The best cheap eats in Sydney
Dining out in Sydney can be a fancy (and expensive) affair. But there are plenty of delicious options for those on a budget, from bulging burgers and loaded banh mi sandwiches to cheap-as-chips dumplings and drool-worthy roti canai.
If you have joined the line at Chinatown’s Mamak, you – like everyone else – are most likely here for the famous roti. Served either sweet (served with freshly sliced bananas and ice-cream or pandan and coconut) or savoury (accompanied by curry dips and spicy sambal), the signature is the roti canai. All are mouth-wateringly cooked to perfection: crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside. Head to the Chatswood or Parramatta branches to avoid the crowds.
VN Street Foods
Other Vietnamese delights in the neighbourhood include VN Street Foods, known for its Vietnamese meal boxes, which you order on cleverly-designed wipeable menus and customise to yours tastes: sit down on a plastic hair and choose your preferred rice, main, vegetable, salad and soup. It’s hard not to get stumped by the many options available, but whatever you choose, it’s guaranteed to be fresh and flavourful.
Boasting several pages worth of eats you’d typically find in China’s Shaanxi Province, this gem is hidden away on a side street of Chinatown. The biang biang noodles are the signature dish – visit any day of the week and you should be able to spot a table or two of visitors slurping enormous bowls filled to almost overflowing with ribbon-wide noodles. The rou jia mo – also knows as Chinese burgers – are also a hit.
Hesham El Masry is the brains behind this no-frills eatery serving Egyptian street food on a little corner of Enmore Road. His aim: to acquaint Australians with the food that he grew up with and remembers so fondly. Think falafel, charcoal meats, salads, dips, pita wraps and much more (including slow cooked breakfast fava beans and freshly squeezed cane juice in the mornings).
Mr Chen Beef Noodle
Chef Gary Yuen heads up the kitchen at this hole-in-the-wall restaurant. And he sure knows what he’s doing when it comes to slinging and hand stretching noodles – they’re all made fresh on site, and windows into the kitchen give you a glimpse of the action. Needless to say, the beef noodles are the most popular, but other versions come topped with pickled cabbage, pork-and-chicken wontons and slow-cooked beef brisket.
Henrietta is not your average takeaway charcoal chicken joint – although you can still come in and grab a chook to go. But it’s much fancier than that, replete with table service and a full bar pouring wine and mixing cocktails. And there’s also much more on the menu than charcoal chicken, although that is the star. Tear open your Lebanese bread, slather on garlic sauce, load it up with chicken, pickles and chips… and prepare for things to get messy, in the best possible way.
Where: Surry Hills
Two ex-Long Chim chefs are behind this Sino-Thai restaurant, telling the culinary story of the Chinese migration through Thailand. The dining room is fun yet no-fuss, with neon signs, wooden stools and a bustling atmosphere. Plus, the food is packed with flavour, and designed to share. Not sure where to start? Order the yum salmon, wok-fried crab curry, barbecue duck and baked prawn vermicelli.
Bring your appetite and a group of friends to Hansang’s Haymarket or Strathfield outposts, where traditional Korean plates that are as generous as they are delicious are served. Every meal begins with a table full of banchan – complimentary side dishes that include pickled vegetables, kimchi and fish cakes. Then move on to Korean-style pancakes and dumplings, before the real star of the show: the soups. Which you’ll notice when you enter the restaurant and see enormous vats of broth bubbling away.
Where: Haymarket, Strathfield
Mother Chu's Taiwanese Gourmet
Mother Chu’s Taiwanese Gourmet offers a range of traditional Taiwanese delicacies, ranging from street-food staples to snacks, buns and dumplings. Begin with one of the traditional drinks, perhaps hot soybean milk, sour plum juice or homemade iced green tea. Then dive into the street eats including youtiao (fried bread sticks), shallot pancakes, baked sesame flatbread and steamed bun dumplings.
After its OG Chinatown food court location shut down, Gumshara, a word-of-mouth favourite among Sydneysiders, has reopened in new digs on the corner of Kimber Lane and Little Hay Street. Don’t let the self-serving cutlery, bright lights and constant masses of people coming and going deter you from trying the signature tonkotsu ramen. The stock for the dish is made by simmering 120 kilograms of pork bones for 14 hours – which the team does seven days a week. Other ramen varieties on offer include miso, shoyu, garlic and pork spare rib.
Malay Chinese Takeaway
With a new location at Circular Quay, as well as an outpost in Ashfield, Malay Chinese Takeaway manages to make legendary laksas – there are a dozen varieties to choose from – at exceptionally reasonable prices. Don’t let the name fool you; dining in is also an option.
