Sydney's top 50 cheap eats 2016

A good cheap eat doesn't just feed the stomach. It feeds the soul. We're talking about the honest satisfaction of humble meals that have sustained generations, the buzz of casual street food eaten whilst standing, and the mum-and-pop restaurants sharing the food of their ancestral homes.

These are places that care more about the food on your plate than the decor, where cutlery is self-serve and serviettes come from a tissue box.

Where should you go? Start with a bracing Macedonian coffee and flaky burek pastry for breakfast in Rockdale, lose yourself in the arcades of pho noodle houses in Cabramatta for lunch and explore the Indonesian strip of restaurants in Kingsford for dinner. Up late and hungry? Chinatown, Korea Town and Thai Town in the CBD will save you.

Never been to Auburn, Fairfield, Harris Park or Seven Hills? You should. You could easily spend a day hopping from one eatery to the next. Don't know what something is? Ask. Use your smartphone. Or just close your eyes and jab at the menu wildly with your finger. The worst that can happen is you'll have a story to tell. Chances are it'll be delicious. And won't break your budget. 

Top 50 Cheap Eats from the upcoming edition of The Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide 2017

Aaboll

140 Merrylands Road, Merrylands, 02 8840 9076, aaboll.com

Mon-Thu 7am-8.30pm; Fri 7am-9.30pm; Sat 5pm-9.30pm; Sun 2pm-6.30pm

So you've never eaten Ethiopian food? Get to this brightly coloured eatery hidden behind a cafe and do it. Unravel neat little scrolls of injera, a sourdough-risen gluten-free flatbread, and use it to scoop up everything from stir-fried lamb to richly spiced lentils to a slowly simmered chicken stew. Do try the raw beef tossed in butter, a cardamom-laced version of steak tartare.

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Go-to dish: Kitfo raw minced beef tossed with hot chilli, cardamom and herb-infused butter with house-made cottage cheese (also available slightly cooked) $17

Ayam Goreng 99

464 Anzac Parade, Kingsford, 02 9697 0030 

Wed-Sun 11.30am-4pm, 6pm-9pm

The first question is breast or thigh. The next decision is whether you want your chicken grilled, deep-fried or marinated and deep-fried Javanese style. This budget-friendly eatery offers no-nonsense serves of nasi goreng fried rice, oxtail soup, satay chicken and beef rendang. Expect a queue of Indonesian students during peak hour. Pro tip: Buy a jar of their house-made belachan chilli sauce to take home.

Go-to dish: Charcoal-grilled marinated chicken thigh $6.50

Bakehouse Garden

Shop 4, 9-11 George Street, North Strathfield, 02 8746 0299, bakehousegarden.com.au 

Mon 5pm-10pm; Tue-Sat 11am-10pm; Sun 11am-9.30pm

Never heard of wollamsam? This Korean version of rice-paper rolls has to be one of the healthiest feeds around. Hit the unlimited buffet for $22 and fill up your plate with beef slices, shredded chicken, tofu, omelette, avocado and a rainbow of raw vegetables. It's roll-your-own fun for the entire family. Need more meat? Relax, they do Korean charcoal barbecue meats and banquets too.

Go-to dish: Wollamsam buffet $22

Balkan Oven Bakery Cafe

Shop 2, 1-3 King Street, Rockdale, 02 9567 1102 

Mon-Sat 6am-4pm; Sun 6am-3pm

If you like flaky pastry, you'll love burek. These massive pies – filled with beef mince, cheese or cheese and spinach – are cut into quarters using a mezzaluna knife that sends pastry shards everywhere. Eat these piping hot with a glass of buttermilk at one of the outside tables. The Macedonian coffee, boiled in a copper pot, is guaranteed to kick-start your adrenalin.

Go-to dish: Spinach and cheese quarter burek $5

Painfully good: Nashville-style hot chicken at Belle's Hot Chicken.

Painfully good: Nashville-style hot chicken at Belle's Hot Chicken. Photo: Paul Jeffers

Belles Hot Chicken

33 Barangaroo Avenue, Wulugul Walk, Barangaroo, no phone, belleshotchicken.com 

Mon-Thu 11am-10pm; Fri-Sat 11am-11pm; Sun 11am-6pm 

This Sydney outpost of a Melbourne favourite has gone gangbusters since it popped up at Barangaroo. Choose from five levels of heat for your Southern fried chicken wings, tenders and drumsticks. Crumbed mushrooms are satisfying for both vegetarians and meat-eaters. Chicken ribs with peach sauce always sell out fast, or bring your mates for the Baller Bucket of 16 wings, four sides and four sauces.

