15 under $15: Melbourne's best budget lunches in the CBD

Roasted vegetable ratatouille pita at Miznon.
Roasted vegetable ratatouille pita at Miznon. Photo: Anatoly Michaello

Returning to work means getting back into the habit of remembering things like your keys, your Myki and your lunch. But sometimes the best-laid plans can go astray. If a packed salad or homemade sandwich isn't on your agenda mid-week, here's where to pick up lunch in the city without a huge hit to your weekly budget.


Vegetarian pitas, $14

The street-food of this international sensation, founded by Israeli celebrity chef Afik Gal, ticks the fresh yet satisfying box with panache. Dishes have playful names like Bag of Golden Meat or Intimate Wagyu Stew, but the pitas are where the greatest bang for buck lies. Seek out the ratatouille accompanied by hardboiled egg and chilli, the warm chickpea number, or the roasted cauliflower with tahini, and tomato salsa, all $14.

Open Wed-Fri noon-3pm, 5.30pm-10pm, Sat noon-10pm; 59 Hardware Lane, Melbourne


Beef rendang with roti prata, $15

Solo, speedy dining and a brisk takeaway trade make this Indonesian spot a lunchtime favourite. While most of the menu is affordable, the beef rendang comes with an ultra budget-friendly $15 price tag.

For a lighter option, order the gado gado, everyone's favourite salad, largely thanks to that peanut sauce that coats potato, soy bean cakes, boiled eggs and crunchy veg.

Open Mon-Thu 11am-9pm, Fri-Sun 11am-9.30pm; Shop 1, 155 Franklin Street, Melbourne



Cheese and vegetable manakish, $14

This Lebanese stall can feed you for as little as $6, but it'll also carbon offset your meal and it doesn't cost a cent extra. Co-owner Ben Armstrong handles the completely renewable kitchen set-up while his mother-in-law Terese Helou is the master of the manakish.

The Lebanese flatbreads are wrapped around akawi cheese and roasted vegetables or finely minced beef or lamb (both $14), but whatever filling you choose, nothing on the menu costs more than $16.

Open Tue and Thu-Fri 8am-3pm, Sat 8am-4pm, Sun 9am-4pm; Queen Victoria Market, K Shed, Stall 29, Queen Street, Melbourne


Soup or salad of the day, $12

When Gerard Kelly decided to open an all-day CBD venue, he knew he wanted to keep prices low so city workers and residents could visit multiple times a week. Queensmith's lunch menu is studded with affordable and wholesome options, which change regularly to keep boredom at bay.

Queensmith, a new CBD cafe and diner, part of a round-up of Melbourne's best lunches under $15.
Credit Holly Graham
For Good Food, 14 June, 2022

Inside new CBD cafe-diner Queensmith. Photo: Holly Graham

Soup might be white beans with lemon zest, rosemary and cavolo nero or corn chowder with the option to add lardons and roast chicken for $6.

Salads switch around too, based on what's in season, and you can also add protein to these. Recently, roasted beets were paired with rocket, lentils, toasted hazelnuts, dill and an orange dressing. Simple sourdough toasties like ham, cheese and mayo also cost $12.

Open Mon-Tue 7am-3pm, Wed-Thu 7am-8pm, Fri 7am-10pm; 221 Queen Street, Melbourne


Curries and sides, from $13

Melbourne's Sri Lankan community flock to Cinnamon's for its home-style cooking, which ranges from lamprais to hoppers, panrolls and devilled rice. The best deals for hungry city workers are the plates of two to three curries, served with either rice or roti plus crunchy pappadums. The curries on offer each day might be spicy potato, mild chicken, lentils or goat, and vegan choices abound.

If you're a string hopper fan, you can opt for the fine threads of rice noodle with one meat curry and a couple of veg options for $15.

Open Mon-Fri noon-3pm; Shops 3-4, 530 Little Collins Street, Melbourne


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Folded egg, rocket and provolone sandwich, $13.50

Fancy sandwiches are everywhere you look in Melbourne right now, but Greta really nails that brief with its wine bar digs and booze list to match. A glass of Little Reddie chardonnay might blow your lunch budget but the folded egg on a milk bun, with rocket, provolone and Greta sauce (salsa verde with mayo) is a midday highlight in its own right. Come back after work on Thursday or Friday for happy hour (4pm-5pm).

