When it comes to dining, South Australia casts a wide net. On one hand, it's home to the Barossa Valley, one the finest food and wine regions in Australia. On the other, it's also the state that gave us the pie floater (some will argue that the pie floater is just as fine as the Barossa). The state's diverse cultural mix has created a vibrant food scene centred upon Adelaide – you won't even need to spend more than $20 to partake. And when it comes to the bill you can pay with confidence, knowing these venues take American Express.
20 under $20
Down on the River Torrens, Jolleys’ thick-cut slab of squeaky cheese is creamy on the inside and grilled earthy-brown on the outside. Fine stalks of sweetly charred asparagus and curls of cress (more greenery than a garden show) sit on a circular cushion of crumbly, tart quinoa with secret carrot slivers. Add bright scatterings of cranberries and pistachios, and pools of just-made pesto and extra virgin olive oil, and you have a perfect little vegetarian lunch.
This place rocks in summer, the shady terrace heaving with long-lunchers and those just here for a quick Negroni. The chefs change the menu constantly, but their swordfish carpaccio is a stayer. Finely sliced, the tender white fish (fresh off the boat) is arrayed around a shallow white bowl and dressed with peppy flavours: delicate mustard, lime and finger lime, orange and grapefruit. Scatterings from the garden include endives and radicchio, all squirted with top-quality olive oil.
Who doesn’t like dolmades? Sure, you can get them out of a tin, but here in South Australia the vine leaves almost come for free. Down on the breezy promenade by the Glenelg seashore, Zucca is a sunny spot to indulge in a fabulously oily, chubby plateful, stuffed with chicken rice (not gluggy) and doused with a palate-cleansing slather of Greek yoghurt, sprinkled with crushed walnuts. Pass the ouzo.
Nu Thai is a bit of an Adelaide legend, racking up more ‘Best Thai Restaurant’ awards than seems plausible. A summery essential, their snow pea salad comprises a tidy pile of finely minced chicken and roasted coconut, with sluices of fresh lime juice and a touch of chilli heat, relieved by plenty of coriander and mint. The thickly sliced peas and toasted peanuts add an audible crunch. It’s the opposite of mainstream Thai stodge.
There is a reason this place has been pumping since the 1990s: the lunch-time prices have stayed super-low, and the portions are still big-bowl sized. Choose the ingredients for your curry: in this (gluten-free) case it’s firm rectangular prisms of tofu, zucchini fillets and snow peas in viscous, coconut-laced sauce. The whole shebang comes with a dome of fresh jasmine rice, and scores a two-chilli rating on the menu (hot to trot).
This irresistible entrée is a nod to the Roman way of making gnocchi, where the mixture of semolina, flour and egg is cut into irregular rounds then baked. The ‘anatra’ in this instance is confit duck: slick, juicy and delicious. Rigoni’s wintry take on the dish rustles up Brussels sprouts, toasted hazelnuts and crisp guanciale – a unique bacon made from pork cheeks, washed in wine then seasoned; another Roman savoury fave.
Order a bunch of stuff at Lucky Lupitas: it will arrive randomly, as soon as the chefs cook it. The pulled-beef brisket will keep you truckin’ all night and most of tomorrow: pulled beef and melted cheese in a flour tortilla, juiced-up with chipotle mayonnaise, chunky guacamole, Mexican rice, lettuce, pico de gallo (tomato, onion, and jalapeño salsa), pepper slaw, sour cream and chipotle-and-coriander pesto. Mild or hot? We vote hot.
The elegant bluestone terrace housing this 1970s Danish chain (aged steaks ahoy!) is a short stroll from the East End of the city. The cheeseburger holds its own: shiny-topped sesame-seed brioche, around 180g of premium beef (freshly minced) and cheddar cheese. Add to that sweet mustard sauce, a wisp of red onion, scarlet wheels of tomato and girthsome slices of sour pickle. Served with a messy brown pile of hand-cut fries.
There are a few good Argentine steakhouses around Adelaide, but Sosta stands out for its dapper interiors (exposed red brick, burnt-blood floorboards, white linen) and primo location amid the Rundle Street fray. Kick off your evening with a plateful of trad, handmade Argentine empanadas – a serve of three compact, buttery fried pastries, chock-full of marinated, peppered veal mince, boiled egg, firm green olives and pan-darkened herbs. Piquant tomato-and-onion salsa optional; Mendoza malbec mandatory.
As far as mainstream franchise Indian joints go, Beyond India is one of the more respectable (not too ‘Bolly’). The usual slew of mains is on hand, but try the chicken tikka dosai, a huge rice-and-lentil pancake (bigger than your plate) stuffed with iridescent tandoor-cooked chook and cumin-coloured potato. Dip these delights into a traffic-light array of dipping sauces: red for chilli-hot, green for cool yogurt, orange for lentil dahl (somewhere in between).
