A decade ago, a good meal in Melbourne meant you were limited to a handful of places, many of which have been serving the community for decades. Nowadays, hip new places open every month, and just as many change hands or close. Here is our guide on where to eat cheap in Melbourne, Australia.
Melbourne a city that eats out. The strong Australian dollar and high salaries means that restaurants are expensive for travelers, who can easily spend $100 (and more!) on a mediocre meal and drinks. Choose your venue with an upper price limit in mind; ask the concierge or a barista where they eat, avoid chains, and hop on a tram to a suburb for something different.
Melbourne is addicted to coffee, and café culture here is spirited and competitive. Every neighborhood has a decent place for brunch. South of the Yarra River, try Balderdash (295 Bay Street, website) in Port Melbourne or St. Ali (12-18 Yarra Place, website) in South Melbourne for creative, generously-portioned dishes and excellent coffee. North of the river, Proud Mary (172 Oxford Street, website) and Three Bags Full (Nicholson & Mollison Streets, Abbotsford, website) have eclectic menus and massive portions. In the city, seek out the pedestrian-only Hardware Lane (off Bourke Street between Elizabeth and Queen) for a variety of options. Expect to pay between $15-20 for a meal and $4-5 for a coffee.
Staying in an apartment gives home chefs countless inexpensive options thanks to Melbourne’s fantastic markets. The Queen Victoria Market (website), in the northern city center, offers a trove of delights ranging from Australian produce to organic wines. Expect to spend a few hours wandering, and don’t miss the Art Deco Deli Hall for free samples of game meats such as crocodile, rabbit and kangaroo. The South Melbourne Market (website) and Prahran Market (website) are smaller versions of the Queen Vic but just as prolific and easily accessible via public transportation. Later in the day, prices drop. Check the websites for updated opening days and hours.
If street food is more your scene, try one of Melbourne’s food trucks. The city boasts upwards of twenty trucks featuring cuisine ranging from Aussie barbecue to Thai, Greek to New Orleans gumbo. Prices are usually around $10-15. Check out Where the Truck website or download their app for daily food truck locations.
Melbourne is an immigrant city and nearly every neighborhood features fare from countries around the world, though some areas are particularly well-known for certain cuisines.
Chinatown, along Little Lonsdale Street in the city center, boasts a number of Asian-inspired eateries, some more dubious than others. Settled in 1851, this area is the longest continuous Chinese settlement in the West. For a sure thing, try Hutong Dumping Bar (14-16 Market Lane, website) for Beijing- and Shanghai-inspired dishes. Their dumplings and Dim Sims are legendary.
Italian migrants have been running restaurants on Lygon Street since the 1950s. This was the first street to offer al fresco dining in the city, and on a balmy night, it’s easy to think you’re on a tucked-away street in Rome or Milan. Dozens of restaurants, delis and gelaterias line Lygon between Victoria and Elgin, but head to local favorite Ti Amo Bistro (303-307 Lygon Street, website) for inexpensive, authentic meals or visit DOC Espresso and Delicatessen (326 & 330 Lygon Street, website) for quality food with a touch of la dolce vita.Pho fans should head to Victoria Street in Richmond, lined with dozens of restaurants offering authentic Vietnamese fare. The locals’ favorite is Pho Hung Vuong 2 (150 Victoria Street) where the menu is simple but the flavors exceptional. Expect a line, but it moves quickly.
Melbourne’s city center is heaving with restaurants, many of which offer affordable and interesting options. Snag Stand (website) serves gourmet Aussie ‘haute dogs’ for carnivores and vegetarians alike for under $10. Miss Chu (website), known as “the queen of rice paper rolls,” serves an eclectic menu of rolls, pancakes, dumplings, salads and other Asian-inspired dishes for $10-15. Borek at the Queen Vic Market’s Deli Hall serves $3 cheese and spinach, lamb, or potato and vegetable boreks. If Malaysian food is your thing, try Mamak (website) for satay, rice and noodle dishes, at $2 per person – plus it’s BYO. Darac Grill and Bar (51 A’Beckett Street) is a Korean restaurant worth seeking out, best known for its kimchi, Korean Army Stew and ‘fire meat’ ranging from $14-22. Teppansan (179 Russell Street) is one of the best—and least expensive—Japanese restaurants in the city. Try their Japanese Pizza, a beef stir-fry wrapped in an okonomiyaki pancake. Finally, Pellegrini’s Espresso Bar (66 Bourke Street) is a Melbourne institution; in 1954, Pellegrini brought over Melbourne’s first espresso machine, and the place hasn’t changed much since. The rotating lunch menu serves home-style Italian fare.
Just a short tram ride from the city center, Smith Street is hipster central, bisecting the trendy Collingwood and Fitzroy neighborhoods, and long known as a melting pot of cultures. Turkish, Spanish, French, Middle Eastern, Mexican and African restaurants line the road, many of which have been open for decades. For a traditional Aussie burger, try Huxtaburger (website) where all the burgers are named after the Huxtables from The Cosby Show. Turn right at Johnston Street for the excellent Jim’s Greek Restaurant (32 Johnston Street, Collingwood); there’s no menu, so your server will set you up with a meal within your tastes and price range. Turn left off Smith to Brunswick Street to find Naked for Satan (285 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy, website), which offers $9 lunches and a reasonably-priced bar menu on their roof deck.
A 20-minute tram ride from the city center, St. Kilda is a buzzy beachside suburb where backpackers mingle with yuppies at eateries catering to all budgets. Worth a mention is Lentil as Anything (1-3 St. Helier’s Street, website), a nonprofit that asks diners merely to pay what they feel their meal is worth. The organic, vegetarian menu changes frequently, but expect unique spices and flavors influenced by their multinational staff. Chinta Blues (website) serves up affordable Malaysian cuisine and especially good coconut curries, and Galleon Café (9 Carlisle Street, website) offers breakfasts and lunches for under $15.
Finally, if you’re in the mood to splash out, Cumulus (45 Flinders Lane, website) offers an excellent seasonal menu featuring Australian produce. Chin Chin (125 Flinders Lane, website) is a local’s favorite, featuring unique Asian-Australian fusion dishes. Movida (1 Hosier Lane, website) serves Australian-inspired tapas; try Movida Next Door for slightly less expensive fare. Spice Temple (8 Whiteman Street, Southbank website) focuses on food from regional Chinese provinces using Australian ingredients. Easy Tiger (96 Smith Street, Colllingwood, website) marries modern Chinese, Japanese, Thai, and Australian with seasonal street dishes; the banquet is an experience.
Reservations: Be aware that finding a table on a weekend night is tricky, and reservations are a good idea even on a weeknight. Some places don’t take bookings, either taking a mobile number to call when a table becomes available or forcing patrons to queue.
Tipping in Australia: Tipping is not compulsory in Australia. Melbourne restaurants pay their waitstaff well and locals don’t tip, though adding a few dollars will keep your karma positive, especially in a high-end restaurant.