Pellegrini’s Espresso Bar is a Melbourne institution, serving up honest Italian food, coffee and charm since 1954. In fact, it claims the first espresso machine to arrive in Melbourne was delivered here – opening the gates to a city-wide obsession.

In many ways, Pellegrini’s has remained unchanged since the ’50s, with its heritage-listed neon sign, red vinyl stools, mirrored walls and chequerboard floor. The white-shirted waiters are at once efficient and charming, and the menu remains concise and consistent in its delivery of old favourites – such as spaghetti bolognaise, cheesy lasagne, and spinach and ricotta ravioli. It’s best to decide on your order as soon as you’re seated, as the service is quick here. And when asked if you’d like the off-menu watermelon granita and a hunk of bread with your pasta, always say yes. Ditto to the apple strudel for dessert.

Pellegrini’s operates a bit like Melbourne itself: refusing to reveal all its oddball charm and endearing idiosyncrasies upon a first visit. Many of the items on offer aren’t on the written menu. But over time and with ongoing patronage you’ll be inducted into the tradition of, say, a Friday gnocchi special. Evidence of its wide appeal is found in its diverse crowd of regulars, from suited-up office workers to early evening theatregoers and scores of students seeking a hearty meal.

Above all, Pellegrini’s is always fun and rarely fancy. It’s a tradition that started with founders Leo and Vildo Pellegrini, and has been carried on by Nino Pangrazio and the late Sisto Malaspina since 1974 (and still rings true under the patronage of Sisto’s son, David Malaspina today). Grab a seat, order an espresso and enjoy a part of Melbourne’s living history.

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Updated: November 15th, 2023

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