Searching for Melbourne's best laksa requires dedication, a huge appetite, and a willingness to not care if you get bits of spicy, coconuty broth all over your clothes. We've done the hard yards for you – now go forth and slurp the popular Malay-Chinese noodle soup to your heart's content. If your fave curry laksa's not on the list, we'd love to hear about it!
There are loads of good laksas in Melbourne, but you'd be crazy in the coconut to miss the brilliant ones at this wallet-friendly student hangout. The place is always busy, but it's worth the wait for the bigger-than-your-head bowl of hawker-style curry laksa. Regardless of which variety you choose – vegetarian, beef and seafood are just some of the styles on offer – you'll want to come back for more.
Our current fave is the House Laksa Special, in which shreds of fresh mint leaf add a bright note to the thick, deeply flavoured broth. (Side note: there's so much laksa paste in the incredible, addictive broth you could almost chew it. Yum.) Silky-smooth steamed chicken and spongy tofu puffs play nicely with the requisite mountain of noodles, firm-fleshed prawns add sweetness, and the dish is crowned with a deep-fried halved boiled egg topped with fiery bright red sambal. Heaven in a bowl? You bet.
Coconut House | 449 Elizabeth Street in Melbourne
KUALA LUMPUR RESTAURANT
According to the Dr Demento song "Fish Heads", there's plenty of things fish heads can't do – wear sweaters, play baseball or drink cappuccino, for example. One thing they can do is be a tasty addition to a curry laksa. Don't believe us? Feel a bit yuck at the thought of eating a roly poly fish head?
Get over your squeamishness, because fish head laksa is divine – particularly the one locals are addicted to at KL. A pyramid of fish heads sits atop a steaming mound of noodles, green beans, chunks of eggplant and tofu puffs, the whole lot swimming in a rich, spicy broth. Getting the sweet, succulent flesh out of the fish head with chopsticks is a bit fiddly, but it's also part of the fun. As the song says, "Eat them up, yum."
Kuala Lumpur Restaurant | 123 Koornang Road in Carnegie
ROTI AND ROTI
Despite its name, Roti and Roti offers more than just freshly made flaky, layered flatbread – though it's worth visiting for that alone. Since opening last year, this bright, simply decorated place has been wowing locals with its chilli prawns, har mee (prawn noodle soup, though such a simple translation barely does justice to this intense, lip-smacking dish), and perhaps the best chicken curry laksa in Melbourne.
A decent hunk of chicken is surrounded by deep-fried tofu puffs in a broth that's comfortingly spicy with a hint of sweetness. The tofu acts a flavour sponge, its chewy texture contrasting nicely with the tender chicken, while a sprinkling of spring onions adds a welcome crunch.
It's worth ordering a roti to dunk in the broth, partly so you can watch the chefs magically transform lumps of shiny dough into melt-in-the-mouth roti, and partly because it's just so damn delicious.
Roti and Roti | 1139 Glen Huntly Road in Glen Huntly
PENANG COFFEE HOUSE
One of Melbourne's oldest Malaysian restaurants, Penang Coffee House has been keeping generations of regulars well-fed for more than 30 years. Its cheap 'n' cheerful vibe hasn't changed much in that time – the simple décor is just like what you'd find in Penang, where food is way more important than the surroundings it's eaten in.
Thankfully, its menu hasn't changed much, either, meaning you can still get the laksa lemak you had here as a child, or uni student, or both. Sit near the open kitchen and watch as skilled cooks prepare your meal; the rich, earthy broth, tender chicken and slippery noodles are both belly-filling and soul-satisfying. Don't miss the amazing roti – it's crispy on the outside but soft in the middle, and is perfect for mopping up any leftover broth.
Penang Coffee House | 549 Burwood Road in Hawthorn
Lovers of laksa flock to Laksa King, where there are 10 varieties of the stuff to choose from. Repeat visitors have been known to work their way through the menu, starting with the standard combination curry laksa – with chicken, chewy fishcake and tofu puffs – and ending with a decadent roast duck or seafood curry laksa.
Purists might argue that the broth is on the thin side, but others find that means they can enjoy eating more of it without the Christmas Day-full feeling that laksa often brings. Decide for yourself while you're digging into a bowl or two. It's worth booking a table, as the big, airy space is usually full.
Laksa King | 6-12 Pin Oak Crescent in Flemington
Vegetarians swear by Shakahari's laksa hebat, a standout dish in a menu full of exceptional offerings. This vegetarian institution is not afraid to do things differently, so its version of laksa contains organic udon noodles, mushrooms and spinach. The coconut broth has a slightly Thai flavour thanks to the addition of lemongrass and ginger flowers, and the protein is provided by fried tempeh and seitan (wheat gluten that's often used as mock meat in vego dishes; Shakahari's seitan is quite possibly Melbourne's best). If it all sounds far too healthy, don't worry – this nutritious dish is also delish.
Shakahari | 201-203 Faraday Street in Carlton
Image credit: Jules Mercer