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 hard carbs) to bring you our pick of the best Italian restaurants Melbourne has to offer. Better pack your stretchy pants...
Italian In The CBD
Owner, Johnny Di Frances was crowned World Pizza champion a few years back, beating out 600 competitors from 35 countries at the Campionato Mondiale Della Pizza. So obviously we can’t get enough of 400 Gradi’s world-class Margherita. Their classic spaghetti alla carbonara with egg, Italian guanciale (a specialty cured meat) and pecorino sardo is also a must try. So get your cheese-loving butt around it.
Photography: Girt By Sea
Pellegrini’s Espresso Bar
Delivering nonna-style home cooking, this Italian institution has no set menu, just daily dishes written in chalk on aging blackboards. If you’re lucky enough to visit while Pellegrini's is serving homely, no-frills carbonara, thank chee-sus because you’re about to be transported to carb-y cheese-filled heaven. You can mop up their creamy, decadent sauce with pillow-soft bread. Or, grab a tried-and-true spag bol and a watermelon granita (alas, there's no booze here).
Home to oversized penne (what genius), +39 Pizzeria serves their signature main with fresh pesto alla Genovese and stracciatella cheese in a cosy, pared-backed interior. Don’t skimp: add the Italian black truffle paste. Penne for your thoughts?
W couldn't leave out this place, right? One of Melbourne’s leading pasta bars, Tipo 00 serves refined, elegant dishes at awfully affordable prices. Wedged in Little Bourke Street, the quaint space features dark timber and an intimate communal bench. We could chow down on their Gnocchi Di Patate, a rich dish of braised duck, porcini mushrooms and pecorino, every day. Still the city's numero uno.
A Melbourne establishment for Italian fine dining, Grossi Florentino has been operating for decades on Bourke Street. But that doesn’t make a difference to the lines (or the wait for a booking). Whether you choose to head upstairs for one of the best Italian courses in Melbourne, or leap downstairs for superb, simple pasta, there’s no way to go Italy wrong.
There’s a sense of mature sophistication at one of Melbourne’s best CBD restaurants, Cecconi’s. 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. Expect fresh, seasonal ingredients with their linguine, seafood, garlic, and chilli and herbs pasta.
Italian Chef Gabriele Olivieri has created the gorgeous Italian Bistro, Bottega. With a focus on sharing, grab lots of little things like oysters or an antipasto platter. Also hit up their house-made strozzapreti with clams, mussels, prawns and calamari—it took out the Best Pasta in Australia in 2013.
This café dishes out delicious hand-made pasta, recipes of which have been passed down through generations. The Babbo family delivers scrumptious dishes of Italian goodness straight from the heart with a side of warm hospitality and quaint décor. It's up there with Pellegrini's in the traditional Nonna stakes.
The Waiters Club
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. Perfect for when you want a simple plate of pasta or some minestrone and a tumbler of wine, without all the fine dining bells and whistles.
The latest kid on the spaghetti block? Lello in Flinders Lane. This place used to be the famous Yak Italian Kitchen, now refreshed and rebranded, and rocking some of the best pasta in the city. Here's how you do Lello right: crack a bottle of red and order up a big plate of the baked Paccheri is filled with ricotta and cardoon—a sort of Sicilian artichoke hybrid. Chef Leo forages them from local gardens. Legit.
Tazio is home to the largest Italian restaurant in the CBD, with 240 seats spanning across two floors. Specialising in traditional Italian pizza as well as contemporary Italian-Australian cuisine, it has all your Italian cheesy-carby needs covered. We recommend the Verdure pizza for a fiery kick, or the Salmone pizza for a new take on this seafood classic.
Many Melbourne folks will swear by Russell Place's Sarti as the city's best Italian restaurant. Chef Paolo Masciopinto serves up delicious Italian food with a twist. The menu includes seafood favourites like calamari and fried whitebait served with a chilli sauce, mouth-watering pistachio-crusted rack of lamb, and a creamy saffron risotto.
Lupino Italian Bistro
It's no surprise that this homely Italian bistro packs them in. Lupino's menu boasts all the signature homemade pasta and pizzas, plus a significant wine menu. You can’t go past their nonna-style saltimbocca and arancini, which will bring you back for seconds. It's all about the simple food, cooked with love.
Photography: Griffin Simm
Tipo 00 changed the Melbourne pasta game, but they weren't done there. In 2017 they opened Osteria Ilaria next door, this time with a specific anti-pasta mission. Don't expect tortellini here: Osteria is more about fennel-flecked sourdough, lamb cutlets in a saucy romesco or kickass mushroom croquettes. Bookings essential.
Italian In The East
Pasta Adagio packs a strong pizza punch but also knows their way around a damn fancy carbonara. Get a load of this: carbonara pasta on a nest of tagliolini, calamari, borage, battarga and salmon caviar. We’re not sure what 80% of those words mean, but we’re already reaching for our wallets.
