Melbourne’s Best Restaurant Openings of 2023 (So Far)

From a homestyle Greek gem to a splashy hotel restaurant 80 storeys high, a fiery Thai canteen and an ultra-regional Italian trattoria, our favourite new restaurants don’t adhere to any one theme.

Published on 04 July 2023

Six months is a long time in hospitality and this year has been a wild ride of new openings – and some closures (RIP Parcs and Ryne). Blame those chilly economic headwinds.

If recent years have been marked by an annual procession of big-name – and often big budget – launches often found in the CBD and inner north, this year we’ve seen a broader geographic spread of notable new restaurants with destination meals found in surprising places: a sprawling mall, a repurposed cafe, a suburban shopping strip and a sticky dive bar for starters. And many of them from operators and chefs that aren’t household names.

Notably, one of the biggest names to enter the race is not a local: Victoria also welcomed one of Sydney’s biggest success stories to a seaside town outside the city. Like it or not, Merivale is coming.

In the first half of 2023 we’ve seen debut diners serving ultra-specific regional cuisines and dishes, warm and welcoming dining rooms that eschew opulence and pomp, dessert carts heaving with cakes and tiramisu, and chicken liver parfait on many a snack menu.

Listen to Part One and Part Two The Best Restaurants of the Year on Broadsheet’s short-form Around Town podcast.

Alta Trattoria, Fitzroy | Photography: Jamie Alexander

Alta Trattoria, Fitzroy
This intimate Italian trattoria is inspired by the low-key restaurants of Piedmont, Italy, where menus are simple and the wine flows abundantly. The warm and buzzy joint off Brunswick Street was previously home to Little Odessa, and the reboot is sharp yet cosy. The menu stars seasonal classics from the region, from vitello tonnato with fried capers to steak tartare with egg yolk and crisp flatbread. But the real show stoppers are the region’s two signature pastas: tajarin (long ribbon tagliolini), here served in a rich rabbit ragu; and heavenly ravioli del plin (tiny, pinched ravioli). It’s a one-way ticket to Italy.

Bowls of pasta served each week: 253
Must-order dish: Vitello tonnato

Atria, CBD
First, there’s the dizzying view. 80 storeys high, the flagship restaurant at the swanky Ritz-Carlton Hotel offers a rare perspective on the city, with early-morning hot air balloons occasionally cruising past the windows at eye level. The talent on the team is just as impressive: executive chef Michael Greenlaw previously worked at Vue de Monde; culinary advisor Mark Best is one of Australia’s most acclaimed culinary names; pastry chef Kay-Lene Tan spent eight years at Tonka and Coda; and Michael and Zara Madrusan, of The Everleigh, Heartbreaker and Bar Margaux are looking after the cocktails. An à la carte menu features the best-quality steak money can buy, plus brilliant vegetables: snacky artichoke cigars, perhaps, or wood-grilled lion’s mane mushrooms. Greenlaw, a hobby spearfisher and free diver, also has a passion for lesser-known fish and seafood.

Building’s total height in metres: 268.7
Must-order dish: Flinders Island wallaby broth

Cityfields, Chadstone | Photography: Pete Dillon

Cityfields, Chadstone
A little bit Vegas, a little bit LA – Cityfields is a giant. The two-storey sibling to South Melbourne’s Half Acre is the anchor of Chadstone’s Social Quarter, offering a cocktail-fuelled bar and brasserie, an al fresco terrace, private dining rooms and one of the area’s only rooftop bars, which overlooks the ’burbs to the CBD. The food is far better than you might expect at one of the biggest malls in the southern hemisphere. Potato doughnuts served with fondue and saltbush are a standout. Enjoy polished classics such as a mighty cheeseburger, chicken schnitzel or bangers and mash. Mains include woodfired steaks such as the retro-fabulous chateaubriand, a tender cut of beef drenched in jus and showered in fried onions. A roving timber dessert trolley offers emoji-like cakes to finish the meal. What else could you possibly want at Chaddy?

