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

  • Inspired by Italy’s Piedmont region, the Scopri team plates up house-made pastas and heavy-hitting secondi such as kid goat cooked on the bone. Don’t be fooled by the starchy white tablecloths – there’s nothing but a friendly, welcoming vibe at this Carlton classic.

  • Seafood comes first at this family-run 12-seat restaurant. Its fishmonger owners once ran a popular seafood stall at Footscray Market. Come for buttery lobster rolls with salmon roe, and blue swimmer crab marinated in gochujang.

  • Originally a lockdown pasta delivery service by a stood-down chef, this swish spot doubles as a restaurant and locally focused wine bar. Come for signature tortellini, sterling seafood and classic Italian desserts in a chic neighbourhood dining room.

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  • This pasta spot has big nonna energy. Come for rigatoni doused in rich Napoli-style ragu, Italo-disco tunes and a yarn with the two owners – who draw inspiration from their upbringings in southern Italy.

  • 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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  • This casual Indonesian eatery features all your street food favourites, with an entirely halal-friendly menu. Plus, you can browse the mini grocery section and take home hard-to-find Indonesian snack foods.

  • A loyal clientele and a satisfying pan-Asian menu have kept this vego institution humming for more than 30 years. Go for the signature satay skewers, nyonya curry and laksa. Kylie Minogue and the late David Bowie have been fans of this spot for a reason.

  • The prime corner site in Carlton is a place for low-key Italian food, gelato and coffee.

  • A Lygon Street espresso and cicchetti bar.

  • A Greek- and English-inspired restaurant inside an 1880s terrace building. There are share plates of crudo, housemade bread and market seafood; and the Euro wine list. There’s capacity for up to 120 people, plus the option to hire the grand and rustic space for functions.

  • It might take you a minute to find the door, hidden inside Hareruya Pantry. But up the discreet staircase lies a beautifully minimalist bar with expertly crafted temaki rolls (cone-shaped hand rolls), and a 50-strong sake list favouring female brewers.

  • Little Italy wouldn’t be the same without this little joint. People have been lining up across its chequerboard floors for generous pastas, pizzas and parmigianas since the ’70s. But fear not – the queue moves fast.

  • As with its older sibling next door, you don’t come here for theatrics or artful presentation. You come here for no-frills Italian fare. Here the focus is on pizza. For the full experience, grab one of the outdoor tables on Lygon Street and order some cannoli for dessert. You won’t regret it.

  • This paddock-to-plate cafe and bistro sources much of its produce directly from the owners’ Gippsland farm, and uses it to serve up hearty breakfasts, plus harvest dinners with local DJs and booze.

  • In 2018, this Euro-Japanese fine diner moved from its home in Daylesford to Carlton. We're glad it's made the move to the city. The dishes here, delivered thoughtfully across several multi-course options, are a compelling argument for fusion done the right way.

  • Under the watchful eye of a 1.5-tonne steel dragon, Australia’s first outpost of international chain Panda Hot Pot is serving fiery DIY soup with a choice of 80 ingredients.

  • Looking to avoid the lines at the original, which set the gold standard for Hakata-style tonkotsu ramen in Melbourne? Head to Carlton.

  • An all-you-can-eat Japanese barbeque joint where you’ll be cooking wagyu over the coals and sipping ice-cold matcha beer.

Cafes

  • 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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  • This cafe combines minimalist decor with maximalist flavours – which come in the form of loaded croffles (the viral croissant-waffle hybrid), baked banana puddings and specialty Indonesian drinks.

  • 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.

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

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

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

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  • Dench pastries, Coffee Supreme lattes and al fresco dining, all in a former power substation.

  • Old-school Italian coffee making gets a second wind at this Carlton cafe.

  • Four ex-soldiers are behind this cafe, which sells coffee direct from Timor.

  • A strong contender for Melbourne's best coffee (with a menu to match).

  • Tea and filter coffee specialist store.

  • Vietnamese-influenced dishes are just one of this cafe’s many tricks.

Bars

  • Right opposite a university, this is a fine spot for students to miss lectures in. But it also welcomes everyone with its pub classics (from parmas to porterhouse steaks) and lush rooftop bar.

  • The green heritage-style facade and mid-century decor give all the impressions of another classic pub. Yet the vegetarian menu says otherwise. The eggplant “schnitzel” and fried cauliflower stand out; the diverse beers are a bonus.

  • This 19th-century gastropub, with a vintage front bar and bistro, is among Melbourne’s best. It’s serving modern classics (including schnitzel with chicken butter) and a set menu that wouldn’t look out of place in a classy restaurant.

  • It was once Bob Hawke’s favourite watering hole; these days it’s a rock’n’roll icon. Bands often pack out the upper level, while DJs spin vinyl downstairs. Sonny’s, the in-house diner, has Southern-style fried chicken and banging burgers.

  • 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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  • The crown jewel of the King and Godfree complex. A visit here comes with Italian-beach-club energy, amazing city views, Italian fare and summer-ready drinks. It’s all tied together by a soundtrack of Italo disco tunes.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Find high-quality gin, whisky, vodka and rum at the cityside sibling to Fossey’s Mildura. Go for cocktails mixed with house-made Christmas pudding gin, blood-orange vodka or butterscotch whisky. The food menu also makes use of the house spirits: expect fries with rum-infused sauce; or cider-marinated pork belly with gin-pickled vegetables.

  • A cosy wine bar with quality pasta, hard-to-find wines and waiters clad head-to-toe in white Japanese denim. Set within an iconic heritage building, this place is a Melbourne interpretation of a classic Italian enoteca.

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

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  • Settle in at the red marble bar with a biodynamic wine and a plate of bourbon-and-Coke lamb ribs.

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  • One of the oldest wine bars in Melbourne.

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Shops

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Authentic French food purveyors for gourmands and gourmets alike.

  • A music-gear nerd’s dream.