Melbourne's top 50 cheap eats 2016

A cheap eat is more than a good meal that doesn't cost a lot. It's that place you visit midweek, maybe every week. It's flexible; the place you go to for one course (with change from $20), or for a tableful of plates for your mates. Or that easy place where you don't have to eat at set mealtimes: pho at 3pm or a tteokbokki at 2am, if that's what you fancy.

The following 50 cheap eats are places that you'd think are well priced, even on those days when you're feeling skint, because they offer good value. They include finds from the past year of Good Food's weekly under-$30 column, as well as some old-timers still dishing up the goods. It's a spread of cuisine types, from a sprawl of suburbs, and yet it really just touches on how many truly great cheap eats there are out there.

Mukka Indian restaurant.
Mukka Indian restaurant. Photo: Chris Hopkins

We know our city does cheap eating very, very well, yet, because ours is a city that is made up of villages, we too often stay close to home. Perhaps the best way to approach this list is in the way you would a travel guide, a kind of "50 good reasons to get out of your 'hood" hitlist. You, southsiders, catch a train to Footscray, and you, northsiders are going to love Clayton. And, wherever you are, your local cheapie will still be there to come home to; that special place where you know the chef because you go there so often, not because you may have seen them on the telly.

East Coast kebab at Biggie Smalls.

East Coast kebab at Biggie Smalls. Photo: Josh Robenstone

North

1. Biggie Smalls Kbabs / Kebabs

There's a sunny diner vibe to this luxe kebab shop from Shane Delia (Maha), with a bit of grunt coming from the tunes (note the language warning on the front door) and the boozy slushies. Choose a slap of Old Skool (yoghurt, mint and garlic sauce) or New School (Kewpie mayo) for the soft, spongy bread, and fillings like fried chicken and pumpkin pie hummus, or fried-to-order flaxseed falafel.

86 Smith Street, Collingwood, 03 9417 3531, biggiesmalls.com.au

2. Brunswick Street Alimentari / Italian cafe/deli

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Even for non-locals who have been stopping here for nigh on 20 years, Alimentari'sItalian vibe and menu of panini, big salads and sandwiches is a warm welcome, away from the next-big-thing hoopla. It's a no-schtick place with high ceilings, small round tables, great espresso and take-home tubs of tiramisu. For those who remember when Italians ruled the cafe world, this is one of those defining places.

251 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy, 03 9416 2001, alimentari.com.au

3. Grub / European

Big eaters might bust the budget here, but there is nothing quite like Grub. Set back from a suburban side street in a former gallery, it's mostly garden, with a gleaming silver Airstream caravan parked in the fair-weather front yard. Out back, in the greenhouse garden resplendent with ping-pong table, pond and plants, you might share duck and pork terrine and a Spanish seafood stew from a truly seasonal menu.

87–89 Moor Street, Fitzroy, 03 9419 8991, grubfoodvan.com.au

4. Kaprica / Pizza

There is no eftpos machine (cash only), no sign, and no pineapple. What you will find is honest, traditional pizzas made with no more than four quality ingredients and baked until slightly puffed and charred. Diners seated at close-knit tables on bentwood chairs warm the small concrete and painted brick space that, from the street, is so discreet it almost feels like it doesn't want to be found.

19 Lincoln Square South, Carlton, 03 9347 1138

5. Miss Katie's Crab Shack / American

At the back of the Rochester Hotel is Miss Katie's kitsch-classy marine-themed dining room, where eating is a participation sport, with a degree of dress-ups. Empty the table's bucket of its mallets, claw-shaped carapace crackers and pickers, then tie on a bib and get cracking on the signature crab boil, a delicious hodgepodge of blue swimmer, chat potatoes and corn.

202 Johnston Street, Fitzroy, 03 9419 0166, rochey.com.au

6. Moroccan Deli-cacy / Moroccan/vegetarian

The long-lived and long-loved Moroccan Soup Bar (in Fitzroy North) gained a sibling in this corner shop, where you can prop at a communal table among shelves and cabinets stocked with mixed spices, dips, breads and other basics. Like Soup Bar there's no menu, no meat and no bookings. Breakfast might be shakshuka, and lunch a plate piled with grainy salads, roasted vegies and haloumi.

