Northcote and Fitzroy make a strong case, but Brunswick is Melbourne’s biggest centre of alternative culture. Walk the streets and you’ll spot more tattoos, piercings, lurid hair colours and op-shop clothes (from Savers on Sydney Road, probably) than anywhere else. Every night of the week, local bands play at venues such as Howler, the Brunswick Hotel, the Retreat and the Spotted Mallard. Vegan food is plentiful and everyone seems to ride a bike.

That’s one part of it, anyway. Brunswick also has a strong multi-cultural character. Greeks and Italians have been here since the ’60s and more recently, immigrants from Lebanon and other parts of the Middle East have clustered around the north end of Sydney Road, making it one of the best places in town to eat falafel; smoke a shisha pipe; or shop for ingredients such as za’atar, rosewater and Aleppo peppers.

Neighbouring Brunswick East has much of the same character, but swaps Sydney Road for the less-hectic end of Lygon Street and its cafes, restaurants and boutiques.

Restaurants

  • Park up by a sunny window and order fluffy shokupan topped with peach, ricotta and tomatoes, or pork cutlet dripping in a creative bacon glaze. Plus, honey cake that makes good use of the upstairs beehive.

  • Once a notorious pub with a chequered past, this north-side institution is now a glowing venue for special occasions, date nights and good times. It offers a Mediterranean diner, late-night vinyl-only bar and sprawling beer garden.

  • A homey Sri Lankan buffet where $25 gets you meat and veggie curries, rice, sambol and more.

  • A kitschy, maximalist diner with Franco Cozzo furniture and truly original pizzas. Thin-crust numbers feature creative combos like smoked ham and caramelised pineapple. Plus, share-friendly wines and fun cocktails.

  • All-vegan kebabs, halal snack packs and boreks in Brunswick. Plus, there are gluten-free options, colourful salads, dukkah-dusted chips and cardamom-spiked Turkish coffees.

  • A moody, minimal-waste ramen diner with an evolving menu informed by the seasons. The one constant? Thin, wheat-based noodles, aged overnight for the perfect consistency. Come for the ramen, stay for Japanese-accented spins on classic cocktails.

  • Shuki Rosenboim and Louisa Allan opened this spot in 2016 on a strip packed with other options. Its secret to standing out? The chickpeas: Allan’s dad grows them in the Mallee. Here, they’re ground daily and fried to make crispy golden falafel for pitas and platters.

  • From the eco-conscious team behind Small Print Pizza comes this vegan-friendly pizza bar. The menu has plenty of plant-based swaps (including for pepperoni and feta) alongside meat-topped classics. Plus, there are beers from nearby breweries and a “cheeky” selection of Australian rums.

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  • Pizzas that fall somewhere between Neapolitan and New York-style. Pull up for spicy, garlicky clam pies (with chowder-like cream); zhooshed-up Hawaiians; crispy, cheesy mozzarella sticks; boozy desserts; and live music.

  • New York-style pizzas served by the slice (or whole), cut from 55-centimetre pies. Small Time also doubles as a music hub, helping small artists make the big time. Find a homey front bar and rooftop, plus live music and a recording studio.

  • Half restaurant, half bar and always a party. Owner Bruno Carreto was born in Mexico and did a stint in a taqueria there before opening Los Hermanos. As you'd expect, the tacos and gorditas are the real deal. Don't forget to choose a tequila or mezcal from the blackboard.

  • This homey Latin American-inspired bar and eatery is a labour of love. Just look to the signature mole poblano – it features 40 ingredients and takes hours to make. There's also house-made chorizo and chimichurri, plenty of vegan-friendly options and wallet-friendly Pisco Sours.

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  • Some of the best fried chicken in town.

  • Vegan-friendly Vietnamese. Yes, it exists.

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  • From the owners of Tom Phat, Bhang serves Indian street food in the north.

  • A very cool, very Italian bar with $20 grazing Sundays and famous meatballs direct from NYC.

  • It’s beer, sandwiches and 1960s Americana at this laid-back spot.

  • A mix of business – from boutique beers to summer punch and Asian cuisine served Spanish-style.

Cafes

  • The couple behind it lived in Copenhagen for three years, and wanted to bring their love for Danish bread to Melbourne. Find sticky-sweet cardamom buns and an artisanal loaf as big as a cushion – served with a hearty helping of hygge.

  • Even though it opened back in 2009, this cafe and roastery is still one of the most popular cafes in Brunswick. The interiors are spacious, with comfortable chairs and cosy booths. And the food is adventurous, but it won't veer too far away from anyone's comfort zones. The coffee is, predictably, excellent.

