It was once a forbidding slum, but now the scariest thing about this inner-city utopia is the waiting time to get your smashed avo on a Sunday morning. No visit to Sydney is complete without a coffee and a repast at the undisputed breakfast capital of Australia – here are the places you need to know about, and how long you can expect your satisfaction to be delayed.
RECOMMENDED: Surry Hills area guide.
Want the best of the brunch? Check out our guide to the 20 best breakfasts in Sydney.
After a dining hit list? Brush up on our guide to the 50 best restaurants in Sydney.
The best cafés in Surry Hills
Go here for: The perfect summer brekky
When Four Ate Five opened in 2010 we gave it our first ever five-star rating for a café. In the interim, things have only improved, with a streamlined fitout that preserves the open plan (you’re sharing space with the barista and the juice bar) and waiter service that borders on mind-reading – but the menu has refocused onto an Israeli theme. Your blintzes (crepes) are packed with with honey ricotta and mascarpone. The feta-and-shallots sprinkled shakshuka (baked eggs) come with flatbread from Bondi Jewish restaurant Savion. You can also go a sabich (eggplant and egg roll-up), pastrami on rye or smoked salmon bagel.
Order the: 485 Breakfast ($20). This is a satisfying Middle Eastern plate of sour, salty and spicy things comes with a warm bagel or pretzel from South Dowling Street’s Organic Bread Bar. Dip the bread in the small bowl of hummus and chickpeas and dig into three cubes of feta, a half boiled egg, pickles, radish, cucumber, baby tomatoes, pickled red cabbage and pilpelchuma – like Libyan Jewish sambal.
Wait time? Four Ate Five is notorious on this front, but Time Out was lucky to show up on the morning the clocks went forward, taking most Surry Hills party animals by surprise, and was shown directly to a table. But the important point is that the staff are always happy to see you, and serious about squeezing you in. Your patience will be rewarded.
Go here for: Some of the best brews this side of Central
This Surry Hills mainstay takes a two-pronged approach to improving your morning – grab a takeaway coffee from the espresso bar, or take your time and hoe into the full breakfast and coffee menu at the sit-down café further up Reservoir Street. Coffee is their game here, and the menu of both caffeinated beverages and eats is dynamic but fun – there are pourovers and Aeropress coffees, and healthful bowls or bacon and egg rolls.
Order the: Beef short rib ($21). A hunk of meat-on-bone in the AM is a pretty strong order, but trust us it’s a good move. The exceptionally tender beef short rib goes in the sous vide overnight, and its juices are then reduced with coffee cherry skins and sweet maple. A whip of horseradish cream cuts through the unctuous beef, while the delicate salad of radish and fennel adds freshness. Not feeling like meat that early? The Mothership ($17.50) is the ultimate healthful bowl, with avo, violet cabbage, mushrooms, poached eggs, quinoa and yellow turmeric-spiked cashew cream.
Wait time: If the sun’s out you're in luck – tables run outside from the takeaway espresso bar and right up to the café, so there’s no wait time on our visit. However on days with not so nice weather you won’t have as much luck as there are only a few tables inside.
Go here for: The best Brazilian breakfast in Sydney
If you think that only $35 in a swishy hotel would get you all-you-can-eat breakfast cake buffet with pots of dulce delicia, trays of tarts, rows of fresh croissants and glimmering chocolate bundt cakes, you’d be wrong, and off by ten bucks. Every Sunday, Ovo Café, a Brazilian joint hidden inside the no-longer seedy, but still far-from-chic Oxford Square shopping centre, puts on just such a feast. And at $25, its exceptional value if you like your fruit salads bottomless and you have no family history of diabetes.
Order the: Feijoada ($22). If you can’t hack that much cake first thing, order this meaty mixed stew of ham hock, steak, black beans and chorizo that’s salty, smoky and will send your hangover back to the fiery gates from whence it came.
Wait time: The secret is well and truly out for locals but even if you encounter a wait, it’ll be short lived compared to the streetfront cafés nearby on Crown Street.
Go here for: Seasonal menus and an A+ soundtrack
They take provenance seriously at Suzie Q, with free range eggs and meat, local juices, native honey and coffee from Dukes Coffee Roasters in Melbourne. They also take their music seriously. There are records for sale and the soundtrack here is perfect for daytime sancking.
Order the: Woodstock's Dream with pressed lamb shoulder ($24).
Think of it like a morning roast, but instead of being heavy with winter veg they keep things springtime fresh with a kipfler potatoes, pea puree, fresh peas, broad beans, preserved lemon and fresh radish. The lamb is tender on the inside and crisp brown on the shell and a squeeze of charred lemon over everything brings it all together.
Wait time: It's tucked out of the way so they don't get the main street rush here, but it's still popular so if you walk straight in and sit down you feel like you're winning.
