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Wrap at Just Falafs
Photograph: Graham Denholm

The 50 best cheap eats in Melbourne

Eating well doesn't have to break the bank, so start here to find the best cheap eats in and around Melbourne, from the CBD and inner-city suburbs to further afar

Lauren Dinse
Written by
Sonia Nair
Contributor
Lauren Dinse
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March 2024The silly season is well and truly behind us, summer's gone and dipped back behind the clouds and most of us are back to our regular work (or study) and life routines. It's generally a time in the year where most of us try to get back on track with our budgets – but that doesn't mean you need to live on instant noodles. Melbourne's brimming with tasty cheap eats and we've rounded up the best of them.

The late and great respected chef Anthony Bourdain once famously said: “I'd rather eat in Melbourne than Paris." It goes without saying that Melbourne has long been revered as one of Asia Pacific's most exciting food cities, but that status isn't just attributed to our fancy restaurants – special as many of those upper crust institutions may be. Our laneaways and hidden alcoves are brimming with cheap street eats, smashable pub deals and dinner options you can enjoy under $25, so you can stop counting your hard-earned pennies and start eating instead.

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The 50 best cheap eats for under $20

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Restaurants
  • Chinese
  • Carlton
  • price 1 of 4
  • Recommended

Hi Chong Qing is the first venture from restaurateur Kevin Houng, who spent some time in Chongqing learning the art of making a good bowl of noodles from a master who has been honing his craft for 26 years. Fresh and springy wheat flour noodles, a mouth-numbing broth due to the inclusion of Sichuan peppercorns, and toppings ranging from intestines to pork feet are features of a traditional bowl of Chongqing noodles, but Houng has swapped out the spiciness for a more subtle level of heat and the offal with more conventional meat cuts. In a departure from traditional meat-heavy versions, the ‘signature Chongqing noodles’ can be made in a vegetarian version if requested. The heady and restorative broth, whether veggo or reduced down from pork bones, is concocted from ten ingredients that include clearly discernible notes of garlic, ginger, coriander, spring onion, soy, chilli and, of course, Sichuan peppercorns. Don’t venture near these noodles with a white shirt, or without a serviette bib – these slurpable oily noodles are messy and they will stain.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Restaurants
  • Mexican
  • Brunswick
  • price 1 of 4
  • Recommended

In the last decade, the cry for true Mexican fare in Melbourne has echoed far and wide, with CDMX being the newest taqueria to respond. The same husband-and-wife team behind Seddon’s Superchido, Beatrice Nacor and Daniel Pineda have brought their artisanal taco recipes straight from the heart of Mexico City, or as the Mexicans call it: Ciudad de México (CDMX – hence the name). What started as a wildly successful pop-up in Melbourne Central now boasts a spacious sister taqueria in Brunswick East, and our verdict’s in: these are the best damn tacos in Melbourne.

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  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Restaurants
  • West African
  • Brunswick
  • price 1 of 4
  • Recommended

Vola Foods specialises in Cameroonian cuisine, a melting pot of flavours from the north, west and centre of Africa, with a dash of Arabic and European influence. It sprung up in June 2021 in the middle of a Brunswick parking lot, where head chef and owner Ashley Vola’s team has been slinging her coveted jollof rice, puff puff (fried African dough balls) and mouth-watering barbecued meats from a bright orange shipping container ever since. It's the heartiest West African soul food going around.

  • Restaurants
  • Burgers
  • Melbourne
  • price 1 of 4

Butchers Diner, the 2018 winner of our Best Cheap Eat award, is the perfect no-frills venue. Here, you can chow down on a burger made with a seriously good beef patty for just $12, snack on two skewers cooked yakitori-style for just $10, or put away the messy goodness of a Coney Island chilli dog for $17. Daily rotating specials that range from crispy buttermilk chicken sandwiches to green falafel salads also come in at under $20, but the baked French dip roll on Saturdays is our favourite with shaved wagyu beef, sweet onions, Comté and dipping jus. Finish with a $6.50 cup of gelato and you've got a dinner fit for a king or queen. 