Go-to dish: Wings with Belles potato salad $16

Bovine & Swine Barbecue Co

92 Enmore Road, Enmore, 02 9517 1243, bovineandswinebarbecueco.com.au 

Wed-Fri 6pm til sold out; Sat-Sun unch noon til sold out; dinner 6pm til sold out

Twelve hours of loving care goes into the beef brisket, cooked low and slow over Australian ironbark until the meat is soft and yielding. Revel in the gruntworthy smokiness. By day it's brisket or chopped pork on sandwiches with slaw. At night the expanded menu can include pork ribs, whole chickens, pulled lamb and hot link sausages. Splurge on the beef rib for carnivorous contentment.

Go-to dish: Brisket and slaw sandwich $14

Casa do Benfica

1 Centennial Street 02 9569 8058, Marrickville, marrickvilletennis.com/tennis/pages/restaurant.shtml 

Mon-Sat 11am-3pm, 6pm-9pm; Sun 11am-3pm

You wouldn't guess this suburban tennis court hides a Portuguese restaurant, a cavernous hall decked out in Lisbon's Benfica football club memorabilia. Start with sizzling garlic prawns and move onto espetada beef skewers, bacalhau salted codfish or grilled cuttlefish. Order the round chips and relish old-fashioned hand-cut fried potatoes. Club-sized portions guarantee a substantial meal. Bring your dancing shoes for the live music on weekends.

Go-to dish: Grilled cuttlefish, boiled potatoes and salad $22

Chatkazz

Shop 4/14-20 Station Street East, Harris Park, 02 8677 0033, chatkazz.com.au

Mon 5pm-10pm; Tue-Fri 10am-10am; Sat-Sun 9am-10pm

Everything is vegetarian here. That's 167 options running from south Indian dosai crepes to north Indian paratha flatbreads to the cross-cultural mashup known as Bombay Chinese. Even after its expansion this community stalwart still has hour-long weekend queues. The chaat street-style snacks are cheap and tasty, variations of crunch smothered in yoghurt and tangy tamarind sauce. Don't miss their fancy sweets shop around the corner.

Go-to dish: Chhole bhatura (spicy chickpea curry with fried leavened flatbread) $10.90

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - OCTOBER 06:  Chica Bonita cafe at Manly Pulled Pork and salad bowl on October 6, 2015 in Sydney, Australia.  (Photo by Ben Rushton/Fairfax Media)

Pulled pork tacos at Chica Bonita cafe, Manly. Photo: Ben Rushton

Chica Bonita

Shop 9A/B, 9 The Corso, Manly, 02 9976 5255, chicabonita.com.au 

Tue-Sun 11.30am-3pm, 6pm-11pm

Chow down on burritos, chimichangas, tacos and quesadillas at this fun-loving Mexican cantina awash with cacti, blue tiles and hanging star lights. The corn truffle quesadilla and the Baja fish tacos are especially good. Carne asada fries is a meal in itself, a pile of chips buried beneath tender steak strips, melted cheese, guacamole and tomato salsa. Gluten-free and vegetarian options are both prioritised here.

Go-to dish: Carne asada fries $15

Cho Dumpling King

Shop TG6, 8 Quay Street, Haymarket, 02 9281 2760 

Daily 10am-8.30pm (closed last Sunday of each month) 

Despite its name, there are no dumplings. What you will find is a horde of homesick Taiwanese uni students wolfing down saucy stewed minced pork on rice, hot and sour soup, fried chicken and panfried turnip cake. Help yourself to the $4 side dishes that include potato salad, whole fried school prawns, pig's ears and pickles. Make sure you ask for the house-made chilli sauce.

Go-to dish: Taiwanese set meal of stewed pork mince with deep fried chicken pieces $11 small / $12 large

Chonsiam

38 Campbell Street, Haymarket, 02 9212 6588 

Daily 11am-1.30am

Ignore the table menus and order off the menu stuck to the wall on the street. Boat noodles are the hit with Thai locals, small and hearty and just four bucks. Pull up a stool and relish the crunch of the crisp mussel pancake or spicy soft-shell crab pad thai. Tweak your seasonings with the condiment stand of chilli, fish sauce, sugar and vinegar.

