Brisbane's best cheap eats

Richard Webb of Swampdog poses with Conal Hanna after Swampdog was announced as the winner of the ...
Richard Webb of Swampdog poses with Conal Hanna after Swampdog was announced as the winner of the Sustainability Award at the Queensland Good Food Guide awards. Photo: Harrison Saragossi

AJ Vietnamese Noodle House
70 Charlotte Street, Brisbane 3229 2128
Don’t come expecting glamour or chitchat from the staff. This is a genuine hole-in-the wall CBD eatery that’ll have your belly filled with lively, flavoursome food faster than you can say vermicelli. Fresh spring rolls ($6.50) are chock-full of pork and prawn and a steaming bowl of beef pho has a clean, lightly flavoured broth ($8.90). A vermicelli salad ($9.90) heaped with buttery pork strips and sweet and salty dressing is a standout. Come early to beat the long queue or use the streetside takeaway service.

500 Boundary Street, Spring Hill 3832 3888
Sweet and petite with prices to match, Bishamon unsurprisingly has developed a loyal following. While far from fancy, the decor is pleasant and functional and always spotlessly clean. Food is authentic Japanese, with a menu offering some familiar standards such as yaki gyoza ($9 for 6) beef tataki ($13) and sushi (from $3.80) but also some more substantial meals such as hot pots and ‘eat-’til-you‘ve had enough’ shabu-shabu and sukiyaki sets ($32.50).

The Brunswick Social, Bar and Dumpling House
367 Brunswick Street, Fortitude Valley 3252 3234
Below the street level chaos of Brunswick Street, with leafy pot plants and ’70s monochrome cushions, Brunswick Social will make you feel like you’ve stepped inside a teleporting machine and have been whisked straight to an expat hang out in Shanghai. Start early in the evening if you like to hear your conversation; this drinking and dumpling house gets crowded fast and stays that way ’til 3am. The dumplings ($8 for three) aren’t made in-house but they’re diverse and plentiful and soak up the booze perfectly.

Carolina Kitchen & Espresso
2/38 Macaulay Street, Coorparoo 3847 8227
Hungover? Generously proportioned barbecued ribs, spicy Buffalo wings ($15.95) with blue cheese dressing ($7.95) and shoestring fries drowned in tomato salsa, sour cream and melted cheese ($7.95) from this casual southern American eatery might soothe the beast somewhat. Back it up with a pumpkin pie ($4.50) for dessert, if you can wrangle a slice (this one-man kitchen sells out quickly). Don’t expect miracles – you might still have your hangover after this hefty feast but you’ll be rendered immobile, which is sure to help with the headache.

235 Edward Street, Brisbane 3220 1477
Slip through the street-level door and escape the frenetic city crowds down in the cool, dim Dragonfly basement bar. Cocktails and dumplings are what Dragonfly do, so pull up a chair and settle in for a spell. The selection includes gyoza and pot stickers, chicken dumplings, Shanghai dumpling and pork siu mai (all $8) which arrive in steamer baskets with a trio of very house-made sauces.

The Fishery
6A/16 Baroona Road, Milton 3369 4707
This sparklingly tidy shop is owned by a former chef and it shows. Choose your own fresh fish from the cabinet, at a per-kilo price, and have it cooked to order or go with standard fish and chips from $5.90. Sauces, including tomato, tartare and aioli are all made in-house, while daily specials might include coral trout fishcakes or a smoked trout and avocado baguette.

Ipoh Laksa
1/738 Main Street, Kangaroo Point 3891 2777
What could be a better combination of spices and aromatics tempered in coconut-rich broth, hokkien noodles and rice vermicelli topped with shredded chicken, fish balls and bean sprouts ($12.80)? The dish just works and Ipoh Laksa produces a credible version of it, although those who like it hot should ask for the heat to be turned up. Nasi lemak, char kway teow, roti canai and many more Malaysian street food options are available in air-conditioned comfort at this family-run eatery. Service is friendly and attentive.