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  • Restaurants
  • Thai
  • Melbourne
  • price 1 of 4

Trust us when we say that this noodle shop is home to some of the most comforting bowls of Thai boat noodles in town. Although Soi 38 has since expanded into serving up sumptuous dinners, its lunchtime noodle sets are what initially garnered its fame. The smell of the fragrant broth permeates the carpark restaurant from the open kitchen. All noodle dishes are around the $15 to $20 mark and include the likes of beef and pork boat noodles, tom yum noodles and braised duck noodle soup. Our tip: try the beef. 

  • Restaurants
  • Korean
  • Ringwood East
  • price 1 of 4

Mr Lee’s Foods is well worth the trip to Ringwood if you’re a fan of pork; all dishes are derived from this glorious animal, offering a delicious insight into the economical traditions of Korean dining, which utilises an innately cultural nose-to-tail philosophy. Needless to say, this is a vegetarian no-go zone. A housemade soondae (Korean blood sausage), steamed pork belly and pork bone broths with sliced pork, Korean sausage or both, are the only things on offer at Mr Lee’s, and you can comfortably order every dish on the menu for the price of a jug at a pub.

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Half Moon Café
  • Restaurants
  • Coburg

Once you bite into a Half Moon falafel, there's no going back. Jostle your way to the counter of this unassuming little joint and order a warm pocket of tabouli, chickpeas, hommus, garlic yoghurt, pickles and black olives. They'll smoosh three crunchy Egyptian falafels onto the fillings to reveal a soft, bright green middle.Demolish it in the communal courtyard outside and take a moment to appreciate Coburg's diverse population: students, musos, artists and Middle Eastern families, for a start.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Restaurants
  • Italian
  • Thornbury
  • Recommended

Cast your mind back to the dark days of Melbourne’s lockdown (we know, we know – it wasn’t a good time for any of us, but play along for a moment), when our every waking moment revolved around daily press conferences, Covid-19 case updates and pondering the significance of premier Daniel Andrews wearing his North Face puffer jacket. It was in this time of absolute despair that a beacon of light appeared, and it came in the form of a humble delivery service that went by the name of 1800 Lasagne. It may operate as an actual brick-and-mortar venue in Thornbury now, but luckily for us, the lasagne is still king. For a saucy giant slab with bread and butter on the side, you'll barely break the $30 mark.

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  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Restaurants
  • Lebanese
  • Thornbury
  • price 1 of 4
  • Recommended

For some of the best homestyle Lebanese food in Melbourne at honest prices, Taita's House is your best bet. The adorable Thornbury cottage serves wholesome (and filling) snacks like chicken and veg soup ($12), halloumi cheese pie ($6.50) and assorted wraps ($15 to $17). For a heartier feast, no dish breaks the $30 mark so bring a round of friends and go all out! To really amp up the value, make sure you head in on a Tuesday night to take advantage of the date night special. You'll get any 2 grilled chicken and kafta platters for just $38. 

  • Restaurants
  • 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, beside chunks of tender halal beef, which are topped with fresh, tingling chilli oil and herbs. 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 menu boasts many tempting dishes alongside the popular braised brisket noodle soup, such as braised lamb flap noodle soup, dry noodles, stir-fried tomato, egg and soybean paste sauce, and minced beef with soybean paste and noodles. The Lanzhou-style lamb burger is stuffed with spicy three-hour braised beef brisket and makes the perfect side dish, and for only $8.80 is a real steal.

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  • Restaurants
  • Malaysian
  • Melbourne

Lulu’s has taken the city by storm with a char koay teow that tastes as if it were made on the streets of Penang. Thin flat noodles are stir-fried over a hot wok, imparting that beautifully charred and smoky flavour vital to any char koay teow. The noodles are tossed with prawns, lap cheong, scrambled egg, bean sprouts, pork lard, chives and chilli (that you can tailor according to your spice tolerance). At $16.90, Lulu's signature char koay teow will likely yield leftovers unless you're ravenous, and for a few dollars more you can even add jumbo prawns or a rich sunny side up duck egg. 