Go-to dish: Spicy soft-shell crab pad thai $11.90

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 17:  Ab Goong grilled school prawns with fermented fish sauce and chill wrapped in banana leaf from Chum Tang?$8 at The District at Chatswood Interchange on April 17, 2015 in Sydney, Australia.  (Photo by Anna Kucera/Fairfax Media)

Ab Goong grilled school prawns with fermented fish sauce at Chum Tang. Photo: Anna Kucera

Chum Tang

Shop P4, The District, Podium Level, Chatswood Interchange, 436 Victoria Avenue, Chatswood, 02 9419 2872, facebook.com/chumtangchatswood 

Daily 11am-10pm

Dive into the snack and salad menu for north and north-eastern Thai spiciness by this stylish food court sibling to Khao Plao. We're talking crunchy Isaan flavour fried chicken wings, raw beef salad with tripe, and a fiery som tum papaya salad with Thai eggplants and scud chillies. The train station waiting room theme is a deliberate nod to its location above Chatswood railway station.

Go-to dish: Larb wings – Isaan flavour fried chicken wings $14

Do Dee Paidang

9/37 Ultimo Road, Haymarket, 02 8065 3827, dodeepaideng.com.au 

Daily 7am-1am

Tom yum noodle soups are what you need to order here (also at Bondi Junction and Cabramatta), a huddle of chewy glass noodles in a spicy, sweet-and-sour thick soup topped with fried wonton strips for crunch. Go hard on the house-made northern Thai spicy sausage, grilled pork neck skewers and banana flower salad with prawns. This many Thai uni students can't be wrong. 

Go-to dish: Do Dee Monster tom yum spicy noodle level 1 $11.50

Chicken roll with garlic sauce, pickles, onions, lettuce from El Jannah.

The chicken roll with signature garlic sauce at El Jannah. Photo: Domino Postiglione

El Jannah

4-8 South Street, Granville, 02 9637 0977, eljannah.com.au 

Mon-Sat 10am-midnight; Sun 10am-11pm

The humble barbecue chook here is worth getting messy over, cooked slowly over charcoal until the skin is crisp and smoky. Eat with your hands and add a mandatory swipe of toum – this fluffy garlic sauce goes with everything: chicken, chips and soft rounds of fresh Lebanese bread. An expanded shopfront means more seating or get takeaway for cheaper prices. Also in Punchbowl and Blacktown.

Go-to dish: Half chicken with garlic, pickles and bread $10.50

Encasa Deli

135 Bathurst Street, Sydney, 02 9283 4277, encasa.com.au/deli/index 

Mon-Fri 7am-5.30pm; Sat 9am-4pm

Escape to Madrid in your lunch hour. This atmospheric Spanish deli is a hit with office workers who have discovered the joy of boccadillos, foot-long crusty bread rolls stuffed with everything from tortilla potato omelette to deep-fried calamari rings with mayonnaise to the Spanish version of the steak and egg sandwich. Eat in or takeaway but do pick up an empanada for afternoon tea.

Go-to dish: Pepito bocadillo with eye-fillet medallions, fried egg, cheese, lettuce, tomato and aioli $15

Faheem's Fast Food

194-196 Enmore Road, Enmore, 02 9550 4850, faheemfastfood.com.au 

Mon-Fri 5pm-midnight; Sat-Sun noon-midnight

Faheem is less about decor and all about good-value Pakistani and Indian food. The open kitchen at the front means you can watch your naan bread slapped hand to hand before baking and your tandoori chicken pulled fresh from the tandoor oven. The expansive menu runs from butter chicken to goat curry to lamb brain masala (amazing). Vegetarians get to pick from 11 dishes. 

Go-to dish: Tandoori chicken (half) $10.50

Happy Chef

Sussex Centre Food Court, Level 3, 401 Sussex Street, Haymarket, 02 9281 5832 

Daily 10am-9pm

Regulars at this Sydney food court legend know all their usual order numbers off by heart. Number 25a is the king prawn and chicken laksa laced with chilli oil. Number 39 yields sweet barbecue pork on crinkly egg noodles. Number 15 is a clear noodle soup brimming with seafood and wontons. Choose between four kinds of noodles and load up at the self-serve sauce station.