313 Lygon Street, Brunswick, 03 9387 6805

7. Mukka / Indian

Mukka's menu is not the usual Indian epic but rather a careful selection of curries, dishes from the tandoor and street snacks. Clean, home-style food (with plenty of veg options) is flavoured with house-roasted and house-blended spices. There is dosa, with fresh coconut chutney, chickpea and spinach curry, chicken tikka made with thigh fillet, plus a garden-party vibe from hand-stencilled furniture, tin plates and high-times tunes.

365 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy, 03 9917 2224, mukka.com.au

8. N. Lee Bakery / Vietnamese bakery

Banh mi costs less than $5 (and maybe some time in a fast-moving queue). A half-dozen staff are ready and armed with tongs to assemble a traditional pork loaf, or roast pork or tofu banh mi (fresh chilli optional) to crowds who momentarily fill the bakery shop, then leave a trail of crumbs from the shatteringly crusty bread along Smith Street.

220 Smith Street, Collingwood 03 9419 9732

9. Saba's / Ethiopian

Don't be alarmed when the waiter smilingly upends a bowl of food on to the middle of your table, it's the Ethiopian way. There will be a large round of injera (gluten-free, air-pocked flatbread) waiting to catch the wet dishes, such as a lively red lentil dhal cooked in a kicking chilli paste, and a fava-bean stew with feta and boiled egg. Take in the spectacle of a traditional coffee ceremony, Friday to Sunday at 1pm.

328 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy, 03 8589 0442, sabasethiopianrestaurant.com

10. Smith & Deli / Deli/Vegan

Sticking it to the stereotype that vegans eat an uninspiring diet of shredded veg and brown rice, this NY-Jewish-inspired deli does big sandwiches and bagels dripping with "cheese", and busting big "tuna" and "pastrami" flavours. It's also a deli in the true sense where you can buy vegan versions of deli and dry goods by the gram and packet, as well as take-home dinners.

111 Moor Street, Fitzroy 03 9042 4117 smithanddaughters.com

11. Tahina / Israeli/Vegetarian

The little place making a big impact on Ruckers Hill plays to a home crowd with an all-veg menu that includes health-helping smoothies (with ingredients like hemp protein, acai and bee pollen). The non-liquid menu is Israeli street food; that's shakshuka (three ways), pita pockets (cauliflower, leek, pinenuts and pickled cabbage), including falafel, and a few salads and roast veg dishes.

223 High Street, Northcote, 03 9972 1479, tahinabar.com

12. Tina's Noodle Kitchen / Chinese

From the Dainty Sichuan stable, this is one of four Tina's Noodle Kitchens around town, all of them honing in on rice noodle soup. Work through a wide-mouthed bowl maybe brimming with beef and vegetables in an electric-red broth with the double-punch of chilli and tongue-numbing Sichuan pepper. That's just one of the 37 soup choices that include veg options and milder flavours, all of them one-course wonders.

352 High Street, Preston, 03 9470 6389

Indian restaurant Delhi Streets was awarded Best Cheap Eat.

Indian restaurant Delhi Streets in the CBD. Photo: Eddie Jim

CBD

13. 8Bit / Burgers

The arcade-game themed burger bar that gained a cult following at its Footscray restaurant has come to town, filled with people Pac Man-ing soft-bunned burgers and hot dogs, with sides such as beer-battered fries with cheese sauce and bacon. There is no room for subtlety at this 20-seater selling lots of takeaways as well as shakes such as strawberry cheesecake and peanut butter.

231 Swanston Street, Melbourne, 03 9687 8838, eat8bit.com.au

14. The Borek Bakehouse / Middle Eastern

You might know these guys from their Vic Market stall, but this cafe-bakery is open every day and doesn't have the queues. It's hard to go past the borek, those long flatish breads filled with spinach and salty feta or spicy lamb, that cost less than a cuppa ($3). But when you do, there are the riches of flatbreads like gozleme to discover ($6), and mixed salads ($5) that might serve two.

481 Elizabeth Street, Melbourne, 03 9329 5553

15. Delhi Streets / Indian

The open kitchen, kitsch-cool movie posters and pop tunes are an entree to Delhi Streets' festive food. That might be those most slammable of snacks, pani puri – pastry cases holding curried potato, chickpea and tamarind chutney into which you pour a little spiced water, then eat whole. On the bigger side are dosa and thali plates, as well as "pizzas" – open-faced naan with subcontinental toppings.

