At The Urban List, we would dine in Tokyo every weekend if we could. While taking a weekly trip to Japan might not be on the cards, finding a slice of Japanese culture right here on our doorstep is the perfect alternative.
We’ve teamed up with Sapporo Draught Beer to bring you Melbourne’s Best Japanese Restaurants for that authentic Japanese food and drink experience. Because some days, nothing beats a sashimi platter and a freshly poured beer.
Melbourne is home to some incredible Japanese food, from super-creative fusion creations to low-key sushi trains that we could sit at for days. Here are 7 of our top pics for the most authentic Japanese food in Melbourne, including gardens, open kitchens and a very special ramen bar...
#1 Wabi Sabi Salon
Collingwood sushi restaurant Wabi Sabi Salon is an incredible Japanese venue on Fitzroy-Collingwood’s Smith Street, which is fast becoming one of the city’s most vibrant food hubs. The petite restaurant comes complete with a Japanese-style garden where diners can enjoy everything from a light snack to a full meal in the open air. Our favourite dishes are the tuna sashimi salad, the juicy teriyaki beef, and the soft-shell crab tempura—a lightly seasoned seafood delight that marks Wabi Sabi out as one of the best Japanese restaurants in Melbourne.
#2 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 $5 Sapporo Draught weekday 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!
#3 Ichi Ni Izakaya
If you dream of dining in an open sushi kitchen but can’t afford the flights (even when they’re on sale with Jetstar), 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 takes the traditional bar-sharing approach to dining, 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.
Sparse décor, free-hanging lightbulbs, and a discrete wooden doorway mark out Hako as one of Melbourne’s more minimal Japanese eateries. But don’t let the monochrome décor deceive you, the cuisine at this CBD eatery is one of the best examples of authentic Japanese food in Melbourne by a long shot. The lunch sets are worth a long lunch (if you’re an eel fan, you’ll love the unagi-don set), the pork belly in dashi broth will have you dreaming of Kyoto and, if it’s sushi you’re after, the chef’s special never disappoints.
#5 Yuzu Café & Cuisine
Tucked down Church Lane, just off Collins Street, Yuzu is a tasty spot for simple but sumptuous Japanese food in Melbourne’s CBD. The menu ranges from awesome quick lunch pick-ups (the express teriyaki chicken bento box is a must!) to mouth-watering skewers, marinated sashimi, rice-paper wrapped spicy tuna and traditional pork-based ramen.
As well as serving traditional a la carte dishes, Yuzu hosts amazing chef’s tasting evenings which allow you to literally eat your way around Japan, city by city, from Kagoshima in the south to Sapporo in the north—an incredible way to experience authentic Japanese food culture right here in ‘Straya.
#6 Wabi Sabi Garden
Wabi Sabi Garden prides itself on Japanese cuisine that’s hand-crafted from traditional recipes and super-fresh ingredients. Everything you eat here will be made on-site and there’s not a dish on the menu that we wouldn’t order again. The rice flour tempura is light and crispy, the duck melts in your mouth, and it’s one of the only Japanese restaurants in Melbourne that serves up a traditional take on what we know as a burger. The Wabi Sabi venue itself is a treat too; chockfull of knick-knacks, the indoor dining area is low-key and welcoming, while the garden is a feng shui haven.
If you’re looking for a hidden gem of a Japanese restaurant in Melbourne, 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?!
#8 Izakaya Den
Gyoza is iconically Japanese, and Izakaya Den does the best little bags of steamed goodness in town. The restaurant is not only aesthetically pleasing, what with its chic wooden bar, perve-worthy open grill and concrete floors, but it's offers a treat for your tastebuds, with an incredible range of traditional fodder – grilled octopus, agedashi tofu and salty edamame. We suggest booking to assure your shochu cocktail, as it's a hot favourite amongst the Melbournites who enjoy sophisticated Japanese.
#9 Purple Peanuts
I beg the question, what is Japan without sushi? Though the Oriental sandwich cops some flack with the rough rolls you can get in the city, Purple Peanuts is a lunchtime experience that will certainly sate you. 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 a 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.
#10 Teppanyaki Inn
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.
#11 Don Don
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 RMIT 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.
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 (basically a private degustation arena where you’ll be force-fed kingfish sashimi until you plead for mercy). The team Lucas has assembled 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.
#13 Supernormal Canteen
It's a toss up between here and Supernormal proper, but Supernormal Canteen has a more authentic Japanese yakitori bar vibe going on, and that's why it makes the list. You'll find it on Fitzroy St in St Kilda (one of a number of classy venues cleaning up this strip—it's not just for kebabs anymore). Our favourites are the char-grilled pork neck from the hibachi grill, the veggie dumplings (with a wicked shiso dressing) and of course, the final course, the giant kakigori. A shaved ice dessert you can't get anywhere else in the city.
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Image credit: Wabi Sabi Salon by Sabine Legrand for The Urban List