Best Melbourne Cheap Eats

MELBOURNE | Where can I find the best Melbourne cheap eats? It’s a question that I get asked a lot. It’s a difficult question to answer without context. A question whose answer is subjective at best. What does one consider to be “cheap” or “affordable”? Is the price to quality ratio relevant? Does bias as to which cuisines “should be” cheap come cloud one’s judgment?

For me, I use a rather simple definition of cheap eat. Can I get a good quality, filling feed, for under $20, If the answer to that question is yes, then I consider it to be a cheap eat.

In my list, updated as at late 2021, I provide a variety of places and cuisines offering some of the best cheap eats in Melbourne. I’ve placed them in alphabetical order, and they’re all delicious. Are any of your favourites listed below? Are there any places that you think should be on the list?

A1 Lebanese Bakery

This family business first opened in 1992 and has remained popular with locals to this day. A1 is a Lebanese bakery and Middle Eastern grocer. They sell bread (khobz), pita, pies, Lebanese pizza and Mediterranean grocery items. Their famed spinach and cheese triangle is a classic Melbourne cheap eat at $4.50, and nothing on the menu costs over $10.

Baba Hawker

The kitchen at Baba Hawker is run by former school teacher Mila Ramsing, who grew up in the Borneo jungle. The restaurant specialises in peranakan cuisine, a wonderfully delicious fusion of Chinese, Malay and other influences.

There’s also an assortment of curries on the menu, a nod not just to Peranakan cuisine, but to the curries that Mila’s British born husband and co-owner Ben grew up with in the UK.

Butcher’s Diner

Butcher’s Diner features an American diner aesthetic – metal tables, an orange laminate bar, red and grey tile flooring. The food menu features diner favourites like a fantastic cheeseburger and Coney Island chilli dogs. There’s also things like pork, octopus, and Chinese sausage skewers, salads, and sandwiches.

Citrus

Citrus is a family run Sri Lankan restaurant in Fitzroy North with a menu that features a small number of al la carte dishes, as well as a very popular buffet. Available during lunch and dinner, the buffet features a selection of around 17 dishes, all owner/chef Shiyamalee’s home recipes.

Co Do

Bún Bò Hué is one of my favourite Vietnamese soups. It’s a joyous beef bone, pork shank, lemongrass, and fermented shrimp sauce broth filled with vermicelli noodles, sliced beef brisket, pork, beef loaf, pork loaf, and cubed pig’s blood. Co Do specialise in the soup, and their version is great. They also offer an extensive menu of other Vietnamese dishes.

Cô Thư Quán

Cô Thư Quán offers an assortment of specialities from across Vietnam, including many dishes you won’t find elsewhere in Footscray. The pho here is really good, but try the vibrant Canh Bun (Water Spinach Noodle Soup). Also try the Banh Trang Cuon, small, lightly fried mini rice paper wrappers filled with deliciousness.

Croque Monsieur

If you’re looking for a proper French croque monsieur and other variations on the classic, then hole in the wall cafe Croque Monsieur is for you. My favourite the croque madame. A ham, Emmental cheese, and béchamel toasted sandwich with two eggs to a croque monsieur. There’s also a selection of French pastries available.

Da Long Yi Hot Pot 大龙燚火锅

There are a lot of hot pot places around Melbourne, and Da Long Yi is one of the best. The first Melbourne outpost of the Chengdu based Hot Pot Chain features broths at multiple spice levels, a whole lot of additions using quality ingredients, and an extensive selection of spices and sauces on offer at the condiment station.

Dragon Hot Pot

One of the most popular hot spot restaurants in town, Dragon Hot Pot has multiple locations across Melbourne. You use tongs to grab as much as you like before handing it over to the staff to cook in your broth of choice. There’s assortment of noodles, meat, seafood, offal, vegetables and more.

D’Penyetz & D’Cendol

This Halal Indonesian Franchised Restaurant has over 100 outlets around the world, and is known for it’s authentic, delicious food. D’Penyetz & D’Cendol‘s signature item is Ayam Penyet. It’s fried chicken that is smashed with the pestle against mortar to make it softer, served with sambal, slices of cucumbers, fried tofu and tempeh.

Dari Korean Cafe and Bar

Dari owner Yoon-Ji Park moved from Korea to Melbourne as a teenager, and wanted to open a venue that served both the food that she grew up with, and the sort of food that’s popular in Korea at the moment. Think loaded ‘Idol sandwiches’, and buns and sliders filled with things like beef bulgogi and spicy pork

Din Tai Fung

This Taiwanese dumpling chain is popular in many countries around the world and their Melbourne store is no exception. Din Tai Fung‘s dumplings and other dishes are tasty, great quality, and come out fast. A great option for Melbourne cheap eats, especially with a group of friends.

Drums Cafe

This family-run Sri Lankan has stood the test of time, operating for 25 years in Queen Victoria Market. At Drums Cafe, you’ll find things like kothu roti, devilled chicken, lamprais, and more. All cooked with love, and the aim of bringing Sri Lankan street food to locals and tourists from around the world.

