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The 16 best Indonesian restaurants in Sydney

Where to find the best regional recipes and the bona fide classics, too

By Nicholas Jordan
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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 the same sate and nasi goreng combo 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.

Still sweating? Take a dip in one of the best ocean pools in Sydney. 

Our picks for Sydney's best Indonesian restaurants, ranked

1. Ayam Goreng 99

Restaurants Indonesian Kingsford

One of Sydney’s original Indonesian restaurants and still one of the best. Fried chicken might be the namesake, but however juicy and perfectly golden those thigh pieces are, a cursory glance around the room will tell you that’s the second most popular thing here. The speciality is ayam bakar, or grilled chicken – marinated for up to six hours, roasted over charcoal and basted with kecap manis, garlic and spice. Order it with the house sambal (maybe the best in Sydney), tempeh, grilled offal bits and a dome of coconut rice.

Food at My Delight
Photograph: Nicholas Jordan

2. My Delight

Restaurants Indonesian Mascot

This tiny Mascot restaurant started as a noodle diner to feed the local church community. Now, almost every Indonesian in Sydney knows about it. What hasn’t changed is the home-cooking style. Sauces and sambals are all made by the co-owner, Linda (she won’t even tell the staff the secret recipe); the meatballs are done by hand (a rarity in Sydney); and the sauce for their gado gado is ground in a traditional wooden mortar. If there's iga babi on the specials menu, order it – these are some of the best pork ribs you’ll find in Sydney.

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3. Salt and Palm

Restaurants Indonesian Glebe

This is Sydney’s only good modern Indonesian restaurant. Not modern in the sense of newly-minted fusion recipes at high prices, but modern because they have cans of Grifter pale ale, a progressive list of natural wines and a leafy fit-out more akin to Sydney’s new-wave cafés. The menu is still traditional Indonesian at the same affordable price all the other restaurants on this list are running at. It’s also the only place in Sydney to get a decent Balinese style grilled pork, or a spiced-rubbed Balinese style chook. 

Indonesian food
Photograph: Helen Yee

4. Medan Ciak

Restaurants Indonesian Surry Hills

Half the reason for the regular weekend queues stems from the fact that barely anything on the menu here is more than $15. The other is the rare chance to try Medan street food, a salty and rich Malaysian-like selection of porky noodles, fried rice variations and domes of flavoured rice surrounded by anything from fried chicken and crisps to stewed cassava leaves. If it weren’t for the constant hovering crowds competing for a spot, you’d have no idea this utterly unfussy Surry Hills mainstay was even there.

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Rosebery Martabak
Photograph: Nicholas Jordan

5. Rosebery Martabak

Restaurants Indonesian Kingsford

Restaurant awards Rosebery Martabak could win include: Sydney’s Most Austere Interior, Cheapest Nasi Goreng in Town That Isn’t Rubbish and, most importantly, Sydney’s Best Martabak. Here, it comes in two forms. One is a savoury, crunchy fried package of roti that’s stuffed with spiced mince. Then there’s martabak manis, a round, perforated pancake that’s covered in salty and sweet items of your choice (peanuts, cheese, chocolate and durian among them) then folded onto itself like a buttery doona. As far as softness goes, think the fluffiest crumpet on earth and you've got it.

Betawi
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6. Betawi's Kitchen

Restaurants Indonesian Maroubra

A scroll through the menu might read like a list of dishes you've seen at many Indonesian or Malaysian restaurants. What the menu won’t tell you is most of those things come with an inflection of Betawi culture, a Creole-like mix of Indonesia’s many influences – Chinese, Indian, Malay, Dutch and Arabic. For two classic examples, try the nasi uduk with coconut rice and a side of fried chicken, or soto Betawi, a thick beef and tripe soup made with coconut milk. If you want to stick to Indonesia-wide standards, they do a solid gado gado and sate, too.

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Pondok Buyung.
Photograph: Nicholas Jordan

7. Pondok Buyung

Restaurants Indonesian Kensington

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.

Mie Kocok Bandung
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8. Mie Kocok Bandung

Restaurants Indonesian Maroubra

Indonesians will tell you Mie Kocok Bandung is a noodle restaurant – a particularly small one. That’s a bit of a disservice. Not the size critique, that’s fair. More the fact they do much more than noodles. The noodles are a speciality, particularly the Bandung-style light beef-based noodle soup with tripe, meatballs and fried wontons. But don’t ignore fried chicken tender enough to be wiggled off the bone, or the incredible range of crackers – taro, cassava, peanut, anchovy, purple yam, tapioca and more.

