15 Carlton restaurants that locals adore

Enjoy the footpath dining at Bossa nights during the summer months. Credit: Bossa Nova Cafe.
People sitting outdoors on a footpath under a setting sun with trees and buildings in the background.

Carlton may be nationally renowned for its bustling Little Italy district, but the Victorian suburb’s food scene stretches beyond world-class pizza, pasta, and vino.

Gather over modern Indian plates in a trendy dining room. Feast on taco flights at a lively Mexican spot. Grab coffee and breakfast at one of the area’s quirkiest cafes—you’ll have to pass through a florist to enter.

Carlton is filled with places worthy of group hangouts, family dinners, and memorable dates. Read on for a guide to the neighbourhood’s 15 best restaurants to book now.

The Carlton Wine Room

Duck croquettes sit on a doily and plate with a gentlemen’s relish on top, accompanied by a glass of wine.
Duck and pork croquette accompanied by a glass of Little Rara wine. Credit: Carlton Wine Room.

Escape Lygon Street’s hustle and bustle with vino and imaginative European fare. In case the name didn’t give it away, the wine list here is epic, featuring more than 100 bottles (including a daily staff pick). The food menu is just as thoughtful and stocked with farm-inspired dishes such as duck and pork croquette, whole fish with capers in a verjus velouté, and zucchini with goat’s curd and pistachios.

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Little Andorra

A meal at Little Andorra channels an idyllic Mediterranean escape. Grapevines cover the awnings and Turkish-inspired fare dominates the menu. Sip on a crisp glass of wine and graze on fava dip before making way for larger dishes such as lamb shoulder with greens, almonds, and currants. Pick a perch in the lush courtyard for an especially leisurely afternoon. Little Andorra’s warm staff will happily select a wine to suit your palate, so don’t hesitate to ask for a little help.

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Come for the festive margarita-fueled vibes and stay for the innovative taco flights. Crowds flock to this lively Mexican spot for the housemade stone-ground corn tortillas, filled with seasonal stuffings such as battered fish or frijoles. Consider, too, superb share plates including coral trout with fermented peach, buttermilk, and coastal herbs.

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DOC Pizza & Mozzarella Bar

Hands reach for a slice of pizza across a table.
Prosciutto and mozzarella pizza. Credit: DOC Pizza & Mozzarella Bar

If you’re yearning for a (literal) slice of Italy, head to this adored pizza and mozzarella bar. The decor is simple but the tables are often packed and the space is known for becoming raucous. Come for antipasti and a spritz or linger over an artisanal pizza with toppings such as porcini mushrooms, truffle oil, DOP pecorino, and San Daniele prosciutto.

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Milk The Cow 

A visit to this licensed fromagerie means choose-your-own cheese boards (there are 180 varieties to select from). Resident cheesemongers can curate a custom board for you if you’re not in a decision-making mood. Pair your platters with sparkling wine, cocktails, or whiskey. Hampers are available for takeaway, so grab some goodies to continue the cheese fest at home. 

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Book a table at Agostino for a refined Italian meal in an iconic heritage-listed building. The cosy space is ideal for a relaxed mid-week lunch or intimate dinner to wind down after a busy day. Grab a bottle of wine from the attached bottleshop and enjoy it with a generous antipasti spread, followed by zucchini and scallop risotto and torta caprese. Reserve the unique private space in Agostino’s bluestone cellar for an extra-special occasion. 

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Bossa Nova Cafe

A wooden table with a shared plate of beef picanha.
Enjoy a juicy, premium O’Connor’s Picanha at Bossa nights. Credit: Bossa Nova Cafe

Bossa Nova is a colourful Brazilian-accented cafe with footpath dining. Feast on popular dishes such as the mortadella sandwich or choose from more traditional offerings including the bobo de camarao (prawn chowder) and moqueca (barramundi fillet in Brazilian curry). Visit in the summer months for dinner and a show: The cafe hosts Bossa nights on Friday and Saturday evenings between 5 pm to 9 pm.

