MELBOURNE | My list of best Melbourne Italian restaurants reflects the ever expanding array of quality Italian available in Melbourne. This city has been known for its Italian food since the 1950s, when the post World War II wave of Italian immigrants set up restaurants on Lygon Street, Carlton. Australians fell in love with pizza and pasta, and haven’t looked back since.
Since those days, new generations of Italian immigrants, along with descendants of those who came here generations ago, have continued to move the cuisine forward in this city. From those focusing on perfecting and elevating pizza and pasta, to those cooking previously unknown regional delicacies, there’s never been a better time to enjoy Italian food in Melbourne.
My list, updated as at late 2021, reflects all of these developments. From traditional to contemporary, familiar to unfamiliar, there’s something for everyone looking for the best Melbourne Italian restaurants to eat at. I’ve placed them in alphabetical order, and they’re all brilliant. Are any of your favourites listed below? Are there any places that you think should be on the list?
400 Gradi (Brunswick East)
Johnny Di Francesco changed a lot of people’s preconceptions about what pizza could be when he opened the first 400 Gradi in Brunswick East, in 2008. He introduced many to authentic Neapolitan pizza, with a focus on simplicity and the finest quality ingredients. The pizzas here have won several “world’s best” awards.
These days Gradi Group has expanded to more Melbourne locations, and even New Zealand, Texas, Bahrain, and Kuwait. Don’t make the mistake of falling into the “now that it’s big and well known it can’t be good” trap. The original location is is still going strong, still filled with locals and families every night of the week, and still serves up delicious, quality Italian food with passion.
This hidden bar is owned by the Grossi family, and is hidden down the laneway that Grossi Florentino backs on to. It’s open until the early hours of the morning, with a simple Italian menu focused on quality ingredients. You must try the famed Arlechin “Midnight Pasta”. Al dente pasta topped with a sauce of diced tomatoes, chilli, oregano, capers, and colatura di alici from the Amalfi Coast.
Part of the Lucas Group of restaurants, Baby is an Italian diner in Richmond that gets all of the important things right. The restaurant uses the freshest seasonal produce and hand-sourced ingredients to create causal Italian food in a fun, laid back setting.
Bar Carolina is a casual Italian diner in South Yarra from Joe Mammone (Il Bacaro, Marameo). An imported a woodfire Josper oven from Spain is the centrepiece of the kitchen, used to cook some of the tastiest Italian food south of the Yarra. Whether it’s a full meal, a plate of house made pasta, or some cheese, antipasto, and wine, you can’t go wrong here.
When stalwart Cafe Romantica closed in 2017, it marked the end of an era. Thankfully it was resurrected by new owners a year later as Bar Romantica, retaining the old pizza oven and free pool table, but updating the menu and interior. Think Napoli style pizzas, pasta, kangaroo tartare with fermented chilli and egg yolk, and spicy fried potatoes with smoked mustard emulsion.
Cafe Di Stasio
The St Kilda restaurant has been one of the best Melbourne Italian restaurants since opening in 1988. It’s an intimate restaurant, with a focus on a finer dining experience and indulgence. Don’t think this means that the restaurant is stuffy and staid, however. It’s anything but, with a homely, welcoming atmosphere.
Come for favourites like suckling pig, whole roast duck and veal saltimbocca. And if it’s something a bit more casual you’re after, or just a pre-dinner drink and snack, sister venue Bar Di Stasio next door is well worth a visit.
The menu at Capitano is inspired by the by the Italian-American restaurants found in the USA, and the food that North Carolina-born co-owner Casey Wall enjoys eating on his days off. The classic cheese pizza is brilliant, as is the foccacia-like based Long Island-style Grandma pie.
Other dishes are excellent too, try the Vesuvio, a short, curly pasta common to the southern region of Campania, Italy with delicious vodka sauce, bone-in veal parmagiana and meatballs.
The Bortolotto family have been involved in Melbourne’s hospitality scene for over 40 years, and their Flinders Lane flagship Cecconi’s, has been going strong since 2006. It’s a space that’s both casual, and formal, with excellent service and delicious food. The restaurant grows its own fruits, vegetables and herbs, used across the rustic Italian menu.
Di Stasio Citta
Rinaldo Di Stasio returned to Melbourne’s CBD in 2019, after a 30 year absence from the heart of town. The menu features many favourites from Cafe Di Stasio and Bar Di Stasio with the expected bold, vibrant Sicilian flavours. There’s terrazo floors, marble, and audio visual art installations. It’s bold, it’s in your face, and it’s well worth a visit.
You can’t go wrong at any of D.O.C.’s locations, but there’s something particularly special about the original Espresso Bar on Lygon Street, and Mozzarella & Pizza bar around the corner. Early in the morning, it’s elderly Italians enjoying a coffee and pastry at the front. Later come the families, groups of friends and couples on dates come in for lunch and dinner. It’s about simple Italian food done right, with a real focus on provenance.
The fantastic pizza is a must, along with the assorted cheeses, mozzarella, and antipasto.