22 Katherine Place, Melbourne, 03 9629 2620, delhistreets.com.au

16. Lawyers Guns & Money / Chinese

Chinese chef Victor Liong's (Lee Ho Fook) daytime diner could put ginger-infused chicken congee, with master stock-braised pig's ears and tripe, and Chinese doughnuts for crunch, at the top your brunch-dish wishlist. Or, for lunch, a gentler congee with silken tofu and blue swimmer crab. The weekday operation is all wrapped up in a sleek, long-windowed space.

Corner Church & St James lanes, Melbourne, 03 9614 0445, lgmmelbourne.com

17. Mesa Verde / Bar/Mexican

They do fondue. What more can we say? Queso fundido blends melted cheeses with beer and house-smoked tomato served with tostadas. But this good-times bar-restaurant, six floors up at Curtin House, also gives discerning tequila and mezcal drinkers what they want: more than 100 varieties of agave spirits, plus classy tacos (maybe smoked chicken and peanut matcha), quesadillas and small plates like beef tartare with radish and cactus.

Level 6, Curtin House, 252 Swanston Street, Melbourne, 03 9654 4417 mesaverde.net.au

18. Mr Ramen San / Ramen

Down a windblown tiled arcade there is instant warmth at Mr Ramen San. It starts with the traditional chorus of "irasshaimase" (welcome) from the five or so staff, one of whom will seat you and furnish you with water and a ramen menu. Deep ceramic bowls might come filled with creamy collagen-rich tonkatsu and deeply satisfying charsu, for example. There is even a veg version.

Shop 12, MidCity Centre, 200 Bourke Street, Melbourne, 03 9042 1588, mrramensan.com.au

19. Oree / Korean

Specialising in duck and late-late sittings, this Korean barbecue is open until 5am every night. The bain-marie and numbered picture menu in the front section of the restaurant serve time-poor lunchers with things like bibimbap topped with smoked duck. At night, they stoke the coals in the in-table barbecues and deboned duck hits the grills. The "for drinking" menu (with chicken feet and chitterlings) kicks in after 9pm.

179 Queen Street, Melbourne, 03 9642 1270, oree.com.au

20. Pho Nom / Vietnamese

Imagine all those crisp, lemongrassy and deeply aromatic dimensions of Vietnamese food, then add an extra dimension, and you get the idea of what using free-range meat and fresh ingredients can bring to food. The pho is full-flavoured; banh mi could come filled with clean-tasting fresh tofu, or juicy pork belly. There is limited seating, and lots to take away; also at Emporium.

567 Collins Street, Melbourne, phonom.com.au

21. Rice Paper Scissors / Asian

Refined one- or two-bite serves of feisty Asian-flavoured food, along with a drinks list made for hot weather (grapefruit juice and whisky; coconut, mint and lime slushie) bring some tropical warmth to the concrete jungle. It's a small place, with punters spilling out on to pavement seats, and popular enough for there to be a wait at weekends, and for the owners to have opened a second, larger restaurant in Fitzroy.

19 Liverpool Street, Melbourne, 03 9663 9890, ricepaperscissors.com.au

22. Shanghai Street / Dumplings

One of three CBD outlets (plus one noodle-focused spin-off in Russell Street), Shanghai Street may not be the newest or the shiniest of dumpling kitchens, but it is one of the stayers, growing from a single 20-seater in 2011. There are queue management systems at all three restaurants, and factory-efficient service is part of that system. Sweet, slightly spiced pork inside slurpable xiao long bao are the stars. Also at 146 and 342 Little Bourke Street.

64 La Trobe Street, Melbourne, 0405 427 910

23. Soi 38 / Thai

Keep your coat on, this won't take long. Tick the boxes on the menu to personalise your $10 Thai noodle dish. Choose your: soup, your noodle and your style (with soup, dry or half-soup). Take it up to the food cart, which fronts a small kitchen, and in a few minutes your deeply aromatic beef boat noodles arrive. The off-lane location, at the entrance to a car park, adds spunk to this colourful place.

38 McIlwraith Place, Melbourne, soi38.com

24. Tahini / Lebanese

A mix of fluoro hues, communal tables and contemporary Arabic and English typography give this 90-seat Lebanese dining hall a Melbourne-cafe sensibility. There is breakfast: shakshuka and granola with labna and rose water. And at lunch, a made-to-order falafel and tahini wrap will have you eating al desko in no time, or settle in for a soufra (feast) of char-grilled skewered meats, salads, falafel and hummus.

