The best cafe openings of 2023 so far have been emblematic of Sydney’s dining scene as a whole: international in scope, world class in quality, and never boring. In a city where finding an outstanding coffee is rarely a challenge, our cafes continue to build on the basics with spectacular, globe-spanning food – in this list you’ll find everything from onigiri served alongside Single O coffee, to Filipino okoy (shrimp fritters) and mega schnitzel sandwiches. After plenty of taste-testing around the city, here’s what’s winning Sydney’s cafe game so far this year.

Coyoacan Social, South Eveleigh
Bright and tasty Mexican food made to chef Roman Cortes’s mum’s recipes is just the beginning at this hole-in-the-wall in South Eveleigh. For every meal it sells, it’s donating another to an addiction recovery centre in Mexico City – the same centre where Cortes began his own recovery journey. Beyond the good work it’s doing (it’s by Plate It Forward, which is also behind social enterprise restaurants Kabul Social and Colombo Social), the food hits the mark: birria tacos with a rich and deeply flavoured consommé for dipping; tostadas topped with smoky chicken or pulled pork; and flautas, which are long, tube-shaped tortillas, deep-fried then smothered in cream, cheese, salsa verde, lettuce and your choice of protein, including 12-hour slow-cooked beef brisket or smoky chicken tinga.

Dom Panino, Leichhardt
Food-truck-turned-restaurant Dom Panino channels Sicilian nostalgia better than most. Look no further than its signature panini, Nonna’s Nostalgia, loaded with five-hour slow-cooked pork and veal bolognaise, smoked fior di latte, parmesan and rocket. The pink corner spot has become Leichhardt’s new go-to. But if you’re not from around there, an early Saturday morning is the time to hit it. Owner Dom Ruggeri’s mum makes a limited number of traditional Sicilian doughnuts to order. And they sell out fast.

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Hearthe, Stanmore
Christopher Thé is the man behind what’s arguably Australia’s most famous dessert: Black Star Pastry’s (BSP) strawberry-watermelon cake. So he had a lot to live up to when launching his first post-BSP venture. Hearthe in Stanmore more than fits the bill, without feeling remotely like BSP 2.0. Sustainability, community and native ingredients inform the menu, and cakes – including a Geraldton wax goat’s curd cheesecake with a strawberry gum biscuit base – are designed to suit Australia’s climate (that is, they will last a few days sitting on the bench without going mouldy or off). A viennoiserie selection includes croissants and pain au chocolate, and cafe classics are reimagined with native ingredients: bacon and egg rolls are dressed in a bush tomato relish, and granola is laced with wattleseed and saltbush seeds.

Padre Coffee, Paddington
The city’s specialty coffee scene needed a shot in the arm. And it just got one in the form of a sleek concept store by one of Melbourne’s favourite coffee roasters. Inside a former dress shop at Paddington’s Five Ways, Padre Coffee has made its NSW debut with a Scandi-inspired space packing everything you need to lift your coffee game at home. Plus, you can enhance your daily ritual with creamy pastel de nata by Tuga and flaky pastries by Staple Bread.

Parami, Surry Hills
This tiny Japanese cafe in an inner-city alleyway is running a fantastically tight operation. The team’s dosing Single O coffee; whisking single origin matcha to order; filling fluffy bread rolls with juicy fruits and cream; and shaping up to 400 onigiris a day in a line-up of flavours so great you won’t be able to pick just one. Munching on a salted salmon iteration of the rice ball won’t disappoint, but the moreish balance of vibrant, tangy ume (pickled plum) and kombu (kelp) is a winner, too. Don’t miss the spicy pork-laced number made together with Chaco Ramen. Parami’s about way more than onigiri, but the little rice balls are the stars in our eyes. They’re portable, affordable, comforting and damn delicious.

Self Raised Bread Shoppe, Carlton
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. 

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.

Honourable mentions
It’s been a big year so far for well-established and well-loved bagel-, baked good- and sandwich-slingers. Brooklyn Boy Bagels has launched a full-blown cafe in Surry Hills, collaborating with other diners on limited edition bagels.
Lox in a Box has entered the inner-west fray, bringing its outstanding lox-packed bagels to Marrickville.

And over in Circular Quay there’s been a double-whammy of greatness: Kosta’s Takeaway has brought its stacked sangas from the ’burbs to the city, while Lode Pies has crept into a tiny space to serve fancy sausage rolls and Wagyu-mushroom pies.