- Melbourne's best cheap eats: the 2014 Age Good Food Under $30 awards
- Full list: the award winners
- Food trends: Healthy and hot
What's a meal worth? Sometimes, it's worth walking that extra few blocks in a precious lunch hour to get some pork belly in your belly. You can eat out - and eat well - in this town for as little as $5.
A five-dollar feed should only take five minutes. You probably won't need cutlery, you definitely won't need a booking, but it may cost you in personal space - balancing on one cheek at the edge of a communal table or bar, or jostling along a queue.
Five-dollar-friendly places typically have short menus. They specialise in just a few dishes and aim for high turnover (no bookings, no lingering).
This means always fresh ingredients are used, and businesses can capitalise on economies of scale - buying fewer ingredients but in bigger quantities. The fast, cheap feed has proved such a hit that businesses are opening multiple outlets. Roll'd opened its first reimagined Vietnamese cafe-takeaway in 2012; it now has 15 franchised outlets across Melbourne. Made Establishment's Jimmy Grants souvlaki bar, in Fitzroy, has three more Jimmys slated to open this year.
But Melbourne's version of the fast food chain is a highly individualised one; there's industrial-edged furniture that's probably made locally, and there's a good chance there'll be an original mural.
As well as the chains, there's an abundance of stand-alone eateries where you may be ordering in a language that's not your own, and eating as though you were thousands of kilometres from Melbourne.
Here's what you can get for a fiver, and where to get it, as recommended by Good Food Under $30's crack team of reviewers - and endorsed by Caroline Chisholm.
A ''five and dime bagel with a schmear'' ($5) from Bowery to Williamsburg (16 Oliver Lane, city, 9077 0162), until 11.15am. Seven varieties of bagel range from rye and beetroot to sour cherry and onion. Of eight schmears, you could choose lemon curd, peanut butter, or cream cheese with black caviar, or shallot and dill.
Sushi rolls ($2.80-$3.70) from Hinoki Japanese Pantry (279 Smith Street, Collingwood 9417 4531) are masterful. Assemble their raw, spicy salmon sushi roll yourself, the rice and filling wrapped separately from the seaweed so it stays crisp. You could also grab a small seaweed salad from the fridge to go with it (priced by weight).
''Jimmy's steamed dimmies'' ($5) are three chicken, cabbage and lemon zest dim sims from Jimmy Grants (113 St David Street, Fitzroy, 9416 0060). Or, swipe warm, spongy wholemeal pita through not-pink taramasalata ($5) that's whippy, smooth and salty.
A cup of beef or chicken pho ($4.90) at Roll'd (rolld.com.au; eight city locations, plus outlets at major shopping centres). Or, try their rice paper roll ''soldiers'' ($2.80-$3.80) with fillings such as barramundi, soft-shell crab, and barbecue chicken.
Pastries, pastries everywhere. Try a spinach, sumac, lemon and onion pie at Mankoushe ($5; 323 Lygon Street, Brunswick, 9078 9223); cheese pie at A1 ($3; 643 Sydney Road, Brunswick, 9386 0440 and 203 Lonsdale Street, Dandenong, 03 9794 9500); spicy lamb or cheese and spinach borek ($3) from Borek Bakehouse (481 Elizabeth Street, city) or just up the road at its Queen Vic Market window. Or, bite into a piece of sourdough pizza, a ricotta and cheese triangle or half-calzone ($4.50-$5) at organic bakery-cafe Fatto a Mano (228 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy, 9417 5998); or an African-spiced lamb sausage roll ($4.50) or hand-cased pie (smashed potato and roast chicken, maybe, $5) at the pastry palace of Zumbo (14 Claremont Street, South Yarra 1800 858 611).
