The rules were simple: the venue had to have opened in 2018 (December ’17 at a stretch) with major revamps also getting a hall pass. And the dish (or drink) must be one we can’t get out of our heads.

Leonardo’s Pizza Palace, Carlton: Crumbed chicken cutlet, garlic butter and caper sauce
Ellen Fraser, Melbourne editor
We came for the pizza, but – nostalgic 1970s interior aside – it was this beautifully warped, deep-gold disc o’ schnitzel that won my heart. It’s got a rock hard, salty, jilted ex-lover level exterior, and arrives under a mountain of green capers and a metric tonne of garlic butter. Marry me.

Lesa, CBD: Fermented potato flatbread, shiitake and macadamia
Katya Wachtel, editorial director
I could easily have chosen several dishes from Lesa to include in this list: a decadent slab of hapuka festooned in caviar studs and miniature rings of chive, sitting on a bed of spinach drenched in fermented fennel butter; a warming, nutty, chicken porridge that makes me wonder why we're not doing more dinner porridges all over town. But the bread, and its companion, is the showstopper. (There was a battle in the Broadsheet office as to who got to write this one up.) Potato flatbread, fermented over two days, smoky and a little charred. A ramekin loaded up with silky macadamia cream and rich, meaty shiitake-mushroom oil. Did not know shiitake oil existed before that moment. Happy I know now. Potato bread, mushroom concentrated into an inky slick, and nutty whipped cream – who knew they were the ultimate bedfellows? I groaned a lot eating this. Snack of the century.

Lesa, CBD: Leeks, sunflower seeds, fermented goat’s milk
Nick Connellan, publications director
At times, Dave Verheul seems more like an alchemist than a chef. His outrageously good entree of potato flatbread, shiitake oil and macadamia cream – which I sadly lost the bidding war to write about – is the best example of this, but his leeks aren’t far behind. They’re smoked for two solid hours until they take on a surprisingly meaty flavour, then paired with slow-cooked sunflower seeds and four-week-old fermented goat’s milk. The resulting flavours (complex, musty, intensely savoury) brought me close to tears – something no food has ever done before.

Takeaway Pizza, Preston: Pastrami and bone-marrow pizza
Nick Buckley, assistant Melbourne editor
Traditionalists go into conniptions if you put anything that isn’t the colour of the Italian flag on bread and call it pizza. But there are others who understand that inventive pizza doesn’t – and, god help us, shouldn’t – stop with tandoori chicken. At Takeaway Pizza, big chunks of older sibling Dexter’s house-made pastrami, some nothing more than unctuous cubes of fat, are dotted around the pizza base, supported by grilled spring onions and Mozzarella. In the middle you’ll find a pond of indulgent melted bone marrow, the leftovers of which are perfect for dipping crusts.

Takeaway Pizza, Preston: Pina “of the North” Colada
Aleksandra Bliszczyk, contributor
Not only does this flamingo-plastered Preston diner make my favourite pizza in Melbourne its cocktails are both flamboyant and refined. This take on the Pina Colada has two types of rum, loads of citrus and pineapple and no cloying coconut-flavoured liqueur – only the real stuff. It’s perfectly paired with a pizza slathered in liquid marrow.

Capitano, Carlton: Chittara, clam sauce; or conchiglie, vodka sauce
Hilary McNevin, contributor
It’s a tie between the chittara (similar to spaghetti) with clam sauce and the conchiglie (shell pasta) with vodka sauce at Capitano. The salty-sweet molluscs in the clam dish work so well with the taut pasta. It’s right up my alley. And if my teenagers leave any venue asking when they can return for a particular dish – in this case, the conchiglie – I’m all in.

Super Ling, Carlton: Mapo tofu jaffle
Anna Webster, contributor
This is one of those dishes you get to share with a friend and then quickly realise one is not going to be enough – it never was. Rich, balanced, a decent hit of spice – the humble cheese toastie is forever ruined for me.

The Kraut Bar, Preston: Old Ruba
Luke Robertson, contributor
This is a local that ticks so many boxes – good beer, free pool Fridays, a jukebox full of bangers, and its own colourful style – and it also does a mean cocktail. The signature Old Ruba is a sweet and spicy affair with a lovely hit of Kraken spiced rum and a citrus sugar rim.

