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Patricia SofraPastries Austro Bakery

Time Out Food & Drink Awards 2022: Best Cheap Eat

These are the nominees for Best Cheap Eat in the Time Out Melbourne Food & Drink Awards 2022

By Time Out in partnership with Tap Touch
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All hail the cheap eat. The staff of life, the stuff of deliciousness, the saviour of students and the lifeblood of the city.

Given the current state of play – geo-political turmoil, severe weather events, supply chain issues, rents, staff – hell, even the price of lettuce is out to get us – it’s a near miracle that we can eat well for the amount of money found down the back of the average couch.

So what makes a cheap eat? There’s no real prescription here. We don’t require an entrée- main double-header or anything as strict as that, although the phrase “would you like to upsize your fries?” is cause for immediate disqualification. All we’re looking for is a place where you can eat your fill for $30 or under.

Cheap in the context of excellent eats isn’t a dirty word. As the late Anthony Bourdain proved on his travels, often the best, most exciting food in each city is delivered without bells and whistles, marketing budgets and “concepts”. A place you might walk past without a second glance – or a place you might not even find without local knowledge, a GPS and a whistle – could be the home of astoundingly good food, with a bit of local history thrown in to boot.

Our ten cheap eats contenders have little in common except delivering comfort, calories and X-factor. The budget-friendly end of Melbourne’s dining scale includes Penang-worthy char kway teow at cultish Lulu’s, the mackerel dumplings of our dreams at ShanDong MaMa and elegant Euro breakfasts at Florian’s, then stretches to Reservoir tapas bar La Pinta, where banter with the bar staff about natural wines is part of the (low) price of admission.

So here’s your Melbourne value map. Visit the winner, certainly, but make sure to visit them all. Consider it your duty – to yourself, and your city.

These are the nominees for Best Casual Dining Venue.
These are the nominees for Best Casual Drinking Venue.
Love cheap eats? Find more here.

Want more? Click here to view all the nominees in the Time Out Food & Drink Awards 2022.

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And the nominees are...

  • Restaurants
  • Bakeries
  • South Melbourne

In a suburb inundated with excellent food options, Austro Bakery in South Melbourne still makes its mark with its offerings of Euro-centric baked goods. The brick shop front leads into an open space made up of polished concrete and cadet blue details. It's sleek but inviting, and at the centre is a large glass cabinet overflowing with the day's baked sweet and savoury items. Pretzels, sandwiches, tarts and doughnuts will be vying for your attention, singing their carb-y siren call. From the street, you can view a patissier working hard in the open kitchen, rolling and kneading dough. Behind her are trays of yet-to-be-baked croissants, intricately folded and awaiting the ultimate metamorphosis. 

  • Restaurants
  • Cafés
  • Carlton North
  • price 1 of 4

If you’re lucky enough to work at the top end of the city, Babajan’s second outpost can be your go-to lunch destination. It's tucked away in a nondescript row of shops with the faintly perceptible gold letters engraved on the window the only indication that it’s Babajan, but the line out the door will nonetheless alert you to the plethora of pastries, sandwiches and desserts that await within. Like its original shop in Carlton North – widely regarded as one of the more interesting and inventive brunch places in the inner north – which transitioned permanently into a takeaway-only venue during successive lockdowns, there is no space for dining in at Babajan’s Little Collins branch.

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  • Restaurants
  • Melbourne

Delhi Streets is bustling. Most times of the week and most days of the week, the small spot hidden in the lonely end of Melbourne’s CBD (tucked away in between Spencer and Flinders Streets) is full to the brim. Most impressively, it’s been so since it opened nearly a decade ago. Even after a pandemic that shattered so much of our hospitality industry, Delhi Streets remains a well-loved spot that’s weathered the storm. It's all happening inside the jamming little place: the walls are covered in Bollywood movie posters, there’s Indian pop music blaring from above and the chefs in the kitchen are on full display separated only by glass windows. And much like the city of Delhi itself, the bustle is all part of the appeal.

