This is the story of how not to starve in the week leading up to pay-day, when dining out is cheaper than eating in, and when a hard plastic chair is worth sacrificing the comfort of your couch for. Below are 10 of Sydney’s finest cheap-eats, tried and tested on a shoestring budget and an empty stomach. Don’t go in expectation of suited waiters or silver service. All you will need is an appetite, a sense of adventure and, at most, a $20 note.
A Darlinghurst fixture for over 20 years, Bar Reggio has witnessed a few changes in its time. If the walls – bedecked in brilliant murals – could talk we would hear a soap opera of celebrations, commiserations, get-togethers, break-ups and even – allegedly – gang bust-ups. But for now, we’ll just have to imagine them. Bar Reggio is a family-friendly kind of place, where large tables of multiple generations congregate over simple and hearty Italian fare. Nab a table out the back if you can, then you will know what we mean about the murals.
135 Crown Street, Darlinghurst
(02) 9332 1129
Mon to Sat noon–late
Dumpling and Noodle House
This tiny shoebox of a restaurant is the eponymous purveyor of simple and decent dumplings and noodles. The whole experience is a bit like school camp: you’ll be marshalled into a line and affectionately bossed around by the waiter before eating beneath a canopy ceiling on wooden benches and plastic chairs. There can be a little bit of wait to get in, but the Potts Point locals are onto something. Don’t leave without trying their mixed fried dumplings.
1/165 Victoria Street, Potts Point
(02) 9326 9639
Daily 6–11 pm
There’s nothing especially romantic about shopping centre food courts, but who is complaining when less than $15 gets you a generous bowl of ramen or donburi quicker than you can say it. Don’t go here on a first date or near closing time, unless you want to eat in the dark. Do visit for a pre-movie/concert/spin-on-the-Monorail bite. It will leave soup stains on your shirt but won’t burn a hole in your pocket.
If you don’t eat for a week before going to Jasmin1, chances are that you won’t need to again for the following one. For less than $20 a head, the banquet special takes the fuss out of group ordering and will leave you all with enough for doggy bags to take home. The food is homely and genuinely tasty, the tea cleansing and wait staff attentive. Just be sure to pack yourself some mints for the journey home – the garlic plate is on the strong side.
118 Marion Street, Leichhardt
(02) 8084 2692
Mon to Thurs 10am–10pm
Fri & Sat 10 am–11pm
The wonders of this Malaysian eatery are hardly a secret if the queue to get in is anything to go by. Come early or come late (the Chinatown shop is open until 2am on Fridays and Saturdays) to avoid peak lines. Roti is the main staple on the menu, artfully made in view of hungry punters waiting to get in. Pair a savoury roti with some satay and a curry. If there’s still room to fill, then share a gravity-defying sweet roti dessert. You will be in and out before you know it – and straight back to the end of the line to do it all again.
Marrickville Pork Roll
If you should find yourself on Illawarra Road with four dollars in your pocket and some room in your stomach, you’d be a fool not to join the end of the queue tailing out from Marrickville Pork Roll. This joint is a literal hole-in-the-wall, so have a place for a picnic spot in mind. Non-pork eaters fear not, Marrickville Pork Roll dishes out a variety of Bánh mì including tuna, chicken, meatball or dim sim rolls. They’re quick and they’re messy but the bread is crunchy and the ingredients fresh. BYO spare serviettes for the inevitable clean-up afterwards.
Mon to Fri 7am–6pm
Sat & Sun 7.30am–5.30pm
Napoli in Bocca
If you were asked to imagine a quintessential Italian restaurant, chances are it would look something like Napoli in Bocca. Red and white chequered tablecloths, carafes of wine, red-faced waiters and al fresco mural scenes are all de rigueur at this family-run restaurant. Haberfield has become famous for its crop of Italian eateries, but you can’t go wrong with this one. It’s loud and rambunctious, the pizza bases are perfection and the wait staff are quick with a flirtatious wink – all the charms of Italy at a mere fraction of the airfare.
73 Dalhousie Street, Haberfield
(02) 9798 4096
Mon & Tues 6pm–10.30pm
Wed & Thurs noon–3pm, 6pm–10.30pm
Fri & Sat noon–3pm, 6pm–11.30pm
Sun 2pm–3pm, 5.30pm–9.30pm
Padi is easily missed on the less-than-salubrious stretch of Devonshire Street leading down toward Central Station. Midway between a 24-hour pub and a Subway franchise, this unostentatious Indonesian restaurant is quietly serving up seriously tasty food to locals, commuters and those in the know. Specialising in the Sudanese cuisine of East Java, the dishes are a little spicier than you may have come to expect from Indonesian food, and are all the more tasty for it. Don’t miss the Ayam Goreng Serunden, the way all fried chicken should be.
76 Devonshire Street, Surry Hills
(02) 9211 8777
Mon to Fri 11.30am–10 pm
Sun noon–3pm, 5pm–10pm
The Shakespeare Hotel
Surry Hills local ‘The Shakey’ is like a home away from home, with the added bonus of pokey machines, stale beer mats and old blokes. On any given night of the week, $12.50 will buy you anything from typical pub grub to an Asian-inspired curry. Like home, meals can sometimes be a little hit or miss, but hey, all your friends are here and if not, you’ll make some new ones. And if nothing on the extensive menu tickles your fancy, you can always bring in take-away from next door’s Mohr Fish.
200 Devonshire Street, Surry Hills
(02) 9319 6883
Yens is an unassuming gem of a restaurant, hidden on the Waterloo stretch of Botany Road. It’s the kind of place that hasn’t changed since the day they signed the lease, complete with faded laminate tables, family photographs, cartons of Coke, high-chairs stored beneath the stairwell and an out-of-date food safety certificate displayed on the drinks fridge. Don’t be put off by the modest interior. The owner is a darling and makes a seriously, seriously good $10 pho.
29 Botany Road, Waterloo
(02) 8399 0598
Daily 10 am–10 pm