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The first thing I do when I visit a new suburb is Google the name of it and "cheap eats". Immediately you get articles, lists, blogs, forum posts and more from a diverse group of voices sharing what they believe are the meals with the best bang for your buck, across many different cuisines. It's a great way to find out the cultural make-up of a suburb, too. I know I'm in for a treat when the first hit I get is a comments thread with contributors angrily yelling at each about which is the best of the 20 Turkish kebab joints in town.
Thousands of Google searches later, I have become an encyclopaedia of cheap eats for every suburb I've ever been to. To put this knowledge to good use, I went through some of the most populated Sydney suburbs and put together a breakfast, lunch and dinner plan where you can eat some of the best food that area has to offer for about $15 a meal (sometimes significantly less), on a budget of $45 a day.
All of Sydney's western suburbs excel in this area, with tonnes of cheap options for a huge array of cuisines. Eastern suburbs such as Bondi, home of the $30-plus brunch, proved more difficult, but there were still some exciting meals beneath my $15 limit to be found. View this guide as an enticing (yet affordable) excuse to eat out in a part of Sydney you haven't visited before, or a prompt to reacquaint yourself with the suburbs you're used to spending way too much money in.
The mixed shish plate at New Star Kebab. Photo: James Brickwood
Breakfast: New Star Kebab
What to order: Adana kebab plate, $15
Kebabs are absolutely a breakfast food. Why else would New Star be open every day from 7am? Their kebabs are the best in Sydney, featuring skewers of minced lamb cooked over coals, sending smoke billowing into the street. Good morning, indeed.
15 Auburn Road, Auburn, 02 9643 8433, newstarkebabrestaurant.com.au
Lunch: Darband Restaurant
What to order: Baghali polo, $13
Resist all urges to order the many skewers of meat on the menu (meat skewers are Auburn's specialty, no matter what cuisine you're eating), and get baghali polo: a braised lamb shank and a pile of buttery rice with broad beans and dried dill. Pour the lamb and the juices it was cooked in over the rice for the full effect.
Shop 9, 45 Rawson Street, Auburn, 02 9646 4466, darband.com.au
What to order: Aush, $12.95
You'll find plenty of meat skewers here too – but you'll also find aush, an Afghan dish of flat wheat noodles topped with yoghurt, lentils, meat sauce, garlic and mint. Is it a soup? Kind of. Is it delicious? Absolutely.
64 Auburn Road, Auburn, 02 8084 7805, khaybarrestaurant.com
Breakfast: AN Restaurant
What to order: Pho topped with rare beef, $16
Bankstown is home to some of Sydney's best Vietnamese food, and what better way to kick off your day than with a bowl of what is arguably Sydney's best pho. Good luck finding a pho broth in Sydney with as much depth as AN Restaurant's. A must-try for all pho fans.
27 Greenfield Parade, Bankstown, 02 9796 7826, anrestaurant.com.au
Lunch: Banh Mi Bay Ngo
What to order: Pork banh mi, $4
Home to the biggest selection of banh mi fillings in Sydney, Bay Ngo's fresh bread rolls can be stuffed with more than five types of pork, or chicken, or fish, or meatballs, or salad – the list goes on and, best of all, every one of these options can have a fried egg added.
49 Bankstown City Plaza, Bankstown, 02 9709 8106
Dinner: Thy Vietnamese Eatery
What to order: Banh xeo, $13.50
Banh xeo is a huge yellow crepe, fried to a crisp and filled with prawns, pork, mung beans and a tonne of Vietnamese herbs. It's a great dish to eat with your hands, tearing the crepe into chunks, wrapping it with lettuce and dunking the whole thing into fish sauce.
Shop 1, 324 Chapel Road, Bankstown, 02 9708 2317
Chicken danbauk with sour soup, cucumber salad and balachaung at Sun Burmese Kitchen. Photo: Fiona Morris
What to order: Ferfere, $17
Gursha is one of Sydney's best Ethiopian joints, and possibly the only one open for breakfast. Many Sydneysiders will have eaten spongy Ethiopian injera bread before, but ferfere (also known as fit-fit or fir-fir) sees the injera bread shredded and tossed with a fried beef stew, a unique and hearty way to start the day.
Shop 3, 115 Main Street, Blacktown, 02 9052 9628, gurshaethio.com.au
Lunch: Indo Lankan Food Bar
What to order: Beef kothu, $13.90
You'll want to trek eight minutes from Blacktown to Seven Hills for a lunch of Indian and Sri Lankan cuisine. Open since 1996, it's one of the few places in Sydney where you can get a kothu roti – a Sri Lankan street-food dish that sees pan-fried roti chopped into bits and mixed with onion, eggs, spices and meat.
