Remember when cheap food used to be a chiko roll and chips? These days we're more likely to be scoffing a sushi roll or a banh mi Vietnamese pork roll. Cheap food no longer has to be about greasy takeaways, and Sydneysiders know it.
You can park yourself at all kinds of places around Sydney and eat in for cheap. We're talking cavernous bowls of Vietnamese pho, spicy laksas that need a bib and proper Thai that doesn't compromise on the heat. Who wants a salad sandwich when you can feast on a Spanish bocadillo, a fresh baguette stuffed with everything from chorizo to deep-fried calamari rings and mayo? There's still a spot for our sentimental favourites, but these have been lifted too: meat pies with quality brisket, hot dogs served up Chilean-style, and Greek gyros wrapped up in fresh and fluffy pita rounds warmed on the grill.
KINGSFORD 464 Anzac Parade 02 9697 0030
You'll have to write down your order on a notepad but that means less waiting time until you can tear into their Indonesian specialty, ayam bakar grilled chicken. Join the throng of international students and load up on beef rendang, nasi goreng fried rice and mushrooms roasted in banana leaves.
CHEAP TIP: Ayam goreng bakar $6 - Smoky and succulent charcoal-grilled chicken breast or thigh. You decide.
HARRIS PARK 4/14-20 Station Street East 02 8677 0033 chatkazz.com.au
Everything is vegetarian here, but chances are you'll be so caught up in the spices and crunch you won't even notice. The extensive menu runs from Mumbai street snacks to crispy dosa crepes to chickpea curries with fluffy bread pillows. Decor is cheap and cheerful and so are the prices.
CHEAP TIP: Chhole bhatura $9.90 - Punjabi chickpea curry with a giant pouf of deep-fried bread.
HAYMARKET 9/37 Ultimo Road 02 8065 3827 dodeepaideng.com.au
This bright and bustling eatery is relentlessly packed with Thai uni students who know good value when they see it. A pictorial menu includes deep-fried school prawns, banana flower salad and their specialty, tom yum noodles. Consider yourself a chilli fiend? Attempt their seven-level spicy noodles if you dare.
CHEAP TIP: Do Dee Monster $4.90 - Fire-starting level one of their signature spicy tom yum noodles.
GRANVILLE 4-8 South Street 02 9637 0977 eljannah.com.au
When it comes to charcoal barbecue chicken, El Jannah (also in Punchbowl and Blacktown) is the goods. Most of the queue is lining up for takeaway but grab one of the eat-in tables and bask in the simplicity of hot juicy chicken dipped in fluffy garlic sauce with pickles and Lebanese bread.
CHEAP TIP: Quarter chicken meal $7 - Charcoal chicken, fluffy garlic sauce, pickles and soft Lebanese bread.
SYDNEY 135 Bathurst Street 02 9283 4277 encasa.com.au
What's a bocadillo? Take a crusty torpedo roll and cram it with everything from finely shaved jamon Serrano to fat wedges of Spanish potato omelette to golden rings of deep-fried crumbed calamari with aioli. This Spanish deli offshoot of Encasa Restaurant does eat-in and takeaway and decent coffees to boot.
CHEAP TIP: Tortilla bocadillo $9 - A hefty wedge of potato omelette in a crusty roll.
BEXLEY 307 Forest Road 02 9599 9431 traditionalgyradiko.com.au
There's a reason why there's always a line out the door. You'll find gyros just like the ones in Greece – juicy chunks of wine-marinated pork carved straight off the spit and jammed into fluffy pita rounds with chips and salad. Eat in or takeaway, but scoff it while it's hot.
CHEAP TIP: Pork gyros $8 - Carved off the spit, wrapped in warm pita with chips.
CANLEY VALE 48 Canley Vale Road 02 9724 9156
Weekends are the best time to visit Hai Au Lang Nuong. That's when they crank up the street-front barbecue with whole fish in banana leaves, charcoal-grilled organic chicken and roasted purple sweet potatoes for dessert. It's loud, noisy and chaotic Vietnamese fare and that's just how the locals love it.
CHEAP TIP: Deep-fried lemongrass bean curd $10 - Quivering tofu in a crispy shell with lemongrass and chilli.
LAKEMBA 30B Haldon Street 02 9740 3589 jasminsrestaurant.com.au
It's all about the falafel. We reckon they're up there with the best in Sydney. Get them on a mixed plate with lamb kebabs, chicken, tabbouleh and dips. At breakfast you can fuel up on foule, a garlicky fava bean puree, or fateh made with chickpeas, pinenuts and yoghurt.
CHEAP TIP: Falafel $8 - Brittle shells and a fluffy centre. Six makes a bargain.
EASTWOOD 87 Rowe Street 02 9858 5160
Don't fill up on the complimentary panchan - you can be served up to 11 complimentary side dishes at Jonga Jip (also in Epping). Tabletop charcoal grills mean everyone can muck in for cook-your-own Korean marinated meats. Order the bossam for DIY pork belly wraps in Chinese cabbage with kimchi.