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Lestari
Photograph: Nicholas Jordan

9. Lestari

Restaurants Indonesian Ultimo

Lestari might be the best thing to happen to UTS students that hardly any UTS students even know about. It’s literally across the road, nothing's more than $15, and pretty much everything on the menu has that perfect mix of exactly what a student meal aspires to be: huge, salty and the kind of delicious that makes you disregard any health-related hesitancy. That last bit is important because pretty much everything at this diner is fried (flat rice noodles, rice and chicken) or seasoned with pork (egg noodles).

The Sambal
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10. The Sambal

Restaurants Indonesian Sydney

Think of it like an Indonesian tapas restaurant, with Bintang instead of tempranillo. Besides a hefty fried rice and fried noodle dish, almost all the others are tiny. Order a lot of them and what would usually be an enormous banquet can be yours for just two people. The seven housemade sambal varieties range from soupy and volcanic to a sweeter version with peanuts and anchovies. Slather them on grilled chicken or a hunk of beef ribs, or mix them into your miniature rendang or coconutty rice-cake soup.

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Willis Canteen
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11. Willis Canteen

Restaurants Indonesian Ultimo

Willis Canteen was once one of the most revered Indonesian restaurants in Sydney, but then the owner made a controversial statement about Ahok, a governor jailed for blasphemy. While the wait times for their famous gado gado have radically reduced, the product hasn’t. The peanuts are still hand-ground for every order, it’s still challengingly colossal in size, and it’s still better than any other gado gado in Sydney. If you’ve got room or a companion, get a side of sambal-smothered beef ribs and a bowl of oxtail soup, too.

Ayam Penyet Ria
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12. Ayam Penyet Ria

Restaurants Indonesian Randwick

Might this be the only restuarant in Sydney where the star menu item, penyet, is a verb?. Typically, it means to pinch something, but in this context it means smashing something with a pestle. You can have a number of deep-fried and smashed items – prawns, eggplant, egg, tofu, beef ribs and most famously, chicken. All of the above come with a particularly zingy sambal and a dusting of kremes, which are tiny bits of spiced fried crumbs.

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Sedap Rasa
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13. Sedap Rasa

Restaurants Indonesian Kingsford

Many Padang-born Indonesians will tell you this is the best dry-style rendang in Sydney. That’s never something you can fact-check, but it’s definitely a reason to try Sedap Rasa. Need some other reasons? There are twenty-odd bain-marie options to choose from, and a plate of rice with three of them starts at $9.50. They serve Padang-style sate skewers (turmeric sauce rather than peanut, ox tongue on the skewer) and, if you drop in at the right time of year, you can score a mean, velvety young jackfruit curry.

Warung Ita
Photograph: Nicholas Jordan

14. Warung Ita

Restaurants Indonesian Lakemba

The word 'homey' can be something of a cliché, but this place genuinely feels like somebody's house. The staff treat you like you’re family, there are no decorations other than the people inside, and sometimes you can see casual food prep going on at the other tables. Like Pondok Buyung above, it’s Padang style, so don’t look for a menu – just point to what curries, sambal splattered goodies or fried meats you want from the bain-marie selection and add any sweets that might be hanging around near the register.

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Food at ATL Maranatha
Photograph: Dave Cheng

15. ATL Ayam Tulang Lunak Crispy

Restaurants Indonesian Mascot

Where else in Sydney can you get fried chicken so soft you can eat the bones? Nowhere, as far as we're concerned. At ATL, the bird is corn-fed, marinated and cooked in a pressure cooker, before being deep-fried. That means you don't even notice when  your teeth hit the bones, save for the rewarding hit of marrow flavour. Of course, that’s not all they do, but why would you go to a soft-bone chicken place and order soup or noodles?

 

16. Ria Sari

Restaurants Indonesian Randwick

When it opened on a suburban backstreet in 1993, Ria Sari was one of the only Indonesian restaurants in Sydney. The others, and many of the restaurants that followed, specialised in Anglo-accessible dishes like grilled chicken and fried rice. Nothing, not even the lace curtains or the guy serving you, has changed in the time since. And thank goodness for that. You'll still find a bain-marie wonderland of curries, fried fish, eggs drowned in chilli and rendang that’s been cooked for so long it glistens like a knob of butter melting on the pavement. 

In the mood for more fried chicken?

The best fried chicken in Sydney

Restaurants American

It’s official. Sydney is obsessed with fried chicken. Are we in the American Deep South? No. Does that matter? Maybe. Are we doing it anyway? You’re damn right we are: this is deep-fried meat for crying out loud, and we’re all about it. Here are our favourite joints (getit?) in town right now, doing chicken the way – our fictitious American/Korean/Indonesian – mamma used to do.

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