Miss eating new things in far-off places? In a city like Melbourne, you can travel with your tastebuds without going any further than the city centre. Here’s where to start your around-the-world eating adventure.

Plus 852 Hong Kong Cafe

This modern cha chaan teng (Hong Kong-style cafe) is decorated with white tiles and neatly stacked cans of Black & White-brand evaporated milk. Just off Franklin Street, it’s neighbours with Yoi Indonesian Fusion. You’ll spot the influence of more than 150 years of British rule in corned beef and scrambled eggs sandwiches and pork chop specials. The Hong Kong-style French toast is an artery-clogging epiphany. Thick, white peanut butter toast, drowning in condensed milk and a slab of melting butter. There are also sweet pineapple buns on the menu. They don’t contain any fruit but are instead named for their cracked, sugary lids.

French toast on a plate
Plus 852

Dodee Paidang

The original Dodee Paidang is tucked away in the basement beneath Causeway 353 hotel. At the end of 2020, a second store opened in the thick of the action on Swanston Street. Think bright red tiles and big Thai flavours. Dodee specialises in tom yum noodle soups. There are more than 20 to choose from on the menu. Flavours range from 'Dodee nursery' without chilli, through to 'Dodee super nova'. This bowl clocks in at spice level seven – it’s generally only attempted by university students as a dare. There are other traditional Thai dishes, too. From moo ping pork skewers and som tum green papaya salads, through to whole grilled fish, curries and grilled meats. The meal sets are especially good value here.

Isan Soul

You can't miss Isan Soul's bright yellow shopfront on Bourke Street. Be drawn inside by a tuktuk parked between tables, motorbike taxis protruding from walls and dangling wooden birdcages. Isan Soul specialises in Thai cuisine from the northern region of the same name. The food here has more spice, sourness and fermented funk than central and southern Thailand. Dishes come with woven baskets of sticky rice for easy feasting. Traditional mains include gai yang, Northern Thailand’s signature barbecue chicken, and tom saap, a spicy and sour soup with soft pork bone. Fried rice here is also a winner, whether served with hand-picked crab meat or slightly fermented northern Thai pork sausage.

A woman eating at a wooden table
Isan Soul

Palette

Palette is a minimalist cafe that looks fresh from Seoul’s trendy Seongsu-dong neighbourhood. Around the corner from Auction Rooms, the light-filled space offers pale timber and white walls for super aesthetic brunching. Smashed avo here comes with chili jam and there's even Korean-style KFC chicken burgers. The most popular menu items are the toasty brioche sandwiches. Sweet tooths, don’t miss fluffy matcha cheesecakes and cloud-like Swiss rolls.

Club Colombia

Club Colombia is a vibrant cafe brining bold South American flavours to the city, with the kind of playlist that makes you want to dance on the tables. It’s a favourite among both expats and locals looking for hearty meals and brunches that break free of smashed avocado. The menu is based on family recipes and includes snacks like empanadas, arepas, house-made chorizo and morcilla sausages. There's a dedicated grill menu, three types of Calentado (Columbian fried rice), and bandeja paisa. That's Colombia’s national dish composed of faves like pork belly, chorizo, fried egg, avocado, plantain and a grilled arepa. Buen provecho!

Plates of food on a wooden table
Club Colombia

Trattoria Emilia

Take a trip to Emilia Romagna in Northern Italy without leaving Melbourne CBD. The kitchen at Trattoria Emilia works closely with local producers, melding Aussie and Italian DOP ingredients on every plate. You'll spot balsamic vinegar from Modena and caprese salad alongside Polanco caviar and oysters from Port Macquarie. Pick three courses from the a la carte menu for $80 per person, or nibble your way through dishes such as vitello (poached veal with marrow dressing) and risotto with prawns, mussels and lemon squid ink. To drink, stay local with Mornington Peninsula pinot noir or head to Piemonte for Nebbiolo

Sofia Levin is a freelance journalist based in Melbourne and the founder of Seasoned Traveller.

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