Go-to dish: #42: Spicy tripe, tendon and wonton with dry egg noodles and soup on the side $11

Hawker

Shop G02, 345B-353 Sussex Street, Sydney, 02 9264 9315, hawker.com.au 

Sun-Thu 11.30am-2.30pm, 5.30pm-9.30pm; Fri-Sat 11.30am-2.30pm, 5.30pm-midnight

Mamak's sister restaurant yields a slew of Malaysian street food classics not commonly found in Sydney. We're talking grilled stingray, oyster omelette and apam balik, a crisp pancake folded around peanuts, sugar and creamed corn. Char kwai teow fried noodles include traditional cockles and the boneless Hainanese chicken is tender. Stools and round tables in this lofty dining room create a casual hawker-market feel.

Go-to dish: Hainanese chicken rice $13

Ghormehsabzi, as served at Honey.

Ghormehsabzi, as served at Honey. Photo: Dominic Lorrimer

Honey

32/55-67 George Street, Parramatta, 02 9893 7686,  honeyrestaurant.com.au 

Daily 11am-10pm

Nobody's going home hungry with expansive plates of Persian kebabs – marinated chicken, seasoned lamb mince or juicy lamb fillets – served with fluffy saffron rice and sweet roasted tomatoes at this friendly modern restaurant. Barberries give a welcome tartness to zereshk polo chicken and dried limes provide counterbalance to the rich lamb stew. Lamb shanks are fall-off-the-bone tender and the eggplant dip is seriously good.

Go-to dish: Baghali Polo – rice mixed with broad beans and fresh herbs served with lamb shank $15

Hong Kong Recipe

Shop 110-111, Level 1, 52-76 Rowe Street, Eastwood, 02 9874 4661 

Daily 10am-10pm

This Hong Kong-style cha chaan teng, or tea restaurant, is a magnet for expats sentimental for Cantonese-Western hybrid dishes like ham and egg macaroni soup, baked pork chop on fried rice and French toast sandwiched with peanut butter. Service veers between distracted and brusque but the food arrives lightning fast and prices are wallet-friendly in this eat-and-run cafe. Drinks include hot lemon coke and Ovaltine. 

Go-to dish: Baked pork chop with fried rice $10.50

Indo Lankan Food Bar

59-61 Boomerang Place, Seven Hills, 02 9676 7602, indolankanfoodbar.com 

Tue-Thu noon-3pm, 6pm-9pm; Fri noon-3pm, 6pm-9.40pm; Sat noon-4pm, 5pm-9.30pm; Sun noon-4pm, 5pm-9pm

The takeaway does a roaring trade but the modest dining room next door offers far more options. Sri Lankan specialties include kothu roty – stir-fried shredded roti bread with spiced egg – and steamed string hopper noodles that look like lace doilies. Stop by on Friday or Saturday night for crispy bowl-shaped hoppers. Banana-leaf curry specials happen on the second and last Sunday of the month.

Go-to dish: String hopper with goat $13.50

Jasmins

30B Haldon Street 02 9740 3589,Lakemba,  jasminsrestaurant.com.au 

Daily 8.30am-9.30pm

Crunch your way through golden fried falafel and footballs of kibbe stuffed with lamb mince and pinenuts at this third-generation family-run Lebanese. Mix and match shish kebabs with tabbouleh and grilled chicken with smoky eggplant dip or get a mixed plate for the lot. Warm hospitality includes complimentary Lebanese bread, garlic sauce and pickles. Stucco paintings and rococo-inspired decor are part of the charm.

Go-to dish: Standard mixed plate $16.50 ("Kafte, shish kebab, chicken, kebbeh, 2 x falafel, tabouli, hummous and baba ghannouj")

Jonga Jip

87 Rowe Street, Eastwood, 02 9858 5160 

Daily 10am-11pm

The generosity of 11 panchan complimentary sides dishes here is legendary, ideal palate cleansers during the grill-your-own meatfest at your table. Savour marbled short ribs, beef tongue and pork jowl in a huge dining room marked with intergalactic extractor fans. Gather your mates and share seafood pancake, bossam cabbage wraps with pork belly and budae jjigae Korean army stew. Also at 13 Railway Parade, Eastwood.