  • Restaurants
  • Chinese
  • Melbourne
  • price 1 of 4

To know Master Lanzhou noodles is to love Master Lanzhou noodles. The ubiquitous Melbourne chain serves authentic Lanzhou beef noodle soups with hand-stretched-to-order noodles and rich soup that is pure, concentrated beef flavour. Our pick is the signature homemade beef noodle soup that has melt-in-the-mouth slow-cooked beef chuck along with its special chilli oil, coriander and white radish. Be warned; this soup is seriously addictive – thankfully, it only puts you out by $19.50.

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  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Restaurants
  • Sri Lankan
  • Fitzroy North
  • price 1 of 4
  • Recommended

Citrus isn't the only all-you-can-eat Sri Lankan offering in Melbourne right now (there’s Maalu Maalu in Brunswick, and a more recent opening, Serendib in Northcote), but it’s one of the first, and for that, we pay our respects. The premise is clear. Cough up $20 and you’ll get to fill your plate as high as you like from the ten-plus dishes on show. An extra $5 gives you bottomless access, meaning you can go back for as much as your belly will allow. Though the curries on offer aren’t as rich and spicy-hot as what you’d find in Sri Lanka (Citrus wishes to cater to more sensitive Western palates), the multi-tiered condiments station is where you can go wild. Try coconut sambal, the tongue-puckering sour lime pickle, pineapple chutney and the chilli paste for extra heat.

Göz City
  • Restaurants
  • Melbourne

The stuffed, fried Turkish flatbread of a gözleme 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 number of fillings including herbed chicken, minced meat or mushroom and veg. The göz are even made to order by the gözleme masters who roll dough as you watch on. There are also sucuk sausage and egg pides or böreks for those looking for something else in dough form. Best part is, the most expensive of these floury treats range from $5 to $14, so you should be leaving with some serious change from your $20. 

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Mamak
  • Restaurants
  • Melbourne

Doubtless you’ve heard that Melbourne has inherited its own branch of Mamak – Sydney’s famed house of Malaysian roti breads, curries and epic queues. In which case you’ll know this is where you need to come at lunch for a frosty iced tea and a nasi lemak – a blank canvas of coconut rice to which you adhere whole toasted peanuts, chilli-seed ridden sambal, cucumber, boiled egg and ikan bilis (tiny dried anchovies) till you’re adequately amused. But did you also know this easy-to-wipe-down, high-turnover cafeteria does late night supper? Roti, if you’re not familiar, is a pan-fried flatbread with layers like sheets of translucent, buttery, tissue paper. They serve it here in all its forms – savoury, with pools of fragrant and fluid curry sauce, and an equally giving lentil mix for running the soft bread through; sweet, as a delicate towering sugar-coated cone with fresh banana slices and a melting blob of ice cream, or stuffed to the seams with minced pork, cabbage and egg (murtabak).

 

Biang Biang Noodle House is home to springy, long and flat hand-pulled wheat noodles tossed in accompaniments like stewed pork, slow-cooked beef, and tomato and egg, as well as a ton of chilli oil. The fact that Biang Biang is perennially packed speaks to its appeal. The namesake biang biang noodles are the must-order, but if you’re feeling like something different or can’t process gluten, there are rice noodles served cold as well as vermicelli. The best part is that all the bowls only come in at between $13 and $21, so if you've got an extra tenner or so in your wallet, you can also try Biang Biang’s rougamo, colloquially known as a Chinese hamburger (choose between cumin beef, chicken, tofu skin and egg, beef tripe or pork sandwiched between crisp pastry). 

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  • Restaurants
  • Vietnamese
  • Melbourne
  • price 1 of 4

One of Hanoi’s most famed food exports has done so well since opening in 2020 in its Hardware Lane hole-in-the-wall, that it’s moved into a much bigger shop just a few doors down. The first Phở Thìn branch outside of Asia, Melbourne’s outpost is known for its signature ‘stir-fried up’ rare beef pho, which sees skirt steak fried in oil and garlic before being added to a piping hot bowl of broth. This will only put you out by $18.50, so for an additional $2 be sure to get a side of crunchy Vietnamese donuts straight from the deep-fryer for all your broth dipping purposes. 