61 Boomerang Place, Seven Hills, 02 9676 7602, indolankanfoodbar.com.au
Dinner: Sun's Burmese Kitchen
What to order: Chicken danbauk, $14
Sun's enormous menu will make choosing just one dish tricky but the one-plate wonder of chicken danbauk is Burma's colourful answer to the Indian biryani, and a good representation of the excellent value and high quality found at this sweet family-run restaurant.
10 Tulloch Street, Blacktown, 02 9676 2837, sunsburmesekitchen.com.au
Italian flatbread at La Piadina. Photo: Jennifer Soo
Breakfast: La Piadina
What to order: Smoked ham and mozzarella piadina, $13
Not quite a pizza, a piadina is a disc of Italian flatbread, grilled on both sides and filled with cured meats and cheese. There are 12 variations on La Piadina's menu, but the delicious smoked ham and mozzarella is the cheapest, which means you'll have a few spare bucks to spend on a sweet nutellino piadina, too.
106 Glenayr Avenue, Bondi Beach, 02 9300 0160, lapiadina.com.au
Lunch: Funky Pies
What to order: Chunky funky pie with mash, peas and gravy, $12
Yes, I wish it was called literally anything besides chunky and funky too, but this pie is a monstrosity in name only. Beneath the flaky crust, you'll find chunks of shiitake mushrooms in mash and gravy; $6.50 gets you the pie on its own, $12 sees your mash and gravy-filled pie served on a plate with additional mash and gravy. Worth it.
144-148 Glenayr Avenue, Bondi Beach, 0451 944 404, funkypies.com.au
Dinner: Nalinis Wholesome Streetfood
What to order: Six-taste thali, $14.90
Nalinis specialises in food prepared according to the Indian practice of Ayurveda, a perspective of balanced eating based on six tastes: sweet, sour, bitter, pungent, astringent and salty. The best way to experience this is by ordering the Ayurvedic tasting platter, a combination of rice, dhal, curry, salads, sauerkraut, roasted vegetables and pappadums.
Shop 1, 1 Newland Street, Bondi Junction, 02 9387 7838, nalinis.com.au
Tan Viet Noodle House in Cabramatta. Photo: Quentin Jones
Breakfast: Pho Tau Bay
What to order: Pho do dac biet, $14
Opened in 1980, Cabramatta's first pho restaurant is still kicking, attracting crowds and long lines from early in the morning well into the evening at weekends. Go all-out for the special combination pho, featuring rare beef, brisket, tendons, meatballs and bible tripe.
Shop 12,117 John Street, Cabramatta, 02 9726 4583
Lunch: KK Bakery
What to order: Chicken banh mi, $4
Forget about pork rolls. KK Bakery is home to the best chicken banh mi in Sydney. This small hole-in-the-wall slow-roasts chicken marylands in a master stock and shreds the meat for each order, stuffing it inside a hot, fresh bread roll with ample pâté, mayo and huge pieces of pickled daikon.
Shop 2, 85 John Street, Cabramatta, 02 9755 0656
Dinner: Tan Viet Noodle House
What to order: Crispy chicken with egg noodle, $15
Cabramatta's legendary fried chicken joint. No batter, just chicken skin fried extra crisp and served with noodles. Make sure you order it dry – you get a big bowl of noodles and herbs with a smaller bowl of aromatic chicken soup on the side.
Shop 3, 100 John Street, Cabramatta, 02 9727 6853
Green mango salad with lime juice, palm sugar, eschallot, dried shrimp, chilli and peanuts with crispy fish at Khao Pla. Photo: Fiona Morris
Breakfast: Tea Square Cafe
What to order: Steam rice noodle roll breakfast set, $7.50
People flock to this Hong-Kong-style cafe each morning for red milk tea and Cantonese snacks, such as this tray of steamed rice-noodle rolls, cut into bite-sized pieces and covered in sweet and savoury sauces, with the option to add fish balls and sausage if you so desire.
Shop 224, 65 Albert Avenue, Mandarin Centre, Chatswood
Lunch: Khao Pla
What to order: Kra pao, $13.50
Khao Pla owner Pla Rojratanavichai once said that you can judge how good a Thai restaurant is by its kra pao, a simple yet spicy stir-fry, in this case of chicken mince, chillies and holy basil. Like everything else on the menu, Khao Pla's kra pao is excellent, and it's served with rice for under $15 if you come for lunch.