Simple elegance is the go at local-favourite Mister Bianco. The menu doesn’t push any metaphorical pasta envelopes, but it’s the type of genuinely warm soul food which has Melbournians trotting back. Think ricotta and basil tortellini, smoky eggplant, crispy leeks and tomato fondue served in a sleek interior with a side of exceptionally friendly service.
Richmond is teeming with good Italian dining options. Chin Chin king, Chris Lucas's Baby Pizza features 20 pizzas using simple yet tasty ingredients, such as fresh mozzarellas and salty pancettas. You can even come down for breakfast as they do all the old favourites - bircher, eggs etc. Now the scaffolding is off the building, they're fired up and ready to rock Melbourne's pizza scene.
Photography: Jenna Fahey-White
The newest contender for Melbourne's 'Best Pasta' mantle is Ms Frankie. The sfoglina behind this one is Piera Pagnoni, a Bologna Nonna who’s been making pasta by hand since she was six. If you’re feeling traditional, hit up their Spaghetti Alla Chitarra Alla Marinara, chock full of fresh-caught clams, mussels, prawns and kingfish. Or try out the gnocchi ragu–slow-cooked beef in a simple red sauce, with a depth of flavour that makes your brain fizz.
A little slice of Venice in Melbourne. That's probably the best way to describe Vaporetto. These guys may have singlehandedly started the Aperol Spritz craze (it is a Venetian classic, after all). You'll find them down the arcade, just past The Lido Cinema, off Glenferrie Rd. The slightly hidden nature makes it feel extra special, like you're wandering the alleys off St Mark's Square and stumbled on a cosy little cocktail bar. Our tip for food? It's gotta be the gnocchi ragu. One of the best in the city.
Flour + Salt
This Italian restaurant is serving up authentic Italiano food with a home-style feel. There's no skimping on quality either, because every bloody thing is made in-house. When it comes to picking from the menu, you can’t go wrong. From the casarecce to the pizze, they're all heavenly combinations, perfect for a carb-heavy feast.
Photography: Bam Bam
The Dandenong Ranges may not sound like the home of Melbourne's best Italian, but there's a new spot, Bam Bam, that's showing Hills locals what a REAL pasta tastes like. It just popped up in early 2018, but already there's a bit of buzz in Melbourne's outer east. Swing by with the fam for epic wood-fired pizzas and some seriously good pasta. Pro tip: try the gluten-free veggie risotto with braised leek, peas, chervil, parsley oil and parmesan.
Italian In The West
Fox In The Corn
The Italian restaurant, Fox In The Corn, is dedicated to using ethically sourced produce to create generous, simple pasta dishes you’ll crave come winter. Ordering is a DIY game, with three choices of pasta and 11 sauces to pick from. If this choose-your-own-adventure is overwhelming your pasta-loving heart, order the fettuccine with housemade Nap. Can't go wrong.
Owned and operated by one of the friendliest couples you’ll meet, Café Terroni in Yarraville is another one of our suburban Italian faves. The focus here is on Southern Italian food in all its fresh, uncomplicated, rustic glory with must-tries including the Penne alla Terroni (penne with grilled eggplant, zucchini, capsicum, olives and more) and the veal cutlets.
East Brunswick, Chadstone & Essendon
This Sicilian restaurant has 20 years under its belt and three generations of family working in the business. Get ready for a nostalgia overload, with family photos adorning the walls and red and white checked tablecloths on every table, the way nature intended. Check out their farcito calzoni with salami, mozzarella, olives, Pomodoro sauce, fresh rictotta & basil. Deliciozo!
Italian In The North
Don’t be fooled by Donnini’s unpretentious fit-out, or its spot on the tourist trap of Lygon Street. One forkful of their plump, handmade spinach and ricotta tortellini, coated in rich mascarpone sauce, and you won’t re-grate this choice. Patrons have the option of choosing the Tortelli Di Ricotta paired with two other Donnini carb-y favourites, in case you want the best of all pasta worlds.
Umberto Espresso Bar
The brainchild of Marco Finanzio, Umberto Espresso Bar is quietly serving some of Melbourne’s best pasta and carbonara. Cheese-lovers can’t miss the traditional, brie-licious combination of spaccatelli, pancetta, onion, garlic and egg. It’s simplicity that will have you craving more.
Pizza Meine Liebe
This Italian cracker is pumping out delectable wood-fired pizzas with toppings ranging from simple to adventurous. Their oh-so-creamy taleggio and gruyere cheese atop a thin and crispy base loaded with silverbeet and tomato is to die for. Literally.
Mercadante may have only been drying fresh pasta for a measly twelve years, but that hasn’t stopped them from serving phenomenal food and second-to-none service. Pro tip: their bloody good carbonara with rich cream and egg sauce combined with spring onion, lean bacon and pepper. Bring elastic-waisted pants.
Tiamo in Carlton is a Lygon Street hotspot that’s been the backdrop for countless post-footy family dinners over the years. The menu is all about fan favourites—ridiculously generous serves of fresh pasta, tasty pizzas and that all-too-important creamy, liqueur-soaked tiramisu to wash it all down. Tiamo 2 is an extension of Tiamo next door, and if you're craving espresso, their baristas can guarantee you a great crema.