Where: Circular Quay
It's hard to beat a burger when your budget doesn't quite match your hunger levels. Get an American-style cheeseburger at Mary's in Newtown or the Entertainment Quarter, where there are also drink specials daily between 4pm and 6pm.,
Where: City Centre, Newtown, Entertainment Quarter
Little Lagos is the answer to all your Nigerian food prayers. The team have taken recipes passed down for generations, and uses authentic African ingredients and spices to give you mouth-watering East African staples such as jollof (long-grain basmati rice cooked in tomato, capsicum, habanero chillies and spices), stews (which can come with goat, chicken and beef), ewa agonyi (slow-cooked then pan-fried black-eyed beans topped in chilli sauce) and sides like fried plantains and ila asepo (finely minced okra summered in herbs and fish).
Black Star Pastry
Home to the now-famous strawberry watermelon cake, Christopher Te opened the OG Black Star Pastry back in 2008 on Newtown’s Australia Street, naming it after a Radiohead song as a tribute to the suburb’s alternative scene. Fast-forward 13 years later, and the humble dessert spot has become a chain, with four stores in Sydney (and another down in Melbourne).
Where: City Centre, Newtown, Rosebery, Entertainment Quarter
Known for its Lebanese-style charcoal chicken, what started as a simple Granville chicken shop soon grew into a chain with multiple locations across Sydney because the menu is just so delicious. The sides are just as impressive – Lebanese bread, colourful pickles and a family-recipe garlic sauce that will keep you returning for more. Or opt for the ‘chicken sandwich’, which overflows with salad, or falafel for vegetarians.
Where: Blacktown, Burwood, Campbelltown, Chester Hill, Earlwood, Granville, Gregory Hills, Kogarah, Liverpool, Newtown, Penrith, Punchbowl, Smithfield
Marrickville Pork Roll
Located on Marrickville’s bustling Illawarra Road, join the queue to order a banh mi from Marrickville Pork Roll (there are also outlets in Darling Square and Circular Quay). This classic Vietnamese sandwich sees pork, salad, chilli, pâté and fresh herbs crammed into a crunchy baguette, and will set you back around $5.
Tamaleria & Mexican Deli
Up the road, Dulwich Hill is the unlikely location for what might be the most authentic Mexican fare in Sydney. At Tamaleria and Mexican Deli, chow down on chef Rose Cienfuegos' famous tamales (steamed hot pockets of white corn flour flavoured with chicken and tomatillo salsa), alongside soft tacos, burritos and whatever else is on the blackboard menu that day.
Where: Dulwich Hill
With an OG outpost located next to a smash-repairs workshop in the heart of Rockdale, it’s no surprise Kostas is all about slinging out great sandwiches with low fuss (it’s new venue at Circular Quay is equally no-frills). Expect a revolving menu of tasty (and mighty big) sangas made with freshly baked bread alongside coffee and shakes. Popular menu mainstays include the cult fave fish burger (which comes overflowing with tartar sauce) and the epic fried-to-order chicken schnitty number.
Where: Rockdale, Circular Quay
At Keita Abe’s pocket-sized venue in Darlinghurst, you’ll find ramen that tastes unlike any other ramen in Sydney, all with a modern twist. Forget traditional tonkotsu – the mainstays on this menu include yuzu scallop, chilli coriander chicken, cold tomato truffle, and classic soy.
Located in Parramatta’s Harris Park – aka ‘Little India’ – and with over 200 dishes on the menu taking inspiration from the North and South of India, each visit to Chatkazz will take your tastebuds on a mouthwatering trip. Be sure to try the pani puris, haat, sizzlers, curries and delicious roti – all washed down with a great selection of lassis or a refreshing mocktail.
Where: Harris Park
Cuisine from the Nanjing province in China is not easy to find in Sydney, which is what makes this cheap-and-cheerful restaurant so special. The region’s most famous dish is salted duck, and that’s a staple on the menu here. But you can also order duck in many other incarnations, including crispy fried duck tongues, duck fried rice and noodle soups that use every part of the bird, alongside other Nanjing specialties like steamed dumplings and sesame pies.
Harvey’s Hot Sandwiches
Hot sandwiches are the name of the game at Harvey’s – and they are bulging. The bread is thick and fluffy on the inside but nice and crisp on the outside, and the toppings are extremely generous. Signatures include the Beef Brisket, which you can order ‘sloppy’ with Russian dressing; the Nashville Hot Chicken; and the Turkey Club. Vegan and vegetarian options are also available.