Salero Kito Padang
  • Restaurants
  • Melbourne

Bain-marie food gets a bad rap – mostly thanks to lukewarm food court curries pooling in oil – but you won’t find any of that at popular Indonesian lunchtime spot Salero Kito Padang. Formerly nestled on the periphery of Tivoli Arcade, it’s since moved to 9 Rose Lane. What has remained the same is the amazing array of food on offer. From anywhere between $13.50 and $20, you can get different combinations of dishes with rice. Think tempeh and green beans stir-fried in red chilli paste, crisp deep-fried ox lung, spicy chicken, jackfruit curry, beef rendang and so much more. 

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  • Restaurants
  • Japanese
  • Melbourne

If the line snaking out of Bourke Street’s Mid City Arcade is anything to go by, Mr Ramen San is well worth your time. The pork bone broth (simmered for no less than 10-hours) is soft and creamy without being heavy, sporting a level of gelatinousness that slips rather than sticks. Thin and bitey wheat noodles, made in-house, are just the right vehicle for the lower-viscosity tonkotsu soup, while sliced spring onion, pickled bamboo shoots, seaweed and a jammy soy egg tick the customary topping boxes. Bowls range from $16.90 to $17.90, depending on the type of ramen you chose, and the best part is you can order extra noodles for free. 

  • Restaurants
  • Melbourne

For a quick, cheap, no-frills Japanese noodle experience, head to Udon Yasan. If you’ve never been before, take the lead of the person in front of you: order your udon at the front counter, grab a tray for your bowl of noodles, and proceed along to grab sides such as egg or kimchi. After paying for your noodles and sides, avail yourself of free toppings that include fried tempura flakes, spring onion, grated radish, bonito flakes and an array of sauces. Price-wise, the heaping seaweed udon noodle soup will put you out by $7.40, whereas more involved bowls like the beancurd udon or the sukiyaki beef and half-boiled egg noodle soup will put you out anywhere between $8 and $12.40 – before you account for sides. In any case, this cheap eat is an absolute steal. 

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  • Restaurants
  • Greek
  • Melbourne

Get (w)rapt about A+ souvas from the same Greek food legends who are at the helm of Stalactites. The menu is simple and it's cheap. There are five types of souvas, snacks, dips and pita packs, and a few ready-to-go accompaniments with each standalone item priced well below $20. Everything from the dips (eggplant, tarama, hummus and tzatziki) to the desserts (baklava and rice pudding) is made fresh daily using tried and true recipes from Stalactites.

22. The Borek Bakehouse

You can head to the lovely ladies at Queen Victoria Market’s borek shop for the most value-for-money lunch, or stop by the Borek Bakehouse, where the same people have set up shop a hop, skip and a jump away from the market and are dishing up snacky Turkish staples. 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. Whatever you choose, it's unlikely to cost you more than a tenner.

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  • Restaurants
  • Thai
  • Melbourne
  • price 1 of 4

Dodee Paidang's first restaurant is hidden in an unobtrusive basement off Little Collins Street. The next two outposts can be found on Swanston Street and in Box Hill. Whichever one of the  colourful, low-fi and community-driven restaurants you choose, they will all be packed to the brim with Thai natives. Many dishes come in at under $20, and there's plenty to try like the pad thai, green curry on rice and crispy pork with holy basil on rice. Dodee is proud of its origins, gracious in its delivery and delicious in every bite, and we salute it for not pandering to a Western palate.

  • Restaurants
  • Melbourne

Delhi Streets may be named in honour of India’s capital, but its menu criss-crosses the country. An all-in nutritious meal of thali plates (rice, naan and pappadum served with two curries) comes in between $17 and $20, while you can get a masala dosa (a thin crisp pancake made from fermented batter stuffed with spiced potatoes) for $18. Indian-inspired wraps and pizzas similarly won’t break the bank. 