Shop 7, 370-374 Victoria Avenue, Chatswood, 02 9412 4978, khaopla.com.au
Dinner: Two Two Korean Chicken
What to order: Vegie bibimbap, $15
Try your hardest to ignore the fried chicken. This sweet and simple Korean takeaway joint also does a killer bibimbap, with all sorts of pickled vegies, kimchi, rice and a glorious fried egg perched on top. An extra dollar will get you a dolsot bibimbap, served in a hot stone bowl with a raw egg to stir through.
Shop 3, 370 Victoria Avenue, Chatswood, 0427 222 277
Marrickville Pork Roll is home to one of Sydney's best cheap eats. Photo: Edwina Pickles
Breakfast: Marrickville Pork Roll
What to order: Pork roll, $5
Open every day at 6.45am is Sydney's most famous banh mi joint. The baguettes are cooked fresh each morning, ready to be filled with pâté, mayo, pickled vegetables and a few slices of pork. The very definition of cheap and cheerful. An icon.
236 Illawarra Road, Marrickville, 0479 000 445
Lunch: VN Street Foods
What to order: Vietnamese bento box, $12
VN Street Foods stands out from the plethora of great Vietnamese joints in Marrickville by offering a take on the humble bento box, which you can put together yourself by choosing the rice, vegetables, meat, salad and soup you want, but if that's too much pressure you can just choose from a list of recommended boxes put together by the owner.
294 Illawarra Road, Marrickville, 02 9559 4149, vnstreetfoods.com.au
Dinner: The Yeeros Shop
What to order: Lamb yeeros, $11.50
Sure, there are fancier, healthier gyros spots in Sydney but are they as good as stumbling into the Yeeros Shop after a few too many long necks on an accidentally massive Thursday night? This place has been preventing hangovers since 1976 and their lamb gyros is legendary.
431 Illawarra Road, Marrickville, 02 9559 1167, theyeerosrestaurantaustralia.com.au
The North Indian thali from Taj Indian Sweets and Restaurant. Photo: Wolter Peeters
Breakfast: Manaeesh Bakery & Pizza
What to order: Meat manaeesh, $5
Almost every western Sydney suburb has a decent Lebanese pizza joint, the perfect place for a breakfast pizza and a morning coffee. These fluffy discs of dough can be dusted with a mix of zaatar and olive oil, wrapped around fresh vegetables or as a "Lebanese meat pie" that's topped with mince, tomatoes and spices.
95 Macquarie Street, Parramatta, 02 9891 5219
Lunch: Eatdustry Thai Cafe
What to order: Khao soi, $13.90
Terrible name, terrific food. Parramatta finally has a top-notch Thai restaurant. Treat yourself to one of the best bowls of khao soi (Thailand's answer to laksa) in Sydney, with an intense coconut broth that's got a sour kick from lime juice and a spicy kick from smoked chilli oil.
Shop 2A, corner Charles and Union streets, Parramatta, 02 8897 3212
Dinner: Taj Indian Sweets and Restaurant
What to order: North Indian thali, $14.90
As soon as the sun goes down in Parramatta, head to Harris Park for the twinkle of lights adorning each restaurant in Sydney's Little India. To taste as much good stuff as possible at once, order a thali from Taj, a tasting platter piled high with curries, rice, breads, pappadums, pickles and a sweet.
91 Wigram Street, Harris Park, 02 9633 2118, tajindianrestaurant.com.au
Pandan custard on toast at Boon Cafe in Haymarket. Photo: Christopher Pearce
Breakfast: Boon Cafe
What to order: Toast with house-smoked chilli relish, $6.50
Nothing is safe from spice at this Thai-Australian cafe. Not even brekkie. Much has been said about their noodles and sandwich situation, but their toast options are next level. Spread your morning slices with pandan custard ($5.90), or go the extra mile and top your toast with house-smoked chilli relish, dried shredded pork and mayo.
Shop 1, 425 Pitt Street, Haymarket, 02 9281 2114, booncafe.com
Lunch: Happy Chef
What to order: Dried spicy beef noodle, $11
There are many reasons to visit Chinatown's excellent food courts, and everyone's favourite food court is Sussex Centre, largely because of the legendary Happy Chef. They're most famous for their seafood laksas and wonton noodle soups – but try one of the dry noodle dishes next time you're there. The Dried Spicy Beef Noodle (number 37) is a secret best dish.
F3, 401 Sussex Street, Haymarket, 02 9281 5832
Dinner: Biang Biang
What to order: Biang Biang noodles topped with chilli, $10.50
This small noodle spot has been serving bowls of authentic Xi'an cuisine since 2017 and has exploded in popularity since, opening up multiple locations across Sydney. Their wide, chewy noodles are the perfect vessel for tender pork, vegetables, vinegar and a healthy hit of chilli.
Shop 39, 1 Dixon Street, Haymarket, 02 9261 2745