Open Mon-Wed 8am-4pm, Thu-Fri 8am-10pm; 450 Flinders Lane, Melbourne

N. Lee

Crispy pork banh mi, $11.70

If there was a lunchtime meal to unite Melburnians of all stripes, banh mi would be up there as a contender. With more vegetarian options and an array of players and price points, this sandwich is as everyman as it's ever been.

N. Lee is a reliable name among Melbourne's many banh mi purveyors and, with two branches at either end of the city, it's ultra convenient for city workers chasing that handheld package of smoky, spicy and fragrant flavours, whether you're a crispy pork, pork loaf, pork meatball (pictured) or tofu fan.

Open Mon-Fri 6am-4pm at 61 Little Collins Street, Melbourne

Open Mon-Fri 6am-4pm, Sat 8am-noon at 422-428 Collins Street, Melbourne

Dainty Sichuan Noodle Villa

Beef noodle soup, $13.80

Guizhou soups, from south-west China, are the specialty here, so prepare your tastebuds for hot and sour flavours and enormous portions. The soups themselves are fairly simple, with some braised meat (lamb is an extra dollar), greens and rice noodles in a broth that can be either bright red if you go spicy, or more aromatic and cloudy (mild).

The add-ons are where things get exciting. Choose from braised tofu or Chinese cabbage, or get your offal on with liver, chitterlings or even lamb heart.

Open 11am-9pm daily; 281 Elizabeth Street, Melbourne

The Borek Shop

Cheese, lamb or potato borek, $4.50

Joining the queue at this perennially bustling stand in the Queen Victoria Market is a Melbourne rite of passage. So is an encounter with the fierce matriarchs behind the glass, who work lightning fast to dispatch boreks from oven to shelf and into your hot little hands.

If you work nearby, you can skip the weekend hordes and then feel even more smug when you realise your lunch costs about the same as a takeaway coffee.

Open Tue and Thu-Fri 6am-3pm, Sat 6am-4pm, Sun 9am-4pm; Queen Victoria Market, Dairy Produce Hall, Shop 95-96, Queen Street, Melbourne

Sandwich from the newly opened Nico's Sandwich Deli in the city of Melbourne.

The chicken schnitzel sandwich from Nico's in the CBD comes in at $15 flat. Photo: Supplied


Salad sandwich, $13

A salad sandwich a day keeps the doctor away. That's our theory, anyway. And at $13, you can afford to pay a few visits to Nico's when you forget to make your own. The salad sanga is enormous, stuffed with alfalfa, pickles, cheddar cheese, tomato and house chimichurri butter plus a dressing of silken tofu, sesame paste and kewpie mayo.

You could stretch the budget to $15 for a deli sandwich, loaded with all the same salad fillings plus hot sopressa, grandma ham, prosciutto and mortadella. It's hefty enough to share between two friends. The schnitzel sanga (vegan or chicken, pictured), tuna melt and truffle mushroom melt are also $15.

Open Mon-Fri 7am-2pm; 535 Little Lonsdale Street, Melbourne

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 11:  The Baked bbq pork bun served at Tim Ho Wan Restaurant on March 11, 2016 in Melbourne, Australia.  (Photo by Wayne Taylor/Fairfax Media)

Bring a pal and share a trio of pork buns over lunch at Tim Ho Wan. Photo: Wayne Taylor

Tim Ho Wan

Chicken wonton noodles, $9.20

A bowl of chicken noodle soup is guaranteed to make you feel just as nourished and nurtured as a home-cooked lunch. At Tim Ho Wan, the chicken fills delicate wontons, the noodles are egg and the broth is aromatic without being overpowering. It's ripe for spiking with soy sauce or chilli oil, as you please.

If you go with a mate, you can also split a serve of the Hong Kong dumpling chain's famous barbecue pork buns ($9.20) and still stick to the budget.