Late Night Table
Tucked away in North Strathfield’s trendy Bakehouse Quarter you’ll find Late Night Table, a Korean fusion restaurant with plenty of quirks. The interior is casual but cosy, while the menu is packed with interesting dishes and drinks, including the signature chestnut makgeolli (a Korean rice wine that is served here with a slab of honeycomb) and the house speciality, grilled large intestines, which come in a generous serving size. It’s a similar story with the KFC (Korean fried chicken), spicy intestine hotpot and creamy prawn pasta.
Where: North Strathfield
Banh Cuon Ba Oanh
The must-try dish at Marrickville’s Banh Cuon Ba Oanh (as the name suggests) is the banh cuon – a silky rice noodle roll that is a traditional Vietnamese breakfast staple. If you haven’t tried it before, this is no doubt the place to give it go and as close to the real deal as you can find beyond the roadside stalls of Hanoi.
Another winner from Harris Park’s ‘Little India’, Momozz captivates food lovers with its unique blend of Indo-Chinese flavours. The star attraction? The legendary momos, either vegetarian or meat-filled, are drenched in a symphony of tantalising sauces. Dive into plates of chilli chicken, Manchurian chicken and chow mein, where the best of Chinese and Indian flavours collide – it’s almost Chinese, with a touch of Indian magic. There’s also a great selection of biryanis.
Where: Harris Park
The Merivale group’s casual Middle Eastern restaurant buzzes around the clock, with punters here hanging out in booths til late, devouring falafels, mezze plates and skewers straight off the lebachi grill. But the takeaway pita on George Street is where it’s at: coming in at under $20 (and available past 11pm for those enjoying a night out), and jam-packed with falafel, spicy Turkish sausage or lamb kafta, as well as fresh salad and tahini.
Where: City Centre
Emma’s Snack Bar
This family-owned restaurant opened its doors way back in 2000, after owner Anthony Sofy turned his local corner shop into the cult favourite it is now. Dishing up Lebanese fare at great prices, the Moorish chicken marinated in a secret spice mix is a must and involves a three-part cooking process; the dips are made from scratch and the addictive garlic dip is the basis of most of the delicious sauces; and the comforting k’nefe is Emma’s own recipe of custard semolina baked and drizzled in an orange blossom syrup.
Pho Tau Bay
Often touted as the place to get Sydney’s best pho, Pho Tau Bay has been dishing up beef noddle soups for over 25 years, so it’s little surprise they know what they are doing. The broth here is what makes its such a standout, and the portions are so big you could easily share among friends (but when it’s this delicious, why would you want to?). If you are overwhelmed by the menu, order the pho dac biet (‘the works’) or a pho ga (chicken soup).
Chat Thai has been the heart of Sydney’s Thaitown since the cultural district emerged in the 2000s. And you would still be hard-pressed to order badly: point at pretty much anything on the menu and you are guaranteed a flavour-filled meal – which is likely why it has turned into a popular chain, with three locations across the city. The OG outlet is still the most charming, with multiple levels, late-night opening hours, BYO available and funky décor. Come during daylight hours for lunch specials.
Where: Haymarket, Manly, Randwick
Khao Kang Maruay
If you’re looking to immerse yourself in Thai cuisine, you’ve come to the right place. The menu at Khao Kang Maruay is extensive, listing more than 100 Thai regional specialties, all served up in a fun space with vibrant Thai street art on the walls. As you would expect, the soups are delicious, and range from spicy-sour tom yum soup to tom luad moo, a soup made with a clear broth as well as pork and vegetables. Just as comforting is the Thai street food chim chum and hotpots.
Serving what many consider to be Sydney’s best burgers, Bar Luca is known for its unique combinations and quirky naming conventions. The most famous is the Blame Canada burger, with a beef patty, American cheese, maple glazed streaky bacon, maple aioli and poutine (fries topped in gravy and cheese curds). Other highlights on the menu include the Magic Mushroom, Mr T-Ruffle and Mac Daddy, plus a range of snacks.
Where: City Centre
Gogyo is renowned for its Kogashi-style ramen, a unique technique that brings forth intense fragrances and bittersweet flavours you won’t find anywhere else. The menu also features classic ramen options and a vegetarian alternative, catering to a range of dietary preferences. Either way, a bowl will only set you back about $18.
Where: Surry Hills
New Star Kebab
Auburn Road – the main street of the western suburb of Auburn – is known for having the highest amount of good Turkish food per square metre in Sydney. Hence the cloud of smoke that often blankets this hidden-gem Eat Street. Of course, the mention of Turkish fare usually brings to mind a late-night kebab full of charcoal-grilled meat and dripping with chilli sauce. At New Star Kebab, you will find this and more – expect dips, Kiymali pides, gozleme, pizzas, Iskender plates, salads, tabouleh and shish kebabs cooked on giant skewers.