518 Little Bourke Street, Melbourne, 03 9939 9119, tahinilebanesediner.com.au

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 27:  The interior at West of Kin on March 27, 2016 in Melbourne, Australia.  (Photo by Chris Hopkins/Fairfax Media)

West of Kin in Braybrook. Photo: Chris Hopkins

West

25. Aangan / Indian

It's quite a big, glitzy production with an epic menu and many rich dishes, making Aangan the restaurant equivalent of a Bollywood drama. This is the second Aangan and it makes the West Footscray original look dinky by comparison. There's a smattering of Indo-Chinese dishes among the 100-plus pan-Indian plates from the tandoor to the thali, and a slew of curries, including vindaloo, masala, korma and madras.

85 Mount Derrimut Road, Deer Park, 03 8361 7280, aangan.com.au

26. Friend or Pho / Vietnamese

Two sisters – one a designer, one a former pastry chef – have shaped this modern Vietnamese diner from their heritage in the west and their parents' heritage in the east. They've defrilled a two-storey Victorian building with a white interior, blond timber and plant pots. And they've detangled the long menus associated with Vietnam to just the hits: pho, banh mi, banh xeo among them.

3 Ballarat Street, Yarraville, 03 9042 4431, friendorpho.com.au

27. The Good Fish Co / Fish & chips

Fish and chips and a halo for diners at the Good Fish Co, one of the new-school chippers serving only fresh Australian-caught fish and varieties that are still in decent supply, such as blue grenadier, gummy shark and barra. It's lightly battered (or not, if you prefer), and served with salad – brown rice or Greek. The dimmies are from South Melbourne Market, and there might be peri-peri chicken nestled in that soft-bun burger. Also at Craigieburn.

Shop R06b, Watergardens, Station Street, Taylors Lakes, 03 8390 8231, thegoodfish.com.au

28. Hem 27 / Vietnamese

This place is likely to make most pho-goers rethink their definition of a Vietnamese restaurant. The interesting and in-depth menu is like a collector's cabinet of noodle soups, carefully gathered from far-flung corners of the country. Get to know soft-shell crab soup with thick rice-and-tapioca noodles, or coconut curry chicken soup (a little like a laksa). The good times mount with caring staff, smart design and made-here soft drinks.

Shop 27, Showgrounds Village, 320–380 Epsom Road, Flemington, 03 9376 2961

29. La Tortilleria / Mexican

This traditional tortilla bakery is where many Melbourne Mexican restaurants come for their tortillas. They are made from stone-ground Australian-grown corn that's soaked overnight in a lime-calcium solution then pressed into shape and cooked. It'd be hard to find them fresher than here at this bright tortilleria, where a share platter ($20 a head) includes four items, like a taco, quesadilla, tamale and tostada.

72 Stubbs Street, Kensington, 03 9376 5577, latortilleria.com.au

30. New Somali Kitchen / Somalian

It serves spaghetti, as well as a signature spiced lamb with basmati, and yet it's Somalian through and through. A short menu condenses a cuisine to your choice of meat or falafel on rice, on pasta, on salad or in a wrap, and ties it off with sweets such as a Somali affogato (vanilla ice-cream in cardamom and ginger-spiced coffee), served in cool timbered, tiled and Tolix-chaired surrounds.

284 Racecourse Road, Flemington, 03 8589 7631

31. Roti Road / Malaysian

To be making roti canai in-house is something worth putting on show; it takes enormous skill and years of practice to do well. Roti Road's chefs work behind a window for the diners to see them stretching, lifting and slapping their dough into airy thinness. Occasionally they come out of the kitchen and bust some roti-spinning moves to music – taking the show aspect to the next level. Also Maribyrnong.

189 Barkly Street, Footscray, 03 9078 8878, rotiroad.com.au

32. RV1 Dosa Corner / Indian

Two words: dollar dosas. That's a huge, rolled, paper-thin pancake to tear apart and dip in three sauces: fiery orange sambar; mild coconut and peanut; and cooling coconut and mint chutney. You can also upsize and add on, choosing dosa filled with chilli-spicy cottage cheese, or mustardy potato, or pan-fried egg that forms a thin, inner layer, and still walk out sated with change from a tenner.

587 Barkly Street, West Footscray, 03 8528 5120

33. West of Kin / Asian

Set in a mid-century modernist former factory, West of Kin is an L-shaped bar-dining space cornering a huge glassed-in courtyard. The broadly Asian menu is big on small plates, like wagyu tartare, or oozy fried son-in-law egg with kimchi mayo, and mains to share, like egg noodles topped with aromatic duck and quail egg. At lunch there's bibimbap and pulled pork burgers with Asian slaw and fries. It's not the cheapest in the west; save it for date-night.

