MELBOURNE | Footscray is one of those suburbs that I love going to for its diverse food, bars, and street art. Every time I visit, I’m captivated by melting pot of cultures who have called this suburb home over the years, and the interaction between old and new. As I leave, I always say to myself “I really need to get to Footscray more often”.
As it happens, I’m not the only Melburnian who shares this sentiment. A few months ago, I took a couple of friends, relatively new to Melbourne, on a one day tour of what I consider to be Footscray’s highlights. I posted stories on Instagram throughout the day, and was inundated by locals eagerly following my day. Most either hadn’t been to Footscray before, or hadn’t been in a long time.
“You need to make a guide!” I was told many a time, and you know what, they were right. Whenever I travel overseas I made these sorts of guides, yet I rarely take the time to make them for the city in which I live, that I know more than any other. It’s about time that changed, and what better way to kick things off than with a guide to Footscray’s diverse food, bars, and street art.
In this Footscray food, bar, and street art guide, I’ll tell you about the places that I took my friends to that day, plus some other favourites that are still doing their thing. If you’re a local looking to explore a suburb you haven’t been to for a while, if at all, or a visitor looking to get a literal and figurative taste of a suburb that’s glanced over by most guides, this guide is for you. Enjoy.
The day starts with cannoli at T. Cavallaro & Sons. The Cavallaro family have been making Italian pastries from the same Footscray pasticceria since 1956. Their Sicilian-style cannoli, made using the same family recipe that’s been used since day one, are considered by many to be the best in Melbourne.
After enjoying your cannoli, head across the road to the Footscray Market. Operating for over 40 years, the market is at the heart of the community, reflecting the waves of immigrants who have made this suburb home. Originally a European focused market, today the market has a predominantly Asian flavour to it. If you’re looking for some of the best fresh produce in town, and Asian fruits and vegetables you don’t find in regular supermarkets, Footscray market has what you need. Be sure not to miss the small food court at the back of the market. Huu Thanh sell an assortment of quality Vietnamese eats, while Lutong Pinoy offers home-style Filipino dishes.
Speaking of Vietnamese food, you’ll probably be working up a bit of an appetite now. Across the road from the market, just up from T. Cavallaro & Sons, you’ll find Nhu Lan Bakery. It’s a spot that’s always in the mix when people talk about the best bánh mì in Melbourne, and for good reason. Perfectly textured baguettes are baked fresh on site each day, generously filled with an assortment of quality fillings. For me, it’s the classic banh mi thit every time.
Other great options for Vietnamese food in the suburb are Co Thu Quan, and Cô Thăm Cần Thơ, Dong Ba, and Pho Tam. Don’t sleep on the Vietnamese snacks and desserts being sold by vendors on the street around Footscray Market either.
If Vietnamese really isn’t what you’re craving for lunch, you can head around the corner to 8 Bit on Droop Street. When they opened they were one of the best places in town for an American-style burger, and they’re still as good today. Sticking to the American theme, walk east and you’ll find Up In Smoke, which is a top choice for American style low and slow BBQ and craft beer.
If buying produce is part of what you’re after today, and it’s seafood you’re looking for, you’ll want to D&K Live Seafood. This wholesaler and retailer sell seriously good quality seafood, supplying restaurant and locals in the know. Two rooms are filled with tanks containing all kinds of seafood, which is killed and cleaned for you on the spot. It doesn’t get any fresher.
Now it’s time for gelato. One of my favourite places for gelato in Melbourne is Kariton Sorbites. It was started by chefs John Rivera and Minh Duong during 2020’s lockdowns, and draws upon their respective Filipino and Vietnamese heritage, as well as the wider South East Asian region. The result is brilliant gelato with unique, inspired flavours.
While enjoying your gelato, it’s a great time to take in some of the Footscray’s brilliant street art. Street art can be found all over Footscray. Much of it is created by local artists, and deals with topics faced by locals. Politics, the immigrant experience, the joys of life, and more. My Footscray Street Art Guide will give you the details on exactly where to find the best pieces in the suburb.
Take the long route to Hop Nation Brewing Co while you enjoy your gelato, following the parts of my guide that take you up Nicholson Street, through the Victoria University Campus, and across the rail tracks. It’ll take you into an industrial part of the neighbourhood, and show you a different side of the neighbourhood. It won’t be long before a lot of this is replaced by apartments, as the rapid gentrification of Footscray continues.
At Hop Nation, you can enjoy a diverse selection of beers, as well as wines from the brewery’s offshoot wine project Site. The founders of Hop Nation actually started as winemakers before moving into beer, so rest assured the wines here are more than just an afterthought. The beers are some of the best in town, and there’s always interesting one-off brews on tap. In fact, I once did a collaboration beer with them. A New England IPA inspired by, and incorporating ingredients from, the Footscray Market. There’s a whole podcast about it that you can listen to here.
Be sure to pace yourself, as there are a few venues you’ll want to be drinking at after this. Walk over to Lickety Split, a multi-space outdoor bar owned by Jerome Borazio, founder of Melbourne’s original laneway bar, St Jerome’s. While walking there, be sure to take in the view across to Melbourne’s CBD from the bridge that goes over the rail tracks near the intersection of Moreland Street and Bunbury Street.
Upstairs in the building next to it, is another of Jerome’s venues, Back Alley Sally’s. Here and at Lickety Split, you can enjoy quality drinks with a focus on local stuff. If you want a snack, you can order in pizzas from Slice Girls West. Depending on the time of day, check out Harry & Larrys. It’s downstairs in the same building, and is a general store full of great products from local producers.
Head towards Barkly Street and walk west, just past the Footscray Market, and you’ll find a hidden public square, Maddern Square. It’s home to some great street art, and a fun alternative bar, Hail Lilith. It’s a homage to mystical Lilith, with great cocktails, loud music, and excellent vegan snacks. Grab a cocktail here, then continue up to the other side of the square where you’ll find Baby Snakes Bar. It’s a fun bar, with a fantastic, eclectic wine and cocktail list.
Once you’re done at Baby Snakes, pop into Mr West Bar & Bottleshop, where you’ll find one of the best craft beer tap lists in town, as well as a top tier selection of drinks for those who aren’t into beer. The bottleshop is downstairs, and the bar above it.
Note that all of the venues I’ve mentioned have great non-alcoholic and low-alcohol options, so it is possible to check them all out without getting wasted.
Despite your snacking, you’ve probably built up quite the appetite by now. Get back onto Barkly street and head west. You’ve got two great options for Ethiopian food on this street – Ras Dashen and Abesha. I’m a big fan of both and can’t spit the two. For a West African feed, check out newcomer, The African Calabash. If African food isn’t what you’re in the mood for, another gem is Katarina Zrinksi Restaurant. Located inside the Croatian Club, it’s a great place for traditional Croatian dishes.
Close to both Ethiopian restaurants are two bars to check out post-dinner – Littlefoot Bar and Bar Josephine. The former, I like to call the “Twin Peaks” bar, which you’ll probably agree with when you see it. It’s an unpretentious spot with great tunes and quality drinks. Bar Josephine is equally unpretentious, with more of a site down and chat vibe, and a better craft beer selection.
If, after all of this, you’re still up for more, finish your night at Pride of our Footscray. It’s a gay bar that’s open to all, and is a whole lot of fun no matter your orientation. If you like to dance to fun music on a big dance floor with a bunch of people who are all looking to have a good time, Pride of Our Footscray is a great option to end your night on.