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Sub sandwich at Saga Enmore
Photograph: Yael Stempler

The best cheap eats in Sydney

Dining out on a dime is one of this city's great thrills. Here are our picks for Sydney's best affordable restaurants

By Time Out editors
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Rubbing two pennies together won’t land you dinner at Quay (and neither will two pineapples, for that matter), but why let that get in the way of a great meal? Nine times out of ten, suiting up for a decadent degustation or a $50 main isn’t even what you probably want to do anyway. This city ain’t cheap, but it's overflowing with restaurants serving up stellar stuff at prices that won’t burn a hole in your wallet. In fact, for that same $50 note, two of you can get watered and fed very well. 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. These are the ones worth their salt.

Want to spend less at the big-ticket players? Check out our cheap fine-dining hacks.

Curious to know the best of the best, regardless of the budget? Here are the 50 best restaurants in Sydney.

Affordable and delicious dining in Sydney

person serving food onto a plate at Tamaleria and Mexican Deli
Photograph: Anna Kucera

1. Tamaleria and Mexican Deli

Restaurants Mexican Dulwich Hill

Rosa Cienfuegos is famous for her tamales, steamed hot pockets of white corn flour (masa) flavoured with chicken and sharp tomatillo salsa. Or maybe you want the earthier flavours of the mole version. A liberal dose of green (mild) or spicy (red) salsa from the mortars on the bench is the winning play, and there’s hot sauce to ratchet up the capsaicin-based endorphin rush.

Flour and Stone chocolate cake
Photograph: Supplied

2. Flour and Stone

Restaurants Woolloomooloo

Nadine Ingram is famous for rustic cakes that people travel across town to eat, especially that lamington dipped in panna cotta mix. But Flour and Stone is also no slouch on the savouries front. For a pie that holds nothing back get the lamb, potato and rosemary, that has all the satisfyinf heft of a roast dinner, encased in a bronze pastry shell. You'll want the house-made tomato sauce for a little sharp bite to balance all that wintery comfort.

 

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Food at Ho Jiak Haymarket
Photograph: Anna Kucera

3. Ho Jiak Haymarket

Restaurants Malaysian Haymarket

The winner of our 2018 People's Choice Award remains a go-to for consistently crowd-pleasing Nyonya cooking, and Malaysian classics that don't seem to fall off your radar. Signatures like char kway teow, creamy laksa with chicken and prawns, and fragrant nasi lemak never fail, but dig deeper and you'll find weapons like the steamed eggs and wok-fried squid drenched in salted duck-egg yolk, butter and curry leaves.

Noodles at Lonely Mouth
Photograph: Supplied/Kitti Gould

4. Lonely Mouth

Restaurants Ramen Newtown

Ramen is made up of five elements – broth, noodles, tare (seasoning), toppings and oil, making it the Captain Planet of noodle dishes. It has also historically been very meaty. But RaRa Ramen’s Scott Gault and head chef Terry Jeon cracked the code for rich, savoury, creamy ramen broths with not a pork bone on the premises of their all-vegan soup shop, Lonely Mouth. 

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Jimmy’s falafel wrap
Photograph: Nikki To

5. Jimmy's Falafel

Restaurants Lebanese Sydney

They do a swift trade in fresh pita pockets stuffed with fried-to-order falafel and eggplant, but our heart belongs to the ‘late night edition’. You might know it as lahmacun, the meat-topped pide served like a pizza across the Middle East. At Jimmy’s, they’re using the crisp flat bread spread with a mix of lamb mince, capsicum, and chilli as a way to corral sumac-laced raw onion, garlic toum, Aleppo pepper, fresh tomato parsley, and lemon juice into one intensely delicious snack.

Fish and chips at Saint Peter
Photograph: Anna Kucera

6. Fish Butchery

Restaurants Seafood Paddington

Here's the thing, dinner at Josh Niland's sustainable seafood restaurant, Saint Peter, is a wonderful, but pricier night on the town. But for the city's best fish and chips you only need to look next door at his Fish Butchery, which batters fresh ling, serves it on top of proper, skin-on potato chips and adds a dose of tartare made extra zingy by using yoghurt in place of mayo. It's one of the city's best cheap hacks to gain gastronomic bragging rights.