Sometimes you drag yourself to a café to cure a hangover with bacon, and other times brunch is an event, which is when you go to Bills. Dress up, aim for one of the window seats and embrace a little breakfast cocktail – everyone is doing it here so you’ll get no side eye. This is the number one spot for American style-brunching with booze, where your perfectly poached eggs are served in a light, bright, elegant space and white awnings keep the sun off the footpath tables.
Order the: Ricotta hotcakes ($22.50) are a classic for a reason, and the corn fritters ($23.50) here are still some of the best in the city. It’s worth adding the avo salsa ($4) too for a fresh step amongst the bacon and tomato. Now is not the time to budget, it’s the time to order another Bloody Mary that they make with Clamato, lime and coriander, or maybe a sweet white peach Bellini. If you want to drink with brunch, Bills is the place to do it.
Wait time? It's still very popular and there are no bookings so if you time it right you can walk right in. It's harder for big tables, but for singles or couples there's usually spots at the big communal table at the very least.
Go here for: Breakfast with a Central American accent
This long, skinny venue rolls up the garage door at the rear to let a whole lot of light and fresh air in from the back laneway. This is also where the takeaway crowds wait for their coffee. It’s the kind of place that is always three quarters full no matter when you visit, partly due to their house-roasted coffee, and partly due to the appeal of the Central American flourishes on the menu, the result of their coffee sourcing trips to the region.
Order the: Huevos Divorciados ($18.50). It’s somewhere between a taco and a breakfast sandwich. Two crunchy tostadas are capped with a savoury refried bean mix that’s enveloped in a softly fried egg, with one dressed in a spicy tomato, and the other sporting zippy green salsa.
Wait time? It’s still popular after all these years, but the turnover is pretty quick and if you’re only a party of two the chances of you being able to squeeze onto the blue-tiled communal table are good most times of day.
Go here for: Excellent coffee and quick treats
You might have known this as Gnome Café, but they’ve rebranded it to bring it in line with its sister café, Brewtown in Newtown. It’s not big but they know how to make brekky for fast living creatives in their twenties and thirties, and more than anything else they’re making one of the smoothest flat whites in the 2010.
Order the: Green bowl. They may have made their name with cronuts, but these guys know their way around a healthy breakfast that won’t erode your will to live. The green bowl is all killer no filler, with generous avo, sour labne, pert broccolini, fresh peas, just blanched green beans and roast almonds all jumbled up with a nutty herby dressing. It’s not a huge serve, but bulk it out with a side of toast for maximum effect.
Wait time? This place is teeny so you probably don’t plan to eat in. For a fancy cronut and a smooth as silk piccolo, pop your head in as you wander up Crown Street hoping a little shopping will make the hangover go away.
Go here for: Left-of-centre breakfasts and coffee geekery
Located within one of the hippest buildings in Surry Hills (you’ll find Golden Age Cinema downstairs and the soon-to-be-opened Paramount House Hotel upstairs), this bright café delivers a menu that manages to straddle both America’s Deep South and Japan’s urban precincts. From the three-metre high floral displays or slick concrete floors, to the '90s hip hop soundtrack and intricate coffee-nerd pleasing menu, Paramount offers interesting breakfast fare in a beautiful setting.
Order the: PCP Gumbo ($21). When have you ever had gumbo for breakfast? While it’s a stretch to name this bowl after the New Orleans stew, PCP’s riff is loaded with flavour. Pickled ’slaw adds a fresh crunch, while chorizo and battered chicken fill out the dish with salty and fried oomph. Okra and fried prawn-breaded crumbs add interesting textures, and the housemade cornbread is great for scooping up perfect bites.
Wait time: This lofty café looks large but doesn’t have loads of seating – there may be a little wait on weekends, but it’s a pretty slick operation that’ll have you in as soon as possible.
Go here for: The best pastry treats in the city
You'll find Bourke Street Bakeries right across Sydney, but its flagship is in the centre of Surry Hills. The corner bakery is never empty – locals file in at 7am for olive oil loaves, at midday for a beef brisket pie accompanied by iced chocolate milk and at 3pm for an afternoon caffeine hit (and it's worth noting they are open till 6pm, making it one of the few places in Surry Hills that you can get a late arvo latte).
Order the: Lamb sausage roll ($5.50). This perennial favourite turns the servo staple into a home-style, flaky, delight. The lamb is bolstered by a rich harissa flavour, and comes studded with currants and almond slivers. The filling is always juicy and never dry, while the buttery pastry shows exactly why this Surry Hills bakery has proliferated across the city.
Wait time: Even the nearby light rail works haven't put a dampener on the hungry queues. There's minimal seating – consider bringing a Keepcup and grabbing your food to go, then wander over to the nearby Moore Park.
