The 64 best cheap eats in Sydney right now
Summer 2023 update: Sydney is a lot of things. Drop-dead beautiful, for one. Safe and clean, for another. But it’s no secret that Sydney sure is exxy. The good news is that we’re lucky to have a huge amount of cheap eats. And often they rival any dishes you would find in a fancy fine diner. We've rounded up our favourite places with prices that won’t burn a hole in your wallet. Happy eating. Going out for a meal is sometimes a big occasion, worth the splurge. But it doesn't have to be that way. From banh mi to tonkotsu ramen, biang biang noodles to vegan burgers, and pretty much everything else in between, some of Sydney's greatest culinary hits are the cheapest. Time Out Sydney critics, including Food & Drink Writer Avril Treasure, have eaten their way around town, and while cheap isn't what it used to be, there are still lots of excellent affordable venues to check out. These are the ones well worth their salt. Want to spend less at the big-ticket players? Check out our cheap fine-dining hacks. Looking for a café to sit down at for coffee and brunch? Here's our guide to the best cafés in Sydney.
The 65 best cafés in Sydney right now
Summer 2023 update: Start your summertime morning on the right note with a swim at one of Sydney’s most beautiful beaches followed by a delicious brekkie and on-point coffee at one of the cafés below. Because who wants to cook eggs and bacon at home? Not us, that’s for sure. Sydneysiders are café people. We're constantly on the hunt for the city's best coffee, we won't bat an eyelid over shelling out $30+ a head for brunch, and we love nothing more than donning our finest sport-luxe activewear and catching up with mates on a weekend morning over eggs, fritters and crusty artisan sourdough. So, whether it's a reward for tackling one of Sydney's most beautiful walks, a quick caffeinated catch-up, an indulgent hangover fix after a night at one of the city's best bars, or a workday coffee stop, these are the best Sydney cafés, according to our in-the-know Time Out Sydney critics, including Food & Drink Writer Avril Treasure. We'll have a B&E roll, please. Is it lunch time? Check out our guide to Sydney's best restaurants right now.
The best Japanese restaurants in Sydney to book right now
Japanese food isn't just made to be eaten. It's an art of vibrantly coloured cuts of fresh fish, delicately layered condiments and the showmanship of an itamae (a sushi chef dishing up umami bites right in front of your table). And so it’s good that, thanks to all of the incredible Japanese chefs gracing our shores, we are never short of options here in Sydney. From the sushi roll lunch-run to the full sashimi-laden dego, Time Out Sydney's critics, including Food & Drink Writer Avril Treasure, have found the best of the best – here’s where to do Japanese in the city. Keep the culinary experience going with this list of Sydney's best ramen. Feel like heat? Check out our guide to the finest Thai spots around town.
The best Korean barbecue restaurants in Sydney
In Korean, it’s called gogi-gui, literally ‘meat roast’. It's got a long and complex history but these days it means essentially one thing – meat that’s grilled, often at the table by you, and enjoyed with banchan (Korean side dishes, kimchi being the most famous) and booze. Most barbecue joints will serve the same set of classics such as an unmarinated selection including pork belly and steak. Plus a few marinated pieces, maybe some saucy chicken thighs, pork neck, and, of course, vegetables too. Just like Seoul, Sydney is jam-packed with excellent Korean barbecue joints. Time Out Sydney's critics, including Food & Drink Writer Avril Treasure (who visited Korea this year), have rounded up the best in town. They've got high-quality meat, genuine charcoal under their grills, service good enough to know when you need a waiter or a literal chef at the table, and a decent menu of non-barbecue options too. Want more? Here's our guide to the best Korean restaurants in Sydney. Heading to Seoul? Check out guide to the best things to do in South Korea's capital. Prefer your food fast and thrifty? Try one of Sydney's best cheap eats.
The best places for pasta in Sydney
Whether it’s a simple spaghetti with garlic, oil and chilli, ravioli stuffed to the high heavens, or lovingly layered lasagne, few foods give us the feels quite like pasta. Let’s be real – Sydney’s Italian restaurant game is seriously strong on all fronts, but when the hour calls for carbs, these are the spots that turn flour, eggs and water into small miracles. Need an aperitivo before you chow down? Knock back a cocktail at one of the best bars in Sydney.