17 Lacy Street, Braybrook, 03 9317 7553, westofkin.com.au

Yum Sam Grop with deep fried fish skin at Thaiger Rabbit Thai in Abbotsford.

Yum Sam Grop with deep fried fish skin at Thaiger Rabbit Thai in Abbotsford. Photo: Meredith O'Shea

East

34. Chef's Tandoor / Indian

With its linen cloths, serviettes folded like fanning peacock tails and finger cymbals tinkling gently from the speakers, this elder statesman of Indian restaurants hit 20 years of serving North Indian specialities from the tandoor. It's still free BYO and dishes are deeply respectful of their ingredients (there's tang from tomato and sweetness from onion) and the long list of curries can be ordered mild, medium or hot.

492 Whitehorse Road, Surrey Hills, 03 9830 0655, chefstandoor.com.au

35. Hakata Gensuke / Japanese

From Hakata to Hawthorn, Gensuke's collagen-creamy pork ramen, famous in Fukuoka, has had folks queuing for their moment to slurp the signature tonkotsu with chashu, black fungus and coils of spring onion. There are four other versions: a lava-like "God fire", a black fungus and sesame, a light shio, and a cod roe. Toppings like soft-boiled egg, nori and bamboo shoots are extra. Also Melbourne CBD.

Shop 4, 860 Glenferrie Road, Hawthorn, 03 9819 2558, gensuke.com.au

36. Mastic / Cafe

Thank goodness we have goji berries, zucchini noodles and $10 smoothies to balance out all those burgers and doughnuts. Next to Hellenic Republic (and part of George Calombaris's Made Establishment's stable), Mastic is colourful and cheerful, as you would expect to be when charged with ingredient combos that are clean, sometimes raw, sometimes fermented, but always focused on flavour.

26 Cotham Road, Kew, 03 9207 7477, mastic.com.au

37. Pho Chu The / Vietnamese

One of the fastest pho shops in the street. It's pho a few ways (with chicken, with giblets, etc), and you'll be asked to order as soon as you sit – which is when the add-ins land (beanshoots, fresh lemon wedges and stems of mint). There is fresh chilli and sliced red onion on every table, as well as a flask of hot jasmine tea to balance the umami beef broth.

270 Victoria Street, Richmond, 03 9428 7797

38. Sabai / Modern Thai

A polished two-level place with a smart, small menu that weaves characteristic Thai zing with a bit of contemporary bling. The massaman is a delicious quagmire of cloves, cardamom and nutmeg clinging to soft lamb shank, and the tom yum bobs with Crystal Bay prawns. Each dish is colour matched to its crockery, the beer glasses are always chilled frosty, and the water glasses are always full.

460 Church Street, Richmond, 03 8528 6884, sabairichmond.com.au

39. Thaiger Rabbit / Thai

With an upbeat blend of Buddha chic and bird-cage light fittings, Thaiger Rabbit is the fresh new face of Ying Thai, which stood a little further along for 20 years. The menu is long and exuberant, a parade of well-wrought hits, including stir-fries and desserts, boosted by lesser-seen dishes, including yum sam grop, a salad starring dramatic shards of fried fish skin.

391 Victoria Street, Abbotsford, 03 9077 5891, thaigerrabbit.com.au

40. Three Monkeys Place / Cafe

It's on-point cooking in a humble setting where the dishes are so pretty you might not notice anything else. Expect breakfasts like two-tone cured salmon coiled like flowers and offset by black olive crumble, and French toast piled like Jenga blocks and strewn with berries and flowers. Lunch might be a soft-shell crab on a black charcoal bun or slow-roasted pork belly scented with star anise.

2 Jackson Court, Doncaster East, 03 9528 4214, threemonkeysplace.com.au

41. The Turkish Tea House / Turkish

Dreams of being locked inside a store overnight – able to roam freely through the shop's lovely stuff – almost come true at this cafe-cum-homewares store, where you get to eat menemen (Turkish scrambled eggs) and imagine how good that lamp would look in your study ("just put it on the bill"). The menu is a mix of exalting-vegetable salads, gozleme, and small sweets to have with coffee – or tea, or a lamp.