Becalmed on a North Adelaide backstreet, this stately stone boozer is perfect for a pint and a bite. Order the grilled open chicken sandwich and settle into a leather armchair. Beneath a salad stack (mini-cos, spinach, red onion, grated cheese and bacon) is a single slab of buttered toast. In between is a succulent collation of grilled, honey-glazed chicken chunks. ‘Substantial’ is the word that springs to mind – the chips are probably surplus to requirements.
The good cooks at Press* aren’t shy when it comes to offal: brains, sweetbreads, tongue, liver, kidneys, pig’s ears (there’s even a dedicated menu section). But for those of us who like our meat more discreet, their wood-grilled Boston Bay offal sausage wraps things up in a neat tube, enabling us to consume our favourite Eyre Peninsula pig parts without identifying them so anatomically. Viscous mustard adds further zing.
The good ol’ Wellington Hotel in North Adelaide has plenty going for it: park views, laid-back locals and chipper staff. But the real reason you’re here is ribs, Texas-style – slow-roasted in a sticky carapace of smoky bourbon barbecue sauce (separated for easy eating). You might want to swing by the gym in the morning, but for now, a good dollop of pureed avocado and roasted baby corn spears offer redemption.
Named after a legendary Bangkok foodie hub, Soi 38 caters to Adelaide’s nocturnal wanderers, looking to infuse their evenings with a little Thai zip. The wok here runs at an audible sizzle, frying broad, flat rice noodles along with slippery slivers of charcoal-blackened free-range Barossa Valley pork (or tofu if that’s how you roll), plus green peppercorns, wilted basil, intense kaffir lime leaves and thick-cut red chilli. Sit, consume, continue. Cold Singha, anyone?
Greek on Halifax has been there since 2002 – plenty of time for the kitchen to refine their saganaki. Actually, saganaki is not the name of the cheese in this famed dish – it’s the name of the metal pan it’s cooked in. In this case the cheese is Kefalograviera, a traditional hard sheep’s-milk cheese, fried to teeth-squeaky, chewy perfection and plated-up with shiny roasted cherry tomatoes, a split of lemon and a generous slosh of olive oil.
Hispanic Mechanic on unremarkable Glen Osmond Road is a remarkable conversion of a weary Italian restaurant into an authentic south-of-the-border taqueria. Don’t muck around: Master Kim’s 5-star soft-shell beef taco is the house special, with sliced sweet soy-habanero glazed beef, shredded lettuce, pickled daikon, spinach, Asian pear, sesame seed, tomato and gochujang mayonnaise. The east-Asian additives here (particularly the peppy Korean gochujang mayo) complement rather than confuse the taco tradition.
‘The original loaded fries!’ chirps the bar menu at Electra House. But the fast-food parlance is doing Electra’s version of this Quebecois mainstay a disservice. Better than you’ll find at any burger joint, the poutine here – an impressive pile of chips, pulled pork, gravy and mild-mannered, springy cheese curd – is a guaranteed beer-soaker. On the end of a boozy lunch or as a late-night gap-filler, it’s a hit with the office bods.
Snoozy Coffin Bay on the Eyre Peninsula has a small population, low rainfall and shallow, protected waters. In other words, perfect Pacific Oyster country. At the recently vamped-up Feathers Hotel in Burnside, grab a half-dozen fresh off the farm, either au naturel or sluiced in zippy nam jim. For an extra 50¢ per shell, try the heavy house Kilpatrick sauce with Barossa bacon, upping the calorific ante 100 per cent.
What shall we do with the drunken sailor? Sit him/her down for a big bowlful of Tasmanian salmon and Vietnamese-inspired salad for lunch. The dish arrives with torn chunks of gently cooked salmon atop a mound of green: baby cos, bean shoots, sliced carrot, slippery oyster mushrooms, crunchy Chinese cabbage and toasted peanuts, and big leaves of mint and coriander. The whole shebang is doused in limey nam jim (the chef’s mother’s recipe).
You know the drill: Jamie Oliver’s stuff is rustic and value-for-money, a raffish approach disguising his inherent skill. JO’s super-food salad comes in two sizes (big/small $20/$10)…but unless you’re a pro wrestler, the small one will suffice for lunch. In your bowl you’ll find fresh avocado (halved, grilled), roasted beetroot, pomegranate, mixed pulses and grains (quinoa, chickpea), long broccoli sprouts and spicy seeds, topped with red-hot-chilli-pepper harissa and a cooling dollop of ricotta.