Everyone wants to eat on the cheap. The urge to find a bargain is written into human DNA. But there are restaurants that sell cheap food and then there is bang for buck. It's important to know the difference.
So with that said, these are the cheap eats picks for 2017. Some places are new; some you'll know. And while we realise that you will find cheaper versions of some of these dishes elsewhere, punch for punch, we don't think you'll find better.
Here's to the tacos and teishoku menus making eating on the cheap delicious in 2017.
Five & Dime Bagel Company brings a cosy slice of New York to the scrabbly end of the corporate CBD. Watch the bakery in action while you breakfast on coffee and a cream cheese bagel, or grab a teetering deli sandwich for lunch.
16 Katherine Place, Melbourne, 03 9621 2128, 5dimebagel.com.au
In the window kitchen you can watch tissue-thin pastry being rolled out and folded into luscious Turkish gozleme crammed with cheese and spinach, boreks being stuffed with mushrooms or egg, and sausage pides being sent out for breakfast. (Also at 50 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne.)
502 Little Collins Street, Melbourne, 03 9041 5667, gozcity.com.au
Tuna sashimi salad at Neko Neko. Photo: Wayne Taylor
This rollicking white-tiled Mexican joint from the Mamasita team sports a cracking cocktail list and an equally stellar menu of effervescent ceviches, tostadas, tacos and quesadillas, along with snacks of corn with black mayo. Tuesdays feature $2 tacos until sold out.
174 Smith Street, Collingwood, 03 9650 6054, hoteljesus.com.au
"The styles be low-key. The vibes be high." At Juanita Peaches, Raph Rashid, the fast-food funk meister behind Beatbox and Taco Truck, delivers deceptively slick burgers, burritos, fried chicken, house-made soft drinks and picture-perfect doughnuts from his photogenic cantina.
12 Edward Street, Brunswick, 03 8060 6664, alldaydonuts.com
Among the Japanese eateries, vegan options and general ramen frenzy on Smith Street, Neko Neko wins the trifecta. Run by a Japanese husband and wife, the menu focuses on sensational teishoku (meal sets) for vegans, vegetarians and pescatarians alike – as well as ramen, okonomiyaki and salads.
83 Smith Street, Fitzroy, 03 9415 6026
Vegan shmegan. Even the most committed carnivore could stumble into this sensational deli, where sassy bandana'd staff crank out killer coffee, chewy bourbon blondies and a menu of wicked vegan delights such as a grilled cheese Velvet Elvis and piled-high reubens – and leave deliciously converted.
111 Moor Street, Fitzroy, 03 9042 4117
Graduating from farmers' markets to a Brunswick shopfront, Louisa Allan and Shuki Rosenboim's falafels attract devotees like magnets. Join the queue for fluffy, textural falafels (made with chickpeas grown by Allan's father), along with salads like cabbage and pomegranate.
629 Sydney Road, Brunswick, 03 9383 6479, shukiandlouisa.com/very-good-falafel
Burgers at Meet Patty. Photo: Bobby Green
Regulars are greeted like long-lost friends at this spacious, family-run Afghan restaurant. Snack on thin, sesame-flecked bread while deciding between chicken tikka kebabs, traditional steamed mantu (dumplings filled with herbed lamb mince) or Kabuli pulau, with sweet spiced rice.
Shop 3, 305 High Street, Ashburton, 03 9942 3948
Everyone has their swear-by pizza joint. And Cucina & Co could become yours with its yeast-free, 72-hour-raised dough, which emerges from the three-tonne wood oven perfectly charred and bubbled, topped with simple ingredients.
325 New Street, Brighton, 03 9530 5324, cucinaandco.com.au
Carnegie's Koornang Road is paydirt for lovers of Korean cuisine. Hankki is a cute space, Korean owned and run, with a menu that includes Korean fried chicken, bibimbap and a range of Jeongol (Korean-style hotpots). The $10 lunch specials are a steal.
