398-400 Lygon St, Carlton, 3053
The Karen’s Diner website proudly proclaims, “Great Burgers & Rude Service” and that just about sums up this unconventionally themed restaurant. While perplexing to some, the theme is ‘terrible service’, and you can be sure staff will treat you with utter disdain as part of the experience.
If you love being roasted by strangers in public you might get a kick out Karen’s – with additional outposts in Sydney, Brisbane and the UK, there certainly appears to be a demand. Plus, if your name is actually Karen, you can score a free drink (served with a frown).
Panda Hot Pot
100 Victoria Street, Carlton, 3053
The Carlton outpost of the Sichuan-born Panda Hot Pot really goes above and beyond in terms of thematic design, earning it a place on this list. The restaurant has turned the old Dracula’s site into a Wuxia martial arts-inspired venue, the highlight of which is a gargantuan, 1.5 tonne dragon suspended from the ceiling.
The hot pot menu itself is fully customisable (and features more than 100 dishes) and keeps guests entertained with Bian Lian (face changing) performances, traditional Chinese dance, and music by gu zheng and lute players.
48 Easey Street, Collingwood, 3066
You might have eaten a burger on the train before, but probably not while sitting five storeys in the air. Easey’s has taken three of Melbourne’s old ‘Hitachi’ steel train carriages and turned them into a restaurant championing great burgers and street culture (both the interiors and exteriors of the trains feature street art, which changes regularly).
Dining is a fun, casual affair – come hungry for burgers, with the venue’s Motz Madness burger crowned Australia’s best burger in 2021. Vegan cheese and plant-based patties are available too, and the whole menu is complemented by a respectable beer, wine and cocktail list.