Melbourne is Australia’s best city. I lived there for a year and have begged myself to go back every day since leaving. The city has beaches, a CBD that almost never sleeps, plenty of suburbs worth exploring and shopping, a great café culture, and diverse immigrant populations that keep the food scene interesting. After living in New York, I thought I’d find Melbourne small and sterile. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
There’s no denying that Australia is f-ing expensive. A pint of beer often goes for AUD $10 and a seat at one of the city’s most buzz-worthy restaurants will come with a steep price. But there are cheap ethnic eats and BYOBs on every corner, and if you’re not concerned with labels, you can get a decent bottle of Cleanskins wine for something like AUD $5. In Melbourne, your routine should look like this: wake up, head to your local café for a coffee (Aussies are super serious about this) and some avocado toast (almost definitely invented here), and get ready to spend the rest of your day walking around.
While Sydney has become the flashy face of the country for the rest of the world, Melbourne has relaxed, settled in, and found its own personality. Those recurring listicles don’t lie – this really is one of the most livable cities in the world. And here are my recommendations for where to get the best food, drink, literature, and music:
Melbourne and its suburbs are characterized by Chinese, Hong Kong and Singapore college students, assorted Australian hipsters, Vietnamese immigrants, first generation Greek and Italian grandparents and Middle Eastern enclaves – an equation that yields some amazing eating options. Dish out big dollars on one major meal or two, but for the rest of the time, grab dumplings, pho, Lebanese or souvas for reasonable prices. Don’t forget to indulge during breakfast!
- Cumulus Inc.: worth the splurge for Andrew McConnell’s modern Aussie cuisine in a trendy CBD space
- ShanDong MaMa: some of the city’s best traditional Chinese dumplings in the basement of a Chinatown arcade
- Hammer & Tong 412: One of Melbourne’s best spots for brunch – known for its soft-shell crab burger and breakfast ramen.
- Rockwell and Sons: Their double patty smash burger is to die for in a country where burgers are eternally overcooked.
- A1 Lebanese Bakery: for spicy flat-bread meat pizzas, buttery spinach and halloumi pies and an authentic Middle-Eastern atmosphere
- Jimmy Grants: for possibly the best souvas (gyros) that you’ve ever had. Get the Bonegilla – it’s got both chicken and lamb, mustard aioli and French fries inside.
Melbourne’s nightlife offers something for everyone from craft beer junkies to club kids. I prefer to bar hop in the city’s young-hearted suburbs like Brunswick and Fitzroy. Here are some of my favorite spots.
- Catfish: for a huge selection of imported and craft beers, Philly cheese steak sandwiches and a dive-bar vibe.
- Night Cat: for care-free late-night dancing to live funk, jazz and reggae bands.
- Howler: a converted warehouse with good drinks and lots of space to spread out.
- Little Creatures: The brewery from Perth serves dependable food in a beer-hall atmosphere.
- Bar Oussou: a welcoming Senegalese lounge with comfortable couches, live music and good snacks (cheap pizza!)
- Section 8: an outdoor laneway bar in the CBD with packing crates as seating, a shipping container bar and an ever-cool crowd.
- Broadsheet, Urbanlist, and Three Thousand: great web resources for restaurant, bar and event listings.
- Frankie Magazine: a sweet Melbourne-based mag that you may promptly become addicted to.
- Courtney Barnett: She’s a transplant to Melbourne and she sings in a serious way about #MelbourneProblems like organic vegetables, Great Barrier Reef dredging, and saving money by making your own coffee.
Have a reliable recommendation or sweet spot to share? Go crazy in the comments section.
And keep your eyes peeled for Part II, coming at you soon.