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Sub sandwich at Saga Enmore
Photograph: Yael Stempler

7. Saga

Restaurants Cafés Enmore

Before you start reaching for the insulin, this is not an exclusive sugar rodeo (though your should get something sweet as dessert). Andy Bowdy knows how to assemble a very impressive sandwich. The Aleb B is a crumbed eggplant schnitzel on a baguette with parmesan custard, passata, fresh basil and a whole lot of melted mozzarella. All the messy joy of a meatball sub, but with extra karmic points for being vego.

8. Jimmy's Recipe

Restaurants Sydney

The queues for this city lunchtime staple are long, but they move fast and so do the tables - no one is here to waste time, they're eating on a tight schedule. Opinions are divided as to what is the superior order: the laksa or the Hainan chicken. One will warm your core and cure all ills, the other is an immensely satisfying combo of poached chicken, seasoned rice, ginger, shallot, chilli and a side soup – the perfect dish for all seasons.

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Chicken at El Jannah
Photograph: Helen Yee

9. El Jannah

Restaurants Granville

Even if you didn’t know about El Jannah, the smell of the smoke would likely lure you straight into the legendary Granville chicken shop. This is charcoal chook at its finest, complemented by a supporting ensemble of Lebanese bread, fluorescent pickles and an almighty garlic sauce so pungent it could ward off an army of vampires.

Food at Fabrica
Photograph: Supplied

10. Fabbrica

Restaurants Italian Sydney

They say you can’t have things fast, good and cheap, but those people haven’t tried the Fabbrica lasagne. Now, there’s no question that $20 is not cheap if we're talking salad rolls, but for restaurant pasta it’s a steal. You get seven tender sheets of pasta layered with a rich beef cheek and cavolo nero ragu and a restrained hand on the cheese. You also get it almost instantly. Even faster is their ability to sling a sambo on a plate and serve it at one of the high tables.

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Food at Chaco Ramen
Photograph: Cassandra Hannagan

11. Chaco Ramen

Restaurants Japanese Darlinghurst

At Keita Abe's pocket-sized ramen venue the broth is the colour of an egg yolk. It tastes unlike any other ramen in Sydney. If anything, it’s like a Sichuan hot-pot but less aggressive, slightly nutty, with that same addictive savouriness all good ramens have. There’s no chashu on top, but there’s a cluster of coriander leaves, some springy wood-ear mushrooms, three velvety medallions of chicken and a smear of crimson chilli paste along the edge of the bowl. It’s called chilli coriander ramen and it's one of Sydney's favourite noodle soups.

12. Vic's Meat Market

Restaurants Pyrmont

Fourth generation butcher Anthony Puharich hit surprising gold when he started smoking meat in the same place as Sydney's most famous seafood retailers. But people love the brisket sambos here, and with good reason. The brisket here is juciy, tender and has a proper pepper bark on the slabs they slice to order. You can choose if you like yours fattier or lean. Then they add a handful of slaw, some barbecue sauce and you're sent off down the counter, plastic tray in hand.

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An array of thai food on a table
Photograph: Anna Kucera

13. Spice I Am

Restaurants Surry Hills

A tried and true stalwart of Sydney's fierce Thai restaurant scene. The menu is a staggering 82 items long, so make like the rest of Sydney: start from the top, work your way down, and repeat over and over again. Or just start with #79: the revelatory omelette in a sour Thai soup, and head backwards from there.

A cheese toastie on a Plate
Photograph: Matty Hirsch

14. Penny's Cheese Shop

Shopping Delis Potts Point

Technically, this is a cheese shop, but it also happens to be home to what is probably the best cheese toastie on the planet. Owner Penny Lawson layers four types of cheeses between slices of Pioik Bakery bread, and then has the nerve to layer them on the outside of the sandwich as well before crisping it all up in the press. It's a marvel. 