The 22 best vegetarian restaurants in Sydney
Long gone are the days when mushroom risotto was the only option on Sydney menus for vegetarians. Okay, so a few places are still championing that veggo staple, but if you know where to go you need never set eyes on it again. Not all of these restaurants are exclusively vegetarian, but everyone on this list is serving the kind of exciting, delicious vegetable-based fare that will make you reconsider meat in favour of a whole head of cauliflower, a perfect pizza or a totally plant-based degustation. If you're a dedicated herbivore, you can find Sydney's best vegan restaurants.
The 11 best Indian restaurants in Harris Park and Parramatta
When Taj Indian Sweets opened in Harris Park in 2003 it was the only restaurant in the neighbourhood. Now, the suburb and its surrounds go by the name Little India. The main street is lined, almost door to door, with regionally-specialised restaurants, street-food inspired snack bars and sweet shops with displays more colourful than a carnival parade. And they’re not just serving korma and tikka masala anymore, either – there’s a dizzying number of regional cuisines and styles across Sydney's best Indian restaurants, but Harris Park and Parramatta are the spots that really fly the flag. Whether you’re in for Hyderabadi layered biryani, Mumbai street food, Punjabi-style kebabs or a spicy butter chicken, these restaurants are the best of the best. Hungry for more? These are the best restaurants in Parramatta, and these are the best restaurants in Sydney.
The 14 best Indonesian restaurants in Sydney
Ask the average Sydneysider about Indonesian cuisine and you’ll probably hear something about nasi goreng, rendang, sate and maybe gado gado or ayam goreng. Understandable. For a long time, that’s mostly what was available – but not anymore. While it was once almost exclusively home to the sweeter-style Javanese cuisine, Sydney now boasts region-specific restaurants serving up spicier and more nuanced recipes from Padang, Medan, Bandung and Bali. Today, Sydney’s best Indonesian restaurants are on par with what you’d find on the streets or in the humble warungs of the world’s largest island nation. Some still offer sate and nasi goreng but others are more focused, specialising in pressure-cooked soft-bone fried chicken, jackfruit curry, crunchy roti packages stuffed with spiced meat or simple bowls of pork-topped egg noodles. Whether you crave the basics or want to try something new, these are the best of the best when it comes to Indonesian eats in Sydney. What are you up to? Check out our top picks for things to do in Sydney this week.
The best Korean restaurants in Sydney
Barbecue and fried chicken might have once been the most popular manifestations of Korean cooking in Sydney, but that’s not even scratching the surface. When your cravings take you beyond the communal grills, here are the city’s top spots for platters of pork belly, hearty beef broths, kimchi hot pots, crunchy-leek pancakes, and cold buckwheat noodles, anju (Korean drinking food), and cheese-smothered rice-cakes. Banchan and rice are at the heart of most Korean meals, and you can expect all of the restaurants below to provide at least four of the side dishes free of charge, including refills if requested. The best of the best will serve up to ten homemade options. And remember that restaurant-style Korean cuisine is designed for big groups so prepare for colossal hot pots and sizzling plates by bringing your gang with you. Earn your feast with the best walks in Sydney.
Sydney's best Korean fried chicken restaurants
First, a quick bit of history. Korean fried chicken, the crunchy-battered and often saucy kind we know and love, doesn’t have a long history in Korea. It wasn’t really a thing until Americans introduced the idea during the '50s and '60s and didn’t take off until 1977, when Lims Chicken started frying individually portioned bits of bird. Then came the '80s, which ushered in the arrival of KFC and several other local chains. Korean fried chicken is essentially American-style fried chicken with a second swim in the deep fryer that’s been Koreanised with garlic-heavy sauces, experimental flavours and chilli. In Korea, it’s seen as the perfect unglamorous fast food, best consumed with beer, maybe a few pickles, and more beer. Koreans call the combo ‘chimaek’, literally a blend of the words ‘maekju’ (beer) and ‘chikin’ (fried chicken). That’s how you should approach it here in Sydney. These Korean fried chicken restaurants might not have the best side dishes, chicken alternatives or service, but what they do offer – crunchy-battered, on-the-bone hunks of the juiciest chicken lathered in whatever spicy, garlicky or even cheesy sauces you can imagine, plus the addition of beer and pickles – is such a fundamentally enjoyable experience, nothing else seems to matter. Feel like a sweet finish? Grab a scoop of Sydney's best gelato and ice cream. On the hunt for other top cheap eats? Here are our picks for the 50 best cheap eats in Sydney.
