There are a few strips that come to mind when we think of Melburnian hotspots, and Smith Street is always at the top of the list. With a bunch of cool new places opening up (seemingly weekly) and its long standing reputation as a hipster hub, it goes without saying that Smith Street is a melting pot of cultural greatness.
Whether you're new to the strip, or even just looking for a bit of variation from your ol' faithful, here's our list of the best places to eat, drink, and shop on Smith Street.
Proud Sprout is a new Nepalese cafe that's opened at the southern end of the strip, near Gertrude St. The fit-out is clean and cosy, all pine floorboards, white-washed walls and little pops of blue. It’s a distinctly Melbourne cafe, but the Nepali flourishes are there, if you know where to look. Definitely order up a bowl of the Rikshawala: cumin-roasted cauliflower, sujuk sausage, potatoes, fried eggs, chilli and yoghurt, served with roti paratha. Coffees from Padre and a couple of bangin' smoothies round out the drinks list nicely. Add it to the brunch list.
When you're on Smith Street, how do you roll? If it's not with Nam Lee, it's with Sunny's Bakery. Their banh mi are everything you want them to be. Encased in a French roll that's crusty as hell on the outside, pilowy soft on the inside, and loaded with enough fillings to make closing the roll and stuffing it in a white paper bag a very difficult task. We're talking all the regular suspects (cucumber, coriander, lettuce, pate etc), plus some off-beat additions like fried onions. The 1990s prices also go down a treat. Pro tip: double up with a beef and mushroom pie, hot from the oven. Happy days.
The true measure of any boulangerie outside France is how well it transports you back, straight to Paris, sitting beside the Eiffel Tower nibbling away at a 50cm baguette. If you’re getting the French FOMO, make a bee-line for Gontran Cherrier. In 2010, owner Gontran opened his first boulangerie in Montmartre, Paris. Fast forward a few years and you come to his fourth boulangerie, here in Collingwood. They use the same Label Rouge flour in their Paris store to create the delicacies here in Melbourne. Whether it’s the baguette with Lescure butter and Nutella or Gontran’s famous squid ink bun, there’s no way you’ll be stopping at one.
Single origin coffee and a Sri Lankan-inspired brekky, all in a cool mod-industrial space. That's the essence of Pavlov's Duck, which went through a bit of a health-fuelled revamp a while ago. The new concept feels fresh and original. If you're after a guilt-free bite, grab one of the raw lemon slices or raspberry cheesecakes, or sit down and tuck into what we think is still one of Melbourne's best brekkies: crispy fish and potato fritters. Wash it all down with probiotic kombucha. Delish.
Trends come and go, but Kent Street will always be in style. It's trick is it doesn't try too hard (as some Smith Street bars are known to do). Housed in a building that's showing its age, the vintage furniture offers that comfy, share house vibe that makes you feel instantly at home. Come here for beers and jaffles, watch Smith Street go by on the not-so-secret camera that projects the outside world in, and take a load off. Keep an eye out for upcoming live music—they tend to showcase a lot of great local artists.
Rockwell & Sons
Searching for a sanga on Smith Street? Rockwell and Sons is the place to go. This hip bar and eatery serves up some of the best-darned sangas goin' round, with everything from a pressed rib, served with BBQ sauces, dill, fennel and onion, to a fried chicken, covered in buttermilk dressing and hot sauce, gracing the short but sweet menu. Oh, and don't forget The Double Patty Smash Burger. Or their famous Fried Chicken Wednesdays. Heck, it's all good.
Named after the colourful tram that rattles past the front door, The 86 is Smith St's famous cabaret bar. If you haven't started or ended a night here, you can't really call yourself a Collingwood local. Get in early, before the show, and 86 makes a cosy little drinking den. You can pop down in one of the tramcar booths and tuck into Vietnamese snacks from nearby Coconut Palms. When the night heats up, grab a cocktail from the bar and enjoy some of the city's best burlesque. Keep an eye out for Granny Bingo on the first Monday of every month, too.
Full name: Caz Reitop's Dirty Secrets. This place is a clandestine cocktail bar in a remodelled 1890s building. Needless to say, the speakeasy-style ambiance is off the charts. The cocktail list is extensive, as you'd imagine, with a big focus on 20s and 30s classics (reinvented, of course). Our pick is definitely the Lady Vadar. Downstairs there's a bluestone basement, known as The Vault, where you can catch comedy on Wednesdays and Thursdays. It's also available for private functions.
Some of the best news in this world is finding out that your fave pop-up shop is actually going steady. Modern Times is one of Melbourne's most loved stores, stocking a unique range of ceramics, jewellery, textiles and prints, all created by Australian makers and artists. They also stock an epic selection of mid-century furniture, guaranteed to pimp out your apartment (and lay waste to your budget). The variety of pieces is excellent, but if anything's consistent, it's their meticulous taste.
Smith St Bazaar
Ever since Lost & Found moved to Lygon St, Smith Street Bazaar has been our go-to for a good rummage. This is where you'll find an endless variety of vintage furnitture and homewares, especially 20th-century pieces. While the furniture collection may be the star of the show, it's worth checking out the clothing and accessories up for sale on the first floor. You'll make it to the second floor, eventually. There's no surprise that the antiques in the bazaar will definitely set you back in the finance department—good thing they have a four week layby on most items.