  • Restaurants
  • Cafés
  • Carlton North

Despite visiting on a wintery day with a torrential downpour, Florian is packed to the rafters. Crowds spill out of its tiny entrance on both sides, customers waiting for a table are indistinguishable from locals ordering takeaway coffee and outdoor tables are shunted towards the shelter of the footpath. Making headlines in recent weeks for the consternation it’s attracted from nearby residents doesn’t seem to have affected trade for Florian in the slightest, only made it more popular if anything. Everyone is respectful and careful to steer clear from crowding the adjacent Rathdowne Street Café and nearby houses.

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  • Restaurants
  • Melbourne

Göz City has grown into a mini empire dedicated to the Turkish flatbread gözleme (pronounced gehrz-leh-meh), and it’s come a long way from its humble beginnings. What began as a hole-in-the-wall shop on Little Collins Street nearly ten years ago, followed by a larger store in Madame Brussels Lane, has now blossomed into a fully-fledged gözleme factory. Typically eaten as village or street food in Turkey, gözleme is typically the most popular food stand at any given weekend market or festival. So why not cut out the market middleman? Göz City is making that possible.

  • Restaurants
  • Turkish
  • Ashburton

In Australia, barbequing is a way of life. Whether it's a weekend at a mate's place, or lining up for a cherished Bunnings sausage sizzle – we proudly claim barbecuing as our national dish. However, people have been cooking over flames since the beginning of time. Although the thongs, “kiss the chef” apron and one hand on a tinnie and the other on the tongs are uniquely ours - we’re lucky to have other cultures importing their barbecue best. Enter Kömür in Ascot Vale. Housed in a space previously occupied by a fish and chip shop, Komur specialises in Turkish barbecue. Owner Emir Uker (previously of his father's owned Katik Turkish) opened the venue in August 2019 and is following in his father's footsteps by bringing simple, honest food to the masses.

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  • Restaurants
  • Spanish
  • Reservoir

La Pinta is overflowing at 6.30pm on a Thursday. Brimming, it is. Looks great in there; a busy horseshoe bar and open kitchen around which sit 30-odd chinwaggin’ folks looking very much at home, framed by an orange light and a dodgy coastal mural. Casual, creative and approachable, the former espresso bar is now in the hands of Catherine Chauchat and Adam Racina, who describe La Pinta as Spanish-inspired, and boy, do they have a hit on their hands. From the back of the line out on High Street, we clock a blackboard detailing what Spanish-inspired means here: veg-leaning share plates that prioritise regenerative farming and local businesses, with a pan-Mediterranean bent. Nothing over $20.

  • Restaurants
  • Malaysian
  • Melbourne

Located on the quieter end of the street, Lulu’s Char Koay Teow always manages to pull a crowd that rivals its neighbours – and though it’s inspired by the hawker stalls of Malaysia, there’s no hawking necessary here. Day or night, the small, bustling eatery is almost always packed to the brim, clear evidence that the food speaks for itself. Their signature is – you guessed it – the char koay teow, which has been steadily gaining the restaurant cult status since they opened three years ago. It’s deeply flavoured but not too saucy and chock-full of ingredients.

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  • Restaurants
  • Melbourne
  • price 1 of 4

ShanDong MaMa is aptly-named. For those not already in the know, this is the place to be for home-style Shandong cuisine courtesy of Meiyan Wang (aka Mama). The little dumpling haven sits hidden away in a tunnel of shops and continues to dish up some of the city's finest doughy snacks. When we arrive, a prized plate from Time Out’s 2013 Food Awards is hung on a wall near the kitchen, and the place is bustling with groups of friends and dates canoodling in booths over large laminated menus. 

  • Restaurants
  • Thai
  • Melbourne
  • price 1 of 4

Churning out boat noodles by day and firing up the gas burner for Thai barbecue by night, Soi 38 specialises in regional variations of Thai food – if you’re expecting Australian favourites like pad thai or Massaman curry, head elsewhere. Despite being tucked away in an unobtrusive corner of Melbourne – a concrete car park just a few levels down from the latest iteration of architectural space MPavillion – Soi 38 doesn’t suffer from anonymity. Thanks to the bowls of five spice powder- and star anise-heavy boat noodles, it’s been delighting office workers since 2015. When it started opening up for dinner earlier this year, diners started spilling out into the carpark.

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