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Imagine this: it’s 1993, there’s only a handful of Indonesian restaurants in Sydney and, like most Sydneysiders, you barely know the cuisine apart from fried rice and packet mee goreng. You’re walking down a suburban Randwick street and you spot a small, curtained restaurant advertising ‘Indonesian Padang Take Away Food’. You walk in to find Indonesian students and young families each with plates of rice flanked by brown stews, fried fish and boiled eggs drowned in chilli paste. There’s no menu to speak of aside from a few items listed on the wall. Everyone else just approaches a counter lined with bains-marie and points at what they want. You see corn fritters, rendang and many more curries of all different meats and colours, and you think it’s unlike anything you’ve seen before. Decades later, hardly anything has changed at Ria Sari. There may be a few more Indonesian restaurants around town, even a few doing the same bain-marie version of Padang food (traditionally, all the food would be laid out on the table and you’d literally help yourself to), but nowhere will you find one quite this old school. You’ll likely get served by the owners, eat among the current generation of Indonesian students and leave without spending more than $15.
In Padang, Sumatra, the traditional style of restaurant service is to pre-make all the food, serve it on plates to your table and have you pick what you want. It’s generally coconut-heavy, spicy and revolves around rice and a wide variety of curries. Pondok Buyung is the Sydney version of that. There’s not much in terms of a menu, just prices based on how many things you want with rice, so let loose, pay $10-$12 and pick away from the 20-odd dishes in the bains-marie. Don't be afraid to try the brains.
The gado gado at Willis Canteen is legendary. Look at the size of it, it’s like it’s been designed for marathon runners and strongman competitors. Certainly, it’s beyond the scope of the average human diet. But that’s just a bonus. The real kicker is the fact every gado gado at Willis Canteen is freshly made. While almost all the other Indonesian restaurants grind their peanuts, makrut lime, garlic, chilli, coconut and various other aromatics in a blender and haul the output into the fridge for later use, Willis Canteen does it by hand – for every single order. The latter part may sound unnecessary because, why would you do that if you could just use a blender? Science. A blender finely cuts all the ingredients, counterintuitively leaving many of the cells intact, a mortar and pestle crushes every cell, releasing more flavour and aroma while maintaining some texture. That, coincidentally, is also the long answer to the question: why does Willis Canteen’s gado gado taste so much better than the others? The only downside to this traditional practice is time. Unless you’ve called ahead or you’re eating at 10am, 3pm or any other off-peak time, expect to wait up to an hour. At least that’s how it used to be. Once, the Willis Canteen phones ran hot with orders, but they’ve since died down after many Indonesians objected to a statement one of the owners made about an Indonesian politician who’d been persecuted on religious grounds. Of course, gado gado isn’t the only thing this tin
You won’t read the word ‘Betawi’ in many Sydney restaurants. Betawi people are the descendants of a Creole-like mix of European, Chinese, Malay and Arabic people from Jakarta. They’ve got their own culture, fashion and their own recipes. Betawi’s Kitchen offers a rare chance to try them. There are two classic orders. First, the soto Betawi, a thick coconutty beef soup with strands of tripe and islands of candlenut crackers. The other is a nasi-lemak-like dish, where fried chicken, an anchovy and tempeh sambal and a chilli-doused egg flank a dome of coconut-scented rice. It would be disingenuous to say those are the specialities though, they’re no better than the curiously teal restaurant’s generously peanutty gado gado, the sticky pork sate skewers or the gravy-thick rendang. Before you commit to any of those, look out for the specials, both scribed onto a board behind the counter and literally laid on the counter itself. Maybe a banana-leaf-wrapped ball of sticky rice and meat one day, and some bitternut crackers or a few sweets the next.It’s hard to believe this all comes from the tiny kitchen of this tiny, family-run restaurant. And thankfully, that sense of familial hospitality is very much part of the vibe. Even when it’s busy you’ll rarely feel the pressure to get in order, eat and get out in less than 40 minutes.