Bucking the $6 baseline price for a taco in this town, Los Hermanos Mexican Taqueria (339 Victoria Street, Brunswick, 9939 3661) offers its soft, corn tortilla-based babies for a fiver. And, if you're in the west, quesadillas, tacos and tostaditas ($4.50-$4.70) are all made from scratch at La Tortilleria (72 Stubbs Street, Kensington, 9376 5577), where they stone-grind corn, bake tortillas and pile 'em high with free-range pork.
A slice of pizza at Shawcross ($5; 324 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy, 9419 9596) is cut from a mammoth 22-inch thin-based Fat Tony (margherita) pizza; good any time of day, essential at 3am on a Saturday or Sunday.
Banh mi ($4.80) at Nhu Lan (116 Hopkins Street, Footscray, 9689 7296, and 152 Victoria Street, Richmond, 9429 5545) are full and fresh - a blast of hot, cold, sweet, salty and earthy. And its veg salad roll gives the pork version a run for its money; really, it costs $2.60, and replaces cold cuts with crisp-fried shallots and crushed peanuts.
Split a serve of xiao long bao dumplings (eight a serve, $10) at Shanghai Street (146 Little Bourke Street, city, 9662 3226, also at 342 Little Bourke Street and 64 La Trobe Street, city). A plate of these pretty, pleated, porky squirters never lasts long.
The humble jaffle ($4.50) gets a shake-up at FT Tuckshop (2 Charles Street, South Melbourne 0497 660 246) with nine types of jaffle, including house-made spag bolognese, or strasbourg and cheese, plus specials, which might be ''the cheeseburger'' ($5) with beef, tomato sauce, mustard and pickles - that's a jaffle remember.
How about a soft, almost marshmallowy-cased pork belly or silky tofu gua bao ($4.20) at Wonderbao (Literature Lane, off Little La Trobe Street, city, 9654 7887)? Other steamed buns include shiitake, tofu and veg ($2.20), and egg, Chinese sausage and shiitake ($3.50).
Pizza & pie
A range of goodies come in under $5 at Oasis Bakery (Shop 9, 993 North Road, Murrumbeena, 9570 1122) - triple cheese pie, spinach and walnut triangle, cheese and chilli pizza or cheese and za'atar pizza. An extra dollar will buy a falafel.
A bowl of congee (rice porridge; $3) at HM Quan (Shop 5, 68-82 Hopkins Street, Footscray, 0432 423 979) is a real meal and a real treat - squatting, as you do, on low bamboo stools in the fake-grass-carpeted dining room. Choose from 15 types of congee, from kimchi to caramelised fish.
Roti canai ($5) at M Yong Tofu (formerly Grand Tofu; 314 Racecourse Road, Flemington, 9376 0168) is a flaky roti and small serve of chicken curry. More than half of the entrees at this counter-service Malaysian restaurant are $5 or under - veg curry puffs (two a serve), chicken satay skewers (two a serve), spring rolls (four a serve) and spinach dumplings (two a serve).
For an extra 50 cents, the McPorgie breakfast, an English muffin stuffed with ham, emmental cheese and creamy scrambled eggs costs $5.50 at Porgie and Mr Jones (291 Auburn Road, Hawthorn, 9882 2955). It must be one of Melbourne's best-value breakfasts. The same deal, this time called the McPony, costs $5.90 at Snow Pony (95 Whitehorse Road, Deepdene, 03 9816 8911). And a variation on the theme, the ''Pick me up please'' ($5.90), is a brioche roll filled with bacon, tomato chutney, scrambled eggs and cheddar, available at Friends of Mine (506 Swan Street, Richmond, 9428 7516).
For sweets, a small serve of gelato ($4.50) from Gelateria Primavera (Spring Street Grocer, 157 Spring Street, city, 9639 0335), in seasonal flavours such as pistachio, cardamom and turmeric. Or a scoop, of, say, Nutella swirl ($5), from Pidapipo (222 Faraday Street, Carlton).
The Age Good Food Under $30 will be available for $5 with The Saturday Age this weekend from participating newsagents, while stocks last. It is also available in selected bookshops and online at theageshop.com.au for $9.99.