Go-to dish: Hamul pajun green onion seafood pancake $20

Ken's Sushi Bar Dining

3A Shaw Street, Bexley North, 02 9150 6588 

Tue-Sat 11am-2pm, 5pm-9pm; Sun 5pm-9pm

Book ahead. Ken's is littered with Reserved signs every night. The sushi rice is exemplary, fluffy and warm with just enough stickiness from seasoning. Order the giant futomaki inside-out rolls or go with the 16-piece Ken's Special designed for two. Seared wagyu beef tataki and grilled eel on rice are also winners. Kids' meals come in novelty obento boxes. Lunch set specials offer excellent value.

Go-to dish: Sushi Ken's Special $29.80

Shandong chicken at Kingsford Chinese.

Shandong chicken at Kingsford Chinese. Photo: Tamara Dean TKD

Kingsford Chinese

426 Anzac Parade, Kingsford, 02 9663 1728 

Daily 11am-11pm

Follow the lead of families and students hunched around laminex tables in this no-frills restaurant and order the house specialties: sang tung chicken – crisp-skin chicken drenched in vinegar, garlic and chilli – and the salt-and-pepper calamari. Get the big-as-a-plate salt and pepper flounder and the strangely comforting sauce-covered Hokkien fried rice too. Order the "aromatic" Malaysian shrimp paste green beans if you dare. 

Go-to dish: Sang tung chicken $12

Lao Village

29 Dale Street, Fairfield, 02 9728 7136  

Daily noon-10pm

Everything's purple in the newly appointed digs here, just around the corner from the original (still used for overflow on weekend dinners). The food is still a bargain – most dishes continue to hover around the $11 mark. Revel in crunchy fried rice tumbled with Lao ham and peanuts and order the barbecue ox tongue, fat juicy hunks that will convert even the toughest cynic.

Go-to dish: Crunchy fried rice with Lao-style ham $11

La Paula

1/9 Barbara Street, Fairfield, 02 9726 2379 

Mon-Fri 8.30am-5pm; Sat-Sun 7am-5pm

The lomito is Chile's national sandwich, a soft bun jammed with finely shaved roasted pork and multiple squiggles of mayonnaise. They do a fine rendition at this family-friendly eatery, along with churrascos steak sandwiches and loaded hotdogs. Everything comes with mayo. Other Chilean treats include empanadas, tamales and pastel de choclo creamed corn pie. Leave room for tres leches three milk cake for dessert.

Go-to dish: Lomito with tomato and mayonnaise and chips $9.80

Mado

63 Auburn Road, Auburn 02 9643 5299 

Mon-Fri 9am-10pm; Sat-Sun 10am-11pm

At the back of this Turkish takeaway is a moody dining room replete with stately wooden chairs and intricate weavings on every table. Order the maras kebab, minced lamb and toasted bread drenched in a spicy tomato sauce with yoghurt. Mammoth portions guarantee a feast. Make sure you finish with kazandibi caramelised milk pudding and chewy ice cream made from salep, a wild orchid root.

Go-to dish: Maras kebab $15.90

 

Chicken laksa at Malay Chinese Takeaway.

Chicken laksa at Malay Chinese Takeaway. Photo: Jennifer Soo

Malay Chinese Takeaway

Shop 1, 50-58 Hunter Street, Sydney, 02 9231 6788, malaychinese.com.au 

Mon-Fri 11am-7pm; Sat 11am-5pm

Suits and students sit side by side at lunchtime in a chaotic dining room that has the energy of a foodcourt. It's laksa heaven here with 11 variations on offer. King prawn? Vegetable? Skinless chicken? No problem. They even sell plastic bibs to protect against embarrassing splashes. Do try the har mee special, an intense prawn noodle soup only served on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays.

Go-to dish: Seafood laksa $12.50

Malibu

Shop 1, 62 Foster Street, Surry Hills, 02 9280 2233 

Mon-Fri 7am-2.30pm

We bet you've never seen sandwiches as hefty as these, made to order on fluffy Italian bread from Haberfield. Pay the extra $2 for mattresses of Vienna bread sliced on the diagonal – you'll have lunch for two. Avoid the lunchtime queues by turning up 10am-11am for Happy Hour when basic sandwiches are only $3.The salads are awesome too. Get the potato salad and celeriac coleslaw. 