If the name doesn’t scream Italian, the interiors will. White and red check tablecloths, pale dining tables and waiters dressed in smart, black vests gives visitors a tiny slice of Italy in Melbourne. The all-day menu is famous throughout the land, but locals make a (wise) beeline for Marios pasta. Made with fresh, seasonal ingredients, this is the type of pasta for curing colds and foul moods. Expect al dente penne coated in rich, spice-packed tomato sauce (if you go for the Penne Amatriciana).
There is very, very little to dislike about Scopri, from the impeccable pasta dishes to the Italian wines. The moody interior is cosy and stylish, perfect for a third date or that long overdue girly gossip sesh. For seafood lovers, go the Tortelli Di Pesce with tortelli, filled with prawn and white fish mousse in a tomato and crustacean sauce—it's Italian heaven in a bowl. Try to resist licking the last of it (if you can).
D.O.C Gastronomia Italiana
For most of us, the idea of pizza is accompanied by putting on our tracksuit pants, pouring a glass of red, and vegging out in front of O.C. re-runs. All your ideas of pizza will be transformed after you’ve experienced the award-winning artisan pizza at D.O.C. There's a reason this place ends up on the 'Gram so often...
1889 Cucina Povera
A foodie fave amongst Fitzroy North locals, 1889 Cucina Povera is home to some of the best Italian food in Melbourne. From pizza with the perfect base (thin and oh-so-light!) to traditional Italian desserts, 1889 Cucina Povera is one of those neighbourhood gems you just must try. It’s the gnocchi that we go crazy for though—soft, fluffy, melt-in-your-mouth deliciousness. We could eat it all day, every day.
Off The Boat
The day we discovered Off The Boat was a day we’ll forever remember—a cosy spot in Reservoir serving up some of Melbourne’s best Italian food. The memories of antipasti, fettuccine and pizza, glorious pizza, instantly make our bellies rumble. Dammit, we need to go back pronto. Off The Boat also have an excellent Italian wine list, perfect for washing all that delicious food down.
Our roundup of suburban Italian gems would never be complete with Il Pizzaiolo, a Thornbury-based restaurant, beloved by countless Northside locals. Il Pizzaiolo nails everything from the classic Margherita right through to meatier stuff like the Diavola (spicy pork sausage, potato, peppers and rocket). We'd marry this one if we could.
Italian In The South
This little Italian eatery has been serving authentic cuisine for over 40 years. One of their staples is (of course) the classic carbonara, made with egg, bacon, cream and herbs. We highly recommend easing into a hearty serving of it with a big plate of chilli calamari to start.
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. On arrival, cleanse your palate with a few slices of bruschetta then get down to business.
South Melbourne & Malvern
The majority of visitors to South Melbourne’s Etto may be looking for a homely, quick takeaway meal, but we pity the pasta fool who judges this pint-sized restaurant based on that. Redefining (read: ruining) fast food in Melbourne, Etto pairs their homemade pasta (made fresh daily) with classic sauces, ideal for an unpretentious hot meal on the go. From thick strips of Pappardelle to flavoursome ravioli, we recommend reacquainting spaghetti MEET ball.
St Kilda & Glenferrie Road
It’s a case of more being merrier at Rococo. With two super accessible venues in Melbourne, getting quality, lip-lickingly good pasta has never been easier. Serving a killer Gnocchi Ai Funghi with potato gnocchi, mixed creamy wild mushrooms, fresh herbs, parmesan and olive oil, just watch how fast we can make this bowl of happiness disappear. They've even thrown tradition to the wind and have added the ‘carbonara pizza’ to their menu. Yikes.
Thirty Eight Chairs
Fresh-faced after a recent refurb, there's actually more than 38 chairs now (might be time to update the name...) The food is still some of the best south of the Yarra. Our tip? Keep your beady eyes on the pasta. Thirty Eight Chairs’ Pappardelle Al Ragu Di Anatra with curly pappardelle, slow-cooked duck ragu (to die for), porcini and shaved pecorino is a winner. The cheese-baked gnocchi has also been known to make grown men weep with happiness.
After your next salty swim, waddle over to Acland Street’s Cicciolina. Home to a concise, modern menu which celebrates traditional Italian flavours, their bolognese lasagne (it has pasta sheets in it, so it counts), is on par with your nonna’s. Just don’t tell her that. 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.
Ask any South Yarra local and they’ll tell you, Fratellino Pizzeria is one of the best Italian restaurants in Melbourne. With more toppings than you can poke a stick at, Fratellino pizzas are baked to perfection in a wood-fired oven. They emerge gooey, crispy and cheesy. If you’re keen on dining in, get there early because Fratellino Pizzeria fills up quick.
One of only a few pizzerias in the country in possession of the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana accreditation, La Svolta make pizzas that are so authentic, you feel like you may as well be in Naples. On Sunday night you can gorge until 'a dire basta' (when you moan 'enough is enough'). The dishes keep coming till you beg for mercy.
Image credit: Jenna Fahey-White