Best Express Lunches in Melbourne's CBD

Updated 11 months ago

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A quick lunch doesn’t have to be unhealthy or lacklustre – there’s evidence of that on just about every block in Melbourne’s CBD. Thankfully, the city is full of impressive express lunch options, from the European sandwich bar to the Michelin-star hawker joint.

We’ve gathered our favourite local spots where you can grab a fast, satisfying lunch – whether you're solo or with a group. If you left your lunch at home, feel uninspired by your leftovers in the work fridge, or just want to break up the tourist trail with a quick yet hearty meal, this list has you covered.

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  • Owner Chee Wong quickly made his mother-in-law’s char kway teow (and the special sauce) a hot commodity. Choose one of the seven options of the popular Malaysian hawker dish (including original with prawns, and vegetarian) for a sumptuous midweek meal. No booking? No worries.

  • Descend to the sprawling and busy basement for a menu that honours classic Thai street food. Bring a group and enjoy the share-plate menu that includes pad thai, whole fish soup, seafood platters, papaya salads and plates of barbequed meat. And enjoy the novelty of cat-faced robots serving your food.

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  • Its revered xiao long bao has drawn crowds since it opened in 2008. Other favourites include spicy wonton and pan-fried dumplings. A reliable classic for no-fuss, high quality dumplings.

  • A Michelin-star global dumpling chain that started as a roadside store in Taipei. Intricacy and precision undergird the specialties here (each xiao long bao is folded 18 times). Robots deliver a fast yet impressive menu that features kung pao chicken, wonton soup, noodles, bao and pan-fried seafood.

  • Hidden in a city carpark, this Thai street-food spot has become a cult Melbourne favourite. Brave the queues for aromatic boat noodles, spicy papaya salads, crying tiger (slow-cooked and grilled beef brisket), mixed Thai hotpot and more. Plus, BYO wines from the natural wine shop next door.

  • Masterfully marries Japanese cuisine with fresh Australian seafood in an easy, grab-and-go setting. Build your own poke or salad bowl, or trust the experts. Fans come back for the salmon, tuna and inventive combinations (think tofu and cucumber with tamari almonds and shallots).

  • Mediterranean street food from Jerusalem-born Masterchef judge Eyal Shani, with outposts in London, New York and Singapore. The stuffed pita pocket is a quick and filling midday option – choose from vegetables, grass-fed beef, lamb or seafood stuffings. Tuck your napkin into your shirt and dig in.

  • Fast Michelin-star food without a hefty price tag. This global chain started in Singapore’s famed hawker canteens and continues to churn out high quality classics like char siu, roast pork and crispy skin roast duck.

  • You’ll find some of the best dumplings in town in an arcade off Chinatown. Don’t let the long line deter you. The staff at this stripped back, all-day Chinese diner keep the queues moving quickly. Shandong is known for its seafood so be sure to add a plate to the order.

  • The world-famous chain has been perfecting its ramen since 1985. It’s loved for its signature hakata ramen (a rich, creamy, pork bone broth with chewy noodles) while its tonkotsu akamaru shinaji ramen is made from a 25-year-old recipe. Any of its bowls will fit the bill for a fast and filling lunch.

  • A hole in the wall along Degraves Street that’s ever-reliable for a filling French baguette to go. Spot the scribbled chalkboard, order your ideal combo (Gruyere, ham, French pickles, and mustard is a classic) and be on your way. Waffles make a sweet addition here.

  • Quick and hearty ramen for all tastes – from the traditional to the adventurous. Enjoy a classic tonkotsu or spicy ramen, or customise your bowl to an equally impressive vegan or vegetarian option. Wash it all down with sharp Sapporo.

  • Drop by on a weekday for a toasted panini with classic combinations such as mozzarella and tomato, or Asiago cheese, prosciutto and grilled peppers. Enjoy it with a spritz or Italian wine if you’re off (or on) the clock.

  • Bangpop might be set along the Birrarung, but it’s set on recreating the atmosphere at Bangkok’s lively street hawker stands. A standout dish is the sweet and spicy barramundi with lychee, pineapple and cherry tomato.

  • Chequerboard floors and a meat cabinet create an authentic American diner experience at this fast-casual, hole-in-the-wall burger joint. The menu honours timeless American classics like the Reuben sandwich, chilli dog and cheeseburger. More adventurous carnivores might enjoy a black pudding and devilled egg burger.

  • A vibrant pan-Indian diner that’s proudly “unauthentic”. Sink into a plush booth for sweet-and-sour fried cauliflower, colourful thali and Tandoori-fired-pineapple cocktails before spilling out onto Chinatown after.

  • A DIY okonomiyaki restaurant that’s perfect for a group. Slip into a semi-private booth and have a go at the hotplate, either à la carte or all-you-can-eat okonomiyaki. There’s also sushi, salads, fried chicken, donburi, gyoza, yakitori and Japanese beer.

  • Hankering for a filling sandwich? They’re front and centre at this European-inspired cafe and wine bar. Standout sandwiches might include Provolone and the house Greta sauce (mayo-spiked salsa verde) or pesto-slathered beef cheek. Plus coffee from Axil Coffee Roasters.

  • Asian-inspired small and large share plates (dumplings, bug tails, sashimi) with an almost 360-degree city view make for an impressive lunchtime pit stop. What's more, the set lunch menu is stellar value for $45. Available Wednesday to Sunday.

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  • Porchetta. Cotoletta. Grilled pork and fennel sausage. The owners and childhood friends behind this Italian sandwich bar honour pork in all its forms. Enjoy it in a crunchy, fresh panini alongside a stovetop coffee or Italian cola. Once you’re finished, you might try a cannoli or bomboloni (a perfectly reasonable move).

  • Sandwiches covering the basics to the unexpected – here you’ll find fillings as pedestrian as mozzarella and as exotic as pickled sardine and honey miso. Dine in the spacious room or eat it en route back to the office.

  • A European-style sandwich bar serving quick, fresh grab-and-go lunches. Come for jazzed-up, Italo-Japanese-leaning sangas, strong coffees and sweet shakes.

  • This lively cantina is all about home-style Mexican. Expect beef tacos exactly how they’re served in Mexico, prawn-and-chorizo tamales and a jiggly chocolate flan. Plus: eight different Margaritas and hard-to-find agave spirits.

  • Starting in the 1940s as a place for migrant waiters to unwind after a shift, this Melbourne icon still serves reliably good pastas and desserts. There’s nothing fancy here – just good wine in glass tumblers, humble family-run hospitality, and a chalkboard menu of hearty Italian classics.

  • Legend has it Pellegrini’s was the recipient of Melbourne’s first espresso machine in ’54. Now a Bourke Street icon, its appeal is evident in the diverse clientele: office workers, theatregoers, students and tourists all chasing hearty pastas and watermelon granita.

  • This Indonesian sandwich and coffee shop (by an ex-Navi sous-chef) serves Aussie cafe favourites with Indo flair. Find gado gado sandwiches, sambal-spiked Filet-o-Fish and sweets like kaya crullers. Plus, Dukes coffee all day.