Go-to dish: Chicken schnitzel with pickles on Vienna $11.50

Mamak

15 Goulburn Street, Haymarket, 02 9211 1668, mamak.com.au

Sun-Thu 11.30am-2.30pm, 5.30pm-10pm; Fri-Sat 11.30am-2.30pm, 5.30pm-2am

No one makes flaky roti like these masters (also in Chatswood), oiled and stretched with balletic grace in the front window of this noisy eating house. Start with plain roti, torn up and dipped into curry, and move on to chicken satay skewers, tamarind fish curry and thunderously crunchy Malaysian fried chicken. Share the roti tisu for dessert, a towering party hat of buttery, crisp sugar-encrusted pastry.

Go-to dish: Roti canai $7

Manpuku

482 Anzac Parade, Kingsford, 02 9662 1236, ramenmanpuku.com 

Daily 11am-9.30pm

Just order ramen number seven. No one can pronounce its 15-word word title but the signature soy, pork and chicken soup combo is a winner. Seaweed sheets printed with an edible calcium logo are strangely exciting too. Ten kinds of ramen await at this modern and brightly lit noodle house, served in conical bowls specially designed to maintain the temperature of your soup. Also in Chatswood.

Go-to dish: Kono Deaini Kanshashite Aijou To Jonetsu Komete Isshoukennmei Tsukutta Uchirano Icchan Sukina Manpuku Shiawase Ramen (Number 7) $14.50

Marrickville Pork Roll

236A Illawarra Road, Marrickville, 0411 167 169 

Daily 6.30am-6pm (closes 5.30pm in winter)

Banh mi aficionados swear this is one of Sydney's best. This hole-in-the-wall takeaway has a fast-moving queue waiting for crusty bread rolls crammed with pork, pate, pickles and mayo. Alternatives include shredded chicken, tuna, salad, pork meatballs and grilled sweet pork. Hot tip: you can buy their seasoned pate by the tub. Good news. They've just opened another outlet down the road (362 Illawarra Road).

Go-to dish: Banh mi thit pork roll $5
 

The noodle bar at Menya Mappen.

The noodle bar at Menya Mappen. Photo: Edwina Pickles

Menya Mappen

Shop 11, 537-551 George Street, Sydney, 02 9283 5525, mappen.com.au 

Daily 11.30am-10pm

It's all about the noodle – thin buckwheat soba or thick chewy wheat udon – cooked to order in little baskets plunged into boiling water. The cash-only canteen-style set-up (also at Bondi Junction) means you'll have to shuffle down the line with your tray but when small noodle bowls start at $3.90, who's complaining? Warning: trying to resist the self-serve tempura station is futile. 

Go-to dish: Bukkake ontama mentaiko – udon noodles with homemade chilli cod-roe butter and a half boiled egg $8.90

Mr Crackles

155 Oxford Street, Darlinghurst, 02 8068 2832 mrcrackles.com.au 

Mon-Tue 11.30am-9.30pm; Wed 11.30am-10pm; Thu 11.30am-1.30am; Fri 11.30am-4am; Sat noon-4am; Sun noon-10pm

You read that right. You can order crackling by the cup or in whole sheets at this Oxford Street takeaway. The Crackles Classic – juicy roast pork crowned with bubbled crackling and Vietnamese salad in a crusty bread roll – has saved many a hangover. Upgrade to a manwich for twice the meat and half the salad. Add tater tots or chilli cheese fries on the side.

Go-to dish: Crackles Classic crispy pork with Vietnamese salad $13.50

Oregano Bakery

56 Connells Point Road, South Hurstville, 02 9546 3666 oreganobakery.com.au

Tue-Sat 7am-4pm; Sun 7am-noon

Chances are you've already eaten their legendary cinnamon scrolls in a Sydney cafe but this bakery originally started with Lebanese pizzas. They make a fine (and cheap) eat-in breakfast or lunch, covered in a thin layer of minced lamb, dotted with slabs of spicy sujuc sausage or wrapped around juicy roast lamb slices with yoghurt. This bright and airy cafe has an espresso machine too. 

Go-to dish: Zaatar wrap #2 with roast lamb strips, yoghurt and mint $12

Pastizzi Cafe

523 King Street, Newtown 02 9519 1063 

Mon-Fri 10am-11pm; Sat-Sun 9am-11pm

There are almost 20 kinds of pastizzi here, bargain bite-sized Maltese pastries with fillings that include spinach and ricotta, beef and dark ale, apple and cinnamon, and berry and custard. Your shirt will likely be covered in flaky shards at first bite. Dinner crowds stay for the pasta, huge serves that include spaghetti marinara piled with seafood and home-made pumpkin and ricotta ravioli.

