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Melbourne is famous the world over for its cultural diversity. Nearly 35% of Melburnians were born overseas, and no, not all of them are Kiwis! To throw some rough numbers at you, there’s 74,000 Italians, 58,000 Vietnamese, 52,000 Greeks, 150,000 Poms, and about 52,000 Kiwis. All this immigration has created a melting pot of tantalising fare found in a multitude of bars and restaurants across the city. Certain cuisines have clustered together to form dining precincts in Melbourne, so here’s the low down on where to go for your dinners out.
Italian – Lygon Street in Carlton
Anywhere else in the world it would be called Little Italy, but in Melbourne it’s simply Lygon Street. Just to the north of the CBD, Lygon Street must have about as many Italian restaurants as the whole of New Zealand combined! Because of the huge Italian diaspora, the food is authentic and you’ll no doubt visit here more than once for a meal. Most restaurants have ‘spruikers’ who stand on the footpath outside the restaurant trying to get your business. Many will offer complimentary entrees or even a bottle of wine! Handy hint, when you find somewhere you like the look of, head to the menu and ‘um and ah’ until the spruiker offers you a good deal.
Chinese – Little Bourke Street in the CBD
Easily recognised by the large Chinese red gates, Little Bourke Street in the centre of town is Melbourne’s Chinatown. Like most around the world, you’ll spot duck hanging in the window, and tanks full or fish or crustaceans for you to choose from. Street vendors are not common here, but the Chinese restaurants are always good for a cheap eat. Keep an eye peeled on the dark shady alleyways for inconspicuous doorways that lead to some of coolest cocktail lounges and restaurants you’ll ever see.
Greek – Lonsdale Street in the CBD
Running parallel to Chinatown is Lonsdale Street, the traditional Greek precinct. While the restaurants are slowly giving way to new skyscrapers and apartment buildings, some of Melbourne’s most celebrated Greek restaurants can still be found here. One particularly well known restaurant is Stalactites which has been run by the same family for nearly 40 years and is open 24/7.
Vietnamese – Victoria Street in Richmond
The most common name in Melbourne’s phone book is Smith. And the second, is Nguyen! Sometimes known as Little Saigon, the eastern part of Victoria Street that runs from the CBD through Richmond is lined with many Vietnamese restaurants. The street is also known for its cheap clothing stores, so head out in the afternoon and do shopping before settling in for some Pho.
Pub Grub – St Kilda
Melbourne’s favourite seaside suburb is undoubtedly St Kilda. Just a quick tram ride from the city centre, St Kilda is the place to be on a hot day, and seemingly most of Melbourne does indeed head there when the heat becomes too much. The small, manmade beach is not much of a destination itself, but there’s also a small theme park and cute pier with an icecream kiosk by day, and penguins to spot by night. When it’s time to eat, there’s two stand out options, the Prince of Wales and the Esplanade Hotel (more often called the Espy). These two pubs have icon status in Melbourne and are always busy, particularly on hot summer weekends. Both usually have live music on the weekends too.
A Bit of Everything – Southbank
Melbourne’s entertainment precinct of Southbank is home to a plethora of restaurants, including most of the city’s finest. This is the sort of place you’ll find a Masterchef behind the grill, fridges full of Moet, and the best silver service around. Many have seating on the Promenade, or views over the river and city skyline. But if that all sounds a bit out of your budget fear not, there’s also your standard mall food court located inside by the casino.
A Bit More of Everything – Docklands
Millions have been spent in recent years transforming Melbourne’s old unused wharves and warehouses into the one of the hottest destinations in the city. Lots of apartment buildings (some are true architectural wonders) have gone up and most ground floors are filled with restaurants and bars overlooking the harbour. If you can’t find it, just look up for the Batman-like searchlights beaming off the clouds and buildings nightly.
Of course there’s many other parts to Melbourne such as Prahran, South Yarra, Fitzroy the CBD and the Mornington Peninsula to name a few, and while they do all have plenty of restaurants themselves, they’re not particular ‘dining precincts’ as such. But wherever you end up eating in Melbourne, you can be confident of a great meal.
> Read about Melbourne's top 20 restaurants here
> Read about Melbournes's top 5 laneway food spots
> Our Seightseeing guide: Self Explore Melbourne or take a guided tour
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