Go here for: Creative plant-based eating
Surry Hills has long had Yulli’s to cover your veggo nights out, but there’s now a daytime destination in the Shift Eatery, a vegan café and delicatessen peddling super sandwiches, tiny sweet treats and solid coffee. There are eight sarnies on menu that use meat and mayo substitutes, many of which are inspired by popular carnivorous favourites. The ‘Join the Club’ piles up “chicken” schnitzel, “turkey” slices and “cheddar cheese”.
Order the: Big Bad Bowl ($18) packed with roasted pumpkin, warm rice, spicy beans and acidic sauerkraut. There’s a nice contrast of textures between squashy eggplant and fresh salad leaves, and for what is ostensibly a salad, you’re left feeling properly full.
Wait time: The new buzz on this place means it’s busy on weekends but mid-week you should be able to walk right in and sit down
Go here for: Prime people watching at a Crown Street institution
This Crown Street staple has been pumping out chicken meatball sandwiches, freshly squeezed juices and Little Marionette coffees for 16 years, which is a serious lifetime in café years. The sharehouse-meets-farmhouse furnishing vibe runs right through the wide, street fronted cafe – there’s mismatched iron tables, native floral arrangements and a sprawling blackboard with smoothie and lunch specials on it. There is also free Wi-Fi and the service is very friendly, and they do both all day breakfasts and lunches, so you’ll never get menu-FOMO.
Order the: Ploughman's Board ($22). This plate is like your own personal protein-packed picnic spread: there’s earthy discs of beetroot, a pile of feta, sweet house made relish, a boiled egg, ham, Swiss cheese, green apple slices and of course Kawa's excellent chicken balls. These meaty mounds (which you can also order on a sandwich with tomato, cucumber and mayo) come packed out with corn, tomato and parsley, plus they manage to stay moist and flavour packed. Also save room for a wee sweet treat – the palm-sized house-baked Monte Carlos are delicious.
Wait time: Seating here is deceptively plentiful, but Kawa is a popular breakfast and lunch spot for good reason, meaning you may have a short wait. There is a simple sign-on clipboard, which secures your spot in the queue easily.
Go here for: Breakfast that thinks well and truly outside the box
These guys get the elephant stamp for creative menu design. They were early adopters of the 63° egg, and people love their stuff so much they opened a second venue at Barangaroo (which is where the soft serve machine is now located).
Order the: Tropical chia ($13). If you want something rich they do buckwheat pancakes with cured salmon, hollandaise made with blood orange, roe and broccoli, but for a lighter start order a bowl of squishy chia seeds soaked in almond milk with a Carmen Miranda dressing of berries, citrus and passionfruit.
Wait time? This long, narrow café is pretty popular with cult breakfast people so expect to wait for a table up the back, especially if they’re experimenting with a pop-up serving Japanese shaved ice desserts, for example
Go here for: Ace coffee
It's a teeny-tiny space – just a hole in the wall with a few benches outside. But what it lacks in size it makes up for in attention to detail, because as you'd expect, the coffee here is the best we tried in Surry Hills: smooth, rich, balanced and smoky.
Order the: Flat white. These guys are supremely confident in their coffee skills and the half a dozen people milling around outside like someone is about to start giving away free puppies does nothing to dispute their claim. Plus they serve very few snacks, but there’s gluten-free, dairy-free doughnuts or fresh croissants that you can dip in a pot of melted chococlate for an extra dollar.
Wait time? You might find a perch outside but this is a take-away bolt hole for when you need liquid motivation on the run.
Go here for: Upmarket, European morning meals
We think people consider Orto Trading Co more a dinner destination but head here in the AM for a Surry Hills brekky that that much more comfortable than the pocket-sized brunch spots in the neighbourhood.
Order the: Stuffed eggplant ($17). In Sydney you can get eggs a thousand ways, but there’s not many places serving them with a whole half eggplant shell, stuffed with more eggplant, capsicum, onions, tomato, zucchini, olives and basil and then tucked in under a blanket of stretchy mozzarella. It’s an all-veg Mediterranean kickstart to your day.
Wait time? By Surry Hills standards this place is pretty spacious, and they have big tables. When good weather means you can sit outside – they’ve got tables on both sides of the street
Go here for: French cakes on a beautiful terrace
You may have walked right past this bougie patisserie n Crown Street, but Chez Sun has a secret: a beautiful, French-inspired tiled terrace with striped awnings and potted plants. There’s about four tables up there, but they take bookings and also do a proper, tier afternoon tea if that’s your jam.
Order the: Mojito
These guys make the kind of elaborate pastries that are almost too perfect looking to eat. There’s a flamingo, made with guava mousse, pink grapefruit jelly and almond sponge, but we like the luminous green Mojito, made with a lime mousse and a mint cake on an almond biscuit. They glaze the whole thing in a rum jelly so it gleams like coloured glass.