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Flovie Florist Cafe

Meet one of Carlton’s quirkiest cafes. To enter, pass through a florist frontage featuring kaleidoscopic arrangements before arriving in a transportive dining room complete with a grand piano. Flovie’s Asian fusion menu features daytime hits including manganola (homemade mango yoghurt and seasonal fruit) and a Tokyo-inspired lobster roll. Don’t forget to grab a bouquet of freshly cut blooms on your way out.

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Mercadante Woodfired Pizzeria

Follow the woodsy scent of the pizza oven and end up at Mercadante, a no-frills space with plenty of outdoor dining. Thin crusts, fresh ingredients, and creative toppings keep the Carlton crowds coming. Standouts include the Salsiccia (a pesto base with pork and fennel sausage, red onion, rosemary potato, and rocket) and the Porcini (porcini mushrooms, asparagus, Taleggio, Parmesan, mozzarella & truffle oil). If you haven’t had enough pizza by dessert time, consider Mercadante’s crowd-pleasing chocolate pizza, baked rolled pastry filled with chocolate hazelnut spread, smothered in—you guessed it—more chocolate.

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Kahaani Modern Indian

A table with various small dishes, including prawns, corn and curries.
Modern-Indian share plates feature across the menu at Kahaani. Credit: Kahaani Modern Indian

Kahaani evokes a chic Indian dinner party with shareable plates galore. Must-orders include crispy kale chaat with beetroot coulis, coal-grilled burrah lamb kebabs, and Konkan fish in an aromatic coconut curry. End on a sweet note with gajar halwa, a grated carrot pudding studded with dry fruits and khoya (dried evaporated milk solids).

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Humble Rays

Step inside Humble Rays if you’re looking to upgrade your brekkie routine. The charming plant-lined cafe offers an innovative Asian-inspired snack menu featuring daytime treats such as a five-spice confit duck congee (rice porridge) and crabmeat scramble with crispy rice crackers. Wash it all down with housemade soda pop in lychee, roseberry, or bubblegum flavour or choose a more classic iced Thai milk tea.

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Donnini’s is a Melbourne institution. The revered Italian spot opened in 1952 and is a go-to for family gatherings. The pasta is rolled fresh every day and paired with simple but prime ingredients. Case in point: linguine with prawns, garlic, tomato, and chile, a consistent crowd favourite. The classic dessert menu is also responsible for Donnini’s neighbourhood legend status: Don’t leave without trying cannoli, panna cotta, or tiramisu.

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Da Guido La Pasta

Handmade gnocchi will be served with a braised wild boar tomato sauce topped with hazelnuts. Credit: Da Guido La Pasta

Da Guido is a third-generation family-run trattoria in the heart of Lygon Street’s Italian district. The top-notch Venetian-inspired dishes include ravioli filled with wagyu beef in a melt-in-your-mouth rosemary butter sauce. Enjoy it in a sophisticated Murano glass-accented space.

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Di Stasio Carlton

Carlton’s Di Stasio Pizzeria became a local mainstay after debuting in late 2021. Sardinia-born chef Federico Congiu is serious about core ingredients, making his own fior di latte (cow milk mozzarella) and working with Yarra Valley-based farmers to grow and preserve San Marzano tomatoes for pizza toppings. Choose from three separate spaces to dig into your shareable Mediterranean feast. Dine in the spacious courtyard (decked with a 17th-century stone fountain) for the ultimate al fresco experience.

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Laurus Melbourne

Plush modern interiors meet fusion Chinese fare at this decadent spot. Head chef Roger Lu meshes flavours and presentation techniques to create memorable dishes such as Moreton Bay bug egg noodles with XO sauce and golden turnip cake with corn puree and grilled corn salad. The bicultural balancing act continues on the drinks menu filled with imaginative zero-alcohol drinks, wine, and cocktails including the Red Clover (gin, raspberry, kaffir lime leaf, and lime juice).

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