Bekka, Moonee Ponds: Batata Harra
Stephanie Vigilante, contributor
I’m not sure whether it’s the garlicky basting or the dust of smoked paprika on top that makes this dish so addictive. The Lebanese-style potatoes here are boiled until they’re soft, cut into cubes, fried until golden brown, then tossed in a marinade of crushed garlic, lemon juice, salt, chilli, smoked paprika and coriander. I suggest ordering two, one for yourself and one for the table.

Brogan’s Way Distillery, Richmond: Royal Blood gin, neat
Evan Jones, contributor
Brogan Carr and her dad Simon quit their jobs to start a gin distillery in Richmond this year – and bless them for doing so. All three of Brogan’s gins are killer, but the Royal Blood (their navy strength) is a big, viscous beast that’s as good by itself as in any cocktail. It’s not often I’ll sip a gin neat but it’s almost a shame to dilute this one. This place is going to feature heavily in my summer.

Sunda, CBD: Otak otak, spanner-crab curry, finger lime, rice crisps
Max Veenhuyzen, Perth editor
Part of Southeast Asia’s seemingly endless repertoire of snacks, the steamed banana-leaf wrapped savoury custard known as otak otak (see, also: hor mokin Thailand and amok in Cambodia) is common at hawker centres around Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia and available in myriad permutations starring different seafood, spices and chilli levels. My benchmark version, though, is traceable to this plucky CBD laneway restaurant where the street-food staple is reimagined as a just-set, parfait-like slab of crab curry with a richness coolly offset by pops of finger lime. Grab a dense house-made cracker of puffed rice, start schmearing and revel in one of the most exciting new openings of the year.

Sunda, CBD: Vegemite curry with roti
Ellen Fraser, Melbourne editor
On my first visit to Sunda I knocked back the offer of a Vegemite curry special and was promptly filled with regret. When I returned, it was with a mission. This dish is a rough, golden-tan twist of broken roti next to a wodge of highly concentrated, coppery-brown curry. Chef Khanh Nguyen says it’s made with the usual suspects you’d get in a curry, but along with the Vegemite he adds butter, roasted yeast and sour cream. A well in the centre is filled with shimmering red curry oil. It’s spectacular.

Sunda, CBD: Egg noodles, XO sauce, chicken crackling and pepperberry
Anna Webster, contributor
Not just one of the best things I ate this year but one of the best things I’ll eat, ever. Chewy noodles doused in a rich XO sauce with an illegal amount of crispy chicken skin and the gentle hum of pepperberry... Oof! Level up with the addition of fresh uni if you get the chance.

Bar Saracen, CBD: Cheese mamool, fig and sesame jam
Nick Connellan, publications director
If you’re not familiar with ma’amoul (or mamool, as it’s spelled on the menu here), book a table at Bar Saracen right away. These filled, shortbread-like pastries are popular across the Middle East, but Saracen’s version reminds me of a really, really good English scone. In place of cream and strawberry jam, there’s a mix of goat’s cheese and kasseri (a hard cheese made from sheep and goat’s milk), paired with fig and sesame jam. Each bite of luscious dairy and dough is tempered by the figs’ gentle sweetness and acidity.

Kazuki’s, Carlton: Pipi, soy, ginger
Ellen Fraser, Melbourne editor
Everyone’s got their hangover fix, whether it be fried chicken or the cool embrace of doctor ocean. You can imagine then how ill-matched this pipi and I were after a few hours spent on the house reds the night before. But the first dish I tried in the hushed, subdued dining room of Japanese fine diner Kazuki’s really blew my mind. A single raw pipi, spiked with ginger and a snifter of soy, served in the shell. It’s clean, sweet, brine-y and lively all at once – not quite doctor ocean, but damn near close enough.

Little Odessa, Fitzroy: Fried pickled cucumbers, dill salt
Nick Connellan, publications director
I’m sure the team at Little Odessa is usually nice. But on the chilly Saturday night I visited, I didn’t cop a single smile, or even a fleeting bit of eye contact. And yet, I’d go back for the deep-fried pickle chips, which could legitimately be Melbourne’s best drinking food. Not only are they crunchy, salty, vinegary, moreish and easy to eat with one hand, they’re also a valuable source of electrolytes (i.e. a pre-emptive strike on your hangover). Eastern Europeans have been eating pickles with their vodka for centuries, which is why you’re unlikely to find them desperately chugging Gatorades out the front of 7-Elevens at 4am.