Hours spent building the cocktail shaker machine: 700
Must-order dish: Gruyere pie

Grazia, Glen Iris
This genteel pocket of the south-east hasn’t been a leader in Melbourne’s dining scene in recent years, but with great Italian trattorias like Grazia, let’s watch this space. The 100-seat neighbourhood restaurant right near Central Park has a soaring atrium ceiling, marble benchtops and terrazzo floors. In the open kitchen, an imported Castelli oven – one of only two in Australia – turns out Roman-style pizzas. The Gamberoni Grazia with king prawns, rocket pesto, green olives and housemade chilli crisp is the standout. There’s also house-made pasta and a handful of larger plates such as crumbed milk-fed veal and rolled pork belly. A wide-ranging drinks list features eclectic Italian wines and a signature spicy Margarita with house-infused jalapeno tequila.

Hours the pizza dough is fermented: 72
Must-order dish: Dark chocolate and hazelnut gelato (if it’s available that day)

Grazia's cotoletta di vitello – crumbed veal, roasted tomatoes, rocket pesto and pecorino romano | Photography: Amy Hemmings
Kafeneion's tarama (whipped cod roe) | Photography: Arianna Leggiero

Kafeneion, CBD
Sometimes the simplest things leave the greatest impression. This casual winter pop-up from Con Christopoulos (City Wine Shop, among many others) and Stavros Konis (Salona) serves homestyle Greek cuisine until 1am. The buzzy spot is housed in Christopoulos’s old cafe, Self Preservation and shows that Greek cuisine is about more than just souvas and tzatziki. Hunks of crusty white bread are complimentary and essential for mopping up hearty fava dip served hot with red onion and capers like you’d find in Santorini. Main plates come in small or large servings and might be grilled garfish with lemon; ugly-delicious slow-cooked lamb with potatoes; and lightly crumbed sweetbreads, maybe paired with zingy iceberg and dill salad or slabs of feta sold in 100-gram blocks. Traditional Greek coffee is served all day alongside carafes of wines and beer, or kick back with longnecks of Melbourne Bitter, which Christopoulos says are “What all the old Greeks drink on weekends”.

Number of draughts to remove from the board to win a game upstairs, at the forthcoming backgammon bar: 15
Must-order dish: Sweetbreads

Matsu, Footscray | Photography: Harvard Wang

Matsu, Footscray
We’re not promising it’ll be easy to get in – this elegant kaiseki has just four seats, four nights a week – but it’s one of the best Japanese experiences in Melbourne right now. Korean-born chef Hansol Lee worked at revered city restaurant Kenzan for a decade, including five years on the tempura station. Expect a traditional multi-course meal involving intricate seasonal dishes, which might be Tasmanian oyster topped with inky Siberian caviar, a cup of chawanmushi (steamed egg custard), nigiri sushi and blowtorched 9+ marble score Wagyu. Sake pairings are optional, but if you’ve managed to nab a booking, it’s something we emphatically recommend.

Total guests served as of July 5, 2023: 567
Must-order dish: All of them – it’s a set menu!

Pinche Cantina, Thornbury | Photography: Ashley Ludkin

Pinche Cantina, Thornbury
Have you been to Nasty’s? Many nights have been lost at this Thornbury dive bar, but now you can soak up the cocktails with spot-on tacos piled with beef birria or cochinita pibil pork on spongy house-made tortillas. Founder Ioreth Tudor was behind three of Melbourne’s best pizzerias: A Boy Named Sue in St Andrews, Lazerpig in Collingwood and Wolf and Swill in Thornbury. The single-page A5 menu changes weekly but typically includes a few snacks (house-made tortilla chips with guac, and grilled elotes with manchego), plus three meat and three veg tacos. The best news is, it will move to into a food-driven cocktail bar in Reservoir, near La Pinta before the year ends.