Flowers by Tribal Rose
Flowers by Tribal Rose are renowned as being one of Melboune's finest boutique florists. Since 1996, Tribal Rose has been wrapping it up and making sure they're the best in the business with their next level attention to detail. Among their selection of local flowers, they also have a range of rare imported blooms that you can throw into the mix. The ladies behind the counter are universally lovely, and happy to give you advice on creating a bespoke bouquet (if your Mum is getting tired of tulips).
You can think of The Searchers as an IRL Spotify library, filled with records and books galore. It's a stop you MUST make on Smith Street. Among the ceiling-high shelves and the rolling ladders, it's not ridiculous to think you might lose yourself in there, but you might also find some pretty great tracks in the process. Their new and used records are sourced from Australia and other places around the world including Europe, Japan and the US, and come priced anywhere between $1 and $400. If you ask us, the real fun begins back of shop with the $5 crates. Don't forget to grab a coffee while you're in there too.
Walking past Double Monk, you'd think you'd stumbled onto London's Saville Row. The place looks like a set from Kingsman or something: all masculine leather and impeccable tailoring. It's mostly about the shoes here (Oxfords, Brogues, loafers etc), but there's a cracking range of high-end accessories too, if your budget can swing it. Think umbrellas, socks and ties, handpicked by the same family that's been running the brand since 1879. Remember: manners maketh man.
One for the festival goers out there (or anyone who enjoys a good vintage store, really). Vintage Garage is the retail equivalent of a drawer marked 'misc', packed to the gunnels with 40+ specialty vintage retailers. You can grab knick knacks, edgy streetwear, flower power dresses, Harlequin hot pants, off-beat homewares and everything you need for festival season. The model has been pretty successful—the guys just opened a second store in Preston.
What better way to describe Huxtaburger than with their catchphrase 'hot beef, cold beer'? If the masses of people lining up outside this tiny pocket on Smith Street are anything to go by, any burger hipster worth his salt knows Huxtaburger takes top priority. Get a classic Huxtaburger (beef pattie, tomato, mayo, lettuce, mustard, tomato sauce and cheese on a delicious bun), or fancy it up with a Denise (add jalapenos + hot sauce) or a Bill (add bacon, egg, pineapple and beetroot), while sitting in the American-style diner. Grab a perch on the vinyl-covered counter stools or the street-side tables, and wash it down with a frothy beer and a side of chips. Yum.
Dinners at IDES might be running more than once a month now, but a certain degree of patience is still required if you’re keen to take a seat at one of Melbourne’s hottest restaurants. Run by ex-Attica sous chef Peter Gunn, IDES' permanent space in Fitzroy is all about refined, technique-heavy dishes, which are designed and delivered with impeccable skill. Menus rotate according to seasonability, but at the moment the set six-course menu delivers a meltingly soft 72-hour cooked beef short rib with roasted celery vinaigrette and fillet of rock flathead with grapefruit skin, chilli powder dust and horseradish. Leave room for dessert – it would be unspeakable to not eat it!
The famous partnership between chefs Scott Pickett of The Estelle and Joe Grbac, former executive chef of the Press Club, Saint Crispin has rapidly become one of Smith St's hottest eateries. The menu is seasonal, and changes all the time, and the best way to enjoy it is with one of Crispin's signature 5-course degustation menus (go all-out and get the matching wines). These days Pickett and Grbac are also slinging a curated little oyster menu. A nice change of pace on a strip known for more for its grunge and cheap eats.
As far as wraps go on Smith St, Jimmy Grants has had the market on lock. But ever since Biggie Smalls set up shop, there’s been major competition. Just a hop over from Huxtaburger, you’ll find Biggie Smalls. and keen to transfer the late night crowd from dirty kebabs (although we love them) to a fresher take: Crispy nuggets of karaage-style chicken pair traditionally with kewpie mayo, then are pimped up with pumpkin pie hummus. Yep, you heard right. There's also maple glazed pork belly with crackling and peanut butter hummus, wrapped in a pillowy flatbread. Shane Delia knows what he's doing, people.
Smith St Kebabs
Of course, if we're talking classic Smith St fare, it doesn't get any better than Smith Street Kebabs. And for good reason. Whether you get the Doner Lamb, Falafel, Mixed Kebabs or gozleme, you just know it's gonna taste good, especially at 12am after a few drinks at Foxxy Dolphin. Not to mention the deliciously good (and by good, we obviously mean low) prices. And if you're unsure what all the fuss is about, chat to one of the locals in the joint. They'll soon have you convinced.
This one's hot off the presses. Taliana Pizzeria opened a couple of months ago, just off Smith Street (it counts, right?) And we think you'll be pleased to know that it's not fancy pizza, by any means. It’s good pizza. And they'll have you covered for all of your Friday night cravings. The bases at Taliana Pizza are pillowy, with a satisfying crunch, a little chunkier than the modern thin-crust style. The toppings are big-hearted, but not OTT. Think no-fuss combos like cheese, hot salami, olives, capsicum, tomatoes, and basil. The space is small, so takeaway is probably your best bet (although there's a cute little courtyard out back if you want to settle in for a sesh).
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Image credit: Jenna Fahey-White | Taliana Pizzeria