The simple saying, "I'm just ducking out for lunch" can mean more than just filing out of the office or off campus into a sandwich shop for a takeaway. It can mean ducking into a refurbished old boozer for a pita pizza. It can mean entering Tivoli Arcade, named after the Tivoli Theatre, for Korean or Vietnamese, on the same turf that Shirley Bassey and Harry Houdini performed decades earlier. Or, it could mean facing 46 permutations of ramen in under 30 minutes.
You might return to work wiping the soy sauce from your shirt, and the smile off your face. Here are some of our favourites.
Dikstein's Bar & Grill
This cosy, chilled-out Italian cafe is known for its bargain pizza menu, which is two-for-one on Tuesdays. The cheesy pizzas arrive on wooden boards piled with toppings such as squid, pulled pork, harissa chicken or dressed rocket.
Details: Open Mon–Wed 7am–3pm; Thurs 7am–8pm; Fri 7am–10pm, 470 Little Lonsdale Street, Melbourne, 9670 7122
This unassuming salad bar attracts a loyal fan base of office workers for its healthy breakfasts, excellently brewed St Ali coffee and friendly staff. There's an enviable spread of fresh ingredients to build your own salad creation. Also in Bourke Street.
Details: Open Mon–Fri 7am–4pm, 130 Little Collins Street, Melbourne, 9004 0322, famishd.com.au
There are cheaper banh mi around, but this arcade counter uses quality ingredients (ie: no dodgy pork bits). Try the Totally Roasted, What's Crack-A-Ling or Meat-Teo-Rite versions in a $10 deal with a drink and a rice-paper roll.
Details: Open Mon–Sat 10am–3pm, Shop 15, Tivoli Arcade, 235–251 Bourke Street, Melbourne, 9663 1935, fobrolls.com.au
Our obsession with all things American continues with this sandwich store named after the US-style long roll. Hero's oversized beasts are piled with everything from onion rings to fried polenta. You're a hero if you can finish one.
Details: Open Mon–Fri 8am–5pm; Sat 10am–4pm, RMIT Building 80, 445 Swanston Street (enter via Stewart Street), Melbourne, 03 9995 4655, herosubs.com.au
There are 46 permutations of ramen at this bustling, cash-only student favourite, with different broths, noodles and flavours explained in detailed tasting notes. Gyoza are another speciality, with serves of six for under $6.
Details: Open Mon–Thurs 11.30am–3pm, 5–10.30pm; Fri–Sat 11.30am–5am; Sun 11.30am–9pm, 157 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne, 9650 1215, kokororamen.com
The permanent home of this orange-hued food truck empire has a simple motto: ‘We serve burgers, chips and drinks. That's it.' The three versions of the foil-wrapped two-handers (classic, with bacon or vegetarian) all hit the saucy spot.
Details: Open Mon–Wed 11am–3pm; Thurs–Sat 11am–8pm, 428 Little Bourke Street, Melbourne, 9329 7304, mrburger.com.au
Sbriga Espresso Bar
Need a heart starter? The Allpress coffee at Sbriga really gets the motor running. The hip wood-panelled surrounds and hanging newspapers lend a sleek Roman air to proceedings. Tasty sweet treats and panini are also available.
Details: Open Mon–Fri 6.30am–4pm; Sat 7am–2pm, Shop 3, 280 King Street (enter via Lonsdale Street), Melbourne, 9077 7653, sbriga.com.au
An old faithful for Paris End shoppers looking for a curry fix, Sheni's is a cut above your standard food-court bain-marie. The rich Sri Lankan offerings are steaming hot and heavily spiced, with gutsy flavours and generous portions.
Details: Open Mon–Fri 9am–5pm, 161 Collins Street (enter via Russell Street), Melbourne, 9654 3535
The crowds hit this stark sushi cafeteria every lunch hour for a fast, fresh Japanese lunch on the hop. Choose sushi and sashimi from the glass cabinet or hearty bowls of teriyaki chicken, crumbed pork katsu and silky salmon don.
Details: Open Mon–Fri noon–4pm, Shop 14, 228 Flinders Street, Melbourne, 9639 6296
Hidden in a breezy alley behind Swanston Street, this modern Korean kitchen offers bulgogi boxes and noodle soups. The bibimbap is top notch: a sizzling steel bowl that cooks rice, egg, meat and vegies into a textured Asian-style risotto.
Details: Open Mon–Fri 11.30am–3pm, 5.30–11pm; Sat 5–11pm, Shops 19 & 20, Tivoli Arcade, 235–251 Bourke Street, Melbourne 03 9662 2077, warrawarrakitchen.com.au
What's your go-to spot for a quick city lunch? Jump on the comments and share your recommendations.
The Age Good Food Under $30 will be available for $5 with The Saturday Age on March 1 from participating newsagents, while stocks last. It will also be available in selected bookshops and online at theageshop.com.au for $9.99.