  • Carlton’s Ima Project Cafe – the city’s standard-bearer for Japanese breakfast – is now a day-to-night cafe and izakaya, serving dishes like kingfish chirashi and shokupan slathered in mentaiko (cod roe).

  • Find all the handheld brekkie classics from the Fitzroy original – including a cheesy stacks-on of hash brown, gooey fried egg and bacon. And if you’re after a hangover cure, add on a Korean pear juice.

  • Come for pour-over coffee from 10 different Japanese roasters and espresso from local suppliers. Pair your brew with yuzu cheesecake, emoji-perfect chiffon cake and prawn katsu sandos.

  • Order up at Walrus, a low-key spot inspired by America’s west coast diner scene. It boasts a menu of pancake stacks with whipped butter, crisp US-style bacon, pecan pie by the slice and more in a lo-fi, *Twin Peaks*-style fit-out.

  • The team behind Good Days is serving up excellent banh mis, pillowy bao and pastries. Come for chewy baguettes stuffed with xiu mai (saucy Vietnamese meatballs), crunchy porchetta and turmeric fried fish. Plus, Vietnamese iced coffee and nitro tea.

  • This cafe and roasting house is one of Melbourne’s most established brunch spots. But even after all these years, it’s still at the very front of the pack. Dishes are still delicious and creative, the coffee’s still great and the space is still slick.

  • The Brunswick branch of one of Melbourne’s most-loved coffee roasters. Take in the warm, wood-panelled interiors with a cup of seasonal blend or single origin coffee, alongside pastries from Austro Bakery. There are also coffee beans, at-home brewing gear and ceramics to take home.

  • All-day dining at this Thai-infused cafe on Sydney Road.

  • Find creative and elevated pan-Asian-inspired brunches, coffee roasted in-house and 97 seats. Go for peach and coconut rice pudding, nourishing poke bowls, or a hearty Korean chicken burger with kimchi fries.

  • A coffee “cellar door” from the founder of Monk Bodhi Dharma. Here, brews might range from $5 to $200-plus, and they’re all served black to let the beans shine.

  • An affordable Middle-Eastern bakery, cafe and grocer.

  • What started as a home-grown coffee project in Aaron Wood’s backyard is now a dedicated roastery, coffee shop and wholesaler. Come for a single-origin espresso or filter, and grab some beans, merch and brewing gear to take home.

  • Pasta for breakfast? This homely cafe, set in a 100-year-old building, serves up impressive Sicilian-inspired dishes. Go for breakfast pasta served with pork cheek and a slow-cooked egg; chargrilled sardines; or hearty meatballs. Plus, enjoy coffee from nearby Code Black, as well as easy-drinking Italian and Australian wines.

  • A melting pot of the culturally diverse inhabitants of Brunswick.

  • Order some breakfast and play table tennis while you wait.

  • With only the word Green on the window – Green Refectory is a slim, spirited space where food is the hero.

  • This Canberra-based coffee roaster has made a real name for itself on the east coast. Visit this outpost and you’ll understand why. At any time, there are at least 20 outstanding coffees listed on its “freezer menu”.

  • Don’t let the name fool you – this is much more than a little corner store.

  • From the team behind Small Axe Kitchen, this spot has a seven-metre terrazzo bar and floor-to-ceiling shelves stocked with Italian cold cuts, cheeses, pickles and take-home meals such as gluten-free lasagne.

  • Brunswick’s sweet spot for specialised cakes and macarons.

  • The new home of old Rue Bebelons' famous pastrami roll.

  • Here, a single bar of chocolate takes four weeks and eight steps to make - and you can watch it all happen.

  • The best doughnuts in Brunswick.

  • It’s attractive enough, but this cafe is less about flashy Instagram-ready food and more about simple things done well.

  • A sustainable eatery that embraces Melbourne’s artistic community.

  • A heritage-listed landmark with a satisfying brunch menu, Proud Mary coffee and free wi-fi.

  • There’s nothing minor about this little weatherboard cafe-conversion.

  • A patisserie for Francophiles.

Bars

  • This backstreet bar focuses on wild-fermented drinks like saisons, lambics, organic lagers, sakes, mezcals and rums. Get them alongside punchy Thai dishes like house-fermented sausage, fried-banana-blossom salad and charcoal-grilled skewers.

