With hundreds of restaurants, cafes, eateries and snack stands jostling for the attentions of the lunchtime crowd, choosing a tasty meal - while keeping the bill low - can be a challenge. Here are Good Food's suggestions for the best places to get lunch in the CBD for $10 and under.
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Ramen cult favourite
Ramen connoisseurs head to Gumshara Ramen in Chinatown. Here, authentic Tonkotsu ramen prepared in the traditional way, which means the thick, rich broth is made by simmering pork bones in water for hours on end - there's no added salt, sugar or MSG. It will set you back between $8.50 and $13.
Gumshara Ramen, Eating World food court, Dixon Street, Haymarket, phone: 0410 253 180, daily 11.30am-9pm
Cheap and quick
There's little doubt that the Hunter Connection arcade offers some of the cheapest lunch options in the city. A frenzied, writhing mass of bodies weaving between packed tables, this is not a place for the faint-hearted. Most of the options are quick, cheap and decent. Sushi on rice from Sushi Naga Shima is popular (choose 10 pieces with rice, green salad or udon noodles for $9.80) and great value for money.
Hunter Connection arcade, 7 Hunter Street. Alternative entry via George Street, opposite Wynyard Station
Sydney's best laksa
Hawker-style eatery Malay Chinese Takeaway has been in the business of filling hungry bellies for more 25 years. This family-owned establishment has expanded from its original hole in the wall to a 100-seat eatery, but the amount of floor space per person at peak times probably hasn't increased much. One of the top contenders for Sydney's best laksa, the queues look long but the service is fast. Here's a tip from one laksa devotee all-too-familiar with the problem of splashback: bibs are available for 30 cents.
Malay Chinese Takeaway, cnr Blight and Hunter Streets, phone: 9231 6788, Mon-Fri 11am-7pm, Sat 11am-5pm
Gourmet rice paper rolls
For those looking for a lighter lunch option, Misschu's CBD Tuckshop serves gourmet rice paper rolls in tantalising combinations like tiger prawn and green mango, free-range omelette, avocado and caramelised onion, and roast duck and banana flower ($9 for two). Most are priced at $7.50 for two, which leaves enough change in your pocket for a barbecue char sui pork bun or steamed vegie bun ($2.50 each) on the side.
Misschu's CBD Tuckshop, corner George and Bathurst Streets, phone: 9283 0357, Mon-Sat 11am-9.30pm
Restaurant-quality Vietnamese at food court prices
For hot Vietnamese, Madame Nhu in The Galeries' newly-refurbished food hall is well worth a visit. An eatery by the team behind top-notch Surry Hills restaurant Xage, the small, licensed seating area makes a sweet escape from the rest of the food court. A tenner can buy a range of tasty dishes, including vermicelli noodles with sugarcane prawns, pork skewers or chicken skewers ($9.50). The Pho noodles ($8.50-$10.50) are served with thick-cut Tasmanian beef and served in a gently-spiced broth simmered over eight hours.
Madame Nhu, 500 George Street, phone: 9283 3355, Mon-Wed, Fri 10am-6pm, Thurs 10am-8pm, Sat-Sun 11am-4pm
A taste of Spain
Moving away from Asian cuisine, Encasa Deli is a lovely place to gaze at giant hanging salamis over a coffee and a bocadillo, and pretend you're in Madrid. Pull up a seat at a wooden barrel and choose from a range of crusty baguettes with simple but surprisingly delicious fillings like sobrasada sausage, chorizo, fried calamari and eye fillet medallions (prices range from $7.50 up to $13).
Encasa Deli, 135 Bathurst Street, phone: 9283 4277, Mon-Fri 6.30am-6pm, Sat 8am-4pm
If you're into giant sandwiches - and who doesn't love a sandwich as big as your face - head for Via Abercrombie or North Sandwiches, both near Wynyard station. Which is the better vendor is hotly debated among sandwich aficionados. Takeaway favourite North has sandwiches on white or wholemeal bread and Lebanese wraps for $8.50. An extra 80 cents buys a pass into their wonderful world of loaves like potato and rosemary, seeded dark rye and sourdough (including soy and linseed or walnut sourdough). On the minus side, there's no seating, so you'll have to lug your giant sandwich elsewhere to enjoy it.
One block away, tucked away in narrow lane away from the hustle and bustle of George Street lies sandwich rival Via Abercrombie. Unlike North Sandwiches, Via Abercrombie offers limited indoor and outdoor seating and also does salads (although these mammoth plates will set you back between $12 and $15.50). The Vegetarian ($10) sandwich packs a punch with hummus, eggplant, zucchini, coleslaw, red cabbage, "orange veg" (steamed pumpkin, sweet potato and carrots) and mushroom.
North Sandwiches, 2 Bridge St, phone: 9251 6111, Mon-Fri, opening hours vary but generally around 10.30am-2.30pm
Via Abercrombie, 1 Abercrombie Lane, phone 9251 0000, open Mon-Fri, 8am-3pm
Hand-made noodles and dumplings are the main attraction at Chinatown's Chinese Noodle Restaurant. A glass window into the packed kitchen allows you to study the cooks as they industriously stretch, slap and twist large platters of coiled dough into noodles. A plate of 12 steamed or pan-fried dumplings will set you back $8.80; most of the noodle dishes are $9.80. Be prepared to make friends - this place makes use of every inch of available floor space and there's a high chance you'll be sharing a table with the people three places ahead of you in the queue.
Chinese Noodle Restaurant, Prince Centre, 8 Quay St, Haymarket, phone:02 9281 9051, daily 10am-10pm
Cheap and cheerful
Chonsiam serves full-flavoured, authentic Thai fare at gratifyingly low prices. At $4 a bowl, the boat noodle soup - a favourite among regulars - is the go-to dish. You'll find it among the specials - it's not on the standard menu. With cheerful staff, a lively atmosphere and tables spilling out onto the pavement, this casual canteen makes for a less claustrophobic experience than most of the CBD food courts. Stir fried noodle and rice dishes, soup noodles and curries with chicken, beef or pork are all $8.90; seafood and prawn options are $10.90.
Chonsiam, 38 Campbell St, Haymarket; ph: 02 9212 6588; open daily 11am-4pm
Now it's over to you. Have we missed your favourite cheap eat in the city? Share your top pick in the comments below.