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A platter of steamed rice noodles, herbs, sauce and meat
Photograph: Helen Yee

15. Banh Cuon Ba Oanh

Restaurants Vietnamese Marrickville

Never had banh cuon? You need to. These silky rice noodle rolls are a traditional Vietnamese breakfast staple, usually cooked at little roadside stalls as swarms of scooters zoom past, and Banh Cuon Ba Oanh's are about as close as Sydneysiders can get to the real deal. That includes a tiny kitchen cloaked in clouds of steam and squishy tables with ankle-high stools that will test your flexibility. Order the classic version, and your rice noodles will be rolled with a rubble of pork mince and flecks of crunchy black fungus.

Person holding a burger at Mary's Circular Quay
Photograph: Anna Kucera

16. Mary's CQ

Bars Circular Quay

The Inner West junk food lords have been flipping burgers worth crossing town for since 2013. And while they’re a still a major drawcard, the addition of a dynamite vegan menu at the Circular Quay location has made Mary’s worth falling in love with all over again. The plant-based burger patties have a proper taste and texture, and solidly seasoned cauliflower serves as a knockout stand-in for fried chicken. Amen.  

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A bowl of Chinese noodles
Photograph: Shawn Gowans

17. Xi'an Biang Biang

Restaurants Chinese Sydney

Thick, chewy, slurp-worthy noodles the width of a belt slathered in chilli and finished with slow-cooked pork and crunchy vegetables? Sign us up. Make sure you head here hungry as hell, because a flaky roujiamo – another Xi’an street food staple, often considered China’s answer to the burger – is an essential part of the experience. (Hot tip: the Haymarket outlet is BYO.)

A plate of slow cooked pork
Photograph: Helen Yee

18. Sydney Cebu Lechon

Restaurants Filipino Newtown

At the centre of every Filipino celebration is lechon, a spit-roasted whole suckling pig that’s equal parts crackling and tender flesh. The Cebu Island version is said to be the best, stuffed with aromatics like star anise, garlic, lemongrass and shallots, before slowly being roasted over charcoal for three hours. It's the star of the show at this casual corner eatery with less than 30 seats, and if you want in (which you do), you'll definitely need a booking.

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19. Boon Café

Restaurants Haymarket

By day, it’s an ace café spruiking East-meets-West brekkies like croissants smothered in mossy green pandan custard. By night, it’s a casual BYO diner dishing up classics from a multi-page menu of Isaan cuisine. To top it all off, it’s brought to you by the forces behind Chat Thai and set inside a wonderland of a grocery store, piled high with hard-to-get-your-hands-on produce and all sorts of Thai delights.

Food at Banh Xeo Bar
Photograph: Cassandra Hannagan

20. Banh Xeo Bar

Restaurants Vietnamese Rosebery

You won’t find pho, spring rolls or vermicelli salad on the menu here, but what you will find are ridiculously good namesake banh xeo: lacey-edged, luminous turmeric-gold coconutty pancakes with any number of fillings, from sweetcorn to king prawns to crisp nuggets of pork. A banh mi with free-range soy sauce eggs makes for a refreshing change of pace, and if you’re still craving soup, bo bun hue – a lemongrass beef noodle number – is the answer.

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balls and lemon wedges on wooden board
Photograph: Pexels/Anna Guerrero

21. Friggitoria

Restaurants Potts Point
Bolognese-filled arancini, steaming pasta set on newspapers, ciabatta rolls filled with Italian pork, perfectly-piped cannoli... it's the kind of food you want to grab and wander around a Tuscan market eating. Thankfully, there's no need to head that far – you can now pick it up in Kings Cross. 

22. Alice's Makan

Restaurants Sydney

In moving to a CBD food court, what it may have lost in suburban charm it has made up for in regular accessibility. Is Alice Tan's char kway teow still the best in town? It certainly gives the competition a run for its moneybags.

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Interior at Chat Kazz
Photograph: Jay La

23. Chatkazz

Restaurants Indian Harris Park

The hype, queues and Friday evening bustle are due to the fact that Chatkazz serves street food as it’s done in Mumbai, and they were the first in Sydney to do so. Expect to find soft, white, heavily buttered bread rolls plated up with rich chickpea stews, puffy flat breads crisped on a hot grill and samosas. Or maybe just bits of fried dough, smashed and splattered with yoghurt and tamarind syrup.

