We asked the people who eat out the most, our Eat Drink Play team, to reveal their best cheap eats spots.
Does your heart say Champagne and seafood platters, but that $10.05 in your savings account suggest toast for dinner until the next pay day? Food lovers both far and wide are often caught at a cross road, with a burning desire to eat and drink lavishly but also have enough for weekly rent. Thankfully you can have your cake and eat it too, as our Eat Drink Play team reveal Sydney’s best cheap eats. Delicious food with extra coin in your back pocket? Don’t mind if we do.
Ms Darlinghurst’s Favourite Cheap Eat: Don Don’s, Darlinghurst
About five years ago the Eat Drink Play/Secret Foodies office was on Oxford Street about 100m from a cheap Japanese BYO restaurant called Don Don’s. I remember a colleague took me there for the first time and I was skeptical as we entered. The furniture was dated and the laminated picture menus were dog eared and peeling. But then some giant hand rolls the size of a waffle cone ice cream whizzed past and caught my attention. These hand rolls at a very reasonable $2.50 each became a new lunch staple. I usually ordered two and would rotate between the fresh salmon, teriyaki chicken, teriyaki beef, chicken katsu and tempura prawn. For $5 I’d be satisfied, $7.50 I’d be full until dinner time. Since them I’ve ventured out and tried their bento boxes which start from $12.50 – $15.50 and come with two items (chicken karage and gyozas for example) rice, green salad and a miso soup. You can also get udon noodle soups for $10.50, curries for $10 and more. It’s BYO so if you’re after a cheap dinner with good food Don Don’s is your place.
80 Oxford St, Darlinghurst NSW 2010, Open 11.30am – 3.45pm for lunch and 5pm – 10pm for dinner Monday to Saturday, 11.30am – 9.30pm Sunday (02) 9331 3544
Photo via Deliveroo
Lauren’s Favourite Cheap Eat: Chinatown Noodle King, Chinatown
It was somewhat fortuitously that I stumbled across this place, after being met by a ridiculously long line at Mamak in Chinatown (another good cheap eats spot!). With stomaches rumbling and white wine quickly getting warm, Chinatown Noodle King, situated on bustling Sussex street, presented itself like a warm inviting energy. Don’t let the purple velvet fortress-esque booths upstairs scare you off. Or the dated carpet. Or the bookshelf crammed with dusty Asian comics and magazines. In fact, just keep your head down, take a seat on one of the large share-style tables and dive head first into the menu. It’s your safest bet. There are a few hits and misses on this menu, but definite highlights include the fried pork and chive dumplings, which are all handmade. 16 dumplings will set you back a modest $12.80 and boy, they are good. Especially when dunked into a whirling pool of soy, vinegar and hot chilli oil. Other standout dishes include the stir-fried lamb with cumin seeds ($17.80), hot and spicy chicken ($23.80) and the low gluten-starch salad ($10.80). Each dish is made with honest ingredients, guiding you through what can only be described as a down right delicious culinary terrine. It’s everything and more that you could hope for in a cheap and cheerful Chinese restaurant. Chinatown Noodle King is best conquered with a big group of mates, plenty of cold wine and beer (ahem, BYO no corkage fee!) on a casual weeknight or before kick-ons on a boozy Saturday night.
Chinatown Noodle King
1/357 Sussex St, Sydney NSW 2000, Open 11am-11:30pm Monday to Sunday, (02) 9264 8890
Will’s Favourite Cheap Eat: Dodee Paidang
As a student I am constantly looking for cheap and cheerful eats. However, I struggle to separate my need to budget with my love for good food and end up spending way too much. I stumbled upon my favourite Sydney cheap eat after a night on the town. Located in the heart of Chinatown, you’d be forgiven for whisking past Dodee Paidang. From the exterior this Asian eatery offering northern-style street food is nothing special. Step inside the simplistic dining room and a waft of oriental aroma smacks your senses. Suffice to say, unless you enjoy the lingering smell of Tom Yum spice for a week don’t wear your Sunday best.
The extensive A3 sized menu is overwhelming, but there a pictures accompanying every dish to make your decision a little easier. With the images not airbrushing reality, this is no food blogger haven. Every dish has a large and small option, with prices starting from $6.90 for a small bowl of spiciness. Soft boiled rice with prawns for $13 is my go to. Its rare that an inner-city restraint would sell plates of seafood for less than $20. Take a punt and raise the chilli level while marrying your chosen dish with one of eight noodle varieties. For only $3.50 forgoing a Thai ice Vocalno Ovaltine is a crime, and yes it is nostalgic as it sounds.
