The Opera House may be Sydney's most recognisable icon, but when it comes to idols of the edible kind, there are dishes with such a cult-like following locals and tourists travel from far and wide for a taste. Here are Sydney's must-try iconic menu items.
Woodfired bread at Totti's
On a typical night at Totti’s, it’s hard to spot a table that hasn’t ordered a plate of the Bondi trattoria’s famous woodfired bread to mop up their creamy burrata and house-made antipasto. The 48-hour fermented dough is cooked in a flaming hot wood oven until it reaches that signature puff and lick of char. If you can’t get a table at the beachside locale, Bar Totti's in the heart of the Sydney CBD and Totti's Rozelle in the Inner West both serve a similar menu.
Pork banh mi at Marrickville Pork Roll
Vietnamese pork rolls are available all over Sydney, but Marrickville Pork Roll’s has garnered such a loyal following that a long queue is a constant outside the tiny Marrickville shop. Despite opening up three more locations to cater to its legion of fans, the formula remains simple: generous slabs of barbecue or crispy crackling pork are layered with pâté, mayo, fresh herbs, chilli, tangy pickles, served on a crusty bread roll.
Strawberry & watermelon cake at Black Star Pastry
The New York Times called Black Star Pastry’s now famous creation the “world’s most Instagrammed cake”, and with pretty layers of watermelon, strawberry, luscious cream and rose petals, there’s no wonder the Inner West bakery now has four outposts and sells thousands of slices every day.
Mary's Burger at Mary's
Sydney's burger scene can be essentially divided into two time periods: before Mary's and after Mary's. When owners Jake Smyth and Kenny Graham opened the original Newtown venue in 2013, they didn't expect to start a revolution, they just wanted to dish up a good ol' American-style cheeseburger (alongside beer and metal music) with no fuss. Yet an icon was born, and remains one of the tastiest options for a burger in Sydney.
Lebanese charcoal chicken at El Jannah
Before its popularity expanded this Lebanese chicken joint into nine outposts across Sydney, El Jannah’s original Granville location was the place to go for some of the best chargrilled chicken in the city. Now you can order their signature golden juicy bird – plus accompanying bright pink pickles and legendary toum (garlic dip) – at stores from Newtown to Penrith.
184-day dry-aged steak at Firedoor
Following a Chef's Table episode on chef-owner Lennox Hastie, Firedoor shot to super-stardom worldwide. Renowned for its custom-made charcoal ovens, grills and hearths, everything is cooked by fire, from the now-famous 184-day dry-aged steak to the brussel sprouts and Caesar salads. The secret ingredient? The kitchen uses different types of wood to give the food its unique taste, from apple, cherry and chestnut to pieces salvaged from aged wine barrels.
Saganaki at The Apollo
This Greek taverna in Potts Point has made a name for itself in Sydney's fine-dining scene in large part due to its popular kefalograviera saganaki (“saganaki” refers to any dish prepared in a 'little frying pan'). Although little more than melted cheese and honey with a sprinkling of oregano, it's done to perfection: served hot and still sizzling in the pan, like a salty island surrounded by golden, sweet juices. Yum!
Ricotta hotcakes with honeycomb butter at bills
There’s nothing quite like a long, lazy brunch in a sunlit cafe with a group of your nearest and dearest to signal the start of the weekend. Sydney chef Bill Granger is credited with pioneering the Australian cafe scene and then taking it worldwide. From the original cafe in Darlinghurst to the always-popular Surry Hills outpost and beachside brunching in Bondi, there are now locations across the globe, and his fluffy ricotta hotcakes are the top order.
Pippies in XO sauce at XOPP
Beginning life at the now-closed Sydney legend Golden Century, the beloved pippies in XO sauce live on at the Chinese restaurant’s sister eatery XOPP in Darling Square. Tossed in a sweet and sour chilli-drenched sauce, more than half a tonne of these Nelson Bay clams are sold per week. It’s a favourite plate for chefs Dan Hong and David Chang, and even former Chinese president Hu Jintao, who requested a delivery to the Canberra embassy.
