Assorted plates of Mexican food.
Photograph: Supplied/CDMX

Time Out Food & Drink Awards 2023: Best Cheap Eat

Here is the winner of Best Cheap Eat in the Time Out Melbourne Food & Drink Awards 2023

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Let’s face it: Melburnians have never been more reliant on the humble cheap eat than they are today. In the midst of rising energy, grocery and real estate prices, a shared ‘za or two with mates begins to look a hell of a lot more appealing than a swanky degustation somewhere stuffy.

But it’s not just diners who’ve felt the pinch – our friends in the hospo industry have also needed to look out for their bottom line to survive. What that means is twofold: cheap eats are more popular than ever before, but cheap eats sure ain't as cheap as what they used to be. Nevertheless, we’re still a city bursting with eateries that offer a cracking quality feed at a fraction of today’s typical costs (unlike cough *Sydney* cough). 

And we found that the word “cheap” doesn’t mean charmless. At least, not when these generous spots are in the mix. From crafters of the best birria tacos we’ve ever tasted and a legendary lasagne joint worth popping on your speed dial list to a cosy neighbourhood all-you-can-eat favourite and a shipping container slinging jollof rice and barbecue plates, the following list of venues represent some of the best value eats money can buy in Melbourne right now. And they’re spearheaded by true independent hospo greats with marvellous stories to tell and a love for good food that’s contagious – bonus points!

It happened by chance this year that all our cheap eat nominees are a melting pot of diverse cuisines – from Sri Lanka and West Africa to Italy, Lebanon, Mexico and beyond, this is an edible snapshot of Melbourne’s status as an exciting multicultural city. And better yet, you can try each joint’s signature eats for less than $30 a meal. 

We could sit around and continue to pay our respects, but we’d rather go and show our appreciation with our forks. What are you waiting for? Come join us!

Click here to return to the main awards page.

And the winner is...

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

We’ve all had our fair share of unsatisfying tacos in life. An oily one here, with fish that’s not fresh. A dry one there, with paltry fillings. It’s with this sense of caution that we approach the neon-lit sign of CDMX Taqueria, a brand new taco joint that’s still in the process of cementing its reputation. But so far, word on the street has been promising. 

 

We also love these other nominees...

  • Italian
  • Thornbury
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • 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.

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

On the daily, aromas of curry leaves, onion and rich cinnamon and cloves waft out of the friendly corner eatery – an inviting preview of the homestyle Sri Lankan buffet available within. When it’s cold out, the windows steam up, and in the hotter months, people who’ve spent a day lazing about nearby Eddy Gardens spill in. It’s not 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.

 

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  • West African
  • Brunswick
  • price 1 of 4
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • 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. How many other Cameroonian joints are there in Melbourne? Not many that I’ve found, if any. So my partner and I are, in a word, pumped. This is going to be a new West African food experience.

 

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

On a rainy Sunday arvo, it's hard to know what to expect on your way to Taita’s House ('taita' is Arabic for grandmother). Are you actually going to someone’s house? Will there be obvious signage or will you have to knock on some strange door, only to be met by a perplexed old Lebanese woman and her wooden spoon? Our concerns are fast assuaged as we approach the restaurant and see tables and chairs scattered out the front of a clearly marked establishment.

 

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