This might just be the neighbourhood with the very best of what this city has to offer in terms of eating and drinking. Whether it’s homestyle, hole-in-the-wall Indonesian or an all-out chef’s menu from a kitchen with nothing but open flames, each and every price point and palate is catered to on these streets, from the fringe of the city down to the bottom of Crown.
After a chaser? Sink a few at one of the best bars in Surry Hills.
After a bargain? Check out Sydney’s 50 best cheap eats.
The ultimate Surry Hills restaurants
There may not be electricity in the Firedoor kitchen, but that doesn’t mean there’s a shortage of power. Helmed by Lennox Hastie – the visionary chef who spent years honing his signature style of cooking with fire in the Basque Country at Asador Extebarri – Firedoor celebrates how ingredients at their peak transform thanks to billows of smoke, burning wood and a lick from the open flame. This is real culinary wizardry, and a coveted spot at the chef’s counter is the best place to watch the magic happen.
Whether it's charred and juicy cabbage skewers dressed in a harissa emulsion or a riff on lamb tartare livened by fermented mushrooms, roasted chilli and preserved lime – Nour paints an incredibly detail-oriented picture of modern Middle Eastern cuisine that's about as refined as it gets. The adventure begins the moment you step off Crown Street and into this pastel-hued sensory wonderland and gets a a whole heck of a lot wilder after an arak cocktail or two.
We first fell in love with Elvis Abrahanowicz and Ben Milgate back at Bodega, where they married Spanish tapas and rockabilly sensibility, forever changing Sydney’s dining scene. They one-upped themselves with Porteno, an Argentinian grill that threw down the gauntlet for carnivorous thrills in this city. Now in its second life, down on Holt Street, the restaurant remains a knockout – as much for malbec, rib-eye, sirloin and Wagyu skirt as for wood-fired vegetables and desserts drenched in dulce de leche.
The jury is still out as to whether Poly is a wine bar or a restaurant, but the fact that it’s close to impossible to come here without succumbing to the temptations of the menu and ordering half of it pretty much confirms you can (and should) use it as the latter. Start small, with unforgettable anchovy toast or the signature fried potato sauced in salted egg, but don’t hesitate to splurge on a magnum of something funky and a whole flounder with sea tapenade and caramelised lemon.
What can be said about Spice I Am that hasn’t been said already? For nearly two decades, this literal hole in the wall has been putting the ‘A’ in authenticity when it comes to Thai cooking, serving up ferociously fiery som tum, tom kha and a host of other signatures that will have you wiping your eyebrows and reaching for that milky iced tea, or whatever bottle you brought along with you. Sydney’s best Thai restaurant? It’s a big call, but it just might be.
Where else in this city can you sit back, relax and stick your fork into ten different dishes (served as five courses, in groups of two) for the ridiculously good value of $80? Chef-owner Tristan Rosier's smart updates to comforting flavour combinations offer intriguing surprises along the way. Add a good-value all-Aussie list of natural-leaning vino, smart service and the dining room's glorious golden glow, and it all becomes a package deal that's very hard to resist.
This tiny, family-owned Korean gem sweats the details – from the beautiful handcrafted chopsticks to the pitch-perfect crispness of the fried eggplant bathing in sticky spring-onion and garlic sauce. Sure, you'll find fried chicken and bibimbap here, but it pays to branch out and venture bravely into the territory occupied by braised pig's trotters, steamed clams with doenjang or the so-called platter of nine delicacies: a neat little pile of pancakes surrounded by colourful condiments, each one more delicious than the last.
Some might argue that izakayas are places where great food plays second fiddle to bending the elbow, but that’s not the case at Fujiyama. Yes, the stockpile of sake and other fine things to drink is very good, but the eats – be they expertly sliced pieces of sashimi, favourites like miso eggplant and yakitori, or something from the list of specials – are outstanding. It’s stood the test of time in this competitive ’hood, and if the crowds are any indication, it’s not going anywhere.
The team at this Foster Street stalwart have temporarily moved up the road for a few months while the original restaurant recovers from a freak electrical fire that caused serious damage to the venue in the latter half of 2019. The good news is that they've brought some of the signatures with them – the cannelini bean hummus, that duck mortadella – and they're introducing some future classics to the menu, too. And yes, those Saturday bottomless rosé lunches are still a thing.
It was only a matter of time before Melbourne’s most popular restaurant (if those never-ending queues are anything to judge by) landed in Sydney, and we can safely say it was worth the wait. Sprawled out over two levels of the historic Griffiths Teas building, it’s a noisy, neon-flooded affair with room for 160 and a giant menu that fuses Thailand’s greatest with Australian and Southeast Asian flourishes. Add killer cocktails, well-priced wines and bountiful banquet menus to the equation and you’ve got yourself a big night ahead.
Gogyo's kogashi (read: burnt AF) ramen is one of Sydney's must-try dishes, full stop. Yet to focus on the merits of this trademark charred miso and chicken stock number alone would be a crime because the classic tonkotsu, shoyu and shio broths are all standouts as well. Throw in a handful of inspired snacks like guacamole with gyoza skin, chilli dog rolls and fried potatos with kombucha aioli, and it becomes clear this ain't just another ramen shop.
Fusion cuisine has something of a daggy reputation amongst the culinary cognoscenti, but Nikkei is proof that melding the cooking of two cultures together can very much lead to magic. The cuisine in question here is Nikkei, a combination of Peruvian and Japanese fare that has a long history and has given rise to some of the world's great restaurants. Expect killer pisco cocktails and a colourful collision of flavours – think yuzu chimichurri, sake-spiked dulce de leche and more.
