Carlton will forever be associated with Italy. Italians made the suburb their own in the wake of World War II, bringing pizza, pasta, prosciutto and any number of other then-exotic foodstuffs with them. Melbourne would be a much more boring place today, had they stayed put.

Until the late ’90s, quaint, veranda-lined Lygon Street was undeniably the best place in town to experience these cultural riches, much as Victoria Street is for Vietnamese food today. There are still excellent spots such as D.O.C., Tiamo, Scopri and Kaprica, but if you're not careful, you might end up at a restaurant with a picture menu.

The cafe scene – again, kickstarted by Italian immigrants – is in better shape, partly thanks to the huge student population from nearby RMIT and University of Melbourne. Their presence gives Carlton a relaxed yet busy feel, with plenty of apartment buildings among the well-maintained terrace houses. It’s a great suburb to fritter away an afternoon, catching a movie at Cinema Nova; browsing the shelves at Readings; taking a walk through Carlton Gardens; or seeing what’s on at Melbourne Museum.

Restaurants

Al Dente Enoteca

Restaurant

What began as a lockdown pasta-delivery service by a stood-down chef is now a swish restaurant and wine bar. Come for spanner crab ravioli, cacio e pepe-filled tortellini; Wagyu bistecca and standout desserts.

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Lagoon Dining

Restaurant

Take a seat at the black granite bar for hot and sour shredded potato, charcoal-roasted char siu and cured pork belly with rolled rice noodles in XO.

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Di Stasio Pizzeria

Restaurant

For the first time, the prolific restaurateur behind Di Stasio Citta is serving pizza – from the classic margherita to a luxurious lobster option – as well as an exceptional fior di latte soft serve. The green-toned interior is studded with Reko Rennie and Shaun Gladwell works, but meander down a gravel path outside to find a 17th-century Italian stone fountain.

TuanTuan

Restaurant

A Hong Kong-style eatery from the founders of Chinatown’s Dessert Kitchen, serving creamy congee, Macanese dishes, and sweet and savoury snow buns.

Capitano

Restaurant

Approachable, unfussy American-Italian food with fine-dining pedigree.

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Kaprica

Restaurant

Traditional dining alive and well in the heart of Carlton.

Cafes

Market Lane Coffee Carlton

Cafe

Market Lane Coffee partners with the local artisan baker in a classically Carlton coffee shop.

Vertue Coffee Roasters

Cafe

Carlton's shyest roastery and cafe is hidden down a laneway.

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Good Measure

Cafe

Find yourself a second home at this cool neighbourhood cafe by a team of hospitality veterans. It serves coffee and sangas during the day, then cocktails and snacks at night – all within a timber-clad space decked out like a north-side living room.

DOC Espresso

Cafe

A pasta and focaccia bar of venerable mention on Lygon Street in Carlton.

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Flovie

Cafe

This florist cafe is a double threat. Come for a creative, floral-themed breakfast, then grab some fresh cut flowers on your way out.

Ima Project Cafe

Cafe

This Japanese-Australian eatery embraces “ugly vegetables” and local art and design. The breakfast menu might involve anything from baked eggs served in a miso sugo to porridge with poached pear, sesame and mitarashi (a sweet soy syrup). If you're planning on getting the lunch special, get in early – it sells out fast.

Bars

Agostino

Bar

A modern take on the classic Italian enoteca, a 50-seat wine bar with house-made pasta, hard-to-find wines and waiters clad in head-to-toe white Japanese denim in an iconic heritage-listed building.

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The John Curtin Hotel

Bar

A pub’s pub at the city end of Lygon Street.

Leonardo’s Pizza Palace

Bar

A rollicking good-times pizzeria from the Leonard's House of Love crew.

Johnny’s Green Room

Bar

This rooftop bar is the crown jewel of the King and Godfree complex. Come here for amazing views out over Carlton and the CBD; modern Italian food and drinks; all soundtracked to Italo disco tunes.

Carlton Wine Room

Bar

The pretty Victorian building in the heart of Carlton is a modern eatery with a European-influenced menu and wine list.

Colour

Bar

A 24-hour nightclub with its very own bandroom.

Shops

The French Lettuce

Shop

Find an enchanting display of cakes at this Carlton patisserie. The vanilla slice here was once voted best in Melbourne – and it's still a cracker, years on.

DOC Delicatessen

Shop

Authentic Italian deli by DOC's Tony Nicolini.

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Lavezzi

Shop

Four generations of experience gives this traditional gelato, sorbet and granita shop a leg up. Plus, its location on a (relatively) quieter part of Lygon Street means that you'll rarely have to queue here.

Pidapipo

Shop

This place is insanely popular – anyone who's had to muscle their way past the snaking Lygon Street queues can attest to this – so anyone who's somehow not acquainted with Pidapipo may be tempted to write it off as touristy or overpriced. Don't. Pidapipo deserves every metre of the long lines it generates; the gelato here is unquestionably some of Melbourne's best.

King & Godfree Deli

Shop

A food emporium with a history of bringing Italian food to Australians since 1884.

La Parisienne Pâtés

Shop

Authentic French food purveyors for gourmands and gourmets alike.