Ayam Penyet Ria
This is probably the only restaurant in Sydney where the main menu item is a verb, penyet. It’s an Indonesian word that means something has been smashed, usually with a pestle. The classic example of this is the restaurant’s namesake, ayam penyet – fried chicken walloped in a mortar and pestle and served with rice, a particularly fiery sambal, and a dusting of kremes (tiny bits of spiced fried crumbs). Then there’s udang kremes, the same thing with prawns, or terong penyet, the same again but with eggplant. Other possibilities include tempeh, eggs and beef ribs. The idea to bring this tradition from Indonesia to Australia first started in South Melbourne in 1998 with the original Ayam Penyet Ria. The same family now have four restaurants, this Randwick outlet being the latest. All the restaurants serve the same thing, the above items plus a few soups and gado gado. If you’re looking for something a bit different, rawon (a complex, slightly sweet, tar-black soup) is very difficult to find in Sydney due to the rareness of one of the main ingredients, keluak. The Southeast Asian nut is critically poisonous, but when prepared the right way makes a rich, slightly bitter black paste. Surprisingly, for a restaurant with no table service and such a small menu, it’s quite a slick place, more like a modern café than the other Indonesian restaurants at the same $15-a-head price point.
If there were ever a restaurant to challenge the bain-marie stigma, it’s Sedap Rasa. The selection here is impressive – two bars long and featuring twenty-odd curries, stews, chunks of fried chicken, sambal-dressed eggplants, deep-fried whole fish drenched in chilli, potato fritters, sambal eggs, tempeh, noodles and more. Someone of them rotate with the season, but others like the dry-style rendang and the batter-less fried chicken are everyday options. The owners set up the restaurant like this because they wanted to give Sydney a taste of Padang food, a spicy, coconut-heavy and particularly rich cuisine specific to the capital of Indonesian Sumatra. Each meal there consists of many plates of pre-cooked food arranged around a table, each diner taking what they want with their hands before the plates are presented to the next diner. That raises food-safety regulations here, so instead, you get a plate of rice and choose what you want to go on top. There are cooked-to-order options, too, namely barbecued ox-tongue skewers with a thick and curry-like turmeric sate, fried rice and simple cucumber and tofu gado gado. Sedap Resa’s been extremely popular with the local Indonesian and student communities since 2012 because all those dishes are under $15, and in some cases less than a tenner: the rice and three option speciality starts at just $9.50.
If you order rendang, rice and beef ribs for two, you might be disappointed. The rendang, while aromatic and chocolatey-brown from more than four hours of cooking, is not an especially large portion. Neither are the ribs, the chilli-smothered eggplant and most things at the Sambal. Think of it more like a tapas restaurant that trades tempranillo for – everything snack-sized, designed to share and priced accordingly (most plates hovering around the ten-buck mark). This format provides the perfect platform to explore the Javanese style of Indonesian cuisine; even with two people, you can order what would usually be an inappropriately colossal amount of food. As the restaurant’s name proudly suggests, the main focus here is what is usually just an afterthought elsewhere, sambal. Every iteration of the chilli-based relish is made in-house by Nessiana Pamudji (a Bar H and China Doll alumna) and Ferry Tshai (ex-Fei Jai and Billy Kwong). There are seven options from an alarmingly crimson-brown tomato relish to a lighter and sweeter anchovy and peanut iteration. Eat them on their own, spread them like chunky peanut butter onto a hunk of grilled chicken or stir one into your rice cake and coconut soup. For CBD workers looking for a quick bite and flight local, there are a few larger dishes designed for exactly that. The most conveniently smashable is a particularly smoky nasi goreng, but there's mee goreng, too.
If there was an award for most unassuming eatery in Sydney, Rosebery Martabak would probably win it. The pint-sized, utterly austere café-restaurant is about as unfussy as it gets – half-torn posters and faded imagery of moustachioed chefs outside, the unwashed restaurant sign, the complete lack of decoration of any kind anywhere, and a messily stacked counter to boot. But none of those things can cook. The reason you, and countless UNSW students and local Indonesians, go to Rosebery Martabak is for the $8.50 wok-hei heavy nasi goreng and the eponymous martabak. Martabak comes in two completely different forms, the first of which is a fried roti package. Imagine gozleme, with far more crunch on the outside, stuffed with egg, onion and Indonesian-style spiced mince. The other, known as martabak manis, is a sweet version. It’s more like a fluffy pancake with hundreds of crumpet-like tubular holes. Each one is raised in a flat pan, topped with whatever you choose (cheese, chocolate, peanuts, condensed milk, banana, sesame, you name it) and then folded onto itself. Rosebery Martabak is probably the best place for both in Sydney (though Martabak Café in Ultimo gives it a run for its money). Due to the sheer caloric intake involved, eating a savoury martabak followed by a sweet one is near impossible for a single human being, so if you’re looking to get the top three orders here – a savoury martabak, a sweet one, some fried rice and maybe even a plate of bready Indo-style meatballs