Sausage roll and salad at Black Star Pastry
Photograph: Anna Kucera

24. Black Star Pastry Newtown

Restaurants Newtown

Never has a pie warmer contained as many winning offerings as the one at Black Star. Look past the famous cakes and into a future where you demolish their excellent sausage roll, a brisket pie, or the goat's cheese and leek quiche - light, flakey, buttery, and featuring proper veins of sharp cheese amongst the egg and soft ribbons of allium against the pastry base.

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at Burger Head
Photograph: Katrina James

25. Burger Head

Restaurants Burgers Penrith

Everyone loves a burger, which is why you can get a good one in every pocket of the city. If you're out west Burger Head should be your top destination. The chefs have a fine dining background but now they're serving up a classic cheeseburger with a properly seasoned patty with a little spicy hit. It's does exactly what it says on the label, from the American style milk bun to the sweet relish. No skimping on the meat here either – it fills out the bun, and is cooked medium-well.

Ramen 2 at Ryo's Noodles
Photograph: Anna Kucera

26. Ryo's Noodles

Restaurants North Sydney

Loyalists swear by the ramen at Ryo’s, and who could blame them? Duck your way past the noren curtains and you’ll think you’re in a traditional Tokyo noodle house. Everywhere you look, it’s heads down, hoeing away and slurping full-throttle tonkotsu broth and squiggly noodles from giant bowls very, very loudly.

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Biriyani at Faheem Fast Food
Photograph: Helen Yee

27. Faheem Fast Food

Restaurants Enmore

All thrills, no frills and open till midnight all seven days of the week, this Indian-Pakistani institution offers pretty much everything you could ever want in a classic curry house. Three slow-cooked curries over rice for $12? Tick. Solid tandoori chicken? Sweet, fluffy Kashmiri naan? Tick. And for the adventurous? Spicy brain nihari all the way.

Anna_Kucera_Emmas_Snack_Bar_crop-01.jpg
Anna Kucera

28. Emma's Snack Bar

Restaurants Enmore

Emma’s swings open the doors at 6pm and by 6.15, it’s usually rowdier than a frat party, with a room packed with cult followers who just can’t seem to get enough of the electric garlic dip, the butter-smooth hummus, the smoky-as-all-hell baba ghanoush, the addictive lady’s fingers, the succulent Moorish chicken and all the rest of it.

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29. Pho Tau Bay

Restaurants Cabramatta

It’s worth pausing a minute when your bowl of pho arrives at Pho Tau Bay. Hold your head over the deep bowl of beef soup chock-a-block with rice noodles, raw beef slices and curls of onion and breathe in deep. The stock is the clincher in any pho noodle soup, and the version here is a winner – light on oil and punchy with flavour. 

Barbecue at The Erko (Erskineville Hotel)
Photograph: Anna Kucera

30. Erskineville Hotel

Bars Erskineville

When we’re talking about a counter meal there’s certain criteria that need to be met. Firstly there should be burgers. Ideally a classic beef number, a fried chicken edition, and something for the veggos. There should also be hefty platters for hard-earned hungers, like a parma and a steak. Pub food gets pretty fancy in this town, but it's all about timing your visit. On Tuesdays at the Erko the parmy's are $20, which is a great price for a giant hunk of crumbed chicken with all the trimmings.

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A pork banh mi resting on a bag at Hong Ha bakery
Photograph: Pauline Morrissey

31. Hong Ha Bakery

Restaurants Bakeries Mascot

Banh mi here are a celebration of simple things done well: the soft yet crunchy roll, three types of pork, the fistful of salad, hearty pâté, special chilli sauce and all. It’s been around for over 30 years, and if there’s one Vietnamese bakery that transcends suburban lines and draws crowds from near and far, Mascot’s Hong Ha has to be it.

Pastries at QW Huaxing Bakery
Photograph: Helen Yee

32. QW Huaxing Bakery

Restaurants Bakeries Ashfield

Grab a plastic tray, a pair of tongs and load up on yum cha favourites like har gow, pork siu mai and char siu bao, or have at the pineapple buns, red bean sesame balls and traditional desserts like Cantonese white gourd pies. Whatever you pick, you won’t go wrong – this is one of the best Chinese bakeries in Sydney.

