Melbourne and the Greek community are as synonymous as Melbourne and good coffee. Our fair city has the largest Greek population of any city in the world outside of Greece, so it’s no surprise that Melbourne is home to a world-class collection of Greek cafes and restaurants. Many are centered on the Greek Precinct of Lonsdale Street, but with the Mediterranean influence evident across the suburbs, there are Greek gems as far as the suburbs stretch. We’ve dined on dips, saganaki and seafood to bring you our guide to the best Greek restaurants in Melbourne.
$ - INEXPENSIVE
You’re not a true Melbournian unless you’ve stumbled into 24-hour Lonsdale Street eatery, Stalactites, at some ungodly hour of the morning, in search of platters of meat and plates of dips and saganaki. Owned by the same family since the late ‘70s, Stalactites is nothing short of a Greek dining institution. From souvlakis and gyros to traditional Greek dishes like moussaka and gemista, you’ll find something to satisfy regardless of the time, or your intoxication level.
Established in 1962, Hellas Cakes has been peddling its delectable Greek biscuits and sweets since before you were born. Recently revamped, the Lennox Street café features a small but appealing menu of Greek and Greek-influenced breakfast and lunch items. The house made spanakopita and triopita—all flaky pastry and crumbly ricotta—are must try dishes, but if you’re really hungry, opt for the Megalo Breakfast. You don’t need us to tell you that it’s Greek for big.
Bet you didn’t know that one of Melbourne’s best Greek gems is hiding away in Kew. Yiannis is a family-owned tavern where you get service with a smile while selecting from a huge menu of charcoal meats, seafood and entrees such as house-made dips and dolmades. Grilled octopus and fried zucchini are among the popular Greek dishes, but make sure you leave room for the superb galaktoboureko dessert. The banquets are great value and if you go on a weekend, you might just enjoy your dinner over a bouzouki-led band in the corner.
Competing for attention among the myriad bars, restaurants and cafes on Swan Street, the tiny shop front that is Demitri’s Feast is an unassuming one. But this is one café worth visiting. Open for breakfast and lunch six days a week (closed Mondays), Demetri’s Feast has a small contemporary Mediterranean menu of favourites (calamari, lamb cutlets) and some unique spins on café standards, like the Baklava French Toast (with walnut praline, sweet yoghurt and orange blossom syrup). The only problem? We can’t visit for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
$$ - MID-RANGE
Village Square Greek Tavern
Tucked away among the cafes and restaurants of Heidelberg’s best-known shopping strip, Burgundy Street, Village Square Greek Tavern is a Melbourne Greek restaurant that screams authenticity, from its island atmosphere to its white washed walls. There are no surprises on the menu—think charcoal meats, seafood, grilled saganaki drizzled with lemon and house-made dips—but everything is packed with flavour, cooked to perfection and the customer service is wonderful. Seeking a night in? The entire menu is available to take away.
What is ‘Gringlish’? Just ask former MasterChef contestant, Philip Vakos, who has applied the label (Greek/English) to his new Richmond restaurant. Bahari is the Greek word for spice, and the chef prides himself on his flare for balancing spices and flavours. The menu is constantly changing, but you can expect to find contemporary takes on Greek staples. We recommend the ricotta-stuffed zucchini flowers and the mouth-watering lamb shoulder. Bahari is open until at least 10pm daily (closed Mondays), in case you’re ever after a late night Greek feast.
Jim’s Greek Tavern
Melbourne has the world’s third largest Greek population, and many Melbourne-based Greeks swear Collingwood icon Jim’s Greek Tavern is the closest you can get to dining in Athens without leaving town. There’s no menu in this BYO Greek restaurant, but your waiter will craft your order for you based on your likes, dislikes and budget. Plates piled high with meats, seafood and house-made dips (make sure you try the eggplant) are constantly exiting the kitchen, and the décor—whitewashed walls, sky-blue tablecloths—adds to the unpretentious vibe. No list of Melbourne’s best Greek restaurants would be complete without Jim’s!
Once a car yard, this corner site in leafy Ivanhoe is now Plaka, one of the best suburban Greek restaurants in Melbourne. The expansive dining room seats more than 120 people and there’s a large al fresco dining area, but you’ll still need to book for a Friday or Saturday night—it’s a popular place. Locals swear by Plaka’s seafood, and with good reason, but we’re particularly enamored with the house-made tyrokafteri dip (feta, ricotta, red peppers, chilli). The full a la carte menu is available to take away, as is a list of souvlakis for a quick fix.
$$$ - FOR A NICE NIGHT OUT
East Brunswick & Kew
Widely considered one of Melbourne’s best Greek restaurants, George Calombaris’s hugely popular Hellenic Republic will open a third branch in Williamstown this year, but while we wait, we can gouge ourselves stupid at his East Brunswick and Kew restaurants. Hellenic’s saganaki, served with peppered figs, is the stuff of local legend and the risogalo dessert (rice pudding) is just as good. Drop by Brunswick for a busy, bustling experience or Kew for a bit more space, and keep an eye on Hellenic’s Facebook page for weekly take-away specials that won’t break the bank.
If Hellenic Republic is a homage to George Calombaris’s favourite homely Greek taverns, Gazi is his stab at upmarket dining. Set in the former Press Club building, Gazi has a menu of wood fire grill dishes, wood fire spit and the ‘Hellenic Dirty Food’ selection of calamari, saganaki and spicy pork and leek sausage stew. Drop by for lunch on a weekday for the Bend Over Box—a steal at just $27.50—or if the decisions get too much, try the Doing it Greek Style sharing menu of seven or 10 courses.
Kyma is the Greek word for ‘wave,’ reflecting the restaurant’s close proximity to the waves of St Kilda beach. Expect fresh seafood and perfectly chargrilled meats, as well as Kyma’s signature seafood dish, Thalassina Saganaki—fresh prawns, mussels and scallops cooked in tomato salsa with feta, capsicum and olives.
Did your favourite make it onto our list of Melbourne’s best Greek restaurants, Listers? Email us here.
Image credit: Hellenic Republic via Facebook