Dining out in Sydney can be a fancy (and expensive) affair. But you can also eat like a king even if your budget is less than regal. From bulging burgers and loaded banh mi sandwiches to cheap-as-chips dumplings and oysters – there’s plenty to chow down on without burning a hole in your wallet.
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. Head down George Street to Chinatown, where hole-in-the-wall eateries sell everything from Cantonese cuisine to Thai noodles, Korean barbecue and Malay curries. Speaking of which, don’t miss a meal at Mamak, where a roti canai comes served with all the condiments. There are always queues, but things move pretty fast here.
On Friday evenings, food spanning the spectrum from Hong Kong to Hanoi stars at the vibrant Sydney Chinatown Markets. Things kick off here at 4pm. There's more hawker-style food on the menu at Spice Alley in nearby Chippendale. In addition to Asian-style barbecue, Shanghai dumplings and Hainan chicken rice, you can pick up sushi, Vietnamese soups and even hearty bowls of pasta.
Cheap eats and cool crowds go hand-in-hand in the neighbouring Inner West suburbs of Newtown and Enmore – the University of Sydney is just around the corner, and many eateries cater to budget-conscious students. It’s a winning formula that results in streets lined with Thai, Chinese, Indian and Vietnamese restaurants, like perennial favourite Pho 236 and Yang’s Dumpling Bar, where you can get platters of dumplings and buns for around $10.
Stop by Lonely Mouth for vegan ramen, Saga for innovative sandwiches, Black Star Pastry for pies and desserts, and Faheem Fast Food for Indian-Pakistani curries. Or head for Cairo Takeaway and Emma’s Snack Bar for tasty Middle Eastern food. Some say the former has the best falafels in Sydney. You decide.
Nearby in Marrickville, join the queue to order a banh mi from Marrickville Pork Roll (there’s also an outlet in Darling Square, Haymarket). This classic Vietnamese sandwich sees pork, salad, chilli, pâté and fresh herbs crammed into a crunchy baguette, and will set you back around $5.
Other Vietnamese delights in the neighbourhood include VN Street Foods, known for its Vietnamese meal boxes, and Banh Cuon Ba Oanh, where the must-try dish is (as the name suggests) the banh cuon (a silky rice noodle roll that is a traditional Vietnamese breakfast staple). Up the road in Dulwich Hill, chow down on Rose Cienfuegos' famous tamales, tacos and burritos at the Tamaleria and Mexican Deli, or Greek pastries at Alevri.
Marrickville Pork Roll, Inner West
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 Circular Quay or Newtown, where there are also drink specials daily between 4pm and 6pm. Bar Lucain the city centre and its offshoot, BL Burgersin Darlinghurst, specialises in mammoth burgers that require two hands and a hearty appetite. In the eastern suburbs, Out of the Blue Clovelly may well make the best fish burger in town. You’d be hard pressed to find anything over $15 on the menu.
Half a dozen oysters can often break the budget. But not if you slurp them down during an oyster happy hour. Riley St Garagein Woolloomooloo has $2.50 oysters from 5pm-6pm, Wednesday to Friday. You’ll find $1.50 oysters at The Morrisonin the city centre on Wednesdays from 6pm-7pm. There are $2 oysters at Grain Barin The Rocks on Wednesday from 4pm-6pm. And $2 oysters are up for grabs at nearby Maybe Sammy on Saturdays, until they run out. It’s a similar price tag at Jordon’s Seafood in Darling Harbour, where the deal is available Monday to Friday, 3pm-6pm.
If you plan carefully, you can dine at Sydney’s top restaurants on a budget. Quite possibly the city’s most beautiful dining room, Rockpool Bar & Grill’s menu is loaded with luxe ingredients. Order the lunch special and you’ll get a wagyu beef burger with chips and a beer for just $25. The weekday lunch at Glass Brasserie is a very reasonable $29, including a main and a drink. Book the chef’s tasting menu at The Apolloin Potts Point and you’ll receive an endless parade of mod-Greek cuisine for only $65 per person, while at Long Chim in the CBD you can pay $79 a head for nine upscale Thai courses. Not bad, considering it comes courtesy of one of the world’s top chefs, David Thompson.
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