little out-of-the-way suburban cafe is offering a paleo breakfast "3D style" daily until the kitchen closes at 3pm. It's done in a "choose your own adventure" way with options including smoked bacon and New Zealand King Salmon. There's paleo-fave sauerkraut here too.

122 Highfield Road, Camberwell

Thr1ve

You're in the city, hunting for something, and hunger hits you. Maybe there's a glaze over your eyes – too much shopping? Too much work? The food court beckons. Eww. But wait a minute, there's an answer! Since the chain Thr1ve opened an outlet at Emporium, hunters and gatherers have had somewhere to put down their spears and eat. You can put the meal together yourself, or go for the named meal. Who doesn't want to ask for a "get naked" (seasonal greens, grass fed beef burger, bacon and smashed avocado, $16)? There is a downfall to paleo dining in a food court: you'll probably end up sitting beside someone scoffing a pizza from next door.

Level 3, Emporium, 287 Lonsdale Street, Thr1ve.me

PALEO IN A NUTSHELL

Since the paleo diet pretty much eliminates processed foods and sugars, many followers find they're less dictated to by the highs and lows that food can provide. The 3pm sugar slump? You're less likely to get that on a paleo diet. It advocates plenty of exercise (CrossFitters in particular seem to love it) and loads of sleep. There's no calorie counting and many paleo folk adhere to an 80/20 rule (80 per cent "clean eating" with 20 per cent leeway). Melburnian Pete Evans (peteevans.com) has built an industry around it, and although it wasn't his invention, he has  popularised it and, at the same time, polarised it. He has several paleo recipe books out and runs a 10-week $100 course called The Paleo Way. The website, paleoinmelbourne.com.au, is a good local resource.