The 2014 edition of Good Food Under $30 has just hit the shelves and, as always, it's a celebration of the best affordable eating in Sydney, covering more than 550 venues and 60-odd cuisines across 140 suburbs. The budget buys at least two courses a person and while some eateries just scrape in, others make our $30 budget look laughably extravagant. In the spirit of the latter, here's our pick on the best feeds in Sydney at the 'can't argue' price of $5 or less.
The go-to $5 feeds
Vietnamese baguettes - banh mi - filled with pork, pate, pickled veg and fresh coriander are Sydney's current cheap-eat-darlings and it's no wonder - they're filling, flavour-packed, fresh and often cost less than a fiver. The ones we queue for? Marrickville Pork Roll on Illawarra Road at Marrickville, King's Hot Bread on Forest Road, Hurstville, and Vinata's on Hughes Street, Cabramatta.
Lebanese pizza (manakish) is a serious steal, too. At one of our favourites, Charlie's Pizzeria on Canterbury Road, Canterbury, prices start at just $1.50 for a pizza topped with za'atar, a tangy mix of oregano, thyme and sesame seeds.
A sushi hand roll or two, or the cheaper-still inari, is another failsafe option when loose change is all you have to work with. Sushi Hub has branches scattered across Sydney including a busy stall at Galeries Victoria. Big spenders can go with a soft shell crab hand roll for $3.20, while the crowd-favourite salmon and avocado roll is $2.80. Inari topped with seaweed salad are $1.80 a pop.
Soups and pho
The Thai boat noodle soup at Chonsiam on Campbell Street is hard to beat at $4 a bowl. It's thick and aromatic, chock-full of noodles, pork pieces and dense pork balls.
Anyone bothered by the fact this soup's rich, dark broth has pig's blood in it might opt instead for a bowl of shoyu soup (chicken and soy based) at the busy Tenkomori eatery at Regent Place, George Street (a spin-off of nearby Mappen and Oiden). This one's thinner in texture but still full of flavour and a bargain at $4.10. There's also under-$5 bowls of tonkotsu (pork bone broth) and priced by-the-piece sides such as takoyaki.
Meanwhile the Madame Nhu Vietnamese food stall at Galeries Victoria sells soul-reviving cups of pho with noodles, bean sprouts and coriander, but no meat, for $3.50.
Sandwiches and buns
Pulled pork remains a favourite menu item in Sydney cafes but none come close in price to pocket-sized Haymarket eatery, Xi'an Cuisine, where it features in the popular Chinese street snack, rou jia mo. The juicy pork-filled pita is $3.80 or $4.30 with the addition of coriander and capsicum. They also do "super hot" chilli cumin beef ($4.50) and egg with green chilli versions ($4).
Chatswood's Bao Dao Taiwanese Kitchen does terrific gwa bao; folded steamed buns with a sweet, soft slab of braised pork belly, pickled mustard greens, fresh coriander and sugary crushed peanuts for $4.50.
The highlight at Arncliffe's Hijazi Falafel is their namesake falafel so make a meal of them by ordering the falafel roll with pink pickled turnip, tabouleh, tomato and hummus, $4, or $3 takeaway.
Pastries and pies
A new store at Mount Street, North Sydney, means there are now six places to get a Bourke Street Bakery fix, and plenty of options for $5 or less including the famous pork and fennel sausage roll, $4.50, and golden bacon, gruyere and leek quiche $5.
Newtown's Pastizzi Cafe sells the irresistibly crunchy, flaky Maltese pastries at $2.50 each. There are 15 flavours to choose from but it's hard to go past ricotta and feta, and the kick of chilli con carne.
Pilgrims at Cronulla has brought a slice of the south coast to Sydney and while the famous burgers bust the $5 budget, Pilgrims's vegie pies, including the crowd-favourite curry lentil, are right on the money. The Anzac cookies are tops too and only $1 each.
Pub and bar food
Revamped Petersham's stalwart Oxford Tavern has added more clothes to the staff and some good, cheap snacks to the new menu. A small cheeseburger comes in at $5, while tacos (try the Baja fish flavour) are usually $5.50 but a steal at $3 on Wednesdays, 6pm-10pm.
The Soda Factory at Surry Hills complements its retro American diner vibe by selling hotdogs at the good old-fashioned price of $1 - Tuesdays only - while $5 on Wednesdays buys a burger, fries or fried chicken.
Start an overseas trip for the tastebuds in Colombia at Per Kilo on Erskine Street, where your buffet selection costs $2.50 per 100 grams (go crazy with the knock-out condiments) and $5 buys "arequipe con queso", a traditional dish of cheese topped with thick dulce de leche.
Next stop, Chinese steamed buns at Chubby Girl's Bunz Shop on Broadway at Ultimo are $1.50 each and come in seven varieties including cumin lamb, while a fist-sized, runny-yolk scotch egg at fine-diner offshoot Arras Too whisks you off to the UK for $4.50.
Witness the pulling power of 'puffs' at the Emperor's Puffs hole-in-the-wall at the Hay Street end of the Dixon Street mall. The little spherical cakes filled with hot custard sell for 30 cents each or four for $1. Don't mind the queue - when these babies are hot off the press it's worth it.
The speciality at Alice's Makan in the Pavilion food court on George Street is kuih - colourful Malaysian sweets. The offerings change but our pick is kuih serimuka - sticky rice topped with pandan and coconut custard, and pandan chiffon cake is $3. Try multi-textured ice kacang, too - shaved ice with palm sugar, evaporated milk, and various sweet jellies, beans and seeds, $5.
Blacktown's Main Street is the hot spot for Filipino food and the original is Philippines Takeaway, where alongside sisig and stews are turon - banana and jackfruit spring rolls covered in sugar syrup set to toffee, just $1 each.
The 2014 Good Food Under $30 will be available for $5 with The Sydney Morning Herald this weekend from participating newsagents, while stocks last. It is also available in selected bookshops and online at smhshop.com.au for $9.99.