Wait time? A lot of people don’t realise there’s an upstairs here, so swish past people getting cakes to go and aim for one of the tables out on the terrace.
Go here for: Sydney café classics
You know what the mark of a good café is? Asking if you’d like your bacon crispy, with no provocation. These guys have been cranking out the goods for years now, and while the room is still the somewhat utilitarian, high-ceilinged space lined in dark timber finishes, the coffee and eats never fail to get the job done.
Order the: Crunchy potato rosti ($16). This dark bronze fried puck of potato, onion and spices is a carb-tastic base onto which they pile two perfect rashers of bacon, a poached egg, hollandaise, crushed pistachio nuts, just-cooked cherry tomatoes and fresh baby spinach.
Wait time? The location halfway down the perilous incline of Foveaux Street means people often overlook this long-serving establishment, so your odds are good for walking in and sitting down as long as it’s not Saturday rush hour.
Go here for: A+ vegan and veg brekkies
There are only so many versions of avo toast you can eat as a vego in Sydney before you crave a hot brekky that’s more inventive than tomatoes and mushrooms. Enter the O Café, an organic eatery on Crown Street’s tight huddle of cafés that is not pulling its punches when it comes to plant-centric dining.
Order the: Ali’s Balinese fried rice ($17.50). You could make this vegan by ordering it without the egg, but either way it’s a small mountain of spicy fried rice with beans, carrots and tofu. In fact, it’s probably one of our favourite fried rices around. Don’t forget an extra side of their house-made sambal for extra fire power.
Wait time? This place doesn’t look like it has much space form the street but it’s worth heading through and up the stairs for a table. The real wait time will come after ordering as the kitchen can get a little backed up.
Go here for: A promptly served carb-fest
In a time of paleo diets and kale smoothies, the humble spud is often overlooked, however Mad Spuds isn’t about trends, and instead celebrates the humble tater and its great potential as a vehicle for flavour. Inside you’ll find the walls lined with Irish postcards and several Mr Potato Head toys lining a shelf, and on the menu you’ll find everything from potato skin tacos to rosti, boxty (that’s a Irish potato pancake) to fried potato cakes, alongside full English breakfasts, salads and sandwiches.
Order the: Mad Spud Stack ($15.50)
This soft potato cake changes things up from the usual corn fitter or piece of toast to serve as a base for a fun breakfast stack. A soft, round fried potato cake is topped with salty slabs or haloumi, refreshing tzatziki, avocado, crisp potato skins and sweet potato. We’d like to see a zesty salsa in place of the balsamic plate drizzle and maybe an extra potato cake, but other than that it’s a decent breakfast plate.
Wait time? This Crown Street café spot is wedged right in between some of Surry Hills’ busiest cafés and is often overlooked as a top contender, meaning there’s usually little-to-no wait time.
Go here for: Coffee and a sanga
This little bolthole next to the Hotel Hollywood is like an external battery pack for Surry Hills office workers who come in for a re-up before meetings, after meetings, and just because they haven’t stood up in a while.
Order the: Slow cooked meat of the day on a roll. The menu is mostly things on bread that can be prepared in the pocket-sized kitchen but they do a good single slice avo and egg toat for brekky, and slow cook something comforting each day to pack into rolls or add to salads, like spicy paprika pork meatballs.
Wait time? This place always has a handful of people hanging around out the front waiting for their coffee so your gratification won’t be instant, but they’ve been perfecting the fly-by routine for years now.
Go here for: Coffee happy hour
This isn’t a long brunch spot, it’s a gently rock’n’roll hole in the wall with some footpath tables and a menu that isn’t trying to steal your lunch money for the week. A good spot for a hangover fly by, when only bacon can save you, and they also discount your coffee order on weekdays from 2pm until 3.30pm.
Order the: Bacon and egg roll. It’s a doozy: the roll is big and sturdy, the egg is cooked properly and while the bacon could be more crisp, it’s generous and properly supported by enough relish and barbecue sauce
Wait time? Your chances are pretty good most days as turnover is fairly swift and it’s not somewhere people linger until the menus change over.
Go here for: Waffles in a hobbit house
This funny little terrace café is a jumble of vintage and timber furniture, a bit like how you’d imagine a hobbit café. Don’t come bustling in with five shopping bags ready to sprawl out – it’s not that kind of place. But they do all the classics, including five kinds of waffles.
Order the: Churro waffle. Much like a cinnamon doughnut, the original waffle made with sweet batter, crisp edges and a sprinkling of cinnamon sugar that pools in the lattice is the pick. Perfect in it’s simplicity.
Wait time? Anywhere is busy on a Saturday at 11am, but this place is tiny so people often walk on by. Worth popping your head in and seeing if there’s a perch inside if the four terrace seat are taken, but keep in mind the waffles take up to 10 minutes to make.