ANYONE WHO SAYS DINING OUT in Sydney is expensive is clearly missing out on some of the city's best food spots. The Herald's Good Food Under $30 - the Good Food Guide for those on a tight budget - is out today and features more than 550 places to get two great courses or more for $30 or less.
The 2013 guide (formerly Everyday Eats) spans Sydney in six geographic regions, taking in about 80 different cuisines - including first-timers Afghani, Ethiopian and Jamaican - and 116 restaurants not previously featured in the book.
In what has been another great year for Sydney's frugal foodies, Good Food Under $30's very well-fed anonymous reviewing team has noticed a few cheap dining trends. Grab a copy of the guide to find out more.
Latin American food
The food of Latin America - particularly Mexico and Peru - is ''the big thing'' at the moment, and we're not just talking Tex-Mex tacos. El Topo in Bondi Junction, Chica Bonita in Manly, and Mexico Food & Liquor in Surry Hills - to name a few - combine lively, colourful scenes with food that's zingy, vibrant and flavour-packed (see our guide to where to eat Mexican in Sydney in Good Food on March 19).
Less flashy, but no less tempting, is Misky Cravings, a low-key Peruvian eatery in a Fairfield Heights shopping arcade. It's no frills, with a firm focus on ''misky'' (meaning ''delicious''), authentic Peruvian food.
Sydney's most famous beach 'burb is the place to be this year for anyone opening a new eatery. Bondi Hardware, The Canteen, The Hill Eatery, Panama House, Truck Stop - the list goes on, and the openings continue. The best bit is, this new generation of eateries is less backpacker grunge and more fun and food-loving. There's more to come, too, including the Sydney outpost of the hugely popular Melbourne cafe, St Ali, due in July.
Fairfield has also had something of a foodie renaissance, with the Thai/Lao Green Peppercorn and Peruvian Misky Cravings leading the charge. Other developments in the north-west, including the recent addition of a Youeni Foodstore in Castle Hill, have firmed up our suspicions that the Hills area is about to move up the foodie ranks.
Social media has created a whirlpool of food chatter, thanks to diners' illustrated boasts and restaurateurs plugging their wares. For obvious reasons, Sydney's growing fleet of food trucks is particularly active on social media, so much so that, for some, the term ''foraging'' now means Twitter-stalking and flash-mobbing the vans, along with the likes of Gelato Messina, whose ''new flavour'' posts send fans into overdrive. These channels of communication make it possible for restaurants and diners to interact like a close-knit community. Affordability makes our cheap-eat favourites accessible, and social media does, too.
A delicious kind of deja vu took hold of Sydney this year, with some of our favourite eateries opening additional outlets. Lebanese restaurant Al Aseel revamped its original Greenacre site and added a venue in Newtown and a franchise in Burwood. MissChu's city outlet is going great guns and a MissChu boat has even been seen selling rice-paper rolls on the harbour. Then there's Adriano Zumbo's latest addition in Waverley, Vacanza's second pizzeria in Surry Hills, Harry's Cafe de Wheels is now just about everywhere, and even tiny Marrickville Pork Roll has a second store, in Ashfield.
The past year has seen some great devotedly vegetarian places open, mainly in the inner west. Spoon's Vegetarian Butcher and Sadhana Kitchen, in Enmore and Newtown respectively, are two of the best, while the Veggie Patch Van (run by the folk at one of our all-time favourite vego spots, Yulli's) is serving great meat-free burgers and salads. We're predicting much more great stuff to come in the way of vegetarian eateries, and soon.
Pursuit of the best
Sydney's food-obsessed are becoming increasingly preoccupied with debating ''Sydney's Best'', whether that's burgers, dumplings, pizza, banh mi thit, ramen - the list is endless. Disagreement between friends often leads to cross-city food crawls, while ''top 10'' lists prompt impassioned agreement or outraged dismay. Either way, it's a lot of fun and it motivates people to explore suburbs they may otherwise not have. We've highlighted a few of our favourites here, but there's plenty more in the Good Food Under $30 guide.
Beauchamp Lane, Surry Hills
Chur is Kiwi slang for awesome, and these burgers by acclaimed chef Warren Turnbull are just that. Our cover star - the beef burger with cheese, tomato jam, mustard mayo and pickled cucumber - is just the beginning (also try the chicken and pulled-pork burgers).
The Burger Joint
393 Liverpool Street, Darlinghurst
The common features of the globe-trotting burgers at this tiny eatery: they're big, and they're yum. Go for the Aussie burger with beetroot, bacon, sauteed onion and cheese.
40 Roebuck Street, Cabramatta
Old-school burgers, shakes and sundaes in a train carriage turned '50s-style American diner? The novelty appeal is admittedly high, but burgers do seem to taste better when there's a jukebox on hand.
Eating World, 25-29 Dixon Street, Haymarket
The ramen at Gumshara is the bowl of choice for those who like their tonkotsu broth gloriously rich and heavy. For the addition of pork ribs and belly, and squidgy egg, opt for the Mega.
World Square, 644 George Street, Sydney
One of the newer kids on the block, Zundo is winning over ramen devotees with its straight-up 12-hour simmered pork broth, and the chilli-spiked version, too. In terms of decor, it's one up on the others.
125 Falcon Street, Crows Nest
The winner of our ''favourite ramen'' award last year, Ryo's still floats our ramen boats with its flavour-packed pork broth, seriously slurpable noodles and lovely clean aftertaste.
4-6 South Street, Granville
This is ''paradise'' by name and nature to the hoards who pack the joint daily for Lebanese charcoal chicken slathered in superlative garlic sauce or wrapped in flatbread with pickles and tabouleh.
Shop 1, 82-86 New Canterbury Road, Petersham
This popular corner does a roaring trade in Portuguese chicken, roasted flat and, if you choose, doused in piri piri sauce. ''Addictive'' is an understatement.
Level 1, 41 Beecroft Road, Epping
OK, so we're still debating among ourselves as to the best Korean fried chicken, but this fast-foody-looking joint's version has a crunchy coating, succulent meat and minimal grease.
Shop 1/241 Victoria Street, Darlinghurst
Extra outlets at Pyrmont and Surry Hills haven't done much to help us kick our Messina habit, but who would want to give up on the likes of salted caramel and white chocolate or berry-yoghurt gelato anyway?
Cow and the Moon
181 Enmore Road, Enmore
High praise for the pistachio, choc sorbet and passionfruit creme flavours, but we're also a little (that is, totally) in love with the uber-rich affogato combo of Bella chocolate and espresso.
362 Pacific Highway, Lindfield
Classic gelato flavours sit alongside Asian-inspired numbers such as black sesame or red bean and coconut at this gelataria run by the Tsang family. We're still waiting on a ''Tsangria'' flavour, though.
The Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Under $30 will be sold for $5 with the paper this Saturday. It's also available in bookshops and at The Sydney Morning Herald online shop (smhshop.com.au) for $10.