Dish of Thai-style noodles and a cocktail.
Photograph: Supplied / BKK

20 cheap lunch eats for under $15 in Melbourne's CBD

Do you want something cheap, fast and satisfying to fuel you up for your arvo meetings? We've got you covered for less than $15

Jade SolomonLauren Dinse
Contributor: Lauren Dinse
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Sometimes a brown bag packed with last night’s leftovers or a peanut butter sandwich just isn't going to cut it for lunch. And in a city with so many options for reasonably priced, tasty and interesting food, you shouldn't have to settle. However, with the cost of living constantly rising, it would be remiss of us not to mention that scouring the city for dishes that come in strictly under $15 has never been harder. While some of your favourites may have slipped off the list, we empathise with the hospitality industry trying to keep up with costs while still trying to retain customers with fair prices. 

We've stuck to our budget and rounded up a list of the best cheap lunches in the CBD for under $15, so you can take your next mundane workday up a notch. Keep your week interesting and go for a gözleme on Monday, a noodle soup on Tuesday, a tofu curry on Wednesday, a bánh mì on Thursday and dumplings on Friday.  

Work your way through all the best budget-friendly spots in town, with our list of the 50 best cheap eats in Melbourne

Cheap eats for $15 or under in the CBD

  • Melbourne

French Fix offers a taste of Paris in Melbourne. It's not your average boulangerie, with the team baking fresh baguettes and loading them with all sorts of fillings. You might have to wait a few minutes, but hey – at least, it's fresh. Le Roast-beef comes with layers of roast beef, crisp pickles, a healthy smear of Dijon mustard, mixed lettuce, tomato and mayo, and might just be our top pick of the bunch. All baguettes come in at just $14 each. Heaven.

  • Cafés
  • Melbourne

True to Melbourne's obsession with good things between sliced bread, the lunch geniuses behind CBD favourite Sloppy Joe's Deli have just opened another sandwich shop: FOC. No, it's not an expletive (though you might just say "FOC me, this is good!" while you're there); it's your new haven on Little Collins Street for freshly handmade focaccias filled with an array of heavenly ingredients. Every generously loaded creation is about $15 – score!

 

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  • Thai
  • Melbourne

Craving a belly-warming bowl of fiery noods? BKK started slinging their chilli-spiked Northeastern Thai-style noodles for just $15 a pop as a winter special last year, and though we were glad, our hearts sunk at the future prospect they might one day disappear. But in good news for Melbourne's noodle lovers and cheap eat fiends, the lunchtime special is now here to stay, and available every Monday through Friday from 11.30am. Find it up the stairs from Her Bar.

  • Melbourne

It’s almost impossible to visit a market without smelling the fried goodness of a gözleme. The stuffed Turkish flatbread is best enveloped around a combo of cheese and spinach, but the legends at Göz City (whose humble origins started at South Melbourne Market) offer a variety including herbed chicken, minced meat or mushroom and veg, too. Everything's $14 or under. There's even sucuk sausage and egg pides or böreks for those looking for something doughier, and some pretty phenom salads too if you want something fresh. 

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  • Melbourne
Caffe e Torta
Caffe e Torta

Need we say more? A little piece of Italian heaven inside the Royal Arcade. If you're strict about staying under $15, you could order a smoked Istra ham and cheddar cheese toastie for just $9.80 and load on avocado or sautéed mushrooms for only an extra $3 to $4. There's also an excellent soup of the day deal, where you can get a hearty and nutritious Mediterannean-style soup served with sourdough and shavings of Grana Padano – all for just $15.80. Perfecto!

  • Chinese
  • Melbourne

Bowltiful needs no introduction, but for the uninitiated, it is one of the city's most popular noodle purveyors. Chewy hand-pulled noodles find their perfect home inside a bowl of rich broth topped with fresh, tingling chilli oil and herbs. And the hot chilli oil spill dry noodle bowl goes for just $13.80! All Bowltiful chefs train for at least six months to become experts in crafting the noodles, and each serve of noodles is hand-pulled to order. The Lanzhou-style lamb burger is stuffed with spicy three-hour braised beef brisket and makes the perfect side dish at a wallet-friendly $8.80.

