Lygon Street’s Italian precinct was once Carlton’s singular claim to culinary fame. But there’s this inner city hub than its mastery of pizza and pasta. These days, Carlton also offers an array of cafes and restaurants representing a vast range of international cultures and cuisines.
From pho to curry, sushi and burgers, Carlton is bursting with choice and, thanks to its strong student population, it’s also home to plenty of wallet-friendly lunches too. We took a wander through the streets to scout the best lunches in Carlton that won’t set you back more than a $10 note.
1. Minestrone at Café Italia – $9.90
56–66 University Street, Carlton
For really good comfort food, you just can’t go past homely Italian. Although known for their famous pasta dishes, Café Italia also does a hearty, piping-hot bowl of minestrone, finished with a dollop of fresh pesto. Other cheap eats here include a damn good bruschetta with sweet balsamic and bocconcini for less than $8.
2. Kung Pao Chicken with Rice at Rice Bar (Not Only Rice) – $9.80
121 Grattan Street, Carlton
Quirky name aside, Rice Bar (Not Only Rice) serves up good, affordable, chiefly Malaysian dishes at lightning-quick pace. Full of flavour, with succulent, marinated chicken and very generous portions, the Kung Pao chicken is a tasty traditional Sichuan dish with peanuts, vegetables and crispy chilli peppers, delivering as much ‘pow’ as its name suggests.
3. Sea Salt Burger at Sea Salt – $9.90
364 Lygon Street, Carlton
Good, fresh seafood is the name of the game here. For fish and chips with a twist, try the Sea Salt Burger: crispy battered fish of the day with fresh lettuce, tomato and a side of crunchy, hot chips.
4. Curry at Chai – Eat Like Malaysian – $9.80
127 Pelham Street, Carlton
Sometimes you just can’t go past a good curry. Chai serves up three kinds of delicious curries for only $9.80, all served with authentic nasi lemak (traditional Malaysian rice soaked in coconut milk and then steamed). At this authentic Malaysian joint, you’ll find flavoursome food, affordability and friendly service – a cheap eats trifecta.
5. Toasted Panini at Animal Orchestra – $10
163 Grattan Street, Carlton
This quaint, little cafe (which could be mistaken for a house) serves up a spectrum of deliciously crisp, toasted paninis featuring fillings like prosciutto, pesto and goat’s cheese; roast beef with caramelised onion; and smoked salmon, capers and horseradish. Made even better with good, fresh bread, there are so many options you’ll be going back daily to try them all.
6. Pho at Saigon Pho – $9 (small), $10 (regular)
106 Lygon Street, Carlton
For a delicious and cheap meal, it’s hard to go past pho. Saigon Pho sticks to that foolproof formula of doing one thing and doing it well, with 17 varieties of the classic Vietnamese dish. Sliced beef and chicken are the most popular choices here, and be sure to top them off with some fresh Vietnamese mint, bean shoots, a few slices of fresh chilli (if you’re game).
7. Pissalidiere at Baker D. Chirico – $8
178 Faraday Street, Carlton
Contender for one of Melbourne's coolest examples of interior design, you might find yourself lingering well past lunchtime at Baker D. Chiroco. While you're there, try the pissadiliere, a mini pizza-like bake topped with all kinds of salty goodies such as tomato, anchovies and cheeses. There’s also plenty of fresh bread, tarts and pastries baked daily, so with your leftover change you’ll even be able to buy a snack for later.
8. Soup at Soul Soup – $7.90
55 Cardigan Street, Carlton
With the cold weather now well and truly here, there are few better ways to keep warm than with a scrumptious bowl of hot soup. Soul Soup has a daily rotating menu featuring fresh, seasonal ingredients, so one day you might be slurping on chicken and sweet corn, while the next day, it might be cauliflower and parmesan, or even red lentil. All soups are served with crusty bread to ensure you’re all filled up for less than $8.
9. Homemade Pie at Filou's Patisserie – $6
Corner Lygon & Fenwick Street, Carlton
This is no subpar servo pie. Baked daily by pastry chefs trained in France, these pies are best fresh out of the oven and perfectly imperfect in shape – the way they should be. Filou’s pies are brimming with all kinds of mouth-watering fillings, including chicken and mushroom or lamb and rosemary. It's not all about the meat though; Filou's delicious spinach pie is perhaps their most famous.
10. Gelato at Casa Del Gelato – $5 (small, up to three flavours)
163 Lygon Street, Carlton
We're not recommending gelato for lunch, but if you're in Carlton you can't go past a cheeky scoop on your walk home. Don’t be fooled by rival gelato shops down the street. Sure, the ice cream might look fancier in the cabinet, but as the locals will tell you, Casa Del Gelato is the original and the best. The perfect price-savvy dessert option, choose up to three flavours for just $5. Expect a bit of a wait during peak after-dinner hours though, but with delectable flavours like caramelised fig, jasmine, Amaretto, chilli chocolate and passionfruit, you’ll need the time to narrow down your choices anyway.