Sydney’s Best Cafe and Fast-Casual Openings of 2023

In this list you’ll find plump onigiri, mega schnitzel sandwiches and a jiggly custard-tart-danish hybrid. Sydney’s best cafes and fast-casual digs are outstanding, and the new kids on the block are keeping up just fine.

Published on 06 December 2023

Whittling down this list to the 14 you see here was no small task. This year has brought more than a few golden spots for a morning (or quick) feed – be it a laneway Japanese joint, bumper sandwich kiosk or pre-train-ride slice of pizza. Most with outstanding cups of coffee.

The best casual openings of the year have been emblematic of Sydney’s dining scene as a whole: international flavours, world-class quality and worthy of your waking hours. After plenty of taste-testing around our city’s streets, here’s what’s winning in Sydney’s cafe and fast’n’casual dining spheres.

Shadow Baking, Darlinghurst | Photography: Jiwon Kim

Shadow Baking, Darlinghurst

After two successful years as a stand at The Cannery markets, the bakery from a trio of Gelato Messina chefs has permanent digs. Shadow Baking pairs French techniques with delightfully “bogan” flavours – think a Vegemite and avocado scroll layered with fermented chilli egg jam and finely grated pecorino, a nutmeg-topped custard danish harking back to those that would jiggle in primary school canteens, and pastel-hued pandan and coconut brioche. There are slabs of focaccia too, plus leek, potato and ricotta tarts. There are two stools outside for the most impatient patrons but otherwise these treats are strictly takeaway. @shadow_baking

Sammy's, Careel Bay | Photography: Courtesy of Sammy's / Guy Williment

Sammy’s, Careel Bay

Perched right on the marina in Avalon’s Careel Bay is a family-run hole-in-the-wall kiosk with simple food done excellently – and killer water views. Sammy’s is owned and run by Sammy Bizarro, a long-time hospo worker who took a punt when the spectacular digs popped up. A succinct menu brings carby classics (a quartet of jaffles, bagels and avo toast), Single O coffee and cold-pressed juices. The team’s friendly, the water views are – dare we say it – unparalleled, and the bolognaise jaffle alone is worth the drive to the pointy end of the northern peninsula. @sammys.careelbay

Kosta’s, Circular Quay and Rosebery

It was a big year for the south Sydney sandwich king. First came a long-teased location at Circular Quay. Six months later we received a text message about a surprise opening in Rosebery. Surprising to absolutely no-one, the lines appeared out of thin air for fish sandwiches, smash burgers and Kosta’s Insta-famous schnitzels. Exclusive to the Rosebery site are Greek-style doughnuts oozing custard, and treats inspired by classic Viet-Aussie bakeries. @kostastakeaway

Taste of Canton, Zetland | Photography: Declan Blackall

Late-night and weekend queues snake out of this fluorescent-lit slither of a diner, as people are drawn in for plates of silky cheung fun, ripe for the slurping. The delicately steamed-to-order rolls of rice noodle are filled with prawn, Chinese barbeque pork, egg or beef, popped on a shiny silver tray, then drenched with a sweet soy or Shenzhen-style garlic and mushroom sauce at a self-serve station. It’s the breakfast food of owner Lingqui Yang’s childhood in China, and it joins other Cantonese dishes like steamed siu mai, black bean spare ribs and fluffy steamed buns. @tasteofcanton

Wharf St Kitchen, Marrickville | Photography: Declan Blackall

Wharf Street Kitchen, Marrickville

One of the inner west’s best cafes quietly took over the bistro at Marrickville Golf Club this year. But we cannot stay silent. Josh McPhee and Dave Moran have always dabbled with dinners at [The General](, and Wharf Street Kitchen is a big, confident swing at the pub-grub format. By that we mean steak frites with “real” gravy, hand-rolled gnocchi, salads chopped to order, and one of the finest burgers in the 2204 postcode. Talk about a hole in one. @wharfstkitchen

Takam, Darlinghurst

Takam moved in with Don’t Doughnuts earlier this year and proved that Filipino food and doughnuts make great bedfellows. The new lunchtime offering is a huge win for the Darlinghurst spot. The team is showcasing hearty, elevated Filipino dishes like garlicky northern-style longganisa, chicken inasal, and a vegetarian version of okoy (shrimp fritters) – which round off nicely with an exquisite pastry or doughnut. @takamsyd

