Victoria Street Richmond is Melbourne’s Little Saigon, a must-do for foodies visiting the Victorian capital in Australia – especially for lovers of Vietnamese food and other Asian cuisines, and particularly for fans of the legendary Vietnamese soup, phở.
Victoria Street Richmond – Melbourne’s Little Saigon
Victoria Street Richmond is just a few kilometres east of Melbourne’s city centre and easily reached by tram from the CBD. It’s home to an abundance of affordable Asian restaurants – Vietnamese restaurants mainly, but also a handful of Thai, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean restaurants, cafes and tea houses.
You’ll also discover Vietnamese bakeries and Asian supermarkets, grocery stores, fishmongers, butchers, discount clothes shops, and gift stores selling Vietnamese lanterns, Japanese tea sets, Vietnamese áo dài, Chinese slippers, and Old Shanghai-style cheongsams that wouldn’t be out of place in any Asian city.
Parallel to Victoria Street, Bridge Road is just a fifteen-minute walk or short tram ride along Church Street, and is lined with cafes, factory outlet shops, interior décor and homeware stores, and, so it seemed, a pub on every corner.
Not far away, the area around Swan Street is nightlife central, dotted with dimly lit bars, big old pubs, and grungy live music venues. While they’re worth a look if you’re in the area, it was Victoria Street that kept drawing us back to Richmond.
Vietnamese Immigration and the Birth of Melbourne’s Little Saigon
Melbourne is one of Australia’s most multicultural cities, with a population of some 140 ethnicities, yet it’s been the waves of Chinese, Italian, Greek, and Vietnamese immigrants who have left the deepest and richest marks on the city and its culture – especially its food culture.
Melbourne’s Vietnamese immigrants began to congregate around Victoria Street Richmond soon after arriving in 1976 as refugees from Southern Vietnam. Prior to that period, there were just 1,000 Vietnamese in Australia and less than 400 in Victoria – mainly orphans from the Vietnam War, wives of Australian soldiers, and university students on scholarships.
Over the next three years, 53 refugee boats arrived in Australia from Vietnam, and by 1981 Victoria’s Vietnam-born population was over 12,000. Within a few years that population doubled again after the government changed its policy to allow family reunions. Visit the fascinating Immigration Museum on Flinders Street in the city centre or browse the Museum of Victoria and City of Melbourne websites to learn more about this fascinating history of immigration.
It was during the early 1980s that Vietnamese-Australians started to establish small businesses on Victoria Street, Richmond, transforming it into a bustling eat street and ‘exotic’ (for the early Eighties) shopping centre. Now, more than 58,000 Victorians are Vietnam-born and, according to the City of Melbourne, the Vietnamese surname Nguyen is actually the second-most listed name in Melbourne’s phone directory after Smith.
A Little Piece of Asia on Victoria Street Richmond
If you ignore Richmond Street’s grand building façades dating to the early 1900s, and the leafy side streets with their rows of Victorian brick terrace houses and workers cottages (and you use a bit of imagination), you might just feel as if you’re on the streets of Saigon (officially called Ho Chi Minh City) or Hanoi.
Prices and items for sale are chalked in Vietnamese on blackboards outside shops, while market stalls in the front of Vietnamese grocers and supermarkets heave with mountains of fragrant Southeast Asian herbs, fruits and vegetables. Inside, the shelves are crammed with jars and bottles of Asian sauces, spices and condiments, packets of dried noodles, and sacks of rice.
Elderly Vietnamese women in their patterned pyjamas and conical hats pull vertical shopping carts along the footpath, elbowing anyone out of the way who unknowingly gets between them and a bargain, while young Australians of Asian heritage sip Vietnamese iced coffees at tables on the footpaths outside crowded cafés, while they text their absent friends on their iPhones.
Although every time we visited Victoria Street Richmond on our recent trip it was mid-week, the lively artery we’re now calling Little Saigon was still a hive of activity. Having said that, we were told Saturdays are when it’s busiest, when everyone is out shopping, and the streets can get as frenetic as they can in any Asian city. You know when to go!
Where to Find the Best Phở on Victoria Street Richmond
Aside from the lively atmosphere, the main reason to head to Victoria Street Richmond as far as we’re concerned is the food – some of Melbourne’s cheapest and most delicious Asian food. For Asian food-lovers and budget travellers to Melbourne, this is paradise.
Locals queuing outside restaurants is a common sight on Richmond’s Victoria Street and while there’s everything from Korean joints to Taiwanese Bubble Tea shops, they’re mainly lining up for big bowls of steaming Vietnamese phở.
Melbourne’s Vietnamese food-loving locals swear that while great Vietnamese food can be found everywhere from Footscray to Springvale and Sunshine, Melbourne’s best phở is to be found on Victoria Street, so we had to try a couple of places that came recommended by writer friends – Phở Chu The and I Love Phở 264.
At Phở Chu The, at 270 Victoria Street, we stuck to a classic phở with razor thin slices of rare beef, as well as a beef combination soup including brisket and tripe among other tasty offaly bits. It was very good, far better than another Vietnamese noodle place we’d tried in the city, including an over-hyped place called Pho Dzung, where the broth had been insipid and the beef chewy.
But it was at I Love Phở 264 at 264 Victoria Street, where Terence ordered their special combo beef phở and I opted for one of our other favourites, the rich and complex phở bo ko, that we looked at each other and sighed. The broths were as good as any we’ve slurped in Saigon – clear, pure of flavour and well seasoned (not a single condiment was needed), the noodles were perfectly cooked, and the herbs fresh and fragrant. It was Vietnam in a bowl. No wonder the Vietnamese-Aussies converge on Victoria Street, Richmond.
How to Get to Victoria Street Richmond
You can reach Victoria Street Richmond on the 109 tram that runs from Port Melbourne though the city centre along Collins Street to Victoria Street. The 78 tram is handy if you’re staying in St Kilda or Prahran, as it runs all the way from St Kilda along Chapel Street, through Windsor and Prahran, terminating at the intersection of Church and Victoria Streets, Richmond, which is a perfect place to start your foodie walk.
Published 9 May 2012, updated May 2017.