You could be forgiven for thinking that the constant crowds at Medan Ciak are due to the fact that hardly anything on the menu costs more than $15. That might, indeed, be part of the reason. The other is the outstanding Medan fare – porky fried rice and salty-sweet noodles that wouldn’t be out of place on a Malaysian menu – you’d expect to find on the streets of the North Sumatran capital. Simply put, this is one of Sydney’s best Indonesian restaurants.
Take whatever stigmatised vision of the classic ‘pub bistro’ you have in your mind, crumple it into a ball and throw it out the window. The dining room at the heart of the bustling Dolphin Hotel is one big Bondi-meets-inner-city Italo-Australian mash-up starring modern antipasti, pizza, pasta and quality produce on the grill, brought to life Icebergs maestro Maurice Terzini. This is long-lunch territory, so order a bottle of something fresh and freewheeling from the natural wine list and settle in.
In 2016, chef Kerby Craig traded dressed-up Japanese food for the likes of burgers, lotus root chips and housemade sodas flavoured with ingredients like yuzu, passionfruit and ginger. His hand-crumbed katsu chicken burger, in particular, is really something else, but the fillet of fish and bacon cheeseburger options are no less popular. The kitchen churns out more sophisticated snacks, like Nagoya-style chicken wings and mushrooms dressed in kombu butter, and the drinks list is all about sake, shochu and imported beer.
Before plant-based eateries of all shapes and sizes began popping up on every corner, there was Yulli's. They paint with broad strokes, incorporating influences from here, there and everywhere: kale and saltbush gyoza, edamame and coconut moneybags, Korean fried broccolini and cajun-spiced potato and chickpea croquettes are just some of the things you'll find. And being that that was where was Yulli's Brews was born, make sure you order a beer.
They're firm believers in the less-is-more mantra at this Bourke Street pizzeria, which earned rave reviews in Bronte before opening this second outlet in 2012. The crisp, thin bases are very legit and they fly the buffalo mozzarella in fresh from Naples, which is a pretty good indication that sourcing ingredients here is serious business (see also: San Marzano tomatoes). A seat out on the sidewalk makes for primo people-watching, and there's the added bonus of being BYO.
Ever wondered what would happen if you combined the pillars of Mexican street food with plant-based prowess, a fun list of cocktails, natural wines and a kickass house-party playlist? Well, wonder no more. Bad Hombres is the answer to that eternal question – entirely vegan, coated in lava-red paint and set to the beat of Culture Club, Fine Young Cannibals and John Farnham. The tacos are tops, and the cauliflower with cashew crema and salsa verde is a triumph.
The best fried chicken in Sydney? That's a tough call, but Butter is often part of the conversation. It is definitely the only fried chicken spot in town with tonkotsu ramen gravy, a list of big-ticket Champagne and limited-edition sneakers for sale, which makes it a talking point in its own right. So do the crisp chicken tenders and maple syrup on a donut, and shoestring fries loaded with Kewpie, furikake and bonito flakes.
Emilia is a refuge for Italian pasta purists – enter, and you’ll feel like you’ve stumbled upon a rustic local treasure in the backstreets of Parma or Bologna. All the pastas are made in-house with the use of local, certified organic and/or biodynamic ingredients, and whether it's a simple spag with aglio, olio e peperoncino or duck and truffle tortelli coated in butter and herbs, the quality of those ingredients is what really shines. When you’re through, buy some to make at home.
If you’re a stickler for proper pizza bases, put La Panchina high on your hit list. They prove it for two days, which gives it a nice, developed flavour and it really holds its own regardless of whether it plays support to a simple Margherita or something more tricked up from the specials board. The gluten-free base, too, puts others to shame and so does the tucked-away location, which makes it feel like a well-kept secret.
You'd expect very good cocktails from the mind behind Kittyhawk and the Lobo Plantation, and you'll find them at Bartolo. You'll also find a menu of Italian classics and a few remixes that specialises in antipasti, housemade pastas and larger plates like Amatriciana-style spatchcock and pan-fried dory. Take the dolce vita fantasy one step further and bring the pooch along for an afternoon session that might easily stretch into the evening.
Spaghetti and Spritzes: are there any two things more possibly in tune with eating and drinking in this day and age? Well yes, yes there are: vegetarian and vegan cooking, menu puns, restaurant interiors and bright blue noodles perfectly suited to social media, and alcohol-free drinks that might just be better than the hard stuff. Mark and Vinny’s offers them all, under one roof, but know that if you’re just after bruschetta, beef ragù and tiramisù, Mark and and Vinny’s has them, too.
Where do French expats head when they want to experience an authentic taste of Provence? Here. Owners Luc and Loic La Joye borrow liberally from their mother's recipe repertoire, plating up dishes like pork rillettes, classic Niçoise-style pissalidières and gnocchi with tender duck breast, along with other southern French staples, in a charming dining room that exemplifies the elegant neighbourhood bistro.
While much of Maybe Frank’s stellar reputation rests on the quality of the signature cocktails and aperitivo standbys, the pizza more than holds up its end of the bargain with a base that’s notably firmer and crisper than the Neapolitan style. You’ve got more than 20 to choose from, and on Tuesday nights twenty bucks buys you all you can eat – so you can double down on the Bellinis, Negronis and Americanos. Cin cin.
Explore Surry Hills
Once the scruffy home to Sydney’s rag trade and a former local haunt for nefarious folk like the Kate Leigh, Surry Hills is now Sydney’s buzziest and most happening ’burb. Want clothes? Hop along Crown and Bourke or hit the monthly markets. Hungry? It's a virtual urban foodcourt brimming with Sydney’s most innovative chefs. Thirsty? From absinthe to big bold reds, Surry Hills has got you covered.