Dodee Paidang

Both of Dodee Paidang‘s locations are popular with those looking for an affordable Thai feed in the heart of Melbourne. The restaurant’s tagline is “We serve things most Thai restaurants don’t, Dodee Paidang is not fusion – we offer either traditional-style street food or things we have invented ourselves.” It’s a good summation of the food here, with dishes influenced by those from across Thailand, and in particular Isaan in Thailand’s north east.

Gai Wong

Inspired by the hawker centres that co-owner Philip Leong visited as child growing up in Malaysia and Brunei, Gai Wong offers a small menu full of amazing food. Come for what many consider to be Melbourne’s best Hainanese chicken rice, and stay for things like the kon lo mee, and chai boey.

Hawker Chan

This chain started life as a hawker stall in Singapore, before expanding across Asia after the original received a Michelin Star. The menu at Hawker Chan is simple, and based upon the original with a few minor adjustments for local tastes. There’s the famed Hong Kong soya chicken-rice, and a version with noodles instead of rice.

There’s also pork ribs, roast pork belly, and char siew, available with rice, thin noodles, or thicker rice noodles, along with sides.

Heartbaker Bun Mee

If you’re looking for an affordable, delicious and filling sandwich in the CBD, Heartbaker Bun Mee is a great option. Try their signature crispy pork belly bánh mi. Generous fillings, pork belly that’s melt in your mouth tender, with a super crispy exterior, and a perfectly light, fluffy, and crunchy tiger roll holding it all together.

Hi Chong Qing (Hi CQ)

Regional Chinese noodle dishes have become very popular in Melbourne in recent years. One of the best places to try Chongqing syle noodles is Hi Chong Qing (Hi CQ). There’s five noodle bowls, with a few customisation options like extra meat and fried egg. The signature Chongqing noodle bowl, with a spicy pork bone broth is the way to go when you first visit. It’s served simply with noodles, peanuts, greens, and spring onions.

Juanita Peaches

If you’re looking for what many consider to be the best cheeseburger in Melbourne, then Juanita Peaches is a must visit. Along with their famed cheeseburger, they also sell fantastic fried chicken (and a great fried chicken burger), burritos, and some of the city’s best doughnuts via All Day Donuts, which operates out of the same building.

Jojo Little Kitchen

One of my favourite spots for authentic Malaysian pan mee is Jojo Little Kitchen. Pan Mee is a Hakka-style flat flour noodle which can be enjoyed as a soup, which uses a pork bone and dried anchovy broth, or dry. When you order you can choose your noodle thickness, and a selection of sides and additions like egg, wontons, fish balls, pork balls, century egg dumplings, and chilli.

Joomak

Joomak is a hidden basement Korean restaurant that’s open until late. On the menu, you’ll find familiar items like Korean fried chicken, barbecue meats, and bibimbap, alongside lesser known stews and offal based dishes. Their Los Angeles style Korean BBQ ribs, LA Galbi, are a must order.

K&H Hot Bread Bakery

Locals line up for the bánh mi at Brunswick’s K&H Hot Bread Bakery, and it’s easy to see why. Excellent bread that’s baked fresh on site each day, generously filled with delicious ingredients. At $6,50, it’s definitely one of the best Melbourne cheap eats. One of the best sandwiches in this part of town, period.

Laksa King

Yes, Laksa King has appeared on just about every Melbourne cheap eats list that’s been released over the past 20 years. You know what though, it belongs here. There’s the consistently great laksa, and an extensive range of Malaysian Chinese hawker style dishes (127 menu items to be precise). All keenly priced.

Lulu’s Char Koay Teow

When you’re Malaysian friends all tell you that Lulu’s Char Koay Teow is the real deal, you know that it’s about more than hype. They offer six variations of Penang-style char koay/kway teow. The classic contains prawns, Chinese sausage, pork lard, eggs, bean sprouts, chives and chilli. You can add things like squid, duck egg, and blood cockles or razor clams.

N.Lee Bakery

When it comes to bánh mi in Collingwood, many consider that offered by N.Lee Bakery to be the best. They’ve been a stalwart of Melbourne’s Vietnamese bakery scene for over 20 years, and there’s still lines outside every day during lunch. Quality bread and ingredients, and great flavours never go out of fashion.

Nhu Lan Bakery

Like N.Lee above, Nhu Lan Bakery is a stalwart of Melbourne’s Vietnamese bakery landscape. The Footscray original has been operating for over 25 years and is still considered to be one of the best places for bánh mi in the neighbourhood.

Ras Dashen

Footscray is known for it’s many Ethiopian and East African restaurants. Ras Dashen is one of the best. It’s been open for 20 years, run by Wondimu Alemu and his wife Alemitu Aberra. They serve up delicious home-style Ethiopian food like doro wat and other stews, and assorted tibs, small sides of spiced meat or vegetables. It’s all served with the famed Ethiopean inerja.