Crab and prawn wontons with Sichuan chilli dressing at Lucky Kwong
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. The showstopper? The steamed spanner crab and prawn wontons with Sichuan chilli dressing, made famous back in the days when Kwong had a stall at the Carriageworks Farmers Markets.
Pho dac biet at Pho Tau Bay
Often touted as the place to get Sydney’s best pho, Cabramatta's Pho Tau Bay has been dishing up beef noodle soups for over 25 years, so it’s little surprise they know what they are doing. The broth here is what makes it 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? Order the pho dac briet (aka 'the works'), which comes brimming with beef, brisket, tripe and Vietnamese meatballs.
Cantabrian anchovy with butter on sourdough at Ragazzi
Ragazzi's executive chef Scott McComas-Williams claims he had an inkling that the house-made sourdough toast slathered in umami butter and topped with a curled Cantabrian anchovy would prove to be the restaurant's signature dish within days of its debut. He was right, unsurprisingly, with the anchovy toast fast becoming the city's most famous (and somewhat of a social media star, appearing on Instagram and TikTok en masse week after week).
Roti at Mamak
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.
Gelato at Messina
On sweltering summer days, in fact any day of the year, Gelato Messina brings sweet respite for ice-cream lovers. Its original Surry Hills location has since multiplied across the city and beyond (including a new HQ in Marrickville), famous for its outrageous flavour specials (like Fairy Bread, Mr Potato Head and Wagon Wheel) and creative ice-cream cakes. Every Sydneysider swears by their own favourite, but Dulce de Leche and Salted Caramel & White Chocolate are must-try staples.
Laksa at Malay Chinese Takeaway
Since the Woon family first opened Malay Chinese in 1987, there have been many iterations of the eatery across the CBD. Nowadays, outposts can be found at Circular Quay and Ashfield, with both dishing up to a dozen varieties of their legendary laksas. For the best of both worlds, order the chicken and prawn option.
Yellowfin tuna cheeseburger at Charcoal Fish
When the team behind two-hat fine dining seafood restaurant Saint Peter opened a neighbourhood fish-and-chip shop in Rose Bay, we knew it was going to be something special. Chef Josh Niland is known for transforming the way think about seafood, and the yellowfin tuna cheeseburger – the most famous menu item at the new outpost – is no exception. Layered with cheese, mustard, pickles and fermented onion sauce, you won't believe you aren't eating a beef burger. Add smoked Murray cod bacon to take it to the next level.
Chicken, three ways, at 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. The focus is purely on the 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. Hot tip: don't skimp on the punchy house sambal.
Chilli coriander chicken ramen at Chaco Ramen
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 the menu include yuzu scallop, cold tomato truffle and classic soy. However, it's the chilli coriander chicken that is the long-standing favoutite: there’s no chashu on top, but there’s a handful of coriander leaves, some wood-ear mushrooms, three silky medallions of chicken and a bright-red smear of chilli paste on the edge of the bowl. Chefs around the globe have cited it as a must-try dish when visiting Sydney, with Neil Perry even naming it his "death row meal" of choice.
Char kway teow at Ho Jiak
"Ho jiak" translates to "good eats" in Nyonya, and this Hawker-style Malaysian restaurant in Haymarket lives up to its name. The menu is inspired by the street food head chef Junda Khoo grew up cooking with his amah in the family kitchen, and while it's impossible to order wrong, Khoo suggests starting with the char kway teow, which has been the signature dish since day one (although has had a number of varying iterations over the years). Masterchef alumni and pastry chef Reynold Poernomo says it's his favourite meal in Chinatown, so you know it's going to be good.
Peking duck at Mr Wong
In the words of Dan Hong himself "Who can go past Peking duck pancakes?" And Mr Wong serves some of Sydney's best – its Peking duck is legendary, and can actually be seen hanging in a room in the kitchen while dining. The pancakes are best served midcourse between dim sum and mains, and there is the added fun of making them yourself at the table.