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Jun 24, 2011 10:35 AM

Good Value Recommendations In Sydney, Melbourne, Cairns and Brisbane?

We're leaving in about a week for Australia, and will be spending 4 nights in Sydney, 4 in Melbourne, 4 in Cairns and 1 in Brisbane. We have been looking at the recommendations and lots of food sites and books.

Frankly, the pricing on many restaurants scares us. Most of the recs are looking at $50+ per person for a meal (even lunch), and they are referring to $40 a person as "bargain" pricing. Here at home, unless we're splurging, our average meal out is around $15 to $25 a person.

So, are there any good restaurants in the cities to which we're going that could be called good values? Yeah, we'll probably have one or two $100 meals, but we're not looking to spend that every day at every meal. On a 20-day trip, $50pp a meal would be$6,000 for food alone! Where would we look for meals around $25 each or so? Or better? Are there some good farmer's markets with dining areas? Some good street food? Hole in the wall restaurants with amazing food?

We're good with almost every kind of cuisine (except for Ethiopian or insect cuisine), but (while we like Asian food) we would like to avoid having every meal be Asian food.

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  1. Tipping is not necessary in Australia, so that might give you some more room to pay.

    In Melbourne:
    Hotel Lincoln (pub meal) - $15-25 ex-drinks
    DOC (pizza) - $20-25 ex-drinks
    Carlton Espresso (pasta) - $15-25 ex-drinks

    If money is tight for the trip, the 2 course lunch special ($35/head with a glass of wine) at Cafe di Stasio might be a nice idea.

    They are my first thoughts. I am sure more will come to me and that mr gimlet will have a few ideas.

    1 Reply
    1. re: kersizm

      Thanks. Any more recommendations you might have will be helpful. Money's never been tight before, but $6k for meals alone on a trip is a lot.

    2. one great outing in Melbourne would be the Victoria Market - closed Mon and Weds I think - but when it is open you can get a very satisfying cheese and spinach borek for $2.50 - such a deal! - and then wander the market. If you want something sweet you can get fresh fried dough w or without jam for $1 (or is it $2? anyway, cheap). and wander through the market. It isn't full on street food, but it is good. Also in Melbourne you can go on the 109 tram to Richmond and on Victoria Rd (after Victoria Parade) there are vietnamese restaurants w pho for $10, huge bowl, I like the place closest to church st. I also love the thai place ispicy thai which is also reasonable.

      In Sydney you can wander through produce and fish at Paddys Mkt and then walk a couple of blocks and have great thai at chat thai or spice I am, also reasonable in my opinion.

      oh hmm those are all asian I guess. well, you can have some great fries at Lord of the Fries.

      I guess most of the good values I know are Asian. There is cheap pub food, steaks for $10, but I haven't found cheap food in pubs that I also love.

      7 Replies
      1. re: debbieann

        Thanks. We'll be in Melbourne from the 14th to the 16th, so Victoria Market is definitely a go. As to Asian, we do like Asian, but I don't want all Asian food. If we do go, it will probably be in Melbourne, as I hear their Chinese food is particularly good there.

        1. re: Hoc

          Not certain who recommended Melbourne Chinese food over Sydney's I always thought Sydney had the edge for most Asian foods. Melbourne did have Australia's top Chinese restaurant in "The Flower Drum" but that is second mortgage territory.

          As Debbieann says when in Sydney head to Spice am I, or their new one "House" (Isaan at $10 to 14 a dish), or try "Mamak" for great malaysian roti ($5.50 - but you won't stop at one), or "Gumshara" for ramen (approx. $9). You may just get fed for your budget here. Lots of interesting places around China town that will fit the budget - all Asian but not all Chinese. Check out this blog for a few ideas (but little criticism - a fault of many Aussie bloggers who get comped):

          Lots of pubs have steak or pie nights which can be cheap early in he week, the Lord Nelson Brewery in the Rocks does a good pie night on Monday I think. But beer is $8 a pint so watch the budget.