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  • Restaurants
  • Middle Eastern
  • Melbourne
  • price 1 of 4

Renowned chef Eyal Shani did us all a favour when he brought his Israeli pita empire to Melbourne's Hardware Lane. For $16, the classic falafel comes in the form of Shani’s ‘falafel burger’ with tomato, sour cream and pickles. You'll also find the French Provençal stewed vegetable dish of ratatouille is given a new lease of life in pita form, with caramelised eggplant and onion finding an unfamiliar, yet perfectly sound pairing in creamy dollops of tahini and a half-boiled egg. The majority of the pitas come in at just under $20, and you’ll be full for hours. 

  • Restaurants
  • Cafés
  • Melbourne
  • price 1 of 4

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 pillowy white bread rolls known as ‘pan’. Don’t expect the crusty sourdough that soaks up eggs benny in cafés around Melbourne though, Coppe Pan’s bread is soft and fluffy as a result of its high percentage of water and sweeter than your average Western loaf of bread. Sandwiches are so cheap you’ll be able to splash out on a matcha soft serve or a matcha tiramisu and still come in under $20. 

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

Sal's is one of a handful of Melbourne pizzerias that can lay claim to serving an authentic New York slice. It's not just that Sal's chooses to make a New York slice, it is that Sal's is a branch of the New York pizzeria established back in the 1970s in Little Neck, Queens. Brian Leo, specialty pie maker, was transported to Melbourne to ensure Sal's was serving up true New York slices. All the recipes have been developed by Sal himself, using Wisconsin mozzarella, Californian tomatoes and freshly milled flour from the Big Apple. Order giant slices of pizza, doughy garlic knots loaded with crushed garlic and parmesan or half a kilo of buffalo wings if that's what tickles your fancy. Slices will put you out by less than $10 and half pies will put you out by $20 (depending on which one you get).

  • Restaurants
  • Greek
  • Oakleigh
  • price 1 of 4

Located in the centre of the Greek community of Oakleigh, Kalimera Souvlaki Art dishes out pork and chicken gyros ($17 for a souvlaki, $30 for a whole platter) to hungry punters who drop by this busy suburban joint looking for a hearty and reliable feed. Owner Thomas Deliopoulos relocated from Greece to Melbourne and brought with him his family and a passion for smokey souva. Go here for meat skewers, fresh pita bread, family platters, traditional salads and housemade tzatziki all for a really good price. 

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ShanDong MaMa
  • Restaurants
  • Melbourne
  • price 1 of 4

If this isn’t the best little hole-in-the-wall dumpling den in Melbourne, we’ll eat the menu. Just watch us. More expensive than your average dumpling spot but far more refined in terms of quality, Shandong is known for its plate of fish dumplings – you’d be hard-pressed to find the variety, or the quality of dumpling, at any other Melbourne dumpling restaurant. The dumplings are ugly-beautiful: a loose mince of oily mackerel, fragrant with ginger, coriander root and chives, captured in the thinnest white dinner jacket. You can easily have an all-out feast here for less than a cool fifty.

Shanghai Street
  • Restaurants
  • Chinese
  • Melbourne

The xiao long bao was a dumpling of intrigue and mystery to non-Shanghainese diners and the perpetrator of many burnt tongues when this dumpling house first quietly opened up in 2010. But three venues later, it has secured its place as a leader in delivering perfect XLBs. There are five different varieties available, and other classic favourites like shu mai, wonton soup, spring onion pancakes, mapo tofu and kung pao chicken. Individual rice and noodle dishes cost under the $20 mark to varying degrees, as do the bamboo baskets of steamed dumplings. 