What was a drunken decision has turned into my guilty pleasure, especially for my late night cravings.
9/37 Ultimo Road, Haymarket NSW 2000, Open 7am – 1am, (02) 8065 3827
Iselin’s Favourite Cheap Eat: Dumplings and Beer
Cheap eats in big cities like Sydney has always been a bit of a treasure hunt, especially when you’re a bottomless pit such as myself. I’m just a few full-moons away from my mid-twenties, yet learning how to cook has really not been a priority thus far (mom was right, I need to find me a man that can cook). Fortunately, Dumplings and Beer in Potts Point has kept me alive with their crackling pork belly sliders ($9.90) and BBQ pork bun ($3). This tiny venue is by far one of the best spots in Inner East, so be sure to tick it off your list. The lockout laws might’ve pushed Potts Point and Darlinghurst back a few steps, but that doesn’t mean that the streets are dead just yet. Dumplings and Beer have been steaming it since 2014, with a menu that has lots to offer for everyone (incl GF and V). Though, do note that there’s often a waiting list, so definitely try to arrange for a table through their online booking system, or call them prior to the hunger kicking in.
Opening Hours: Tues – Thurs 12-3pm, re-open 6-10pm and Fri – Sun 12-10pm.
Siobhan’s Favourite Cheap Eat: La Piadina
La Piandina has been a favourite among Bondi locals since it was opened by three Italian brothers in 2008. Located just opposite the Beach Road Hotel, La Piadina is so popular it has now expanded beyond its little corner to fill the shop next door. Serving the café’s namesake dish, nothing on the menu costs more than $18. In case you were unaware, Piadina is proudly “not pizza”. Originating from North Italy, it is a type of flatbread filled with anything from freshly sliced prosciutto, stracchino and rocket to buffalo mozzarella, roasted cherry tomatoes and basil. There is also a sweet version filled with Nutella – great with one of La Piadina’s excellent coffees. The cafe keeps things simple with 11 fixed menu choices and 11 specials that are shuffled daily. There’s also $14 Aperol Spritz, plus Prosecco and a selection of beers. Saluti!
106 Glenayr Avenue, Bondi, Open Monday 8am to 5pm, Tues – Sun 8am to 10pm
Sophia’s Favourite Cheap Eat: Barrio Cellar
Entering a dark room in the middle of the CBD, lit only by three red fluorescent words, Everything. With. Tequila. If that’s not enough to grab your attention, how about their daily food and bev deals? Bank account friendly and indescribably delicious. After snapping your first insta pic of the night under the famous fluorescent lights, head down the stairs and join the Mexican fiesta, any night of the week, at any hour of the day. MondayBurger Lab Special will consume your Monday nights, with hearty $10 burgers and tortas to scoff down, while you cleanse your palate with a shot of tequila. Tuesday’s are where it gets real. Everyone’s favourite alliteration combo, Taco Tuesday, gets even better with Bario Cellar’s $3 taco special. Generous taco servings at $3 each mean you can inhale as many tacos as you please, and still return home with a wallet as full as your stomach. Full already? Make sure you leave room for $1 wings on Wednesday. Whether it be smokey BBQ or spicy buffalo, Wednesday night is wings night and we couldn’t be more content. From Friday on, Barrio Cellar is a late night party destination. DJs, drinks specials, and of course, Everything with Tequila.
Basement Level, 58 Elizabeth Streetm Sydney NSW 2000, (02) 9232 7380
Open Monday 12.00pm-10.30pm, Tuesday: 12.00pm-11.00pm, Wednesday: 12.00pm-11.00pm, Thursday: 12.00pm-12.00am, Friday: 12.00am-03.00am, Saturday: 06.00pm-03.00am.
Olivia’s Favourite Cheap Eat: Mama’s Buoi, Crows Nest
Vietnamese eatery Mamas Buoi in Crows Nest is my go to place for a cheap but fresh and healthy eat. It’s the perfect place for sharing with a range of entrées and share dishes that will keep both your stomach and pocket happy as well as your mates. My few personal favourites include the BBQ Chicken Rice Paper Rolls ($9) and the Baby Beef Pho ($8), which is the perfect size for one. However, if you’re looking for a main meal just for yourself definitely go for the Vermicelli Noodle Salad Bowl ($16). The Lemongrass Pork with Pork Spring Rolls is delicious and will leave you feeling full with some spare change leftover.
