Nina Rousseau and Simone Egger

Pan-fried pork buns at Shanghai Street Dumpling. Click for more photos

Ten lunches for a tenner - Melbourne

Pan-fried pork buns at Shanghai Street Dumpling. Photo: Eddie Jim

  • Pan-fried pork buns at Shanghai Street Dumpling.
  • Tofu Burger at Purple Peanuts.
  • Pork capocollo focaccia at Fugazza.
  • Owner Simon Michelangeli with his Fugazza food van, a spin-off from his shop at Equitable Place.
  • The "soldiers" at Roll'd: lemongrass, pork and prawn, and barbecue chicken with sesame.
  • The hungry hordes queuing at Roll'd.
  • Feast on galettes and crepes under the rumble of the railway bridge at Roule Galette.
  • Queuing for a borek at Borek Bakehouse is an institution.
  • Pull up a pew at Snag Stand.
  • "Haute dogs" at Snag Stand.
  • Kinfolk, Melbourne.
  • Tofu bao and char siu pork buns from Wonderbao.
  • The steamers run hot at Wonderbao.

“FAST” is the watchword of the city lunch. A queue streaming out the door is a badge of honour for most lunchtime hotspots, and juggling on-the-clock diners is all part of the game.

"It’s got to be quick,” says Simon Michelangeli, owner of city focaccia bar Fugazza, who can turn around an order within four minutes. “We bake our focaccia, rather than press them, so it only takes two and a half minutes to cook them.”

I think what people are looking for in the city is something fast and different. 

“Between noon and 2pm there’s a constant queue,” says Ray Esquieres, co-owner of Vietnamese bolthole Roll’d, who regularly lines up himself to check that the wait time is within about 10 minutes at peak time.

“I think the standard sushi, sandwich food court thing has been around for a while and is a bit tired,” says Esquieres. “I think what people are looking for in the city is something fast and different.”

It’s true. We have an insatiable appetite for modernised Eastern classics, with cultish love for bahn mi (the Vietnamese classic of crusty French-style baguettes filled with roast pork and pickled veg), platefuls of dumplings fresh out of the steamer, and bao (Chinese buns), along with artisan sausages, brown-rice sushi and top-notch focaccia.

Melbourne’s CBD is rife with A-grade lunch options. Here are 10 winners that will stop the urge to brown-bag it, keep you healthy, and get you through the 3pm hump.

1. Fugazza
Everyone who’s jaded from the focaccia-everywhere ’90s should stick their heads into Fugazza, which redefines the humble toasted Italian sandwich. Here, the sourdough bread is light and has a thin, crisp crust. It’s filled with quality ingredients, such as house-made pork sausage, stracchino cheese and caramelised onion; or pan-fried zucchini, olives, ricotta and mint. Meal deals include half a "fugazza" and salad – choose from three, including broccoli, corn, carrot and baby spinach with lemon-basil dressing.
Shop 5a, Equitable Place, city, 0402 125 286,
Focaccia $10-$12; half $6; meal-combos $10-$15
2. Purple Peanuts
A tennis ball-sized onigiri (fried rice ball, with veg or tuna) comes with a choice of side salad (sesame, string beans and carrot) or all three, if you prefer, for $9.50. Throw in a two-bite matcha cake (minerally green tea cake) and you've almost got a three-course meal for about $10 from this upbeat Japanese-meets-western cafe. Sushi rolls here come made with brown rice, as well as with sushi rice, and with the usual fillings – say spicy salmon; $10 will buy you three. And then there are the great-value tofu "burgers" in Turkish bread, and soba salads.
620 Collins Street, city, 9620 9548
Handrolls $2.50-$2.90; Onigiri & salad $7.90; Burgers $9-$9.50; Sweets $2-$6
3. Borek Bakehouse
The Vic Market’s heaving borek window has a new, calmer sibling. At the Bakehouse (opened mid-2012), gozleme are hand-rolled paper-thin on a marble slab by the window. The dough is scattered with, say, Australian feta and spinach, or a spicy lamb mix, then folded and browned on the hotplate. The same fillings are available baked in borek, plus there’s spicy potato, chickpea, and chicken. Spicy pide (cheese, spinach and egg) are also a good option. And with the change from a tenner, buy a honey-soaked baklava.
481 Elizabeth Street, city, 9329 5553,
Gozleme $6; Borek $3; Pide $5; Baklava $2.50
4. Roll’d
You can’t go wrong. Every Vietnamese street-food item at Roll’d comes out fresh and punching, and under $10. Rice-paper rolls filled with vermicelli are spry with coriander, mint, cucumber and, perhaps, lemongrass pork and prawn, or soft-shell crab and avocado. All five types of banh mi are amazing value, plus there are: rice-noodle salads topped with deep-fried spring rolls, non-noodle salads, such as lotus stem and duck, and pho. They even have traditional cold-drip coffee.
TG10, Goldsborough Lane, 181 William Street, city, 9600 1088,
Rice-paper rolls $2.60-$3.40; Salads $7.90-$9.90; Pho $8.90-$9.90; Banh mi