Shanghai Street

There are a few outposts of dumpling favourite Shanghai Street in the city. All of them always have lines to get in during peak times. The reason is simple. Delicious, affordable, made to order dumplings. Xiao long bao are the specialty. Order a serve, along with some other dumplings and sides.

Tahina

Tel Aviv born owner/chef Roy Sassonkin and his partner Natalie Powell cook up mouthwatering Israeli street food bites at Tahina. Everything on the menu at both the Fitzroy and Northcote location is vegetarian or vegan. It’s simple, home-style, wholesome food that’s packed full of flavour.

Tochi Deli

One of Melbourne’s best sushi spots, Tochi Deli, is located in an unassuming arcade in Brunswick. The sushi here is some of the best that I’ve had outside of Japan. The fish is of the highest quality (try it all, but definitely try the tuna belly), and the rice is brilliant.

Tochi also offers onigiri, and donburi, along with a few rotating daily specials.

Frankie’s Tortas y Tacos

One of my favourite sandwiches in Melbourne is the torta from Frankie’s Tortas y Tacos. The tortas come in three varieties. Al pastor (pork cooked on a spit), crumbed beef milanesa, and asado mushroom. There’s also three different tacos. Al pastor, asada (charcoal grilled beef), and mushroom.

Meet Sando

Katsu Sandos have become really popular in Melbourne over the past few years, and one of the best value for money versions can be found at Meet Sando. Five different katsu sandos, simply served with a side salad, a few other brunch options, and chips is what’s on offer. Definitely try the pork katsu sando.

M Yong Tofu

Flemington gem M Yong Tofu offers a wide variety of authentic Malaysian dishes and is always packed with locals in the know. The signature item is Yong Tau Foo. It’s a Hakka Chinese dish consisting primarily of tofu filled with ground meat mixture or fish paste, and your choice of extras.

Musashi Ramen & Izakaya Bar

One of my favourite Melbourne spots for ramen, and casual Japanese fare in general, is Musashi Ramen & Izakaya Bar. Open late every night of the week, the restaurant is known for their signature tonkotsu ramen and other ramen varieties. They also offer an  assortment of Japanese dishes like takoyaki, yakitori, karaage, and gyoza.

Oasis

Whether it’s the Murrambeena original or the Fairfield outpost, you can’t go wrong at family run Lebanese spot, Oasis. There’s the cafe, offering things like shawarmas and falafel, Lebanese BBQ and Lebanese pizzas, and breakfast classics with a Lebanese twist. And there’s the retail section, featuring house made products like dips and salads, ready to eat meals Lebanese pizzas, nuts, and spices.

Shujinko

When looking for late night, affordable Japanese food in the city, Shujinko is always a good shout. Both of their locations offer an assortment of Japanese favourites, with a focus on ramen and Osaka-style okonomiyaki, and other Melbourne cheap eats dishes.

Salero Kito Padang

The unassuming Salero Kito Padang is located down the end of a CBD arcade and is popular with the local Indonesian community. Onwners Afdal Utama and Tika Kartini’s focus at the restaurant is on Padang cuisine, which originates from West Sumatra, Indonesia.

What’s on offer varies on the day, but the favourites, like nasi goering, chicken curry, and beef rendang, are always on the menu.

Soi 38

Located in what used to be a car park office, Soi 38 is serving up some of Melbourne’s tastiest Thai food. The focus is on food that evokes eating at Thailand’s street food vendors. Think boat noodles during the day, and BBQ and hot pot at night.

Wazzup Falafel

One of the best Melbourne cheap eats for falafel lovers is Wazzup Falafel. The Preston food truck was started by Jordanian/Palestinian refugee Ahmad Alalaea in 2021. The aim? To introduce Melburnians to the joys of Palestinian style falafel, which is different to the kind of falafel that most are used to in Melbourne.

Yulongfu Steamed Buns Restaurant

One of my favourite spots for dumplings, and casual Shanghainese eats in Melbourne, is Yulongfu Steamed Buns Restaurant. The signature item is their xiao long bao, the recipe for which has been passed down through owner Yong Liu’s wife Emily’s family since 1904.

Other dishes include things like pan-fried pork buns; drunken chicken, roast duck, and and chicken wontons.

Have you tried any of these best Melbourne cheap eats before? Check out my Melbourne City Guide for more tips on where to eat and drink, and what to do in Victoria’s bustling capital.

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Paul
Paul founded The City Lane back in 2009 as a place to share photos of his travels around Europe with friends and family. The City Lane might have changed quite a lot since those early days but one thing that’s remained constant is Paul’s passion for food, travel and culture, and a desire to photograph and write about his experiences.Paul has a strong inquisitive nature that drives him to look beneath the surface in order to discover what really makes a city and its people tick, and what better way to do this than over a good meal or drink, with a city’s locals, at places that people who live in that city actually frequent. Paul is also a co-host of The Brunswick Beer Collective, a podcast that may or may not actually be about beer.

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