Open Mon-Thu & Sun 10am-8pm, Fri-Sat 10am-8.30pm; 206 Bourke Street, Melbourne

Good Food  / Good Weekend review by Besha Rodell : Bar Bombay Yacht Club
Photograph by Bonnie Savage (photographer on contract, no restrictions)

Inside the freewheeling Bar Bombay Yacht Club. Photo: Bonnie Savage

Bar Bombay

Pork vindaloo sausage roll, $14

Chef Jessi Singh is a rule-breaker at heart, but his motivations are hard to argue with. Why not capitalise on the chewy-flaky qualities of roti and use it to swaddle spiced pork mince to make an Indian riff on a sausage roll?

The lunchtime dish is in step with the freewheeling vibe at his latest restaurant, Bar Bombay, which thumbs its nose at the exclusive members clubs of the British Raj that usually excluded non-white citizens. In 2022's Melbourne, Singh says all are welcome to his yacht club fantasy in the heart of the city.

Open for lunch Thu-Fri noon-2pm; 88 Flinders Lane, Melbourne

Master Lanzhou

Signature beef noodle soup, $14.90

If you crave the invigorating thrill that only comes with a spicy soup, Master Lanzhou are two words you need to memorise. There are branches all over the city, and some march to their own beat when it comes to pricing.

But at Melbourne Central, you can get the signature beef noodle soup – a bone broth pepped up with racy chilli oil and loaded with noodles at your preferred thickness – and get change from $15.

If the Queen Victoria Market end of Elizabeth Street is more convenient, you'll be paying a dollar extra, but after one spoonful of that thrillingly spicy broth, it'll be worth it.

Open daily 10.30am-9pm at 379 Elizabeth Street, Melbourne

Open Mon-Wed & Sat-Sun 11am-5pm, Thu-Fri 11am-8pm at shop 259, Level 2, Melbourne Central, La Trobe Street, Melbourne

Beef, cheddar, Guinness & thyme from Pure Pie ($8.90).

Pure Pie's beef, Guinness and cheddar pie. Photo: Tim Grey

Pure Pie

Savoury pastries from $7

The name says it all: this is your ground-zero for everything pastry. At entry level, there are sausage rolls (beef, spicy pork, or pork with apple and fennel) for $7 or a ricotta and spinach parcel for $8.

The next rung up includes quiche ($10), with strong vegetarian options like goat's cheese, olive and tomato, or you can step it up and get a lid for your pastry, with five different pies on offer ($11). Classic fillings include chicken, mushroom and tarragon but there's also butter chicken or chipotle chilli bean. Pure pleasure.

Open Mon-Fri 7am-4.30pm; Shop 42A, basement of 727 Collins Street, Docklands

Betty's Burgers

Betty's classic $11.50

Betty's entry-level cheeseburger is an American-style combo of an angus beef patty, lettuce, tomato, onion, cheese and Betty's special sauce on a squishy bun. There's no overpriced iceberg lettuce here: the Noosa-based burger chain prefers ruffled butter lettuce instead. Take a friend and split a side of fries for $5. With two locations in the city, it's an easy bet.

Open Mon-Thu 11-9.30pm, Fri-Sun 11am-10pm at 97 Elizabeth Street, Melbourne

Open Mon-Tue 11.30am-8pm, Wed-Thu 11am-8pm, Fri-Sat 11am-9.30pm, Sun 11am-8pm at 222 Exhibition Street, Melbourne


Lulu's Char Koay Teow

Signature char kwai teow, $15.90

It's a smidge over budget, but as soon as you clock the aroma from the woks at this noodle house, you'll be glad you found that extra $1. This is some of Melbourne's best char kwai teow, made to a family recipe and featuring genuine features like crisp batons of pork lard.

The house signature is a generous plate of hot glossy noodles that slither around whole prawns, lap cheong sausage, beans sprouts and egg – with a good dose of chilli in there if you decide to up the heat.

For a few bucks extra you can get variations such as squid, razor clam or blood cockles.

Open Mon-Fri 11am-3pm and 5pm-8pm, Sat 11am-8.30pm, Sun 10.30am-3.30pm; 27-31 Hardware Lane, Melbourne