Salt and Palm
Where in Sydney can you order a rendang with a bottle of Eden Valley pet-nat? What about a plate of glistening pork ribs and a pint of Grifter pale ale? Or a slab of tempeh with a shrimp-spiced sambal and a rum and coconut water cocktail in a whole young coconut with fresh mint and lime? Before Salt and Palm opened in September of 2018, pretty much every Indonesian restaurant in Sydney relied on the same model – low prices, high turnover, basic service, even more basic interiors and a drinks menu that didn’t extend beyond teh kotak poppers and Coke. Salt and Palm tosses those stereotypes aside. It deals in tapped brews from Marrickville’s best, the kind of wines you’d find on the shelves at Newtown’s P&V Merchants, and serves them to local families and denim-clad millennials at timber tables surrounded by house plants or to a leafy courtyard that’s atmospherically between upmarket beer garden and your friend’s backyard potluck dinner. The service, while occasionally slow, is a level above the average Indonesian restaurant in both cheer and ability to answer questions on Indonesian-spiced cocktails, sambal spice levels and the difference between sate ayam and padang (the former is the chicken skewers under peanut sauce, the latter beef with a thick turmeric gravy). Generally, Australians have tended to group Asian restaurants like Salt and Palm in the “modern” or “fusion” category of dining. It’s an easy way to differentiate something like Hello Auntie from a $10 pho and bun
For the last two decades the popular opinion among Indonesians in Sydney was that Ayam Goreng 99 served the best Indonesian grub in Sydney. Thanks to My Delight, there’s now doubt. The tiny Mascot restaurant has been enormously popular since it opened in 2014. In the early days, the shiny laminate tables were filled by the owners’ church friends – most of whom had tasted the same silky pork-sprinkled noodles and laksa-like rice-cake soup at the My Delight owners’ home or on one of the days trays of food were brought straight from their kitchen to the church. It didn’t take long for the wider Indonesian to hear about the restaurant open in Mascot that grinds peanuts by hand for its gado-gado, makes its own meatballs for bakso vermicelli soup, and serves bakmi (those porky egg noodles) for less than $12. With new and eager customers came new demands for menu options. If someone can make a gado gado that rich and a simple bowl of egg noodles that desirable, imagine the possibilities when it comes to rendang or a something from the charcoal barbecue – some sticky pork ribs, say, and a fiery homemade green chilli sambal. So, expect to wait for a table and make sure you look beyond the printed menu or the illuminated picture menu above the kitchen. The staff and the muddle of images plastered on and around the counter hold the secrets to the off-menu items – rich oxtail soup, salty banana leaf packages of spiced fish, and glistening pork ribs with meat so supple it can be eaten off
When this café-bakery opened in Marrickville in 2014, it was an outlier. There were a few vegetarian cafes at the time, but what was rare was a meat-free venue opening without marketing itself as vegetarian. Two Chaps wasn’t branded with botanicals; it wasn’t particularly health-focused; and the terms ‘vegetarian’, ‘meat-free’ or ‘plant-based’ didn’t appear on the menu, or anywhere else in the venue. It was just a good café that didn't serve meat, and back then, this was almost unheard of. That’s the origin story. Six years later and the two chaps who started the business are no longer around. There have never been any ‘under new management signs’ though, and there didn’t need to be. Almost everything that was ever good about this place is essentially the same. The same collection of recycled furniture; the same easy-going staff; the same dedication to making everything onsite (bread, pastry, pickles, jams, sauces, pasta, sodas and more). They still do evening set menus with handmade pasta Thursday to Saturday, and the seasonal produce still comes from legendary veg merchant Shane Roberts. What is new? A new team led by Shana Meegan (ex Bathers Pavilion and Jamie’s Italian manager), more additions to the retail section, and a revamped coffee offering featuring a blend of Single O beans for milk coffees and a rotation of different local roasters for black. The menu has grown into something a little more elaborate, too. Subtly marinated tofu with savoury tapioca pearls, miso-br
Sydney has many anju restaurants serving Korean bar snacks designed to fortify you for a night on the tiles. Most of them are simple diners full of international students (check out 88 Pocha for a fun version of exactly that). Seoul BBQ is a level up. Expect the same cheese-lathered, spice-smothered dishes you’ll find at other anju joints, but here they shave a few dollars from the price tag (if you order a drink, almost everything on the menu is less than $15). FYI, despite the name, there’s no traditional BBQ set up, just hot plates delivered to the table.