Navi, Yarraville: Smoked blue mackerel
Nick Buckley, assistant Melbourne editor
Julian Hills takes pride in every aspect of his fine diner Navi, from making his own plates to personally foraging ingredients on the Mornington Peninsula. Respect for these native elements is placed above all else in Hills’s technique-heavy dishes. The best example of this sees smoked blue mackerel marinated in honey and soy. The fish is then sealed in beeswax and aged for a week, allowing subtle umami qualities to develop. Salty beach greens give contrast to a sweet, roasted fishbone and toasted tea-tree dashi that’s poured over nori tapioca crisps that pop and crackle. Pure magic.

Monou, South Melbourne: Seared kobujime scampi sashimi
Aleksandra Bliszczyk, contributor
Scampi, arguably the sweetest of all crustacea, pairs magically well with a host of flavours, and it’s also gobsmackingly delicious solo. My new favourite way to take it is ever-so-slightly seared, lying on rough cubes of barely set dashi jelly and equally rough cubes of equally gelatinous eggplant. This playful dish at Monou is sweet, savoury, and full of surprising textures.

Cheek, Melbourne: Brioche ice-cream, Hundreds and Thousands, parsnips
Nick Connellan, publications director
Growing up, I wasn’t allowed Coco Pops, Froot Loops or Frosties. But, exploiting a loophole with a shamelessness that would qualify me for inclusion in the Panama Papers, I used to dust copious amounts of icing sugar on my cornflakes instead. This dessert took me back to those days, albeit in more grown-up fashion: fried, lightly salted parsnip shavings, brioche ice-cream, white-chocolate soil and Hundreds and Thousands. The result: mouth-coating milkiness, loads of crunch and just a hint of malt. Kudos to 22-year-old pastry chef Alex Webb, who also makes a mean yuzu ice-cream with ginger granita.

Matilda, South Yarra: Charred kangaroo, sweet corn, lemon myrtle
Nick Connellan, publications director
Cooking over wood has been trending for a few years now. In many cases though, the method feels like more of an indulgence for chefs than diners. Not so at Matilda. These thinly sliced, burnt-at-the-edges bits of ’roo couldn’t be made with anything but a naked, smoke-riddled flame. The kitchen marinates the slices in oyster sauce for an umami boost, chargrills them, rests them in the marinade again, then brushes them with fermented capsicum paste. They end up both chewy and tender, like the best jerky you’ve ever eaten. An honourable mention goes to the Macedon Ranges duck with charred blood orange, featuring probably the best skin in town right now.

Matilda, South Yarra: Pink lady apple tarte tatin, smoked vanilla-bean ice-cream
Anna Webster, contributor
I love all tarte tatins but the one at Matilda is something else. The caramel is taken so far it’s almost burnt, and the resulting bitterness balances the sweetness of the pink lady apples perfectly. Topped with that smoked vanilla ice cream... (Wipes keyboard).

The Park Hotel, Abbotsford: Biryancini
Evan Jones, contributor
There's something about food pretending to be other food that always gets me. And just like the cheeseburger spring rolls at sister pub The Royston, The Park's biryancini are the perfect beer food. Spiced lamb biryani is balled up into arancini, fried and served with a little smoked yogurt. With the beer list here always looking super sharp, it's best to get something in the stomach.

La Sirène Brewing Citray Sour
Nick Connellan, publications director
The tart, puckering flavours found in sour beers aren’t everyone’s idea of a good time. But much like Boatrocker’s delicate, raspberry-infused Miss Pinky before it, this beer is poised to convert non-believers. The sourness is mild and totally in balance, as is the citrus-y tang of real oranges. And perhaps more importantly, you can plausibly drink a sixpack in a single sitting.

Cutler & Co, Fitzroy: Fried chicken, wild fennel glaze
Ellen Fraser, Melbourne editor
While not technically a new opening, this one felt so deserving we had to squeeze it in. Initially launched as part of Cutler's spring degustation, the sticky, salty, aniseed-y goodness of this little gem has since moved across to the bar menu, so you can pop in and try it without emptying your wallet. In the dining room it manifests as fried, boneless legs, but in the bar you’ll get a combo of leg and wing. It makes a spectacular drinking buddy; I highly recommend commandeering a solo spot at a high-top marble table, ordering a Wildflower Brewing Gold Ale, and settling the heck in.

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