What can I say about this Melbourne institution that hasn’t already been said. The restaurant started out as a wine shop in 1918, and became an Italian restaurant in 1928. Owner/chef Guy Grossi has been in charge of things since 1999, and has ensured that the restaurant remains one of the best options for fine dining Italian in Melbourne.
From the food, to the service, and the heritage listed old world grand dining room, dining at Grossi Florentino is a true Melbourne experience. A must in any list of the best Melbourne Italian restaurants.
The Hardware Club
The newest addition to any list of the best Melbourne Italian restaurants has to be The Hardware Club. It’s a contemporary Italian restaurant by owners and long-time friends Andrea Ceriani and chef Nicola Dusi. The space evokes memories of neighbourhood Italian bistros, with a homely atmosphere and excellent service.
Nicola’s food highlights the quality of the locally sourced (where possible), seasonal produce, and respects the classics while being exciting. Come here for some of Melbourne’s most interesting Italian food.
Il Bacaro is a stylish Venetian restaurant that sees executive chef David Dellai and his team create a simple yet refined approach to Venetian cuisine, showcasing Victorian producers and makers. The venue was refurbished in 2020, after 25 years of operation. It’s been updated for the decade ahead, while retaining the attention to detail and polished service it’s reputed for.
King & Godfree
For 60 years King & Godfree was where you’d go for your Italian staples like parmesan cheese, Lavazza coffee, and deli meats. For many, this was their first taste of Italy. It reopened in early 2018, after three years of renovations, with a refreshed focus on in-venue dining. Pop in during the day for an espresso and pastry, at lunch for a panini, or during dinner for a full meal.
Leonardo’s Pizza Palace
Housed in an old pizza parlour, Leonardo’s focuses on Italian-American / Italian-Australian style favourites. It’s trendy, but also popular with families and the older generation that frequented the venue in its prior guises. Try the generously topped pizzas which come with a dipping sauce for crusts, and the tasty home-made pasta dishes.
*Leonardo’s was significantly damaged by fire in 2021, and is unfortunately closed while repairs take place. It’s expected that Leonardo’s will reopen in 2022.
Mister Bianco is a favourite with locals, who comes here for the welcoming atmosphere, and owner/chef Joseph Vargetto’s food. The food draws upon Vergetto’s Sicilian heritage, using locally sourced produce where possible. It’s a proper neighbourhood trattoria, where everyone is made to feel welcome.
Ostēr is a Northern Italian restaurant in Richmond by owners Osvaldo Tognella and chef Nicola Romano, who both hail from Lombardy in Italy. The venue was designed by Romano’s mother, a designer who flew over from Italy to help the boys put everything together. It’s a space that’s modern, yet welcoming.
The food here rustic Italian at its heart, but Romano isn’t afraid to put a contemporary touch on things. For example, using kangaroo instead of venison, and creating a swordfish ‘carpaccio’.
Sister restaurant to the always perennially popular Tipo 00, Osteria Illaria is a casual venue modelled off the neighbourhood osterias you find in Italy. Pared back dishes and drinks are the focus here. The cocktail and wine list is brilliant, and you can enjoy a few snacks or a full meal.
Pentolina is a small Italian trattoria just off Little Collins Street that specialises in simple Italian food done well. It’s a family run spot, with owners Matt and Juila Piccone the brains behind the venue. The space is reminiscent of a Roman trattoria, with terrazzo floors, weathered concrete, and natural light.
Pasta is the focus here, and the egg-free pasta is made fresh on site each day. There’s a rotating selection of around 16 different pastas on offer on any given day.
Supermaxi is owned by wife and husband duo Rita Macali and Giovanni Patané. The concept is a simple one. Rustic Italian food, fantastic pizzas (Macali was one of the original chefs and co-owners of Ladro who helped kick off the proper pizza trend in Melbourne), and personable, attentive service. Dining here, is like being welcomed into the family’s dining room.
Tipico offers a contemporary take on classic Italian food in a space that’s thoroughly modern, with subtle homages to the rustic house exteriors and cobblestone streets you find in Italy. The menu adopts the Italian philsolophy of “less is more” and lets the quality ingredients shine.
Named after the type of flour used to make pizza and pasta, Tipo 00 is all about pared back Italian dining, with a focus on pasta. Many consider the pasta here to best the best in Melbourne, and it’s easy to see why. It’s simple cooking, with interesting flavour combinations that will have you wanting to return to try more. It’s easy to see whey there’s always a wait for a table one of the best Melbourne Italian restaurants.
Trattoria Emilia is a contemporary Italian restaurant with a menu featuring versions of classic rustic dishes that you would actually find in simple Italian restaurants in Italy today. Dishes are heavily influenced by the food of Northern Italy – specifically Modena, with a scattering of Tuscan flavours and influences.
Have you tried any of these best Melbourne Italian restaurants? Check out my Melbourne City Guide for more tips on where to eat and drink, and what to do in Victoria’s bustling capital.