Go-to dish: Spaghetti marinara $23

Pho Tau Bay

Shop 12, 117 John Street, Cabramatta (enter from Hill Street), 02 9726 4583

Mon-Fri 8am-7pm; Sat-Sun 7.30am-7.30pm

This bustling noodle house is always filled with a sea of faces, bent over bowls shrouded in steam. The pho has a magnificent intensity of beef and clean sweetness in the broth – no wonder it's been long lauded as one of Sydney's finest phos. Seafood hu tieu, a clear soup with fish fillets, prawn, fish balls and chewy tapioca noodles is also a winner.

Go-to dish: Pho Dac Biet special beef noodle soup $13

One of the pizzas from the wood-fired oven at Rosso Antico Pizza Bar in Newtown.

One of the pizzas from the wood-fired oven at Rosso Antico Pizza Bar in Newtown. Photo: Sahlan Hayes

Rosso Antico

Shop 2, 52-60 Enmore Road, Newtown, 02 8065 4224, rossoanticopizzabar.com.au 

Daily 6pm-11pm

Stripped back decor reflects Rosso Antico's approach to pizza: keep it simple. That means a smattering of toppings across pillowy dough that has proved for 36 hours, blasted for 90 seconds in a 450C wood-fired oven. San Marzano tomatoes give sweetness to the traditional margherita, or go upscale with truffle paste and porcini on the Tartufo Italian sausage pizza. Can't decide? Get the Vesuvio.

Go-to dish: Vesuvio half margherita and half calzone with ricotta, salami, basil and chilli $19

Rosso Pomodoro

20-24 Buchanan Street, Balmain, 02 9555 5924, rossopomodoro.com.au 

Tue-Sun 5.30pm-10pm

No half and half. No ham and pineapple. They're unapologetically serious about their Bologna-style pizzas here. That means dough proved for 72 hours and pizzas with "Italian toppings only" cooked straight on the stone, resulting in puffy and blistered edges on tomato or white (olive oil) base pizzas. They do four vegan pizzas too.

Go-to dish: Patate e salsiccia pizza with fior di latte, Italian sausages, roasted potatoes and rosemary $23

Tonkotsu ramen soup from Ryo's in Crows Nest.

Tonkotsu ramen soup from Ryo's in Crows Nest. Photo: Jennifer Soo

Ryo's Noodles

125 Falcon Street, Crows Nest, 02 9955 0225 

Thu-Tue noon-2pm, 5pm-9pm

You can't miss the tangerine walls of this noodle house nor the nightly queues. Squeeze in among the ramen-loving crowd and slurp up bowls of crinkly ramen noodles in your choice of pork or chicken soup. For a lighter meal, try the ramen with prawn balls in a refreshingly sour salt-based soup. The umami-rich ramen miso bolognese wins over everyone. They're also open in Bondi.

Go-to dish: Ramen with miso bolognese sauce $15

Shanghai Night

275 Liverpool Road, Ashfield, 02 9798 8437

Daily 10am-10pm 

Ashfield is littered with dumpling houses but Shanghai Night was one of the first. It's still unashamedly dowdy although the dumpling makers – pleating dumplings from scratch with speed and precision – are now shielded behind a glass panel.  Plough your way through steamers of xiao long bao soup dumplings and pan-fried pork buns with crisp golden bottoms. Save room for the red-bean pancake for dessert. 

Go-to dish: Steamed Shanghai-style mini pork bun (xiao long bao) $7.80 for 8

Spago

524B King Georges Road, Beverly Hills, 02 9585 0282, spagosydney.com.au 

Mon-Fri 5.30pm-10pm; Sat-Sun 11.30-3pm, 5.30pm-10pm

The pasta is made every day on site, dried in the front window and available in take-home boxes. This neighbourhood secret is always full – fancy enough for date night but casual enough for a family feed. Tuck into squid-ink spaghetti with blue swimmer crab, lobster bisque risotto and the generously portioned baby octopus salad. The $39 weekday three-course set menu offers terrific value. 