Just Poppy’s
Riverhills Plaza, 4/20 Bogong Street, Riverhills 3376 6418
Enter it into your GPS and click save, because you’ll be back. Deep in the western burbs, Poppy’s is a modest burger joint that serves up arguably the best burgers in town. There are a whopping 65 combos on the menu, from a vegetarian burger ($6.80) to an Elvis-inspired version with bacon and peanut butter ($7). Order with a side of their very fine beer-battered chips.($3.50).

1/694 Brunswick Street, New Farm 3254 3555
Authentic Indian and Nepalese cuisine in an atmospheric venue with friendly staff equal a loyal band of frequent diners. Karma’s butter chicken ($15.90) is legendary, but for something hotter try the vindaloo in beef or chicken. ($14.90). From the Nepalese menu, momo (steamed dumplings $5.90) make a substantial start or share a Nepalese platter ($19.90).There’s plenty to keep vegetarians happy, too.

Malaya Corner
Shop 38, Market Square Shopping Centre, cnr McCullough Street and Mains Road, Sunnybank 3344 3838
There’s something very comforting in the combination of coconut rice, spicy beef rendang, egg, sambal, anchovies, peanuts and achar (pickled vegetables, $12.90) – a  dynamic combination that just works. All of Malaysia’s popular street dishes are here. Regional favourites abound – KL bak kut teh (herbal pork rib soup, $12.90), Ipoh chicken ho fun ($10.90) and Penang lobak (deep-fried, five-spiced pork wrapped in tofu sheets, $9.90). Servings are larger than average and self-service to cutlery, condiments and beverages add to the casual atmosphere.

1/16 Railway Parade, Geebung 3265 5665
Men-Jikan is surrounded by established hamburger eateries and milk bars. Despite this, owner Terry Forbes forges ahead with his style of home-cooked ramen  ($10-$16) and other Japanese comfort food, winning over locals with his noodles in a variety of tonkotsu (cloudy pork), miso, soy, butter and corn miso and spicy broths. Udon, soba, katsu curries and homemade gyozas also feature. Men-Jikan’s casual and friendly atmosphere is another reason for the loyal fanbase.

No No’s
158 Musgrave Road, Red Hill 3369 5691
No No’s is a no-frills kind of place but serves up arguably the city’s best kebabs. Everything is made in-house, from a cabinet of salads, zucchini fritters and kebbe to Lebanese pastries ($1.60–$9). Meat used in the kebabs ($7–$8.20) is premium quality, tender and slightly charred on the grill, served with fresh salad and a delicious tahini sauce. Vegetarians are well served too.

Pho Hien Vuong Pasteur
Shop 21, Market Square, corner Mains Road and McCullough Street, Sunnybank 3219 5688
A recent refurb has added an outdoor area to this once crammed pho restaurant. Diners slurp on super-fresh noodles: pho ($7.50), steam pot ($14), vermicelli salads ($10) or a traditional locals’ lunch of rice with barbecue chicken or pork chop ($10). The bustling crowd is reflective of this chefs’ dedication to the perfect stock, flavoursome and fresh with southern-style depth. The smiles and super-fast service are a bonus.

Sardine Tin
Shop 3A Arbour on Grey, Little Stanley St, South Brisbane 3846 1146
The menu, like the venue, is small but well formed with a daily special, tapas ($10) tasting plates ($12) and light meals ($14). Flavours are robust – a fat roll of Cuca sardine comes with a chipotle salsa while crisp crab croquette is served with sauce romesco; fried artichoke with a tarragon mayo. Order to share or just grab a bowl of explosive pork scratching to crunch on with a beer while enjoying whatever laid-back groove they’re playing.

Simply Duo
1269 Sandgate Road, Nundah 3266 2422
Northern Vietnam gets a look-in starting with a compact list of entrees from Hanoi. A subtle, kaffir lime leaf – perfumed mung bean vermicelli chicken soup ($9) is just the thing to start with. The contrast with papaya salad with either prawns or spicy beef with its tangy and sweet ($15) flavours is striking. The ricepaper rolls ($3.50 each) are not to be missed. Diners with nut allergies will need to notify wait staff as a few dishes are prepared with peanuts.

