We’re honestly spoilt when it comes to food in Melbourne. Almost any cuisine you could ever think of is always effortlessly within reach and made by some of the best chefs, both locally and internationally. And it’s no different when it comes to Japanese food.
We tend to think that Melbourne’s Japanese restaurants are world-class, thanks especially to wonderful large migrant chef community in Melbourne, who bring their tradition as well as fiery passion to treat us Melburnians with their offerings.
You can now get sushi, saké and some truly insane fusion food, right here in Melbourne. Everyone's got their favourite neighbourhood Japanese spot, but in our view, these are the best.
Picking Melbourne’s best Japanese restaurant is like its own mini-game. There are at least half a dozen restaurants that could lay claim to the title. But here’s the first one we’re going to chuck in. Minamishimia in Richmond serves the omakase of Chef Koichi Minamishima. This guy’s got 25 years’ experience in preparing A-grade sashimi. You get one piece at a time, made lovingly with incredible attention to detail. We don’t throw around terms like ‘Melbourne’s best sushi’ lightly, but we’re doing it here.
If you’ve got a bit of a big budget and are looking for some Japanese food to spend it on, look no further than Ishizuka. This is one fancy restaurant, with food that backs it up. The menu changes seasonally and daily. A revolving nightly set menu of 11 unbeatable dishes. And here’s the kicker: it only serves 16 diners each evening. So uh, book ahead. Spots fill up like weeks in advance. Check out that beautiful decor too.
Kisume means “a pure obsession with beauty”, which makes sense when you see the space. There’s a hot kitchen in the basement, a sushi restaurant on the ground floor and a bar/omakase space up top. The team is equally impressive: Australian chef Shaun Presland (whose Origin Story is pretty badass, considering he cooked for years in a remote Yamagata village) and Korean-born sushi genius Moon Kyung Soo. If there’s something these guys don’t know about sushi and sake, it ain’t worth knowing.
Gyoza is iconically Japanese, and Izakaya Den does the best little bags of steamed goodness in town. The restaurant is not only aesthetically pleasing, with its chic wooden bar, open grill and concrete floors, but it offers a treat for your tastebuds, with an incredible range of traditional offerings like grilled octopus, agedashi tofu and salted edamame. We suggest booking ahead—this place gets pretty rammed on Friday and Saturday nights.
Supernormal is Andrew McConnell's crown jewel and home to the most famous lobster roll in Melbourne. The Supernormal menu is changing all the time, but it's always designed to be shared, so grab a couple of mates (or that date you’re trying to impress) and get yourselves a serve of duck bao, a whole snapper with burnt butter sauce, wild watercress and shaved kombu, some beef tartare, and whatever else you can fit in.
Purple Peanuts is a lunchtime experience to treasure;, especially for its sushi. Get a load of their famous brown rice inari, handrolls or onigiri if you're in for a quick bite. However, if you're planning on making a date out of it, try the tofu or prawn burger alongside a katsu curry and fawn over the kitsch bits and bobs (waving cats, Japanese chocolate bar walls and a giant ninja octopus) placed artfully around the store. There's a reason this place packs out with CBD workers every lunchtime.
Ichi Ni Na Na
At Ichi Ni Na Na, treat yourself to wafu-seasoned wagyu beef tartare with pickled shallots, radish, shiso and croutons, just-out-of-the-ocean sashimi salads and charcoal grilled king prawns with yakitori sauce. Wash it all down with a cocktail up on the Rooftop Bar and in for a top-notch evening.
Don Don will have your chicken katsu curry in your hand faster than you can order it. A lot of lunchtime diners like to get their phone out and time how many seconds it takes to whip the chargrilled chicken from the grill and dollop on a big ladle of tasty curry sauce (their PB is 12...). Don Don is a favourite of students and busy corporates alike. Get underneath Don Don's black shutters and hectic kitchen for a bento box, and proceed to park yourself on the State Library Lawn for maxed out pleasure levels.
The oldest and most revered teppanyaki place in Melbourne, Teppanyaki Inn has been the one-stop-shop for getting an egg thrown 'artfully' at your patiently waiting face bowl since 1975. As the first teppanyaki restaurant to ever open in Australia, they've mastered the art of the open grill and you can expect the freshest, most mouth-pleasing nosh this side of the hemisphere. If you're in the mood for Moreton Bay Bugs and broken fried rice, bookings at Teppanyaki Inn are essential on the weekend as their reputation spreads far and wide across the country.
IPPUDO is the epitome of ramen spots and it’s one you have to check off the bucket list. A must try is the Shiromaru Motaji tonkotsu ramen, made of their signature creamy tonkatsu broth, bouncy hand-pulled noodles, pork loin, bean sprouts and black fungus. Find IPPUDO on Artemis lane in QV—just follow the crowds.
Back to back ramen recommendations? Yes, please. How does 24-availability sound? Slurp up your soup at 7 pm, slurp it at 4 am, it’s all the same at Shujinko. Even better, the food is good. Our pick? Pretty classic. Go for the Shujinko ramen—a pork broth, with grilled pork belly, spring onion, bok choy, marinated egg and bean sprouts. Try the Black Ramen if you’re after an added chilli kick.
Little Ramen Bar
You can’t love ramen and not have been to Little Ramen Bar. Somewhat of an institution, this tiny eatery is one of the best Japanese restaurants in Melbourne for a simple noodle pit-stop. The menu makes decision-making easy (you can have ramen, edamame, kimchi, seaweed salad or gyoza, and not much else) and the $7 Sapporo Draught on tap deal makes it one of our top cheap eats. Get there early, and keep your party small: In true Japanese style, the dining space is tiny so getting a table if there’s more then two or three of you can be tricky, but trust us, it’s so worth it.
Melburnians over in north, don’t think for a second that we’ve forgotten about you. You’re a lucky bunch, with DenDeke right in your neighbourhood, just over in Preston. It's a rocking izakaya bar, and it’s almost worth a visit just for the decor (Star Wars retro meets Japanese biker gang). The menu is all good (really, really good) but our suggestions are the karaage and the deep-fried Kushi-age eggplant skewers. Don't forget to wash it down with a range of hot and cold boutique sakes. The guys behind the bar are lovely here—just ask them what spirits match well with your food.
Ichi Ni Izakaya
You’ve already seen its sibling Ichi Ni Na Na make the cut, but why not visit the whole family? If you dream of dining in an open sushi kitchen but can’t afford the flights, St Kilda’s Ichi Ni Izakaya might just be able to make that fantasy a reality. While it’s a little fancier than most—think traditional motifs and red cloth decorating the walls—it sticks with the traditional bar-snack approach, making it one of the best Japanese restaurants in Melbourne for a solo sushi session. Grab a stool, some chopsticks, and get ready for some of the freshest sashimi and crispest beers around.
If you’re looking for a hidden Japanese suburban gem, Akita in North Melbourne is a no-frills venue that serves traditional dishes in a minimal space. You’ll find everything from single servings of sashimi to flavourful hotpots, all of which are incredibly reasonably priced. Because when don’t you want a bargain donburi and an ice-cold beer? The locals keep this one a pretty tight secret, but the word's slowly getting out there.
Image credit: Annika Kafcaloudis