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chutney and naan platter at Daughter in Law
Photograph: Parker Blain

CBD lunch guide: Cheap eats

You want something cheap, fast and tasty to fuel you up for your arvo meetings? We've got you covered

By Time Out editors
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Sometimes a brown bag packed with last night’s leftovers isn’t what you’re feeling at midday. But never fear, we’ve compiled a list of Melbourne’s best cheap lunches you can swap out for your meal stashed in the communal fridge without going over schedule or breaking the bank.

If you're not in the CBD, check out our guide to Melbourne's best lunches, or make it easy with our round-up of Melbourne's best burgers.

Cheap eats in the CBD

1. Daughter In Law

Restaurants Melbourne

This is probably the best bang for your buck lunch in the city. Daughter In Law offers a meat and vegetarian lunch thali for $15 apiece which includes raita, rice and pappadam. Each thali has four pots of curry to soak up like a butterless butter chicken, lamb rogan josh, palak paneer and a vegan chana masala. Don't go past their self-serve beer fridge, the novelty is worth the adventure. This may be a cheap eat, but book ahead or be faced with disappointment.

2. Butchers Diner

Restaurants Burgers Melbourne

Its ultimate claim is being open 24 hours, but the quality here doesn’t slip at any hour. In fact, this is the perfect no-frills venue, where you can put away a burger made with cuts of aged beef, snack on skewers cooked yakitori style, cut into a leg of crisp, confit duck or chew on a falafel salad with your top button undone. The time-poor can even get any item takeaway or peruse Butchers Diner's all-vegan vending machine out front.

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3. ShanDong MaMa

Restaurants Melbourne

There's a reason this CBD venue won the Bang for Buck category in our Food Awards in 2013 – top-notch dumplings and efficient service are definitely worth the visit. The boiled mackerel dumplings have become an unlikely signature, with their subtle flavour and mousse-like filling, but ShanDong MaMa's ability to churn out bowls of hand-pulled noodles, knots of spring onion pancakes and lightly tossed sweet-and-sour cabbage salads makes this a CBD must.

macaroni inside pie at  Wonderpop and Deli
Photograph: Graham Denholm

4. Wonderpop Deli

Restaurants Cafés Melbourne

Wonderpop and Deli is remaking the humble pie in a shiny new image. Before traditionalists get their hi-vis in a knot, the team haven't completely turned their backs on convention, putting their chunky beef and gravy number called ‘That Old Devil Called Tradish’ in pole position on the menu. Here, pies are ensconced in glass domes reminiscent of Beauty and the Beast and wooden panelling combined with overhanging branches create a cosiness at odds with its office-flanked location and grey exterior.  People are talking about the ‘piesagne’ for good reason. Sturdy layers of lasagne sheets brimming with a slow-cooked Bolognese sauce spiked with salty bacon and béchamel are encased in shortcrust pastry. 

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5. Tina's Noodle Kitchen

Restaurants Melbourne

Spice lovers, rejoice! Dainty Sichuan now comes in a neat and tidy (but just as spicy) format, specialising in rice noodles cooked in the clay pot the dish is served in. Choose from broths rich with pickled mustard greens, heavy with dried chillies or mild, double chicken stock accompanied by duck, beef, pork, chicken or offal. Just make sure you’re not wearing a white shirt on your visit.

6. Sal's Authentic New York Pizza

Restaurants Pizza Melbourne

Sal's is probably the only pizzeria in Melbourne who can lay claim to serving an authentic New York slice. Sal's is a branch of the New York pizzeria established back in the 1970s in Little Neck, Queens and has brought his pie maker, Brian Leo, to Melbourne to ensure a true, New York slice. All the recipes have been developed by Sal himself, using Wisconsin mozzarella, Californian tomatoes and freshly milled flour from New York. Expect flavours like the classic cheese and pepperoni next to Sal's unique Buffalo chicken or meatball topped pies. Pizzas are all available by the slice and can be enjoyed next to garlic knots, pepperoni wheels, mozzarella sticks and buffalo wings with their signature set of dipping sauces. 