Soul Bistro
16 Baroona Road, Milton 3367 8188
The name says it all – this is simple, homely food cooked and served with soul. Fish of the day ($17) is served on mushy peas and roast beetroot with a lemon beurre blanc, while at $22 the grass-fed sirloin with a creamy peppercorn sauce, mashed potato and vegetables has to be one of the most keenly priced in town. Bring your own wine or sip their refreshing homemade lemonade with rosemary.

186 Vulture Street, South Brisbane 3255 3715
‘Not your average fish and chips’, Swampdog claims and you’ll be inclined to agree. Not only is all the seafood and packaging sustainable, the menu includes nori-rolled tempura whiting stuffed with ginger prawn mousse ($12.90) and ‘popcorn’ prawns ($6.90); a cone of whole school prawns, dusted in paprika and deep fried. Grilled Cone Bay barramundi with pesto and chips ($15.90) should be ordered with a side of the more-ish preserved lemon aioli.

Tan Thanh
Shop 16, Inala Civic Centre, 57 Corsair Avenue, Inala 3278 8883
Swift service and a minimum of fuss are what make Tan Thanh a treasure. Simple and true to its roots, there are steamed rice rolls with fried prawn cake ($8.50), slippery fresh rice noodle soup with sticky pork hock ($8.50), fragrant beef pho with braised brisket ($8.50), while a breakfast of congee loaded with duck is worth getting excited about. Close your eyes and be transported to Hanoi.

Taro’s Ramen & Cafe
363 Adelaide Street, Brisbane 3832 6358
Brisbane is turning to swine. Pork lovers are discovering just how good local pork can be, thanks to Taro’s uber-delicious pork stock ramens made on Bangalow pork ($14.80). It’s these sort of quality ingredients with a meticulous attention to detail that are pulling in the ramen lovers. Everything is just so from the amount of al dente wheaten noodles, the rich soup, the silkiness of the egg and the chewiness of bamboo shoots as well as how they’re put together. This humble ramen bar has been transformed into something special by its owner’s passion for ingredients with integrity and authenticity.

Thai Wi Rat
Shop 48, China Town Mall, 20 Duncan Street, Fortitude Valley 3257 0884
Join the queue to place your order in this offbeat little joint. Eat from either side of the border; prawn larb ($15.90) from Laos; softshell crab ($16.90) from Thailand or mix it up and go the yum Thai Wi Rat salad with calamari, fish maw and cashew nuts ($16.90). Spicy salads are a specialty. Catfish abounds, chicken feet are boneless and curries are hot and spicy, while deep-fried egg ($2.20) with pork crackling ($1) makes a cracking snack.

59 Hardgrave Road West End 3255 1610
Arrive early or join the queue – swift service means you’ll never wait long – and discover why this family-run restaurant with its cheerful, tropical decor in a former theatre is a hit. The pho (there are 10 variations, $10) is some of the best in town – aromatic broth, generous shavings of rare meat, slippery noodles and fistfuls of fresh herbs. Ricepaper rolls with tender lemongrass beef ($12.50) is another winner. Chinese fare pales by comparison, although super-sized sang choi bau is a hit with kids ($7 for two).

Vinyl at The Hi-Fi
125 Boundary Street, West End 3010 6301
Chef Nicholas Stapleton does a very tidy line in Kogi-style tacos ($5) pulled pork rolls with kimchi apple sauce ($13) and duck banh mi ($15). Flavours are punchy but balanced and there’s plenty of sriracha sauce on hand if you like to turn up the heat. The menu is divided into ‘grazing’ and ‘greedy’, and the chip buttie ($6) will set you up nicely for a few beers or cocktails. Prices are almost as good as the retro playlist.

Yum Yum Peking Duck
146 Scotts Road, Darra 3217 0188
Fresh-roasted peking duck is a specialty at this cosy Cantonese eatery. Diners are advised to order in advance to avoid missing out – a day’s notice will suffice. Pay $49.80 for two courses or $59.80 for three courses. Crisp duck skin pancakes make first course. Second course comes in the form of sang choi bau or duck stir-fried with noodles. Finish off with duck soup for the last course. One duck will very adequately feed up to four people.