Tortillas made per night: 100–180
Must-order dish: Tacos dorados

Thai Baan, CBD
The top end of Bourke Street in the CBD is a veritable hub of Thai food with carpark classic Soi 38 attracting a slew of other venues such as Nana Thai, Thai Tide and Isan Soul to name a few. Thai Baan, a newcomer from owner Jirada Ponpetch and chef Saifon Wichian, has quickly shot to the top of our list. The pair have seen lines down the street for their punchy Isan-style street food, from spicy and sour boat noodles to fiery nam tok, a salad served with grilled pork cheek or beef brisket in a dressing of grounded rice powder, onion, shallots, lime juice and Thai herbs. Yes please. The city venue – formerly Italian bistro The Mess Hall – is bustling and casual, with bare tables and festive lights on the walls. The dishes are spicy, although most of them can be made mild, and the spice can be tamed with the help of drinks including Chang and Leo beer from Thailand, apple soju or Thai milk tea.

Years the boat noodles recipe has been in the owner’s family: 30
Must-order dish: Boat noodles with marinated pork or braised beef

Saifon Wichian (left) and Jirada Ponpetch (right)of Thai Baan, CBD | Photography: Amy Hemmings

Totti’s, Lorne
This is the first interstate outpost of the barnstorming Totti’s brand from Sydney hospitality giant Merivale, which runs more than 80 pubs, restaurants and bars in NSW. The good news? They know exactly what they’re doing and have slotted in effortlessly on the Great Ocean Road. The ground-floor restaurant at the old Lorne Hotel features an ample selection of new-wave wines plus fresh, drinkable spritzes and cocktails ready-made for lively long lunches overlooking the beach. Those who’ve been to the original Totti’s will recognise that show-stopping puffy bread for pairing with 20 antipasti, from marinated vegetables to smoky albacore tuna. With another venue opening on Flinders Lane this year, Merivale’s southern takeover is just getting started.

Kilometres between the original Totti’s Bondi and Totti’s Lorne, according to Google Maps: 1,008
Must-order dish: Wood-fired bread

Yakamoz Mediterranean, Brunswick East
Father-and-son team Ali and Ogulcan Atay opened Yakamoz earlier this year after finding success with their traditional Turkish spot, Halikarnas, across the road. The casual spin-off is billed as a more contemporary and playful sibling, with many dishes blessed by the glowing woodfired oven. The Mediterranean menu isn’t tied to tradition and uses Turkish cuisine as a jumping-off point with inspiration from North Africa, Morocco, Spain and Greece. Handmade, mince-filled manti dumplings are fried and served with chilli butter and labneh, and diners could easily make a meal out of the meze selection. But it’s the pide – boat-shaped Turkish flatbread with toppings like minced beef, spinach and herbs, and pastirma and egg – that will keep us coming back.

Kilograms of flour used per week: 75
Must-order dish: Kymali pide

Yakamoz, Brunswick East | Photography: Laura May Grogan

Yan, South Yarra
This Sydney import, in the old Yagiz site, daringly combines Asian flavours with American barbeque technique. The idea came to owner Narada Kudinar in 2016. There’s no traditional smoker, and the chefs use charcoal and woodchips in a combi oven, used like a smoke box, to infuse many of the dishes with a delicate, balanced smoke flavour. The largely Cantonese- and Japanese-inspired menu includes braised winter melon with smoked almond cream, smoked chicken katsu with house-made barbeque sauce, and beef tataki with smoked mussels and anchovy crumb. Another popular dish is the coconut milk ice-cream served in a hollowed shell. There’s no smoke involved but the dish is unmistakably Yan’s.

Wood chips used for smoking each week: 5500–6000
Must-order dish: Smoked chicken katsu

Honourable mentions
Plenty more new spots caught our attention this year, many of them intimate omakase joints. Uminono in Prahran, Sushi On in Kew and Aoi Tsuki in South Yarra all made an impression. We also like Rue de Thanh and Izakaya by Tamura, which both just opened in Fitzroy.

Audience Picks

Northcote’s all-you-can-eat Sri Lankan buffet Serendib, and Richmond’s five-storey Italian spot Da Bruno, meanwhile, were some of the most popular stories on Broadsheet in 2023.

Additional reporting by Audrey Payne, Harvard Wang, Jo Rittey, Nick Connellan and Quincy Malesovas.