Some may shy away from a laminated neon pink menu, but along with drinking BYO wine from tumbler glasses and cramming into tightly regimented seating plans, it’s a common indicator forming the basis of an unwritten guide to cheap eats in Melbourne. Other familiar clues include fluorescent lighting, self-serve cutlery and nostalgic pictures depicting the cuisine's homeland. Tacky? Maybe, yet for all that lacks in these no-frills establishments, the habitual charm of home-style decor, authentic cooking and a laidback attitude will entice you back again and again for as little as the loose change lining your pocket. These establishments are, if you will, the unsung heroes of Melbourne’s culinary community; cheap and cheerful eateries that should be kept safe in your mind for times when funds are low, time is short or the kitchen cupboards are frightfully bare.
Introducing the unsung heroes of Melbourne’s culinary world: 10 places that feed us with cheap simple, food at a price that won’t leave you out of pocket.
Don Don serves you at a pace that will astonish. Remarkably efficient, this tiny Japanese eatery will land a steaming, generously sized bowl or popular Don Don box in front of you quicker than you’ve had time to pocket your change and find a seat in its petite, ever-busy space.
321 Swanston Street, Melbourne
(03) 9662 3377
Cheerfully coloured walls and clichéd souvenirs set the mood for this lively Mexican in Collingwood. A strictly vegetarian menu offers up plenty of flavoursome black beans, tofu, cheese and salads to be thoroughly topped or stuffed into burritos, quesadillas, taquitos, and of course, tacos.
48 Smith Street, Collingwood
(03) 9415 7711
Like a well-loved share house, Bimbo’s is home to an amalgamation of mismatched decor and tired sofas, yet ultimately it’s your second-home; a place to grab an infamous $4 pizza in a cosy, easy environment.
Corner Brunswick Street and Rose Street
(03) 9419 8600
Lentil As Anything
Set prices go astray in this loveable, not-for-profit initiative that enjoys serving vegetarian meals with an enthusiastic smile. An eclectic menu reads like a worldwide culinary tour, satisfying a variety of tastebuds in a community-valued setting.
41 Blessington Street, St Kilda
(03) 9534 5833
1 St Heliers Street, Abbotsford
(03) 9419 6444
233 Barkly Street, Footscray
Kake di Hatti
Kake di Hatti lures you in with aromatic spices that filter from the restless, working kitchen. Jigsaw-like tables reflect the popularity of this Lyon Street restaurant, which offers a platter of authentic Northern Indian cuisine.
128 Lygon Street, Brunswick East
(03) 9387 7771
Amidst suspended art sculptures and technicolour pompoms, you’ll find a handful of randomly placed tables in a familiar front room setting. Park yourself on a cushion-topped milk crate in this cute, informal Northcote restaurant/gallery and you’ll be whisked away into a world of Japanese kitsch – to be concluded, of course, with a famed slice of frozen strawberry pie.
238 High Street, Northcote
(03) 9007 4772
Camy Shanghai Dumplings
Super value sometimes means having to queue at this canteen-style dumpling house. Yet the moment you sit in a barely vacated seat and gaze contentedly upon a bowl of hot, steaming dumplings, you’ll be able to overlook the Spartan decor and relish in your budget meal.
23 Tattersalls Lane, Melbourne
(03) 9663 8555
Faithful to their traditions, Abesha offers genuine Ethiopian cuisine with plentiful crumpet-like injera to soak up the tasty array of stews. Familial warmth will welcome and endear you as you order from a menu that refuses to peaks no higher than $10.
327 Barkly Street, Footscray
(03) 9687 0564
Soul Soup Cafe
Traditional, comforting food that sparks memories of your childhood comes courtesy of this backstreet cafe set in a suitably humble Victorian terrace. Rustling up favourites from seasonal produce, this is a cafe to cater to your nostalgic crush for the familiar in a relaxed and friendly atmosphere.
For an eatery in a more affluent area, Naked Japan offers an affordable, fast feed made from freshly cooked ingredients that are prepared in its open-style, ‘naked’ kitchen. Going beyond the customary sushi rolls, you can fancy over experimental bento boxes, delicate sashimi, char-grilled meats and crisp tempura.
99 Victoria Avenue, Albert Park
(03) 9686 8199