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  • Indonesian
  • Melbourne

Pop into this cosy 16-seater for Indonesian-style sangas and kaya-glazed crullers that don't just taste great, but also fit squarely into an average city worker's lunchtime budget. While most of the sandwiches are around the $16 to $17 mark, you can get a banging sausage and egg muffin for an easy $10. Smeared with a layer of Warkop's Bazzinga sauce of housemade chilli paste, fried shallots, spring onion, tarragon and dill, it's a great deal fancier than the one you can get at Macca's. Better yet, if you grab a coffee to go or slap on cheese and a hash brown as extras, your whole lunch still won't exceed $15. Score!

 

  • Burgers
  • Melbourne
  • price 1 of 4

What with its high-end fashion boutiques and corporate crowds, the Paris End of the CBD isn't exactly known for frugal spending. That's what makes Butchers Diner such a stand-out revelation on Bourke Street when you're timorously making your way towards Parliament House. Step into the fuss-free diner on your lunch hour and you'll find a generous array of carnivorous cheap eats to satisfy your belly – and, thankfully, leave your wallet relatively unscathed. But if you're really saving your hard-earned pennies, you can't go wrong with the $12 classic hamburger, which comes with a succulent 120g beef patty, tomato sauce, pickles and mayo. You'll be tempted to go back for it again and again. Still hungry? Grab a handmade lamb and beef dim sim for just $3, and you'll still be under the $15 mark.

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  • Malaysian
  • Melbourne

Lulu’s has taken the city by storm with a char kway teow that tastes as if it were made on the streets of Penang. At Lulu's, thin flat noodles are stir-fried over a hot wok lending it that beautifully charred and smoky flavour vital to any char kway teow. These are tossed with prawns, lap cheong, scrambled egg, bean sprouts, pork lard, chives and chilli (which you can tailor according to your tolerance). While Lulu's signature char kway teow comes in at just over $15, there are still several items on the menu that come in under budget, such as the duck egg vegetarian char kway teow for just $14.30. We're sold.

  • Melbourne

There’s a lot to love about an Italian sanga for lunch, whether it be a porchetta roll or a cotoletta panina. At Saluministi, you can get a panini stuffed with mortadella, stracciatella, proper balsamic vinegar from Modena and salad for just $14.50. If you're prepared to pay a few more dollars more, the world of Italian lunches in your oyster. Opt for a pollo panina filled with crumbed chicken, roasted peppers, provolone chilli and rocket, a prosciutto sandwich with fior di latte and rocket or a fried calamari sanga with salsa verde and lemon tartare. Even though it won't cost you an arm and a leg, this is a lunch that will get you through the afternoon.

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  • Melbourne

Udon Yasan is a little Japanese eatery specialising in, you guessed it, udon noodles. It's a humble ode to the thick, springy noodle we all know and love, and you can get yours swimming in a broth with sukiyaki beef, bean curd, teriyaki chicken or even kimchi. There are also rice options for those looking for an alternative. Most noodle soups hover around the $10 mark but if you're really hungry and have a few extra dollars to spare, you can aslo grab two pieces of fried karaage chicken for a couple of extra coins.

  • Pizza
  • Melbourne
Sal's Authentic New York Pizza
Sal's Authentic New York Pizza

Sal's is known for slinging New York-style pizza slices bigger than your head. You could go for a couple of slices of your choosing, or take our advice and spend your $15 on the Sal's Famous special that comes with one giant slice of cheese pizza and one giant slice of pepperoni pizza, and will leave you with $4 change. Spend that on extra sauce or a drink and your afternoon's set.

