Italian. Ask near anyone what their favourite cuisine is and, 9 times out of 10, it'll be Italian. Pizza, pasta and dolci dolci dolci – what's not to love? But not all Italian joints are created equal, so we've done the hard yards (and carbs!), to bring you our pick of the best Italian restaurants Melbourne has to offer. Buon appetito!
One of the best Italian restaurants in all of Melbourne and a firm favourite of the Urban List crew is Cicciolina. Tucked in a walkway just off of St Kilda's thriving Acland Street, this treasured neighbourhood haunt has been serving the locals fine Italian fare with a contemporary twist in moodily lit, dark wood surrounds for decades. The service is incomparable, with the waiter a font of knowledge indeed, and the wine list is magnificent. (The crab soufflé also made it onto our list of 50 meals you must have tried if you live in Melbourne!) You can't book at Cicciolina, and the wait can be long, so plonk yourself in the sexy bar out back and sink a bottle to get you started.
Another St Kilda stalwart with a genuine claim to the much bandied about 'iconic' status is Fitzroy Street's Café Di Stasio, truly one of Melbourne's finest Italian restaurants. With a bajillion awards to its name, the brainchild of Ronnie Di Stasio is part of the local furniture, with white-jacketed waiters and a crisp, minimalist style transporting you to better times aided by sumptuous Italian dishes fashioned from seasonal fare and fresh pasta made twice daily. Pop down to Bar Di Stasio for lighter bites and great chat.
Balaclava's Ilona Staller on Carlisle Street is the Art Deco sister of Cicciolina, named after a famous Italian porn star, no less! She's a shameless hussy and has the goods to back it up. The potato gnocchi with burnt butter, marjoram and pecorino is lush, as is the prune and Armagnac pudding with coffee ice cream and maple pecans. Or plump for it all with the $60 tasting platter.
The king of Italian food on Chapel Street, Caffé e Cucina has been providing a warm welcome to those after fine Italian dining since 1988. There's a constant thrum to this fantastic spot that's one of pop diva Kylie's favourites. If you want a romantic night to remember, book ahead for the Romeo e Giulietta balcony. Our pick? The seafood linguine baked in parchment.
La Svolta is another great contemporary Italian feed with outposts in both Prahran and in Hampton. They do yummy pizzas and the Antipasto all Italiana plate is a great kick-starter, or just graze on that over a bottle of vino or two. On Sunday night you can gorge until 'a dire basta' (when you moan 'enough is enough') – the authentic dishes will keep coming until you beg for mercy.
Another outstanding Italian option is South Yarra's Da Noi on Toorak Road. It may be dinky, but the flavour sensations are always huge in owner Pietro Porcu's gem of an Italian restaurant. There's no menu – only what heavenly creations they present on the day, so go with the flow, because this is one of the city's best Italian offerings.
On the opposite side of the street, Pinocchio has been pumping out fantastic pizza and pasta since the 70s, but a fancy face-lift means it's strikingly modern and stylish these days. If you prefer a seaside trip, head to their Pinocchio's Hampton outpost. The guys also run Geppetto's Italian in Burwood and Michelangelo in Aspendale Gardens. While you're in South Yarra, Italian Chef on Chapel Street is a great option for fresh, honest Italian fare prepared with love. We're also fans of Thirty Eight Chairs on Bond Street, and their $27 Champagne brekkie on Sunday is the perfect way to ease into the end of the week.
Image Credit: La Svolta Facebook
Richmond is teeming with good Italian dining options. Chin Chin king Chris Lucas's Baby has a huge selection of pizzas with seasonal toppings and there's a spot-on tasting menu for those who want it all, too. We love the funky fit-out at The Grand, and their crop of awards is frankly unfair on the competition. The no fuss, fantastic Italian food on offer at The Grand includes a yum Ligurian rabbit stew.
Mazzitelli is another of Richmond's best Italian restaurants; located on Bridge Road, she's a looker too, with funky light fittings, red wall sculptures and glass cabinets festooned with goodies with dried hams and chillies hanging overhead. If you're not after a big feed, head there for the aperitivo on offer each evening; or if you're hungry, the osso buco gnocchi is to die for. Church Street Enoteca's Deco dining room is another Italian paradise and a stalwart of the Richmond dining scene.
Southbank's Rosetta Ristorante in the Crown complex is Neil Perry's first Italian restaurant and it doesn't disappoint. The open kitchen keeps it simple, because the Italian flavours are magnificent. Settle into one of the red velvet banquettes and order the crumbed veal with prosciutto and taleggio washed down with a hearty Shiraz. Those with a sweet tooth will find devilish delight in the tiramisu.
Italian guru Guy Grossi's Grossi Florentino on the top end of Bourke Street has long been recognised as one of Melbourne's best Italian restaurants, serving the city's diners exceptional fare for yonks. Another spot with legendary status, they take Italian tradition and add their own flourish at Grossi. Upstairs is a bit pricey but worth it for a truly magical night out. If your wallet is a wee bit light, fear not, the best thing about Grossi is that there are three options, with the Grill and The Cellar Bar both offering a more relaxed, affordable experience.