          You could go really upmarket and try the Wagu Burger in the bar at Rockpool Bar & Grill, from memory it is $22 and quite filling - but the wine there is pricey (as are all drinks in Sydney CBD).

          Food courts abound in Sydney with lots of good cheap foods, they are usually under office towers or in underpasses i.e. the "Hunter Street Connection" near Wynard Station. These are good for lunch and the queues guide you to the best. The new one in the Pitt Street Westfield is open in the evenings and has a good (upmarket) selection.

          Obviously the cheaper food is going to be out of the CBD, but that said lots of inner suburbs are not that cheap, try Haberfield for Italian , or Ashfield for Chinese, or New Town for funky/studenty.

          There is lots of cheapish food around Sydney in the $25 range but that said a lot of the best food that encapsulates great Aus cuisine is heading to the $30+ market per dish. It may be worth investing a few $$ in a good cheap eats guidebook as it may save some wasted $$ for bad food. This one is reliable: they do an iPhone version of their main guide so may do one for the cheap eats (the Age in Melbourne is the sister newspaper and also does one).

          1. re: PhilD

            Thanks for the suggestions, Phil. No iphone here. I have a droid, but it probably won't work in Australia, so I'm leaving it home. I bought a Let's Go Australia book, and a separate book on cheap things in Sydney.

            1. re: Hoc

              Re books, there are lots of books but few good ones and the big international guides barely scratch the surface.

            2. re: PhilD

              For lunch it's worth heading to Cafe Vue (Melbourne) for the $15 burger. It's wonderful.

              1. re: kersizm

                I'd definately second a visit to Cafe Vue and the Queen Vic Market - for a cheap and delicious eat at the market, visit La Cantina in Shed F, and also the Spanish Donut truck!

              2. re: PhilD

                We really enjoyed Lord Nelson's Pub in the rocks for the good food and PhilD is right about the pints adding up..excellent beer though.
                Sailor Thai for's been awhile and don't recall if it was expensive.
                Have a great time!

          2. Where are you staying in Brisbane? If I know the area, I'll have a think and see what I can find within walking distance from your hotel.

            5 Replies
            1. re: ursy_ten

              We are going to be at the Sebel Suites, and we will be going to the Gallery of Modern Art. So, anything near either of those places is good. We arrive on Wednesday afternoon, go to the Gallery on Thursday, and leave Thursday evening.

              1. re: Hoc

                Oh, that's very fortunate - I'd recommend the Southbank precinct, which is across the river from the CBD where you'll be staying, but on the same side as the Gallery of Modern Art. It's easy to find from GOMA, just head for the huge ferris wheel and once you get there, keep walking along the river. There is a food court type place there (pretty casual) - plus a few restaurants, but there are also numerous eating places a block or so back from the river, and I'd recommend walking around here and seeing what catches your eye.

                A short taxi ride from GOMA is West End, where you'll find some small restaurants... think artsy, ethnic - cafes and bistros.

                I'm being a bit vague because we moved away from the city area a few years ago and am loath to say anything too specific because things can change quite quickly, but I'm going to see if I can dig up something more informative for you and will report back if I have any luck.

                1. re: ursy_ten

                  Ok, reporting back...

                  person A: We had the nicest meal at El Torrito (Mexican) at West End the other night. Very reasonably priced too (it's BYO). Highly recommended.

                  person B: Yes, love El Torrito. Any of the hole-in-the-wall-y places in West End are good, really.

                  person C: Bamboo Basket at South Bank is very well-priced, massive bowls of wonton noodle soup for $15, fantastic dumplings for a couple of dollars, that kind of thing.
                  Just a wander along Little Stanley St would get them plenty of good restaurants for decent prices, e.g. Beastie Burgers (ignore Urbanspoon saying they're not open on weekends - they are), Viet de Lites, Ahmets.
                  And Verve in the city is still really good for pastas, risottos, etc.

                  You might be able to find some reviews on Google... or they may have websites and menus.