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  • Melbourne

N. Lee Bakery is known for one of the best portable lunches you can find: bánh mì. Our fair city's blessed with a vibrant Vietnamese community, and as a result, we’re lucky to have spots like N. Lee slinging Vietnamese baguettes in the heart of the CBD. Get yours filled to the brim with lashing of roast pork or mixed ham, and make sure to choose all the trimmings including pickled julienned carrot and ribbons of fresh cucumber. Most of 'em won't set you back more than $13.

  • Melbourne
Little Ramen Bar
Little Ramen Bar

Chances are you’ve spotted Little Ramen Bar with a line snaking outside its door, comprising folks keen to sample its classic ramen. It's a creamy tonkotsu soup loaded with pork broth and topped with seaweed, bamboo shoots, spring onions and chashu pork. You can even choose to amp up your base with shoyu, miso or shio, and the bowl only costs $15.90. Okay, so it's 90 cents over the $15 mark. But in our books, the great taste of this comforting and hearty soup is well worth a bit of extra pocket change. 

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  • Middle Eastern
  • Melbourne
  • price 1 of 4
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

Fans of Ottolenghi, look no further. Here, you can get a wild vegetable-packed pita for a flat $15. Pick from cauliflower and tahini or the hot chickpea filling to stick to budget. If you're happy to spend a few dollars more, you can dig into the meatier lamb and steak pitas. All of it's delicious, and a miracle for this day and age, affordable.

  • Melbourne

Earl Canteen is a one-stop shop for sandwiches, salads, sweets and coffee. Think of it as your work mum that packs you nutritious and tasty lunches so you can be the envy of your colleagues. Go for the classic chicken sandwich with the Callebaut chocolate chip, walnut and sea salt cookie – one of the city's best cookies. All up, your order will only cost $14.90.

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If you love the prices and flavours so far covered in the list, but you're after a lunch that's a fair bit lighter and healthier, head to Fishbowl at Melbourne Quarter on Collins Street. It's one of Australia's most trusted purveyors of food delivered fast that isn't, well, fast food. Think protein-packed nourish bowls, vegan salads and lunch boxes topped with fresh Australian tuna and salmon. Nothing fake gets into your bowl and the Japanese flavours are delicious. We love the O.G option: a yummy combo of salmon sashimi (or poached chicken, if you prefer), kale, beets, edamame, red onion, roasted sesame dressing, seaweed salad and crisp shallots. Most dishes sit nicely under the $15 mark, and the team also have stores on Flinders Lane and at QV. 

  • Cafés
  • Melbourne
  • price 1 of 4

Coppe pan might be new to Melburnians, but the bread rolls have been a staple for Japanese people since World War II, when they functioned as food rations. At Coppe Pan, archetypal Japanese street food dishes – from gyoza (dumplings) and takoyaki (octopus balls) to chicken karaage (fried chicken) and yaki soba (stir-fried wheat noodles in a sweet and savoury sauce) – are sandwiched in fluufy, somewhat sweet white bread rolls known as ‘pan’. You can get two chicken katsu sando rolls here for just $14.80. 

 

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19. The Borek Bakehouse

Stop by the Borek Bakehouse for snacky Turkish staples that will always leave you with change in your pocket. A trip to the Bakehouse is incomplete without a crisp, bready borek stuffed with punchy feta and spinach, aromatic lamb and veggies or spiced potatoes. If you feel like some other doughy goodness, opt for a pide stuffed with sucuk and egg or chicken and mushroom. You can even add on a couple of housemade dips and still stick within the budget. 

Fancy some Chinese street food for lunch? Pop into Melbourne Central and head down the escalators to the basement food court. Sure, it might not be the most resplendent setting for an afternoon meal but when big hunger hits, who cares? Here, you'll find Foodao, a purveyor of traditional Chinese foods, namely oven-baked goodies called 'fooshao'. These wheat pastries are hearty and filling, stuffed with ingredients like black pepper beef, pork, and kung bao chicken, and at just $6.50 to $7 each they're a steal. If you're craving a carb-licious feast, order the best-seller combo for just $15. 

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