Where: Harris Park
While the team at Dosa Hut may use the tagline ‘Pioneers of Dosa culture’, the standouts at this restaurant chain tend to be the plates of Hyderabadi biryani and the Chicken 65 (deep-fried chicken pieces covered in Chinese-Indian-style chilli sauce). But don’t get us wrong, the dosas here are also delicious – the chef’s special is especially generous, coming with seven thali-style side plates.
Ashfield’s Liverpool Street was the birthplace of this dumpling chain, which now has locations in Chatswood and the City Centre (not to mention Victoria, Queensland and Dubai). Return loyal customers come for the pan-fried pork buns, which are renowned here for their cooked-to-perfection fluffy tops and golden bottoms. Beyond the buns, it’s impossible to make a wrong move with the menu, which includes xiao long bao, prawn wontons, clams with XO sauce, Beijing-style pork ribs, Peking duck, claypots and whole barramundi plucked live from the tank.
Where: Ashfield, Chatswood, City Centre
Located in the historic Locomotive Workshop of the South Eveleigh precinct, Lucky Kwong is the latest project from celebrity chef Kylie Kwong and founded on the premise of making nourishing food accessible to all. The Australian-Cantonese casual eatery serves simple, locally sourced food that is made by hand, with each dish coming in at less than $28. Don’t miss the steamed spanner crab and prawn wontons with Sichuan chilli dressing; steamed savoury pancakes with fried egg, vegetables and XO; and Uncle Jimmy’s hokkien noodles.
Where: South Eveleigh
The name of this family-owned restaurant nods to the house specialty: pho, that deliciously heart-warming Vietnamese soup that can cure whatever ails you. And at Pho Pasteur, you can get it all manner of ways, alongside other flavourful dishes from Southern Vietnam. Think herb-laden salads, fresh rice paper rolls and skewers of meat cooked over charcoal.
Sydney Cebu Lechon
With new digs in Blacktown reminiscent of the karenderias you’d find in the Philippines – roadside eateries serving affordable comfort food – Sydney Cebu Lechon is your one-stop-shop for Filipino cuisine. There is no menu, instead the day’s offering is served until sold out, but the restaurant’s namesake remains the showstopper: Cebu lechon, plates of suckling pig chopped to order and served with served with rice, achara (pickled papaya) and sawsawan (vinegar and garlic dipping sauce).
Head to Kowloon Café in Sydney’s Chinatown for a true Hong Kong dining experience. This retro diner is inspired by the casual and vibrant cafes of the City of Skyscrapers, with cosy booths, timber-topped stools, nostalgic Mahjong characters, neon signs and a menu with a staggering 108 dishes. Signatures include the thick Hong Kong-style French toast, filled with peanut butter and lavished with condensed milk, and the crispy pineapple bun, loaded with generous wedges of melting butter.
Flyover Fritterie & Chai Bar
An ode to the big, bold flavours of the no-name food stands found under the overpasses (flyovers) of bustling Indian cities where each cart specialises in one type of street food, the vegetarian menu at Flyover Fritterie has expanded from its simple-but-sweet original offering of three types of pakora and chai. Now, you can also indulge in potato jaffles, a spicy selection chaat (savoury snacks), curries, burgers and sweets. Yum!
Ayam Goreng 99
When it first opened its doors in 1998, there was nothing like Ayam Goreng 99 in Sydney. Now Anzac Parade is brimming with popular Indonesian restaurants, but none have the same cult following as this institution. Try the satay, nasi goreng and tender chicken, which comes in three styles: charcoal grilled, deep fried and Javanese-style. All are ordered by the piece and are marinated for four to six hours on low heat. And lots and lots of sambal, of course.
For those looking for a bilao feast – a Filipino style of eating in which guests are served a bamboo platter stacked with goodies like crisp-skinned pork, charred fish, grilled eggplant and lots of rice (and a banana leaf rather than a plate) – need to book into Lazza as soon as possible. For just $35 per person, it’s almost-absurd amount of food. It takes so long to prepare, in fact, that customers need to call the restaurant two days in advance and let them know what their preferred seven dishes are (there are 23 to choose from).
Xi’an Biang Biang
Down in Sydney’s Chinatown (and a number of other locations across the city), you will find one of the few places in Sydney where you indulge in biang biang – fresh and deliciously thick hand-pulled noodles from Xi’an, a northwestern Chinese city in the Shannxi Province. While you can get yours topped with stewed pork or tomato and egg, the classic combo is plain, bright-red chilli oil. Other popular Shaanxi dishes on the menu include cold noodles in garlic sauce, rou jia mo (a street-food-style burger stuffed with pulled pork) and pao mo soup.
Where: Chinatown, Broadway, Chatswood, Burwood