Arguably one of Melbourne’s finest banh mis can be found at Nhu Lan Bakery. Baguettes are baked on-site daily, resulting in an impossibly crusty exterior (that will inevitably end up in shattered pieces all over your shirt) and a soft internal cushion for house-made butter, pâté, head cheese, tomato-braised meatballs, lemongrass pork, and even tofu, loaded with properly pickled carrot, batons of cucumber, coriander, a dash of Maggi seasoning and fiery, home-grown chillies. Bernadette Fitzgerald, program manager at FCAC, says it’s the best banh mi in the business.
Tan Thanh Loi has a menu as long as an encyclopedia, but regulars know to skip the hu tieu, duck noodle soup and stir-fried dishes, in favour of the easy-to-eat but hard-to-master com tam (broken rice). Here, lemongrass marinated pork chops and chicken marylands are grilled and sliced before crowning a mound of broken rice accompanied by pickles, shredded pork skin, meatloaf and fresh slices of cucumber and tomato, served alongside a piquant bowl of nuoc mam cham sauce, which ties together every element of this generous plate of rice.
One of the most popular Ethiopian restaurants in the area, Ras Dashen (247 Barkly St) is the top pick from Vyshnavee Wijekumar, marketing manager at FCAC. It specialises in “delicious authentic food with a down-to-earth community vibe".
Vietnamese food is the most popular cuisine found in Footscray, but the Chinese influence is not to be overlooked. Roti Road is run by a Malaysian-Chinese family who love to insert a bit of theatrics to the dining experience. Waiters will toss, spin and throw tissue-thin sheets of roti around the room before running back into the kitchen to cook it for you. Each serving of roti canai comes with sambal, curry sauce and dahl, with prices starting at $6.90.
Late-night eat? The no-frills Amasya Kebab House (134 Nicholson St) has delicious kebabs and other Turkish eats, according to Cheralyn Lim, digital content producer at FCAC. “Affordable with great portions – halal, too.”
Pho Tam (Shop 1, 7-9 Leeds St) isn't the most modern restaurant in Footscray, with its wear and tear unashamedly on display. But that just means it is one of the most loved Vietnamese joints in the suburb. Pho is the typical fast-food choice here, with beef and chicken broths built on a mix of sweet spices and adorned with your choice of sliced or poached meats, herbs and aromatics, but it is by no means the only dish that it produces well.
Pie Thief is a tiny shop by co-owners Aaron Donato and chef Scott Bloomfield (ex-Supernormal) that sells, well, pies (and a couple of damn fine sausage rolls). Expect standard offerings of steak and cheese, or bacon and egg pies, but as weird as it sounds, it's the out-of-the-box lasagne pie that draws in the crowds. Adrienne Baldwin, finance manager at FCAC, also says there are great vegan options.
Co Thu Quan (Shop 11 & 12/10 Droop St) serves more familiar Vietnamese dishes like pho and rice paper rolls, but it specialises in northern dishes that are less visible in Melbourne Vietnamese restaurants. Try the signature rice paper salad – sheets of rice paper are moistened, then muddled with beef jerky, herbs, peanuts, dried shrimp, kumquat and a hard-boiled quail egg.