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Ke Mao at Chat Thai Circular Quay
Photograph: Katje Ford

33. Chat Thai

Restaurants Haymarket

The odds are in your favour at Chat Thai – you can point to pretty much anything on the menu and walk away a winner, which is why it has grown into a restaurant empire. The multi-level Thaitown outlet might just be the best of lot, if only for the late-night trading hours and the added bonus of BYO.

Dumplings at Dainty Sichuan World Square
Photograph: Anna Kucera

34. Dainty Sichuan Noodle Express

Restaurants Chinese Sydney

The numbness to yumness ratio in the chongqing noodles at Dainty Sichuan is sky-high. Have a few tissues ready to wipe the sweat from those brows, and be prepared not to feel anything aside from a buzzy tingle for a while after you finish. You've been warned. 

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Prawn laksa at Malay Chinese Takeaway
Photograph: David Cheng

35. Malay Chinese Takeaway

Restaurants Sydney

Nevermind that a handful of Sydney's top chefs (Mr Wong's Dan Hong among them) claim this as a favourite. Believe the bib. When there are this many business workers prepared to wear a plastic bib at lunchtime, you know this is a laksa worth investigating. There are 11 laksa variations on the menu, but the chicken and king prawn is The One.

at Marrickville Pork Roll
Photograph: Daniel Boud

36. Marrickville Pork Roll

Restaurants Marrickville

Banh mi are almost a Sydney religion and here they make them cheap and crunchy. Pick your preference when it comes to choosing chilli, pâté and the special sauce (make sure you get it all). There is the traditional pork (a cold cut combo), deep pink barbecue pork, crackling pork belly, chicken or dense meatballs.

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Filling wraps at Cairo Takeaway
Photograph: Jack Ailwood

37. Cairo Takeaway

Restaurants Middle Eastern Newtown

Best falafel in Sydney? It's a big call, but these super crisp, fried-to-order handfuls of chickpea and herbs studded with sesame seeds are definite contenders. Have 'em in a pita pocket or on a platter with dips and pickles, and if the carnivore in you has an itch that needs scratching, the charcoal-grilled meats are as charry and juicy as you want them to be.

Roti at Mamak Chatswood
Photograph: Anna Kucera

38. Mamak

Restaurants Haymarket

You, like everyone else, are probably here for the roti. Sweet or savoury, it's long been one of the go-to bargains in town. Branch out, however, and there's plenty more goodness to be found in classic Malaysian dishes like nasi lemak or cuttlefish in funky, fiery sambal. 

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39. Chinese Noodle Restaurant

Restaurants Haymarket

This old faithful is famous for hand-pulled noodles with pork mince and boiled, fried or steamed Northern Chinese dumplings. Pork and chive are an essential order, but don't overlook the eggplant bathed in a searing hot special sauce with intensely garlicy bok choy that must be one of Haymarket's most frequently ordred dishes.

Fried chicken meal at Thirsty Bird
Photograph: Anna Kucera

40. Thirsty Bird

Restaurants Potts Point

Fried chicken is an easy sell in Sydney, but when deep-fried poultry comes courtesy of the gang that blessed us with Mr Crackles – the answer to our late-night binge-eating prayers – goodness is pretty much guaranteed. The birds here are probably the crunchiest you’ll find on these streets, and make sure you get a side of mash and gravy to go alongside. Whether you eat it with a spoon or treat it as a dip for your chicken is up to you (though we wholeheartedly recommend the latter approach).

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Luigi Esposito outside Pizza Fritta
Photograph: Supplied

41. Pizza Fritta

Restaurants Surry Hills

As the large letters emblazoned across the frontage of Surry Hills’ Pizza Fritta proclaim: "You’ve never had pizza like this before."  And that’s probably true unless you've visited Naples, where flash-fried pizza is one of the city’s most popular street treats. Folded, filled calzones are dunked into oil for a minute, and they emerge out crispy, cheesy and simply delectable. 