                  1. re: ursy_ten

                    One of the original replies had links in it, so you can follow the link to find them - you might get some reviews or menus:

                    1. re: ursy_ten

                      Another recommendation:
                      If you want a $5 goodness around lunchtime (11-3pm-ish) on a weekdays give The Post Office Square food court a go [It's under the park on Queen St between Edward and Creek Streets. Ichiban in the centre has $4 chicken/beef lemon grass noodle salads, $5 pork/prawn noodle salads and $5 chicken karaage/katsudon or $5 beef/chicken teriyaki. Also their competitor next to subways does a fantastic $5 Chicken Katsudon with all the trimmings and some other things I haven't tried for $5

                2. PhilD - That Everyday Eats app looks great. I went ahead and dowloaded it to my phone...having done that of ccourse now begs the question of functionality in AU.

                  Will my US-Based (AT&T) I-Phone function well down there?

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: masnole

                    Should do as it is the same phone (the Verizon pne may not) you may need to get AT&T to allow international roaming. Cheaper to get a Aus pre-paid Sim card (if they do micro pre-paid) when you arrive, but you will need the phone unlocked from AT&T before you leave the US..

                    1. re: PhilD

                      Yep - I recommend Amaysim. Hop onto and see where you can get the sim cards (see store locator), then get online and activate your sim card (most shopping centres should have an internet kiosk).

                      1. re: PhilD

                        I usually setup international roam before leaving US, worked fine for me in Europe, Mexico, Taiwan, but not in Japan.....

                    2. Thank you all for your suggestions. Please keep discussing. We leave for Australia on Wednesday night, and I plan on printing this out just before we leave for the airport.

                      BTW, any comments on Brushfire Flame Grill in Cairns? It seems to get some pretty good reviews on Tripadvisor, and we like Brazilian BBQs here in the USA.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Hoc

                        I suspect the Bushfire Grill does exactly what it says. My tip for Cairns is that there are good early deals as many of the reef boats come back late afternoon so people head out for dinner later.

                        As for Melbourne, the high prices you see tend to reflect staff costs and rent, so if you can find low staff ratios for fast meals outside the CBD, this is usually the key to lower prices. This is why Asian (Northern and South East) tends to be the bargain food - small shops, high turnover and not many staff. Also lots of international students helps turnover.

                        Remember also that we have highly regionalised Asian (though Sydney is better at it), so its not the same food day after day. There are options everywhere, but I'm assuming you'll be city based.

                        In the Asian space, good budget keepers are dumplings (Hutong, lots of Box Hill), pho (Mekong on Swanston, or all of Richmond), and noodle dishes (Noodle Kingdom on Russell). Lunch often has one plate specials from a restricted menu at keen prices, even in the CBD, eg mapo dofu at Sichuan House. Lots of small Indians eg Bismi Golden Fork ( Elizabeth) and Malaysian (Coconut House, Elizabeth). All will be extremely authentic.

                        In the non-Asian space, Vic Market for Borek, Bratwursts and oysters (the fishmongers sell ready to eat) or picnic supplies. Greek gyros (Stalactites, Lonsdale) could be an option. Heading up Sydney Road on a short tram rude puts you in the Turkish/Lebanese belt - great pastries for snacking (spinach and cheese, A1 bakery) or more substantial set meals with unlimited bread on an evening for under $20 (Alasya, Zara, Golden Terrace). DOC and Ladro already mentioned, and there is a similar style place in the CBD (I think it's called +39 and is on Little Bourke). Le Traiteur (Lonsdale) does good, solid meals and great sandwiches.

                        As suggested above, while there are lots of cheap places, there are a lot fewer good, cheap places. You need to spend $20 on the Cheap Eats.

                        If you are going to splurge, lunch is often a better bet than dinner. kersizm mentioned Cafe di Stasio but there are plenty of others, mainly in the City. Also, if you are wine drinkers, look out for BYO ('Bring Your Own') where you can buy wine from a retail shop and bring to the restaurant for a normally nominal fee. BYO is sometimes lunchtime or weekday evenings only.

                        Oh, and Chinese is definitely better in Sydney. So is Thai - I gorge myself on Thai every time I visit.