There’s a vastness to the suburb of Thornbury that can overwhelm even the most intrepid food explorer. With residential suburbia for miles, you can find yourself in the backstreets without a snack in sight. But there are some roses hidden among the Thorn (we’ve covered Preston as well for an even more comprehensive list) selling sizeable serves that'll set you back no more than $15.
Arepas at Arepa Days – $8.50 to $14.50
In Colombia, eating a crispy arepa is a daily ritual for many. And at Preston’s Arepa Days – the sibling to Gertrude Street’s Sonido – the arepas are made in-house. Australian corn is soaked, boiled and then ground before being rolled into thick rounds and toasted on a hot plate.
There are 10 topped arepas including one with Vegemite, guacamole and tomato, another with scrambled eggs. Or you can create your own with black beans, chorizo, morcilla (black pudding) or pulled beef. You can also buy packaged plain or cheese arepas to cook at home – just throw them on a hot pan until golden.
Panini at Umberto Espresso Bar – $9 to $13
At this tiny dark-wood-panelled espresso bar you’ll encounter old-school Italian hospitality and hearty pastas. At lunch, take a look at the special panini of the day chalked up on the walls. The most popular option is the panini with house-made pork and veal meatballs, which are slow-cooked in tomato sugo and finished with pecorino cheese and roquette. It’ll set you back $13.
Or for a cheap $9 breakfast, order the truffled roast field mushrooms with fried eggs, pecorino and baby spinach on ciabatta. The bread is baked at Tony Tran Bakery in Preston, and is light and airy so the fillings don’t squirt out the side when you bite down.
Two tacos at Cornutopia – $9
Cornutopia’s food stall at the Preston Market (open market days) serves two soft-corn tortillas filled with lettuce, red cabbage, tomato salsa, sour cream and your choice of filling: marinated and grilled chicken, seasoned ground beef, pan-fried fish with lemon, or sautéed beans. Add guacamole or cheese for $1 and make it an even tenner.
Pho at Pho Hung – $9
This ever-bustling Vietnamese diner is known to some as "The Chicken and the Cow" because of the little animals that appear in its signage. Most eaters are here for the big hot steaming bowls of pho with piles of fresh herbs, chilli and bean shoots. There's hardly a bowl over $10, and you’ll be unlikely to finish what you have anyway. Sweat it out and slurp it down.
Small nachos at Brother Alec – $13
Along Thornbury's High Street strip is small, laid-back cafe Brother Alec. You won’t find anything too obscure here, just simple homemade food that strikes a nice balance between comforting and a little more fancy. For a dish at the $13 mark, try the nachos – corn chips, chipotle black-bean chilli, green salsa, sour cream and cheese.
Ham sandwich at Pomona Cafe – $10.80
Sometimes there’s just nothing better than a simple ham sandwich. Owned by the same people as Pizza Farro, Pomona Cafe specialises in gluten-free fare, and this dish uses two slices of organic spelt and gluten-free multigrain bread, with Virginia ham, scamorza cheese and tomato in the middle.
Banh Cuon at Chumanchu – $12
Chumanchu (formerly Fumanchu) is a family-friendly, affordable and healthy Vietnamese restaurant on the border of Preston and Thornbury. It was opened in 2013 by Misschu founder Nahji Chu’s brother, Marten Chu, and serves the northern Vietnamese dish of banh cuon, or steamed, rolled crepes filled with pork and topped with fried shallots, Vietnamese mint and fresh chilli. Its punchy flavours are true to the classic meal the Chus remember eating at home.
Curry and rice at MKS Spices ’N Things – $8.95 to $11.95
MKS Spice ’N Things is a grocery store-restaurant specialising in products from India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Fiji. A bain-marie filled with aromatic and colourful curries, which cater to a variety of spice tolerances, is where the action is. Think ochre-yellow dal; creamy green eggplant masala; a rich goat curry or a brutally hot, dry-spiced potato and banana dish.
An enormous plate of rice (plain, paneer or biryani) with a choice of three vegetable curries is $8.95; or with one meat curry and two vegetable curries is $9.95; or with two meat curries and one vegetable is $11.95. Vegetable samosas are two for $2.
Lebanese pizza at Cedars Bakery – From $2.50
Cedars Bakery sells Lebanese pizza and pastries, and is also one of the largest Lebanese supermarkets in Melbourne. Try the lamb pizza (fold in half to eat) or the cheese-and-spinach pie (a bit like a calzone). You’ll probably be able to get a piece of baklava or Turkish delight in for dessert too.
Three-cheese toastie at Little Henri – $10.50
Follow the painted silhouettes of children decorating the outside of this big corner building and introduce yourself to Little Henri. For lunch try the three-cheese toastie with pepita-crusted grain bread, smoked mozzarella, Gruyere and parmesan.