42. Bar Reggio

Restaurants Darlinghurst

The seasons change but the steadfast joy of eating old-school Italian fare, right down to a cheeky tortellini boscaiola, at this long-serving red sauce joint never fades. If you have a mighty hunger and not a huge amount in the bank, head here for a pizza and pasta party, and why not BYO? It's only three dollars a head.

 

 

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Anna-Kucera_Khao-Pla_008.jpg
Anna Kucera

43. Khao Pla

Restaurants Chatswood

Thai food takes some modern turns at this buzzy Chatswood eatery beneath Westfield. Case in point: the ‘yum salmon’, a tartare of sorts with seaweed, shallots, kaffir lime leaf and a palm sugar dressing, and then there's those tom-yum-flavoured chicken wings. You can, however, still get your hands on classics like a killer kra pao. Holy Basil, indeed. 

Tablelay at Jasmins
Photograph: Anna Kucera

44. Jasmins Restaurant Lakemba

Restaurants Lebanese Lakemba

There are “generous portions” and then there are the mixed plates at Jasmins. First comes a complimentary plate of pickled salad, chilli, olives, tomatoes, onions and mint. Then, the platter itself arrives: hummus, tabouli, falafel, baba ghanoush, kofte, kibbeh and shish kebab. Unless you’ve got hollow legs or haven’t eaten for the better part of a month, one will feed two, and for $20 no less. Talk about bang for your buck...

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45. Ayam Goreng 99

Restaurants Indonesian Kingsford

Grilled over charcoal, deep-fried, or deep-fried and coated in a sweetish glaze, Javanese style: those are the three choices you have when it comes to how you want the famous chicken prepared at this Kingsford Indonesian mainstay. Bring the crew, order all three, compare notes and don't skip the satay or sambal either.

Treats at Taj Indian Sweets
Photograph: Supplied

46. Taj Indian Sweets and Restaurant

Restaurants Indian Harris Park

Taj boasts one of the biggest ranges of Subcontinental sweets in Australia – we’re talking probably close to 100 different chewy, sticky, stretchy, fragrant treats. That’s what greets you at the door and it’s probably enough to stop you in your tracks, but have a seat and go to town on the all-vegetarian menu first. North and South Indian thali plates are a smart way to try as much as possible.

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Two gyros with meat, chips and tomato wrapped in paper on a meta
Photograph: Anna Kucera

47. Gyradiko

Restaurants Bexley

Combinations of flavours and textures don’t get much better than gyros – how the charry, pillowy pita soaks up the juices from the freshly carved pork and hits the high notes with the crisp chips, thick tzatziki, slivers of sharp red onion and sweet tomatoes. It’s impossible to eat one of Gyradiko’s without making a royal mess, but let’s be honest, that’s most of the fun.

Gram at Chatswood
Photograph: Supplied

48. Gram Cafe and Pancakes

Restaurants Chatswood

Light as a feather, soft as a cloud, dusted with sugar and dripping with rich amber syrup: just try and tell us you’re not drooling at the thought of a fresh stack of soufflé-pancakes. Popular soufflé-pancake chain Gram opened its first shop in Osaka back in 2014 but now you can sample some of the most sought after plates of these dessert-meets-breakfast hybrids right here in Sydney. 

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49. Flying Tong

Restaurants Korean Newtown

A lot of work goes into getting the chicken right at Flying Tong. There’s the overnight brining in more than 12 spices, the thin batter mix, the housemade breading powder and the pitch-perfect deep fry. Then there are the sauces: garlic soy, sweet chilli and peanuts, or the so-called ‘Spicy Bomb’. Pick one if you must, but know that this Korean fried chicken is very on its own,  and doesn’t even need ’em.

Chicken burger and poutine at Bar Luca
Photograph: Nikki Malvar

50. Bar Luca

Bars Sydney

Some of the very best burgers in the entire city await at this CBD stalwart, and perhaps the very best of them is the Blame Canada. It's a cult classic, a thick, 200-gram Wagyu patty topped with crisp, maple-glazed bacon, American cheese, poutine (!) and maple aioli on a milk bun. Hangovers, be gone!

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