Salma's Canteen, Rosebery | Photography: Chad Konik

At this red-brick Rosebery canteen, Dessert Masters star Andy Bowdy (of the now-closed Saga) combines his sweet prowess with Kepos Street Kitchen’s Michael Rantissi. In the pair’s bright one-stop-shop, there are big main-character-energy salads, ever-changing house proteins (like smoked salmon and rare roast beef), toasties and a cabinet stacked with Bowdy’s treats: mini pavs, banana cream pies, milk-custard brioche buns and fruit-topped sponges. The fridges are stocked up with pantry fillers and heat-and-eat saviours, too. @salmascanteen

The team behind CBD pasta palace Fabbrica delivers Rozelle a red-hot beauty: its first bakery in a sunny corner of the Darling Street Maloneys Grocer. Masala croissants join both plain and chocolate laminated beauties, plus Basque cheesecakes and a banoffee tart that’s heaving with piped cream. Metre-long focaccias are baked each morning, sliced open and then filled with mortadella or roast veggies; on the weekends, they’re sliced to sandwich Tathra Place porchetta. The carb heaven is a permanent iteration of a concept first seen in 2021 lockdown – and we’re stoked to see it here for good. @ciaofabbricabreadshop

The Corner Deli by Lox in a Box, Marrickville | Photography: Courtesy of Lox in a Box / Parker Blain

Lox in a Box is known for its superlative bagels, chock-full of pastrami, a wedge of fluffy egg, cheese and a latke (or a less-turbo salmon and cream cheese combo). But, at The Corner Deli, there’s a French toast made on chocolate babka, high tea and next-level brisket burritos. It’s the first dine-in venue for Lox, and the menu additions are the fruits of taking full advantage of the bigger space and kitchen. Word for the wise: visit off-peak, the lines are long (but the fill is worth it). @loxinabox

Always, Crows Nest

“Like Subway but better” is how we described this retro sandwich shop. It’s nowhere near as flashy as siblings Double Cross and Only Coffee Project, but in today’s hyper-inflated sandwich market, where else can you get a fully customisable sammie for a respectable $14? Nowhere, apart from Subway. We reckon that six-inch won’t hit the spot like this, though. @always_crowsnest

Derrel's, Camperdown | Photography: Courtesy of Derrel's / Michael Naumoff

Derrel’s, Camperdown

A kitschy dose of early-2000s nostalgia has sidled up to the Lady Hampshire on Parramatta Road. Derrel’s is the part-takeaway, part-casual-diner from Brendan King (ex-Baba’s Place), a delightful celebration of his Anglo-Indian heritage. The vibe is relaxed and the samosas come smashed, loaded onto pastel plastic plates and topped with chana masala, mint yoghurt and tamarind chutney. There’s a classic vindaloo and butter chicken’s tangy-sweet gravy joins a tandoori half-chicken plate and a hot chip butty. It’s fun, it’s BYO and it’s open till 2am. @derrels_

Ken's Continental, Rushcutters Bay | Photography: Yusuke Oba

Ken’s Continental, Potts Point

This deli and cafe in Rushcutters Bay, from the crew behind Farmhouse and Bones Ramen, is a Euro-style holiday of a pit stop. Under a leafy canopy, Ken’s Continental serves picnic-style brekkie plates laden with jammy eggs, Whole Beast Butchery deli cuts (like bresaola and finocchiona salami) and house pickles – or, whatever’s in the fridge at the time. A swirl of scrambled egg comes swaddled by a Loulou baguette and topped with a garlicky herb butter; while folded crepes carry whipped mascarpone and zingy rhubarb jam. Snacking through a miscellaneous plate of tasty morsels, sipping coffee and flicking through the paper is a happy way to wait till your next Euro trip. @kenscontinental

City Oltra, Haymarket

Hedonistic slices. Next-level garlic bread. A killer soundtrack. Expect all three at this pizzeria tucked beneath the arches at Central Station. Gun pizza chefs Ben Fester and Drew Huston have teamed up with gin masters Poor Tom’s to recreate the pizza parties they used to throw at the distillery on Sunday arvos. They’ve added chunky square slices, door-stopping deli sandwiches and Italianate spritzes to the mix at this “semi-permanent” pop-up that we’re really hoping will stick around. @pizza_oltra

Focaccia dough ain’t the only thing the SRBS team is here to prove. As they’ve done with the New York-inspired slices at [My Mother’s Cousin](, they’re once again showing that big, delicious things can happen in the suburbs as well as the city – if you don’t live anywhere near Carlton, start the car. The buttery croissants and Boston cream doughnuts at this retro-laced bakery are totally worth travelling for. Same goes for the sandwiches. From the deli hoagie to the schnitzel number, there’s some serious cross-section charisma going on here. @selfraisedbread

Once you've sorted your red-hot brekkie plans, make a date with one of Sydney's best new bars, too.