Just up the hill a few steps is another Italian stalwart, the much-loved Pellegrini's Espresso Bar. Delivering nonna-style home cooking at super-cheap prices, grab yourself a stool at the bar or the shelf that runs the length of one wall. There's a constant bustle here as folks clamber in, stuff down and get out quick smart. It feels like your in a waiting room at some grand Italian train station, and that's why we love it. Grab a tried-and-true spag bol and a watermelon granita (alas, there's no booze here).
Parked on the same hill, Bottega is another Italian restaurant Melburnians love, and for good reason. Chef Gabriele Olivieri grew up in the Cattolica region of Italy, with its influences felt deeply in his menu. He scored the Best Pasta in Australia gong at the 2013 Dish Of The Year awards for his house-made strozzapreti with clams, mussels, prawns and calamari. Grab the recipe here.
Image Credit: Pinocchio
Cute Café Babbo on Madame Brussels Lane dishes up delicious hand-made pasta working from a recipe handed down over generations, and we also love The Waiters Club on Meyers Place for another slice of Melbourne's Italian history. It's all in the name with this late-night joint, as waiters hunker down for a feed here post-shift, plus it's cheap as chips.
Little Bourke Street's +39 Pizzeria is a great option for some of the CBD's best pizzas (Tazio on Flinders Lane is also delish), or head to Cecconi's Flinders Lane Restaurant & Cellar Bar for fine Italian dining heaven. Run by the Bortolotto family who've been at this game for over 40 years, this former radio station has been transformed into a stylish temple devoted to worshipping rustic Italian food. Another of Melbourne CBD's best Italian joints is The Italian at the top end of Collins Street. The calamari fritti is awesome, as is the rigatoni with lamb and rosemary ragu.
There are many folks in Melbourne who will swear by Russell Place's Sarti as the best Italian restaurant on offer, and new chef Paolo Masciopinto, all the way from Piemonte, is up for the challenge of retaining that crown, adding his own flare to the classics. We love the slow braised lamb shank off the bone with Jerusalem artichokes and pistachio crumbed bone marrow.
Another city institution when it comes to great Italian grub is George Parade's Il Solito Posto (The Usual Place) with a real homey feel at the street-level bar downstairs, and a gorgeous dining room down below. Don't go past the Squid ink linguini with calamari, black Russian tomatoes and chilli. Lupino Italian Bistro on Collins is a funky Italian newcomer that fair packs them in, and it's no surprise with a small but perfectly formed menu delivering gold, and a great wine list too. Rosa's Kitchen has upped sticks from Flinders lane and headed to Punch Lane instead, and we love Rosa Mitchell's new digs, and her focus on hearty Italian cooking. Her pasta dishes are superb.
Image Credit: Bottega Facebook
Heading north of the city, Carlton's Lygon Street is the traditional home of Italian cuisine in Melbourne. The hawkers at the bottom end can be a bit daunting, so we recommend you skip them and head to Tiamo or Tiamo 2, opposite Cinema Nova, for a back-to-basics real deal Italian feed before you catch a movie. DOC Pizza & Mozzarella Bar round the corner on Drummond Street is one of the city's best, with arguably the yummiest pizzas in Melbourne. They have a joint in Albert park, too, plus DOC Espresso and DOC Delicatessen on Lygon proper.
Keep heading up Lygon till you hit Brunswick East for two more Italian gems in Bar Idda and 400 Gradi. The former is a cute and homey spot perfect for romantic dates over damn fine pasta, while at the latter Johnny Di Frances was crowned World Pizza champion, bating 600 competitors from 35 countries at the Campionato Mondiale Della Pizza for his wood-fired creations. Expect BIG queues, even at lunch. (The Margherita also made it onto our list of Melbourne's best meals).
Marios Cafe on Brunswick Street is one of the city's most famous Italian spots, and deservedly so. Founded by the twin Marios, Maccarone and De Pasquale, it's like a time capsule encapsulating all that we love about the country, with great coffee and even better pasta. We could lose hours watching the world go by in here.
Image Credit: Bar Idda Facebook
The original Woodstock in Fitzroy North has over 20 years under its belt and three generations of the family working in the business, which shows in the tastiness of their wood-fired pizzas. Family photos adorn the walls and there are red and white checked tablecloths for nostalgia overload. They've expanded the business to include Woodstock Pizzicheria in both Brunswick and Essendon.
Supermaxi on St Georges Road, with its chessboard terrazzo floor, is another Italian cracker, with delicious pizzas. Noi Pizzeria in Preston offers great Italian food dished up in a relaxed atmosphere. We adore their arancini balls.
Still on the northside, Thornbury's Umberto Espresso Bar is the brainchild of Marco Finanzio. Named after his dad, you can feel the love in every dish, with delicious pastas to be enjoyed in relaxed surrounds. Northcote's Pizza Meine Liebe is another Italian cracker, pumping out yum pizza with imaginative toppings. They deliver next door to ace bar Joe's Shoe Store too if you want to imbibe with your pizza.
Lastly, but in no way least, try a couple of suburban Italian heroes in Kew's Centonove, full of heartfelt charm and warm greetings, and McKinnon's The Way To San Jose. Even if the name makes zero sense to us, as it's all about the awesome pizza and mighty good times in here.
What say you, Urban Listers? Did your favourite make it onto our best Italian list?
Main Image Credit: Lace & Moondrops