Melbourne's Hot New Neighborhoods

Yarra river in the city of Melbourne, Australia Clearviews/Dreamstime.com
By Charis Atlas Heelan

Melbourne seems to constantly reinvent itself. Just when you think you know what's cool and where you should hang out, another area of town transforms itself into the next "it" place. Whether you're visiting for the first or fiftieth time, at least it looks like you'll never be in need of more places to eat, drink, or shop.

Here are some of the best neighborhoods in Melbourne that are worth the detour. At the time this story was written, the Australian Dollar was worth about 92¢, or $1 will buy A$1.08.

Photo Caption: The Yarra River flows through Melbourne, Australia.
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The Estelle, a restaurant on High Street in the Northcote area of Melbourne. Charis Atlas Heelan
What: Like most inner-city areas, what was once a working-class northern suburb is becoming gentrified. As the fashionable crowds move in, the bars, galleries, shops, and restaurants quickly follow. The most refreshing thing is that these new venues seem to co-exist comfortably with the old-fashioned mom-and-pop shops.

Places: The Estelle (an eatery with a bar and enticing garden in the back); Joe's Shoe Store (a bar that looks like it stepped out of the 1920s); The Local Shop (a quirky flower-and-gift shop); and In the Woods (a gallery with crafty gifts and collectibles).

Where: High Street, about four miles from the city center, can be reached by Tram #86.

When: Many of the restaurants are only open at night, except on weekends when they open during the day and serve the quintessential Melbourne breakfast/brunch.

Price: Ocean trout, fennel, and orange salad at The Estelle (A$15); a cupcake-shaped soap at The Local Shop (A$10); a Messina Sicilian beer at Joe's Shoe Store (A$10).

More Info: The Estelle (243 High Street; tel. +61/3-9489-4609); The Local Shop (262 High Street; tel. +61/3-9489-8651); Joe's Shoe Store (233 High Street; tel. +61/3-9482-7666); In the Woods (246 High Street; tel. +61/3-9486-3311; www.inthewoods.com.au)

Photo Caption: The Estelle, a restaurant on High Street in the Northcote area of Melbourne.
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Maedaya Sake Bar & Grill on Bridge Road in the Richmond area of Melbourne. Ronnie Atlas
What: When I lived in Richmond in the 1990s, finding a decent bar or a funky restaurant was a stretch. Today, the area (especially Bridge Road between Coppin and Burnley Streets) is a hot bed of architect-designed eateries, hole-in-the-wall bars, chic café s, contemporary art galleries, and people-watching.

Places: Maedaya Sake Bar & Grill (70+ Japanese tapas, 60+ sakes, and Japanese beers); Bouzy Rouge (a Spanish-inspired gastropub with an awesome menu and wine list); and Pivotal Galleries (cutting-edge yet affordable contemporary Melbourne artists).

Where: Bridge Road is three miles from the city center, or a 10-minute tram ride on Tram #75.

When: Day and night, but best on weekends.

Price: Japanese tapas dishes, such as gomaae, at Maedaya (from A$3); paella and a glass of sangria in the courtyard at Bouzy Rouge (A$30); Darren Doye painting at Pivotal Galleries (A$1,800).

More Info: Maedaya Sake Bar & Grill (400 Bridge Road; tel. +61/3-9428-3918; www.sakejapan.com.au); Bouzy Rouge (470 Bridge Road; tel. +61/3-9429-4348; www.bouzyrouge.com.au); Pivotal Galleries (442 Bridge Road; tel. +61/3-9429-7755; www.pivotalgalleries.com)

Photo Caption: Maedaya Sake Bar & Grill on Bridge Road in the Richmond area of Melbourne.
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St. Ali in South Melbourne serves specialty coffees. Ronnie Atlas
What: Not a single location, but an entire subculture -- Melburnians have always loved their coffee, but they have taken that passion to new heights with a growing fascination with boutique coffeehouses, fair-trade organic varieties, and places that "grow or source, roast and grind" their own.

Places: Brother Baba Budan in the City, Seven Seeds in Carlton, and St. Ali in South Melbourne all serve their specialty coffees and a selection of food.

Where: Carlton is a few minutes by tram from the City (take any tram on Swanston Street that has "Melbourne University" as the direction). For South Melbourne, take Tram #1, also just a few minutes from the city center.

When: Daily

Price: A cup of single origin coffee ranges from A$3 to A$5; you can buy your own coffee beans by the kilo to take home.

More Info: Brother Baba Budan (359 Lt. Bourke Street, Melbourne, tel. +61/3-9606-0449; www.brotherbababudan.com.au); Seven Seeds (114 Berkeley Street, Carlton; tel. +61/3-93478664; www.sevenseeds.com.au); St. Ali (12 Yarra Place, South Melbourne; tel. +61/3-9686-2990; www.stali.com.au)

Photo Caption: St. Ali in South Melbourne serves specialty coffees.
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Fatto a Mano, an organic bakery on Gertrude Street in the Fitzroy suburb of Melbourne. Charis Atlas Heelan
What: Brunswick Street in Fitzroy has been one of Melbourne's premier restaurant strips for several decades, but now the natives have grown restless and have spread their wings to take over neighboring Gertrude Street (once considered one of Melbourne's least desirable inner-city strips). What has emerged is probably the coolest urban oasis, with a wide selection of fine food, designer shops, and intimate bars.

Places: Fatto a Mano (an organic bakery and food store with a few tables for lunch); Enoteca (a wine shop, eatery, and wine bar where you are surrounded by bottles and ambiance); and Cutler & Co (the latest venture by the Melbourne restaurateur with the Midas touch, Andrew McConnell).

Where: Gertrude Street is about a mile from the city center. You can get there in a few minutes on Tram #86.

When: Day and night for most venues.

Price: A slice of organic potato pizza at Fatto a Mano (A$5); a glass of Australian sauvignon blanc at Enoteca (A$10); a full degustation menu at Cutler & Co (A$130).

More Info: Fatto a Mano (tel. +61/3-417-5998); Enoteca (tel. +61/3-9415-8262; www.gertrudestreetenoteca.com); Cutler & Co (tel. +61/3-9419-4888; www.cutlerandco.com.au)

Photo Caption: Fatto a Mano, an organic bakery on Gertrude Street in the Fitzroy suburb of Melbourne.
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Mamasita, a Mexican restaurant in Melbourne's CBD. Charis Atlas Heelan
What: Melbourne's CBD (known affectionately as "the City") always draws you back with new and exciting venues. With so many bars and tiny bistros, it's hard to limit the choice to a few. These are considered some of the City's best and brightest (for now).

Places: Mamasita (authentic Mexican with a modern twist and a long line to get in); Cookie (eating house, beer hall, and disco in the groovy Curtin House building); and Coda (part modern Vietnamese/Thai, part bistro fare in an architect-designed laneway space).

Where: Melbourne City, especially around Swanston Street, Flinders Street, Bourke Street, Collins Streets, and the laneways that connect them.

When: Day and night, but best on weekdays and weeknights.

Price: Four bite-size pork shoulder tostaditas at Mamasita A$12); Betel leaf salad with smoked fish, chicken, and roasted coconut at Cookie (A$14.50); dessert tasting plate at Coda (A$14).

More Info: Mamasita (11 Collins Street; tel. +61/3-9650-3821; www.mamasita.com.au); Cookie Bar (252 Swanston Street; tel. +61/3-9663-7660; www.cookie.net.au); Coda Bar & Restaurant (141 Flinders Lane; tel. +61/3-9650-3155; www.codarestaurant.com.au)

Photo Caption: Mamasita, a Mexican restaurant in Melbourne's CBD.
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