50 Koornang Road, Carnegie, 03 9568 7219
Chip-stuffed pork souva at Kalimera. Photo: Tim Grey
It's little wonder people cross town for this beloved souvlaki restaurant. Once you've had their signature pork souvlaki, crammed in a soft pita with salad and chips, or their Cretan salad, or even just their dips, you'll be making the pilgrimage too.
41 Chester Street, Oakleigh, 03 9939 3912, kalimerasouvlakiart.com.au
For an unexpected slice of Paris in Bonbeach, seek out the Little French Deli (and its adjoining bistro) for staples such as good cheese, duck rillettes and fresh baguettes, or take a seat by the window and order an ultra-flaky house-made pie or a ham and cheese croissant.
524 Nepean Highway, Bonbeach, 03 9776 0855, thelittlefrenchdeli.com
Look for the neon pickle glowing from the perimeter of a shopping mall car park and aim your boots at some of Melbourne's juiciest burgers, courtesy of chef Andy Gale (ex-Duchess of Spotswood) and Darren Moncrieff of Bertie's Butchers. Things are clearly going well – they're opening a Toorak store at the end of July and another in North Melbourne (opposite the Queen Vic Market) in August.
171 Nepean Highway, Mentone, 03 9583 4944, meetpatty.com.au
Flying the flag for the old-school, cosy, quirky Melbourne pub, this 160-year-old building has an open fire, a classic pub menu with premium produce and a Rolling Stones pinball machine in the pool room. Saddle up for a Sunday roast or the signature barbecued brisket.
280 Ferrars Street, South Melbourne, 0396905092, railwaypub.com.au
Jamaican jerk chicken at Saint Lucia in Chapel Street. Photo: Supplied
Light and leafy, St Lucia delivers chilled Caribbean vibes, ribs and rum specials, sweet and smoky jerked meats and the all-important mac cheese doughnuts with a spicy cheese dip. Sundays feature $10 soul bowls of barbecued wings and cornbread or a $30 jambalaya for two.
78 Chapel Street, Windsor, 0395302085, saintluciawindsor.com.au
With the subtitle of "Thai Flavour Traders", the husband and wife behind this tiny dining room know how to ply some big flavours in their Thai classics. Don't miss the char-fried prawns and barramundi with smoked chilli.
1166 Glen Huntly Road, Glen Huntly, 0395692948, yuuyen.com.au
Hall of famer: Laksa King's seafood laksa. Photo: Bonnie Savage
If there was a Hall of Fame award for a beloved cheap eat, Laksa King would already have one for its laidback atmosphere and reliably luscious curry laksas with chicken or fish head or roasted duck. (Also in Glen Waverley.)
6-12 Pin Oak Crescent, Flemington, 03 9372 6383, laksaking.com.au
With warm lighting and bare bricks generously scattered with traditional wall hangings and ornamental thatched canopies, Ras Dashen has a homely atmosphere to match the Ethiopian menu of spicy meats and vegetarian and vegan stews, served with sour, bubble-pocked injera bread.
121 Nicholson Street, Footscray, 03 9687 3292
Crispy pancake filled with pork and prawns at Paper Plate. Photo: Luis Ascui
If you fancy some Vietnamese but want a little more atmosphere than your regular laminate table canteen, head to Paper Plate, where former Dandelion chef Quan Nguyen whips up gorgeous pho, contemporary rice-paper rolls and succulent bun bo la lot (minced beef in betel leaf).
318 Bridge Road, Richmond, 0399172563, paperplate.com.au
Shanghai Garden Dumpling
Away from Box Hill's main hubbub, Shanghai Garden Dumpling may have a distinct lack of frills but the steamed xiao long bao have a heady, fragrant broth and the tea-smoked duck is tender and perfumed. Cherry-pick from the classic Chinese menu for just a handful of bucks.
888 Canterbury Road, Box Hill South, 03 9890 8883
The Good Food Guide Awards presented by Citi and Vittoria will be held in October. The national Good Food Guide will be available at bookstores, supermarkets and newsagents around Australia.