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.


  • This Mexican eatery makes its own tortillas and grows its own chillies and herbs. To drink, there’s wine on tap or you can buy mezcal from the in-house bottle shop.

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  • When veteran restaurateur Rinaldo Di Stasio started serving pizza for the first time, people duly took notice. Come for classic Margheritas and luxurious lobster pies in a colourful, artwork-filled space.

  • Come to this buzzy restaurant for pizza like the Italians eat: simple and brilliant combos that don’t overload the palate, with a focus on best-in-class ingredients. It can be hard to squeeze in on a busy night – that’s half the fun.

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  • This fun Italian joint, from Bar Liberty’s crew, takes plenty of cues from North America – with deep-dish pizza “squares” and rich, fermented base “rounds”. While the US gets a big look-in, the wine list is almost entirely Italian.

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  • Authentic Lebanese, with recipes passed down for generations.

  • 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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  • Cult-followed lamingtons by a former Black Star Pastry chef. Alongside its playful range of lamingtons (think yuzu curd and cream; and fairy-bread popcorn), expect made-to-order onigiri, pork-katsu sausage rolls and miso-mushroom pies.

  • 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.

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  • A vibrant corner shop that combines a cafe, wine shop, deli and general store. Enjoy its dippy eggs and morning plates, or grab a bottle of wine and bouquet to-go.

  • The roller door goes up mid-morning at this sun-drenched Japanese eatery, and it’s worth getting in early to secure your picnic-ready bento box and Japanese-inspired gelato. Once you do, take your spoils across the street and enjoy in Lincoln Square.

  • It’s named after (but is far more likeable than) the worst character in ’90s golf comedy Happy Gilmore. Expect sangas brimming with hot-honey fried chicken biscuits and fish 'n' chip butties.

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


  • Hit up this community-focused watering hole for Aussie wines, Melbourne beers, and produce sourced from Victorian farms and businesses within the bar’s five-kilometre radius.

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  • Leonardo’s is the kind of place you can accidentally spend hours at, and wake up far dustier than planned. The pepperoni is a classic, and the jalapeno number with fermented pepper and bechamel is a spicy wake-up call in the low-lit diner.

  • A 19th-century gastropub with a vintage front bar and a bistro up there with the city’s best. The menu includes modern classics (including a signature schnitzel with chicken butter) and a set offering that wouldn’t look out of place in a classy restaurant.

  • Its heritage-style facade and mid-century decor give all the impressions of another classic Melbourne pub. Yet the entirely vegetarian and vegan menu says otherwise. Go for the plant-based “charcuterie”, eggplant “schnitzel” and fried cauliflower. The diverse local beers on tap are a bonus.

  • Is it a cocktail bar? A wine bar? A bistro? It’s all of that, depending on your mood and the occasion. Visit for standout Martinis with creative house twists, plus devilled eggs, veal schnitties and the possibility of making good friends.

  • It was once Bob Hawke’s favourite watering hole; these days it’s a rock’n’roll institution. Bands routinely pack out the upper level, while DJs spin vinyl from a roughed-up timber cubby hole downstairs. The in-house diner Sonny’s serves up Southern-style fried chicken and banging burgers.


  • Two chefs with Michelin-star cred are behind this creative patisserie, which is a love letter to French madeleines. Try their artistic sponge cakes in flavours like pandan, black sesame, and burnt butter and leatherwood honey.

  • Find an enchanting display of cakes at this patisserie, around since ’84. The New York cheesecake makes memories with a drizzle of raspberry coulis. The vanilla slice was once voted Melbourne’s best – and is still a cracker.

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

  • This clean-cut gelateria deserves every metre of the long lines it routinely generates – the gelato here is some of Melbourne's very best.

  • This gelato shop takes its cues from Southeast Asia, rather than Italy. Past flavours on owner Agusta Triwahyu's eclectic menu have included durian, lychee, Turkish Delight and even Malaysian condensed-milk tea.

  • Authentic Italian deli by DOC's Tony Nicolini.