Mama’s Buoi Crows Nest
77 Willoughby Rd, Crows Nest NSW, 02 9438 5005
Sanjana’s Favourite Cheap Eat: Marrickville Pork Roll
Marrickville Pork Roll is a special place, with claims to be serving the best Vietnamese Bahn Mi’s in Sydney. The shop is a tiny, no frills affair with a continuous line out the door. For no more than $10, you can get a soft Vietnamese baguette stuffed to the brim with all the usual fillings (choice of meat, crisp carrots, onions, cucumber, coriander, shallots, pate, mayo and chilli) with my favourite being the classic pork roll with added meatball! If you’re like me and sometimes feel sceptical that a cheap eat won’t fill you up, have no fear because Marrickville Pork Roll is the place for you.
They have opened another store which allows more customers in with seats and a few more additions to the menu. The pork options are extended and read like a book like pork skin, lemon pork, chargrilled pork, bbq pork and even salted pork to name a few. In addition, there are also daily specials that may tempt you that the owners will cook based on what the feel like. But if you’re a sucker for a classic, don’t miss trying the original Pork Bahn Mi.
Original: 236A Illawarra Road, Marrickville, 2204, 0420966368, Open 7:00am – 5:30pm, 7 days a week
New site: 362 Illawarra Road, Marrickville, 2204, 0420966368, Open 7:00am – 5:30pm, 7 days a week
Photo from Not Quite Nigella’s Marrickville Pork Roll review
Emilie’s Favourite Cheap Eat: The Wayside Cafe, Kings Cross
In Potts Point, your typical café breakfast or lunch will set you back a pretty penny. While it’s not your typical cafe, my favourite spot for cheap eats in Sydney is The Wayside Chapel’s Café in Kings Cross. Here it is so much more than just about the food, it’s about the attitude. While Wayside is a place that provides support and services to those sleeping rough, rest assured, everyone is welcome in this compassionate, judgement-free community. The menu changes everyday and serves an array of comforting, delicious foods like soups, curries, sandwiches and much more. Every meal is made with fresh ingredients, herbs and honey collected from Wayside’s rooftop garden and no dish is ever above $4. We love a greasy Wednesday morning bacon and egg roll, with a hash brown wedged in between for just $1. Or pictured is just one of the typical lunch offerings – Moroccan Chicken, served with chickpeas, green peas and couscous in a rich sauce ($4). Come in and try a meal, that is served with a side of dignity.
The Wayside Café Kings Cross
The Wayside Chapel, 29 Hughes Street Potts Point, Open Mon – Fri: 9am-7.30pm, Sat: 9am – 4:30pm, Sun: 12pm – 4:30pm
Anne’s Favourite Cheap Eat: Vina Vietnamese Vegan Restaurant
Planted firmly down the South end of King street sits a humble Vietnamese restaurant where you can order 7+ dishes for under $50, a theory I have tested and proven. Let me introduce you to Vina Vietnamese Vegan Restaurant. Sitting a few shops down from Lentil As Anything, Vina Vietnamese Vegan Restaurant has a loyal customer base and it’s easy to see (and taste) why. Having dined at Vina Restaurant with carnivores, I can assure you that the ‘this can’t be mock meat?!’ conversation will be bandied about the dining table. This family owned restaurant serves fragrant Vietnamese food and mock meat that will confuse your meat-eating companions. Highlights from their extensive menu include: the seaweed fried rice ($12), carrot black mushroom and tofu rice paper rolls ($6 for 3 pieces), steamed bbq buns ($4.50), bamboo noodle soup ($12), and the crispy prawn hot plate in sweet and sour sauce ($18). No dish on the menu is priced above $15, with the exception of the monstrous ‘steam boat’ banquets and share plates, and you can easily order several entrees, a main and dessert for twenty clams.
The biggest dilemma you’ll ever face at Vina will be what to order and how many dishes is going too far?
Vina Vietnamese Vegan Restaurant
395 King St, Newtown NSW 2042, Open: Monday through Sunday, 4:00pm – 10:00pm