 5. Sushi Burger
The sushi burger is a cute combo – a cross between a sushi roll and a hamburger. Instead of bread, two nori-hinged sushi-rice patties enclose layers of flavours and textures. Between ‘special sauce’, oakleaf lettuce, wasabi and mayonnaise there are fillings such as deep-fried soft-shell crab (its legs spilling out the sides), tuna sashimi, a beef-and-pork patty or golden crumbed croquettes (crabmeat or veg). They’re tasty little bombs; bank on putting away more than one.
167 Exhibition Street, city, 9650 9877,
Sushi burger $4.50-$7.50
6. Wonderbao
BARELY bigger than a "bao" itself, Wonderbao dishes up scrummy buns fresh from its big steamers. Expect small one-hander bao, filled with tiny slabs of fried silken tofu, bobbly with crushed peanuts and sticky with sweet soy and pickled mustard or roast pork belly with daikon and hoisin. Bigger, puffier parcels hold traditional char siu pork, or half a boiled egg with Chinese sausage and shiitake. Bar-stool seating, facing the street-art scrawl of Literature Lane, is at a premium.
Shop 4, 19-37 A'Beckett Street, city, 9654 7887,
Bao: $1.70-$3.80
7. Snag Stand
BANGERS go artisan at this Melbourne and Sydney sausage chain that dishes up “haute dogs” from its street-side window. Quality ingredients and preservative-free are a feature, so the brioche or poppyseed rolls are baked fresh and the meats are sourced from specialty butchers, such as Jonathon’s in Collingwood and Hansa in Prahran. There are classics, such as a bratwurst with onions and mild German mustard, or a wood-smoked American frankfurter with yellow mustard and sweet relish and the kranksy, with spicy sriracha mayo and cheddar. Sides and toppings include chips (made from Tasmanian russet potatoes and sprinkled with natural flakes of sea salt), and Coppers Ale barbecue sauce.
Corner La Trobe and Swanston streets, city, 9639 6544,
Snags: $7.90-$10.90.
8. Roule Galette
Underneath the rumble of the railway bridge and by a grassy expanse, is this cute riverside creperie, run by Frenchman Michel Dubois. Thin buckwheat galettes, a specialty of the Bretagne region, hold savoury ingredients, such as the rich mushroom and bacon bound together with bechamel, or egg, ham and cheese.
Some of the more elaborate offerings are around the $12 mark, but you can still eat well here for $10. For a cheeky lunchtime tipple try the Normandy cider or half-bottle of Moet.
26 Rebecca Walk, city 9614 3606 (also 241 Flinders Lane, city), 
Galettes: $5-$15, crepes, $5-$15.

9. Shanghai Master Dumpling
This no-frills canteen is mobbed by the lunchtime hordes that pile in for cheap, fast dumplings and Chinese classics. Go back to the office fired up after a plate of spicy ma po tofu (minced pork and slippery tofu in a chilli sauce) or glistening soy duck with a pile of steamed rice. On the dumpling front, there are soupy xiao long bao; pan-fried pork potstickers; or thin-skinned steamers filled with chicken and prawn. Another excellent dumpling contender is Shanghai Street at 342 Little Bourke Street, city, although you’ll likely have to wait, but if you have the time, the potstickers are doozies.
Shanghai Master Dumpling, 173 King Street, city 9077 0919,
Dumplings: $9, noodle soup $9.

10. Kinfolk
Kinfolk’s baguettes are a thing of beauty, but you’ll need to get in early – they’re ready from 11am and sell out fast. One meat and one vegetarian option are on offer, both in chewy Dench sourdough rolls. There might be Saskia Beer poached chicken (she donates about three boxes each week), finely chopped cabbage,
mint, dill, parsley and goat’s curd smeared on the bread. For vegos, there could be a herby salad mix of carrot, cucumber and beetroot with a hard-boiled egg and caper aioli. They’re a good size too – not so massive as to weigh you down, but big enough to fill you up.
673 Bourke Street, city, 0423 229 953,
Baguettes: $9.50

Now it's over to you. Have we missed your favourite cheap eat in the city? Share your top pick in the comments below.

Nina Rousseau and Simone Egger are the editors of The Age Cheap Eats, available online from The Age shop for $24.95.