Go-to dish: Squid ink spaghetti with blue swimmer crab meat, garlic, chilli, cherry tomato, lime $26

Spring River

Shop 2, 203 Thomas Street, Haymarket, 02 9211 5881 

Daily 10am-10pm

The barbecue lamb skewers here are one of Chinatown's best-kept secrets, cooked Xinjiang-style over charcoal and blanketed in cumin and Sichuan pepper. Budget-conscious students fill up on handmade noodles, stretched, pulled or diced and piled onto plates with meat and vegetables. It's all cheap. Bring your mates and share pan-fried dumplings, shallot pancakes, dry fried chilli chicken and stir-fried hot and sour shredded potato. 

Go-to dish: Charcoal barbecue lamb skewers $5 for 4

Sun's Burmese Kitchen

10 Tulloch Street, Blacktown, 02 9676 2837, sunsburmesekitchen.com 

Wed-Fri 5pm-8.30pm; Sat 10am-3pm, 5pm-9pm; Sun 10am-3pm, 5pm-8.30pm (closed first Sunday of each month)

It's little wonder that mohinga is the national dish of Myanmar. This complex sweet, sour and salty fish noodle soup is equal parts comfort and nourishment. You can chill out with a preserved tea leaf salad or go wild with deep-fried pork intestines. It's all cheap - nothing on the menu is over $13.50 – and smiles abound. No wonder it's so beloved by locals. 

Go-to dish: Preserved tea leaf salad $9

Taiwanese beef soup at Taipei Chef in Artamon.

Taiwanese beef soup at Taipei Chef in Artamon. Photo: Steven Siewert SWS

Taipei Chef

1A Broughton Road, Artarmon 02 9419 7119 

Tue-Sun noon-3pm, 6pm-9.30pm

Whatever you do, arrive early and order the Taiwanese-style smoked chicken, a specialty that often runs out. You'll know why at first bite, each succulent mouthful permeated with an incredible level of smokiness. Home-style Taiwanese dishes abound at this unassuming eatery with highlights including saucy pork mince rice, three cup chicken and slow-cooked soy sauce pork belly. Try the sweet potato fries with plum powder.

Go-to dish: Taiwan-style smoked chicken $12

Tan Viet

Shop 2-3, 100 John Street, Cabramatta, 02 9727 6853

Daily 9am-7pm

What's that sound? It's the mouthwatering shatter of chicken skin, a juicy Maryland cut best paired with dry egg noodles. The crispy chicken is why everyone joins the queue, the original outlet (also in Eastwood) now sporting a slick dining-room facelift. Don't worry. It's still messily casual. Add the bo kho spicy beef stew and mop it up with hand-torn chunks of crusty baguette.

Go-to dish: Crispy chicken with dry egg noodles $14

Thy Vietnamese Eatery

1/324 Chapel Road South, Bankstown, 02 9708 2317 

Mon-Thu 9am-7pm; Fri-Sun 9am-9pm

Banh xeo is the popular dish here, a crunchy rice flour and coconut milk crepe folded around prawn, sliced pork and bean sprouts. Wrap it up in lettuce cups with mint, shiiso and laksa leaf and dunk in sweet nuoc cham fish sauce dressing for chin-dribbling fun. Banh cuon, freshly steamed silky rice rolls filled with pork mince, is less messy but just as delicious.

Go-to dish: Banh xeo Vietnamese pancake with prawn and meat $13.50

Traditional Gyradiko 

307 Forest Road, Bexley, 02 9599 9431, gyradiko.com

Daily 11am-11pm

You know those crisp edges of fatty roast pork? You'll score a jackpot of them when you order the pork gyros here, a slow-spinning rotisserie of wine-marinated pork belly cooking in its own juices. Get it wrapped in warm and fluffy pita bread or go the full merides with meat, chips and salad. Other options include chicken gyros and pork souvlaki. Also in Rosebery.

Go-to dish: Gyros pork merides $19

Tuong Lai

3 Belvedere Arcade, Cabramatta, 02 9727 2650

Daily 7.30am-6pm

The best sugar cane prawns in Sydney? They're right here. Fat, sweet and fluffy with char marks from the grill, get messy and wrap 'em up in rice paper sheets with pickles, lettuce and mint. Join the hubbub in this wallet-friendly family-run alley eatery and hoe into vermicelli salad bowls or marinated grilled pork chops with broken rice. The English menu comes with photos.

Go-to dish: Sugar cane prawns with salad and herbs $15