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Meat and soup with rice at Blok M Express
Photograph: Parker Blain

7. Blok M Express

Restaurants Indonesian Melbourne

Students and worker bees alike jostle to find a spot in the split-level restaurant – you’ll most likely find yourself sharing a table with someone else, but what Blok M lacks in space and comfort it makes up for with the unapologetically punchy flavours of Indonesian food. Blok M draws from every corner of Indonesia – its balado (a chilli-based spice mixture) dishes are from West Sumatra, while its grilled chicken owes its provenance to Java. 

noodles at Nong Tang Noodle House
Photograph: Graham Denholm

8. Nong Tang Noodle House

Restaurants Chinese Melbourne

 You can’t visit Nong Tang without trying the traditional dry noodles with spring onion and sesame oil, otherwise known as yang chun noodles (also available in a soup). The thin, delicate handmade noodles, crafted from three different kinds of flour, sit in a pool of soy sauce and sesame oil with deep-fried and fresh spring onion scattered on top. Those uninitiated with the cuisine may eat the noodles by themselves, but Shanghainese born- David Yang behind Nong Tang wants you to think about the noodles as a base to which you add side dishes to create your perfect meal. 

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Pho Nom Emporium
Photograph: Dean Cambray

9. Phở Nom

Restaurants Melbourne

Fast food pho, banh mi and rice paper rolls aren't new, but using Warialda beef and Milawa chickens is. For ensuring peace of mind that the meat you’re eating comes from ethical sources while still selling a bowl and a drink for under $20, Phở Nom gets the thumbs up from us.

10. Shanghai Street

Restaurants Chinese Melbourne

The xiao long bao was a dumpling of mystery and perpetrator of many burnt tongues when this dumpling house first quietly opened up in 2010, but four venues later, it has secured its place as a leader in delivering perfect XLBs and other Shanghainese favourites. Don't overlook cold dishes to start for something different and refreshing. Large groups welcome.

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11. Miznon

Restaurants Middle Eastern Melbourne

Love pita? Love falafel? Eyal Shani's Israeli street food is everything we love and more. Take away is available, but expect a show if you eat in. The staff mimic the hustle of the streets, so don’t be surprised if they break out in dance or shake a tambourine in front of you.

12. Shimbashi Soba

Restaurants Melbourne

Craft is important to Japanese cuisine, so when Shimbashi started serving bowls of its soba back in 2012, it changed the soba game entirely. Tasmanian buckwheat groats are milled before service each day and hand cut to make every serving of cold, dipping soba or hot, soupy soba. Sides like gyoza, sliced ox tongue or sashimi are available to beef up your order, but at Shimbashi, simplicity is key.

 

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Food at Dari Korean Cafe
Photograph: Graham Denholm

13. Dari Korean Cafe and Bar

Restaurants Korean Melbourne

Melbourne loves a good sanga, and we’re not starved for delicious and diverse options. In 2019, Dari Korean Café brought Korean-inspired sandwiches into the spotlight. Korean barbecue enthusiasts will love the bulgogi bun: oodles of soy-marinated beef soak a milk bun with its juices, where onion and lettuce cut the richness and a house-made sesame mayo rounds off the whole experience.

14. Soi 38

Restaurants Thai Melbourne

Melburnians are no strangers to dining in unusual places, so it’s no wonder some of the best Thai noodles can be found in a car park off Bourke Street for just $10 a bowl. Pick your desired noodle, toppings and choice of a boat noodle or tom yum broth, and you’re in business. Upgrade to a large bowl for an extra $5 and don’t forget to adjust your seasonings with the condiment caddies on the table.

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15. Mensousai Mugen

Restaurants Melbourne

Good ramen is easy to find these days, but a good tsukemen isn’t. Mugen’s house-made ramen noodles have the best texture of all that we’ve tried, but it’s the thick, umami-laden pork broth that you dip the cold noodles into that makes Mugen unbeatable. Chose from wafu (dashi and soy), curry or sesame flavour, or grab a bowl of ramen in soup. At lunch time, special dishes like a fried, panko-crusted pork cutlet with curry sauce or a teriyaki salmon fillet paired with rice, soup and salad make a meal for those who aren’t in the mood to slurp.

More of Melbourne's best meals

A plate of ten pieces of fried gyoza at Hakata Gensuke
Photograph: Ryan Noreiks

Where to eat lunch in the CBD

Restaurants Cafés

It's lunch o'clock in Melbourne CBD and you need some food, stat. Make your midday meal a deadset winner every day of the working week with our handy guide.

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