CHEAP TIP: Mulmandu $10 - A hulking serve of 20 boiled pork and chive dumplings.
FAIRFIELD 1/9 Barbara Street 02 9726 2379
The Chileans took the humble hot dog and made it a meal. The completos piles on avocado, tomato and sauerkraut. Mayonnaise is mandatory. La Paula (also in Kensington) offers traditional lomito pork sandwiches, empanadas and a whole display cabinet of dulce de leche sweets in a casual family-friendly cafe.
CHEAP TIP: Empanada de queso $3.80 - Oozing melted cheese in a piping-hot deep-fried empanada snack.
FAIRFIELD 3 Anzac Avenue 02 9728 7136
Three words. Crispy fried rice. A tumble of crunchy rice shards, pink ham, shallots and peanuts make this a flavour riot. But don't stop there. No frills decor means cheap prices, so dive into zingy squid salad, barbecue ox tongue, deep-fried quails and fat Lao sausages charred on the grill.
CHEAP TIP: Crispy fried rice $10 - A mountain of ham, egg, shallots and crunchy rice nuggets
Malay Chinese Takeaway
SYDNEY 1/50 Hunter Street 02 9231 6788 malaychinese.com.au
Laksa heaven? It's right here with 11 different laksa varieties, including king prawn, vegetable and skinless chicken. There's a strong food court feel but that doesn't stop the place being packed with suits every weekday lunchtime. The har mee prawn soup special on Fridays and Saturdays is a rewarding pilgrimage.
CHEAP TIP: Chicken laksa $9.70 - Heady on the spices and chilli, tempered with coconut milk.
KINGSFORD 482 Anzac Parade 02 9662 1236
Sure, there's an edible Manpuku logo printed on your ramen nori sheet, but what's even more impressive at this dinky joint is the quality of the ramen broth. Hours of careful simmering have gone into this intense pork bone broth. Garlic lovers will relish the Manpuku Black ramen noodle soup.
CHEAP TIP: Chicken wing gyoza $6.80 - Stuffed with the same pork mince filling found in dumplings.
Sydney 11/537-551 George Street 02 9283 5525 mappen.com.au
Self-serve tempura is a pinch-yourself dream come true at Menya Mappen (also in Bondi Junction), a Japanese canteen specialising in udon and soba noodles cooked to order. Seating is all communal and you'll need to return your tray when you're finished, but you'd be hard pressed to find a cheaper meal in the city.
CHEAP TIP: Bukkake ontama udon $4.90 - Chewy noodles, soft-boiled egg and a bonito soy sauce broth.
DARLINGHURST 155 Oxford Street 02 8068 2832 mrcrackles.com.au
Mr Crackles offers late-night salvation for partiers on Oxford Street, but it's worthwhile making the trek to this chirpy takeaway any time of day. The Crackles Classic roll, with tender, slow-roasted pork belly, Vietnamese salad and earth-shattering shards of crackling could well be life-changing. Stools are limited but they turn over fast.
CHEAP TIP: Cup of crackling $5 - Massive pork crackling shards will keep you snacking all night.
CABRAMATTA 12/117 John Street 02 9726 4583
The key to any good pho is the quality of the broth. Pho Tau Bay take their time, simmering giant pork bones with star anise, onions, cloves and spices. The dining room can be crowded and chaotic, but who cares when you're face deep in a vat of pho?
CHEAP TIP: Pho bo $11 - Borrow $1 for one of Sydney's best bowls of pho.
NEWTOWN 1A Brown Street 02 9519 7880 thepietin.com.au
All the pies and tarts are handmade on the premises at this cosy corner eatery in the backstreets of Newtown. Even better, they're licensed so you can pair your chunky beef and stout pie with beer, wine or cider. Don't miss the peanut butter and chocolate tart for dessert.
CHEAP TIP: Slow-roasted beef brisket pie $7.90 - Hunks of tender hickory-smoked beef with mushrooms in flaky pastry.
CROWS NEST 125 Falcon Street 02 9955 0225
If you've always wanted to have ramen in Tokyo, Ryo's Noodles could well be Sydney's closest equivalent, an endearing mash-up of lemon-yellow walls, handwritten banner menus and non-stop nodding staff. Don't hold back on the loud slurping. Everyone else is doing it. Their miso bolognaise is crazy delicious too.
CHEAP TIP: Deep-fried soft shell crab $6.50 - The blackboard special most people miss. They're huge and sweet.
CABRAMATTA 2/100 John Street 02 9727 6853
Crispy skin chicken. Nobody does it quite like these guys. The crunch of golden lacquered skin is why there's always a queue outside this family-friendly joint. Make like a local and order it with dry egg noodles tossed with fried garlic oil. Good news. They're now in Canley Heights and Eastwood.
CHEAP TIP: Crispy chicken $9 - Super succulent, but really it's all about that incredible skin.