232 Whitehorse Road, Balwyn, 03 9830 4993

42. Upali's / Sri Lankan

The menu in this Melbourne restaurant mirrors that of the sibling Upali's in Colombo. (Though the shoes and shirts worn by Sri Lankan cricket stars displayed on the walls here are one-offs.) There are mellow coconut-based curries, such as the seven-vegetable dish, to spoon into hoppers (bowl-shaped pancakes), and dishes simmering with spices: garlic, turmeric, cinnamon, tamarind and chilli. A G-rated fried rice will keep the kids quiet.

248 Blackburn Road, Mount Waverley, 03 9887 6700, upalis.com

Shyun Ramen in Carnegie.

Shyun Ramen in Carnegie. Photo: Wayne Taylor

South

43. Cucina & Co / Italian

There's an easy irreverent vibe to this simple, sleek space with specials projected on to the back wall, Italian movies playing in the bathrooms, and an unfussy menu of Italian classics. The emphasis is on pizza, made with yeast-free, 72-hour raised dough, topped with san marzano tomatoes, and cooked in a three-tonne wood oven. Pastas include gnocchi and ragu, and they're all available in bambini sizes.

325 New Street, Brighton, 03 8657 8529, cucinaandco.com.au

44 Dainty Fish Grill / Sichuan/Chinese

This Chongqing barbecue is the latest in the Dainty empire and wholeheartedly embraces both meanings of barbecue: a way to cook and to party. The tunes are pumping, red neon signs urge you on to "Keep Calm and Grill On", and there are really big glasses of beer. The massive1.4-tonne dome barbecue chars fish (live in tanks moments before) that then come in your choice of stock. People have been queuing for an hour at night to get some of this.

338 Clayton Road, Clayton, 03 9544 9520

45. Ebisu Kitchen / Japanese

Another day, another bento at Ebisu, a charming Elwood cafe that has evolved over 14 years from homewares shop to cafe – with a few homewares for sale on the side. Other than the ever-changing bento, the menu is nine lunch-sets long, which includes salad, miso soup, rice and dessert. DIY tea from the tea station. Lunch service stops at 2.45pm: no more orders, no buts.

161 Ormond Road, Elwood, 03 9531 2300, ebisudesign.com

46. Indian Burrp / Indian

Yes, they did it: went and named themselves after a bodily function. But it makes an odd kind of sense when you see how high-end the restaurant looks – their way to say it's serious food but still fun. You're likely to find your favourite Indian dish on the ranging menu (just short of 100 dishes), be it veg vindaloo, Goan fish curry or rogan josh.

1291 Nepean Highway, Cheltenham, 03 8524 5096, indianburrp.com

47. Mopho Canteen / Modern Vietnamese

The menu changes seasonally at this modern Vietnamese joint – just a handful of trad dishes with ingredients of integrity. But pho is always on, classic sweet meaty beef and chicken, plus a veg version with mushrooms. Despite the more modern approach to traditional dishes – crisp rice-paper shards and perilla leaves atop a seared tuna tataki – the vibe is very low-key.

197 Carlisle Street, Balaclava, 03 9531 7145

48 Oasis Bakery / Middle Eastern

This bakery-produce shop is so big it offers in-store tours. Oasis Bakery is destination dining for cheap eaters, where you can eat in or take away wraps and pastries like cheese pies and Lebanese sausage rolls, join a free tour (with a theme: spices, oils or grains) and stock the pantry. They also do cafe breakfasts like cured salmon with zaatar polenta and wasabi crumb.

993 North Road, Murrumbeena, 03 9570 1122, oasisbakery.com.au

49. Shyun Ramen / Japanese

Shyun focuses on traditional tonkotsu✓ ramen (pork bone broth) in three variations, but they also make more modern ramen, like fried chicken (karaage) in chicken broth with springy noodles. You can pimp your order with gyoza, rice or a drink for a little extra money at lunch, or order other dishes, like curries or mains on rice, but most simply cram in and slurp up the signature dish.

73 Koornang Road, Carnegie, 03 8394 5971

50. We Love Dumpling / Dumpling

We love the xiao long bao (with pork, or pork and crab) and the spinach-stained veg dumplings ferried from the window dumpling-making station to the kitchen at the back of this efficiently tiled restaurant. But non-dumpling dishes that hover around $10, like mapo tofu on rice, and fragrant noodle soup, are also worthy of affection. While you might have to sit with strangers, you'll never feel estranged with the personal service.

320 Clayton Road, Clayton, 03 9548 8695