Lamb souvlaki and a bowl of dip.
Photograph: Arianna Harry Photography

The 13 best food court eats in Melbourne CBD

The CBD has heaps of fine dining establishments, but some of its best bites can be found in food courts and arcades

Lauren Dinse
Contributor: Lauren Dinse
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From pan-fried pork dumplings to vegan ramen, some of Melbourne's best bites can be found in its food courts and arcades. Proving no-frills doesn't have to mean no flavour, here are some of the city's top dining hall dishes.

Looking for even more cheap eats? Save a bit of dough with our list the 50 best cheap eats in Melbourne.

13 best food court eats in Melbourne CBD

  • Japanese
  • Melbourne

Traditionally, Hakata-style ramen is built around a base of tonkotsu, a rich, creamy broth made from pork bones. At Mr Ramen San, located in Midcity Centre, you'll find several variations of this regional specialty. But vegetarians needn't miss out – the shop also famously offers a meatless version made with a hearty slab of mock pork and plant-based broth. 

  • Cafés
  • Melbourne

This Japanese-style sandwich shop recently relocated from Saint Collins Lane's swanky but ghost townish top-level food court to the Emporium. The fluffy white bread sangas range in style and price from no-nonsense egg omelette sandos to a more upscale Wagyu version, but our fave is the juicy and perfect chicken katsu. If that's not too hard on the wallet, tack on a slice of castella cake in flavours like black sesame and matcha. These might not be the cheapest two-handers of your life, but if you're after a very, very, very good Japanese sando for lunch, Saint Dreux is the place to go.

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  • Melbourne

The Paramount Food Court, which is located between Little Bourke and Bourke streets, looks like it hasn't been touched since the '80s – but that's part of its charm. The subterranean dining hub is a hive of cheap eats, from Thai-style skewers to bibimbap. One of the best deals you'll find there is the DIY lunch plate from Ceylon Wok. For just $10, you can get rice, pappadum and your choice of three Sri Lankan-style hot dishes ranging from starchy sauteed cassava to deviled chicken to curried plums.

Me Dee Thai is another Paramount food court gem, dishing up some surprisingly authentic Thai fare and hearty portions of it, too. From slurp-worthy boat noodles and hot tom yum soup to fried bananas and taro, homestlye chicken rice and papaya salad, the array of dishes on offer here will make you feel like you've just hopped on a plane to your fave vacation spot in Thailand. Interestingly, Me Dee Thai was upvoted as one of the most popular answers in a recent Reddit thread on Melbourne's best Thai restaurants so it's safe to say the secret's out! 

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  • Malaysian
  • Melbourne

Love Lulu's Char Koay Teow on Hardware Lane? Then you'll be pleased to know the Malaysian cheap eats insitution also has a takeaway outlet called Lulu's Express. You can find it in the Galleria food court, where fragrant dishes inspired by Penang's vibrant street food culture attract hungry folks at noon in the droves. Of course, the signature Char Koay Teow (CKT) is what you should order. It's wok-tossed in seven different ways, using a local recipe where each dish is made to order. Fun fact: the rich Duck Egg version is the most popular, so how about you go try it on your next lunch break? See the opening hours here or read more about the original Hardware Lane venue by clicking the button below.

  • Mexican
  • Brunswick
  • price 1 of 4

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 its tacos were so good we crowned it the winner of our Best Cheap Eat award in 2023. But in good news for the CBD lunch crowd, you can still check it out in the city at the Ella food precinct at the corner of Elizabeth and La Trobe Streets.  Check it out here or read about our experience at the Brunswick East location by clicking the button below.

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If you're a die-hard fan of juicy and authentic Korean fried chicken, Nene is a very decent (and quite affordable) food court choice at Emporium. Nene is the main Korean fried chicken chain in Korea with over 1100 outlets, so you know it's the real deal. Get your golden brown morsels as wingettes, drumettes, boneless or classic in a variety of different sauces (we love 'freaking hot' and 'snowing cheese') and sides like chilli ranch chips or coleslaw. You can even get a solid chicken burg for about $15.95.

In Hong Kong, you'll find a cha chaan teng, the country's answer to an all-day diner, on virtually every corner. In Melbourne, Kowloon Cafe is the next best thing. It offers all the classics you'd find in HK, from peanut butter-stuffed, condensed milk-topped French toast to sub-$15 breakfast sets to po go gai fan (cheesy baked chicken rice), a dish derived through Portuguese influence in Macau. You'll find it in the Kmart Centre.

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  • Greek
  • Melbourne
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

Legendary purveyors of Greek food Stalactites know a thing or two about souvlaki. And after almost 40 years in the biz and a whopping 10 million souvas sold, they've launched a new loyalty card where you can get more bang for your back every time you return. Score! While the OG venue's still on Elizabeth Street, you can also find a Hella Good in the glamorous top level food court of the Emporium

The noodle geniuses at Master Lanzhou describe their philosophy as "slow food, served fast." What that means is a deeply complex and satisfyingly authentic Chinese beef broth that took over 27 hours to make is served to you in just five minutes. But it's the housemade noodles that are the star of the show at this food court diamond in the rough. Swirled around in the broth and signature chili oil with chunks of tender beef, this bowl is great bang for your buck and you can grab one in Melbourne Central's level two dining hall. Yummo.

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Melbourne Central's underground food court is home to a handful of hidden gems including Foodao, a quick and affordable stop for xian bing, a style of Chinese stuffed hand pie. Here, they come with fillings like black pepper beef, Korean-style spicy chicken and seafood for just $5 a pop (last time we checked). There are also pillowy, pleated steamed buns the size of your hand, and for dessert, a glutinous white rice cake called jing that's filled with red beans and topped with candied dates.

  • Restaurants

Sushi Jiro has just opened a circular sushi train at Westfield Doncaster and not only is it Australia's first, it's also the longest in the world at 30.6 metres. Five robots will be on hand to look after your orders, thanks to cutting-edge technology that's increasingly being used in hospitality venues around the world. If you love a good sushi train lunch, pop this one on your holiday hit list. You can find the new Sushi Jiro in Westfield Doncaster's level one food court. For more information, head to the website.

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  • Things to do
  • City Life

The new Queen's Food Hall has replaced the former food court (previously untouched since the 1990s) on the corner of Victoria and Queen Streets, with a completely redeveloped space and exciting new vendors showcasing the best of our city's foodie culture. The hall has been designed as a place to sit and relax – and of course, eat.  Saltwater will be a new sushi and oyster bar that connects with vendors at the fish hall, fast-tracking seafood from ocean to plate. Expect a fresh, theatrical menu with Japanese flair, including live oyster shucking, flame-torched lobster rolls and aburi scallops, as well as live sushi hand rolling. 

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