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Most Melburnian diners are by now familiar with Hainanese chicken rice, the dish where silky poached chicken is served with a bowl of rice cooked in the same stock as the chicken to tantalising results, accompanied by a medley of spring onion, ginger and garlic chilli sauces. Gai Wong, which sits at the juncture of the CBD and North Melbourne, does the best Hainanese chicken rice in Melbourne, and all for the princely sum of $16.30. Each serving comes with a soothing bowl of chicken broth, but we’d also recommend ordering a side of soy-braised eggs and chicken crackling. 

  • Restaurants
  • Footscray

One of Melbourne’s finest bánh mì can be found here, so get in line because there is always inevitably going to be one. Crowds wait patiently for baguettes which are baked on-site daily, stuffed with housemade butter, pâté, cold cuts like pork loaf and fromage de tête, tomato-braised meatballs, lemongrass pork, deep-fried tofu and the holy trinity of pickled carrot, fresh cucumber and coriander alongside Maggi seasoning and fiery rounds of chillies. And you're unlikely to need to splash out more than $10. It's not just the baguettes that people are waiting for. In what would normally be the drinks fridge are containers full of that same housemade pâté, fermented pork and vac-sealed pork loaf for people to purchase so they can make their own bánh mì at home. 

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  • Restaurants
  • Cafés
  • Richmond
  • price 1 of 4

Hector’s Deli originally opened in Richmond (with its most recent outpost in Fitzroy), serving up classic combination sandwiches made using high-quality ingredients and decked out with extra flourishes that inspire hour-long queues. The menu has six hot sandwiches and five fresh sandwiches – it’s hard to offer up our top picks because they’re all extremely good, right down to the unassuming HCT which may be the best ham and cheese toastie we’ve ever had. Rest assured the sangas will be some of the most luxurious, satisfying and aesthetically pleasing sandwiches you've ever eaten, and they all come in under $17.

  • Restaurants
  • Richmond

Ca Com Bánh Mì Bar is the Covid baby of fine diner Anchovy, which has now transitioned into a Laotian eatery called Jeow, and is the brainchild of chef-owner Thi Le and partner Jia-Yen Lee. Lockdowns may be over, but Ca Com Bánh Mì Bar is going strong. It’s impossible to compile a list of cheap eats without singling out the bánh mì. And while the bánh mìs here are a little pricier than the average roll, they boast unusual fillings like jungle-spiced Laotian pork sausage, chicken marinated in turmeric and coconut, and sardines cooked in tomato sauce – all worth every penny. 

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Nico’s first made a name for itself during those never-ending lockdown days. With the opening of its CBD store scuppered by you-know-what in early 2020, it resurfaced in a pop-up off Brunswick Street to resounding success among Fitzroy locals. The crowning glories of its menu are contingent on who you ask – some love the fresh panko-crumbed chicken thigh sandwich ($16) on a fresh country loaf slathered in nori butter, while others swear by the toasted Cubano ($17), which sees house-smoked pork belly and grandma-smoked ham complemented by koji chimichurri and American mustard. In addition to the CBD and Fitzroy outposts, a newish store has opened up in Brunswick East, so there's no excuse not to seek out one of these great value sandwiches. 

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Restaurants
  • Carlton
  • price 1 of 4
  • Recommended

There’s a lot to like about Heartattack and Vine. It's inspired by Italy, the country whose immigrants gave Melbourne hospitality its heart, but unlike the old-school Italian cafés that define this strip of Carlton, Heartattack has no waitstaff out the front wooing you to try its fare – though you’ll be hard-pressed to find a table at lunchtime or after 5pm as groups settle in for post-work drinks. The absolute must-try dish is its famed porchetta roll, where slow-roasted pork is nestled in a warm ciabatta with a holy trifecta of sauces (salsa verde, sweet spicy sambal and mustard). At $17, it’s some serious bang for your buck. 

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  • Restaurants
  • Brunswick East

Tearing into the crunchy, deep caramel crust of Wild Life Bakery's sourdough feels like a holy communion with carbs. Meanwhile, the intense, chewy crumb in baguettes filled with gochujang-braised tofu ($16) and harissa-roasted chicken thigh ($17) is why locals cram this bakery for breakfast. Toasties arrive thick as a forehead and big as a face, yet achieve the all-important mission of properly melting the abundance of Comté, cheddar and asiago couched between slabs of kimchi ($15) or ham and mustard ($17). 