  • Look for the locals sitting out front drinking jugs, right next to the overpacked bike racks. Set in a former strip club, this is a true local – offering good pub grub, craft beer and live music.

  • This warm and inviting pub is renowned for two reasons. First, it's got one of the most vegan-friendly menus in Melbourne. And second, its sunny and expansive rooftop bar ranks among the best in Brunswick.

  • Indie, comedy and even mariarchi shows have this live-music stalwart, where there’s something worth seeing almost every night. If guitars don’t amp you up, there’s a beer garden with plenty of dark nooks to do as the pub’s name suggests.

  • Expect domed stained-glass skylights, plush red-velvet curtains and a shiny grand piano. The eclectic program runs the gauntlet from music to cabaret to comedy and beyond. Visit the downstairs bar or book dinner and show.

  • This corner pub is from some of the crew that revamped the Royal Oak Hotel and The Marquis of Lorne. Visit for a retro menu filled with fun takes on pub staples – plus an outdoor bar with a retractable roof.

  • A petite, dimly lit wine bar serving classic French bistro fare, like sweet and savoury tartes tatin, crème brûlée and coq au vin with a twist.

  • This live music bar spot feels a bit like a house party. See a gig in the bandroom, drink in the all-weather beer garden, or hide out in its quiet front bar for classic cocktails. It even has a 3am license, so there’s no mass exodus when the show ends.

  • Here you’ll find 4 Pines beer brewed specially for the space, as well as food trucks with an ever-rotating selection of burgers, bao, and woodfired pizza. And it’s dog friendly, too.

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  • Hop-forward IPAs are the main game at this soaring warehouse brewery, but sours, saisons and dark beers are also on frequent rotation. Pair with a charcuterie box or pizza and you’re all set.

  • A former wool store turned bar, arts hub and live music venue.

  • This comfortable spot from the founders of New Guernica isn’t quite a nightclub or a bar. It’s something in between, with a slow-building dance floor that runs late on weekends, powered by funk, soul, house, hip-hop and disco. Take a break from dancing with burgers, fried chicken and decent cocktails.

  • Blending elements of Melbourne cafe, European wine bar and Tokyo-style “listening bar”, this buzzing spot hosts vinyl-only DJs five nights a week, with no cover charges. It’s one of the best places in town to hear recorded music.

  • At this bottle-o you'll find a small, intensely focused selection of natural and minimal intervention wines.

  • Shoot pool on a round table, sipping cocktails and admiring the Art-Deco decor between shots.

Shops

  • The best-fitting jeans you’ll ever own.

  • This second-hand consignment store has been on the scene since 2015 and now has counterparts in Collingwood and Prahran. Still, this original location remains the flagship and brims with vintage designer labels as well as other quality garments and accessories. Up to 1000 new pieces arrive each week.

  • Walk into a sea of colour, pattern and texture at Mutual Muse, a playful consignment store selling age- and size-inclusive clothes, shoes and accessories. Find pieces from Alpha60 and Lee Mathews right through to Marimekko, Ganni and Marni. Bags of your (high-quality) clothes are also welcome for resale here.

  • A father-and-son team is serving up tartufo, plus scoops of house-made salty Snickers, fior de banana and "Franjaffico" gelato. And there’s gelato-filled cannoli, too. And just like any good gelato shop worth its scoops, it's all prepared from scratch and churned daily.

  • This bread and pastry outfit supplies some of the best cafes in Melbourne. Head here if you want to go straight to the source.

  • This farm-to-freezer ice-creamery has a pastry chef behind the counter who’s done time in a handful of Michelin-starred restaurants. Inventive seasonal flavours are added weekly, so there’s always something new to try.

  • The combined store and workshop is full of lovingly restored rare and collectible vintage pieces from Scandinavia and other European countries.

  • Classic flavours made with the highest-quality ingredients possible are the draw at this ice-creamery. Pop in for scoops of house-made honeycomb, mint and milk chocolate, and more. Plus: milkshakes, sundaes, ice-cream sandwiches and good coffee.

  • Find gifts for loved ones, knick knacks for your home, or fun vintage collectables at this delightful Brunswick bazaar.

  • Petite and hidden away, Brunswick space Mr Kitly eschews the standard retail experience.

  • If you want pasta shaped like bells, hats or flowers, this huge Italian supermarket is where you'll find it.

  • Looking for a friendly neighbourhood sneaker store?

  • A friendly supermarket alternative, catering to all your allergy and dietary needs.

  • The name says it all.

  • At this record store, every single sleeve comes with its own description.