  • Restaurants
  • Fitzroy
  • price 1 of 4

At Fitzroy old-timer Sonido, the arepa takes centre stage. Opened in 2010 by Colombians Santiago Villamizar and Carolina Taler, the café has made the humble arepa a household name. The flatbreads are made the traditional way: whole Australian corn is cooked, mixed, ground and shaped into rounds that are grilled to produce mild-tasting disks blistered with char. They can be eaten on their own but are even better crowned with proteins and vegetables. In the ropa vieja ($15.80), shredded beef is slow-cooked with tomato, onion and spices, delivering sweetness and the kind of comfort food you’re prone to needing in Melbourne’s fluctuating weather. 

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  • Restaurants
  • Middle Eastern
  • Fitzroy North
  • price 1 of 4

As you’d expect, the crisp falafel at Just Falafs is the star of almost every dish, and the classic option won't set you back more than $15. The meals are centred around everyday ingredients in the Levant region (hummus, pickled cabbage, tahini), and the fitout is just like an inviting kitchen. Also, with the Edinburgh Gardens within short walking distance, it’s the perfect spot for a takeaway picnic meal. 

  • Restaurants
  • Melbourne

When thinking of Indonesian food, images of nasi goreng or beef rendang might come to mind. While that wouldn’t be wrong, there’s much more to Indonesian food than the few dishes on heavy rotation in Melbourne, and Yoi is here to prove that. The family-run venue was started by mother Lie Lie Tjoa and brothers Gideon and Michael Sanusi in August 2019. Gideon’s pride and joy is the salted egg chicken rice that he invented himself – and at $23, it's the second most exxy dish you'll find on the menu (the chilli crab noodles top it by just $1). For even less, you can try jazzed-up versions of everyone’s favourite instant noodles – indomie – with beef rendang ($16.50) or fried chicken ($22), or inhale a bowl of soto betawi, a traditional coconut beef soup served with rice, for just $19.50. These may not be Bali prices but they certainly won't break the bank either. Most importantly, the meals are filling and fingerlicking good. 

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It has never been easier in Melbourne to procure a high-quality sandwich or toastie, and Picnic is part of the new-age bread wave. Tucked away in the space that used to house Fitzroy North institution Moroccan Soup Bar, Picnic is a laidback space – you can park yourself for a few hours and while the afternoon away, or grab a quick bite and go. The main attraction on the menu is the roast chicken sandwich – made from a century-old recipe co-owner Ryan McDonald found wedged inside a book of Greek mythology while travelling in Ireland – but our favourite is the mushroom toastie with spinach, almonds and four cheeses. Everything is around the $15 mark.

  • Restaurants
  • Brunswick
  • price 1 of 4

A popular spot among locals and travellers alike, this Lebanese bakery serves up some delicious meals at cheap prices. Stop by for a coffee in the morning and get the A1 brekkie ($16) that comes with two eggs, sujuk, labne, cucumber, tomato, olives, mint and pita bread, or pop in for lunch and nab a halloumi cheese pie ($5) that is served up in the form of a giant doughy crescent. Most items are under $20, and that includes the toasted chicken tawouk wrap, which comes with hot chips, pickled cucumbers, pickled turnips, cabbage coleslaw and garlic dip.

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  • Restaurants
  • Middle Eastern
  • Brunswick

The menu at Very Good Falafel works so well because it’s so simple. Options are limited to the falafel, sabich (fried eggplant) and ktzitzot (meat patties), which can all be served in pita bread or on a plate of dips, pickles and salad. The falafel is exactly what it should be: still steaming hot, with a thick brown crust on the outside from a flash in the deep fryer, and bright green on the inside from the parsley and chickpea mixture. Recognising that some customers are only interested in the star of the show, friends and owners Louisa Allan and Shuki Rosenboim offer the option to have just the falafels with a side of baba ganoush or hummus. Everything is comfortably under $15 and you’ll be more than sated after. 

  • Restaurants
  • Sri Lankan
  • Brunswick West
  • price 2 of 4

Sri Lankan food is having its deserved day in the sun in Melbourne, but Lankan Tucker was perhaps one of the first cafés to open Melburnians’ eyes to the wonders of Sri Lankan food. At the extremely affordable price point of $19, a village breakfast will get you roti filled with egg, green chillies and red onion alongside three different types of sambols and a creamy chickpea curry. Stir-fried shredded kottu roti interspersed with sliced vegetables and a delicious melange of soy sauce and chilli will cost you exactly $20 if you get it with a bullseye egg. 

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  • Restaurants
  • Cafés
  • Thornbury
  • price 1 of 4

Rat the Café is a neighbourhood spot focusing on coffee and thoughtful dishes, while also doing its bit for our fragile planet. ‘Rat’ is an acronym for ‘root and tip’, and owner/chef Callum MacBain adopts a waste-free approach to building his menu by looking to the parts of an ingredient that would usually be thrown away for inspiration. The menu changes frequently, however, there’s the obligatory toast, a spelt scone, a breakfast sandwich and a toasted loaf. They're all great, and they all come in at under $15. 

  • Restaurants
  • Murrumbeena
  • price 1 of 4

This three-in-one bakery, café and supermarket serves up fresh, fabulous food and stocks all things Middle Eastern. After agonising over your order (will it be the Oasis snack pack, falafel plate, chicken shawarma wrap or lamb and feta pizza? Note: they’re all under $20), you’re handed an electronic device that vibrates when your meal is ready. In the meantime, you can browse the supermarket and take home pillowy Turkish bread or super fresh almonds.

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  • Restaurants
  • Melbourne

While long queues might be a deterrent for some, true foodies know that they're a sign of a sure-fire hit – and join the line! That's how you'll feel about French Fix when you wander down Queen Street on your next lunch break in the CBD: What is this mysterious little France-themed sandwich bar? Are the baguettes really that good? Spoiler alert: yes. They're probably the closest thing you can get to the real Parisian deal within the Hoddle grid, and for that we're eternally grateful. From the owner Murielle's French heritage to the red, white and blue signage, it's all the little details here that will make you feel as if you've hopped on a plane to the City of Lurve.

  • Restaurants
  • Flemington
  • price 1 of 4

We dig a bold title, and we do indeed bow down to Laksa King as the ruling monarch of noodle soup. The broth of the King's laksa is so warm and creamy you’ll want to slip right in. The combination curry laksa ($15.50) has you gobbling up springy egg noodles and fluffy rice vermicelli while you work your way through choice toppings including tender poached chicken, silky fried eggplant and jewel-like pink prawns.

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  • Restaurants
  • Pizza
  • Footscray
  • price 1 of 4

Slice Shop’s storefront, with rudimentary red, white and blue signage recalling its home team, the Footscray Bulldogs, is nothing to look at, but the bold font spelling out ‘Slice Shop’ and ‘Pizza’ make it clear what people flock here for: 18-inch pizzas served by the slice, a steal at just $5. Burn City Smokers co-owners Steve Kimonides and Raphael Guthrie have swapped wood-smoked meat for enormous hand-tossed pizzas at this latest venture, inspired by the famous New York slices that are eaten on the go. 

  • Restaurants
  • Barbecue
  • Sunshine West
  • price 1 of 4

With its fairy-esque lights, vibrant green hanging plants that curl out of their baskets and the ever-present smell of grilled meat, Sunshine Social is the epitome of the Australian backyard barbecue, only indoors. The menu reflects the modern Australian community, jumping from Cajun slaw ($9) to hot Belgian waffles ($10.50), while old favourites like a double beef burger ($17.50) and fish fingers in white bread ($13.50) get a look in, too. But if you’re here for the big meats, the half charcoal chicken with sage stuffing ($17) and the pork belly with fennel and apple puree ($24) also come in under budget.  

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