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Melbourne, Australia: Budget eats in the city

By Gwen Luscombe 23 January 2020

While Melbourne takes the title as Australia’s culinary capital, don’t feel like you need to break the budget to eat well here. The city alone is packed with tasty, wallet-friendly spots to grab a bite—one’s even worthy of a Michelin star! You can get a great meal at most of these hotspots for under AUD$10.

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Is there anything better than sinking your teeth into these delicious little pillows? And at just AUD$2.70 per pork bao, you’re in for a delicious treat. Highly recommended is the gua bao filled with fried silky tofu, shredded carrot, radish, sweet soy sauce, and crumbled peanuts. You won’t need to be vegetarian to appreciate how amazingly addictive this one is—just try to stop at one! There’s even a sweet dessert bao for all you sweet tooths out there. You’ll find all this goodness at Wonderbao, tucked away on A’Beckett Street in the city.

Don Don

Sometimes you can get lucky and walk straight into Don Don, other times there will be a line outside and for good reason. Don’t let the queue scare you off; it moves quickly, as this popular low-key hotspot on Little Lonsdale near Swanston Street churns out a variety of donburi (Japanese rice bowls) that are guaranteed to please.

Here you’ll find an even mix of corporate workers on their lunch breaks as well as plenty of local students looking for a cheap and cheerful meal. The chicken katsu curry (roughly AUD$10) is a popular choice, which will be in your hands quicker than you can pay for it. If it’s too busy to grab a table, and it often is, wander across the street to the lawn outside the State Library and join the hordes of students picnicking, sunbathing, and studying in the sunshine.

Tim Ho Wan

Let’s just say one thing: You can’t go wrong with Tim Ho Wan. This tasty branch of Hong Kong’s dim sum hero is popularized as being the world’s cheapest Michelin-starred restaurant. There’s typically a queue, but this place is nothing if not efficient, so it’s important to keep in mind that Tim Ho Wan isn’t about leisurely dining. It’s an experience characterised by in-and-out lighting fast service, which can be good if you’re time-strapped and have sites to see and places to be.

The signature pork buns are a must-eat here; these trio of sugar-coated and baked (not steamed) buns are super addictive. Also on the must-order list is the mango sago for dessert.


Love burgers? 8bit is about to become your new favourite spot. This retro arcade-themed burger joint is set up smack in the middle of the city, and for about AUD$10, you can grab yourself a hearty burger, or the popular Golden Axe (crispy fried chicken, sriracha mayo, and slaw) with either fries or onion rings. Of course, no burger meal would be complete without a thick shake to wash it all down!

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Dainty Sichuan—Tina’s Noodle Kitchen

Like a hit of spice? Tina, the owner of Tina’s Noodle Kitchen on Swanston Street, serves up giant bowls of noodles with a heavy dose of Sichuan spice. The menu here has everything from chicken dishes to beef as well as ingredients for a more acquired taste such as pork kidney and intestine. Each dish has three levels of spice to choose from; take it easy with a level 1 or, if you’re really game, go for a level 3. Even though this bowl of noodles is strong on the spice, it’s still easy on your wallet. Meals are also generously portioned, so be sure to arrive hungry.

Bratwurst Shop & Co

While visiting Melbourne, the Queen Victoria Markets are a must-go on your itinerary. The market is packed with stalls for shopping as well as a food market and cafes to keep you going all day. Here you’ll find no shortage of quick food from food trucks, vans, and market stalls, but one shop, in particular, is known for their ‘Brat on the Go’.

The Bratwurst Shop & Co’s grilled bratwurst comes either on a white or wholemeal roll, and you get your choice of sausage that run the gamut of mild, spicy, cheese, weisswurst, black pepper, chorizo, or chicken and mushroom. From here, load it up with a selection of mustards, sauces, or sauerkraut. It’s a truly classic market experience and one that won’t slow you down when you have shopping to do!

The Borek Shop

While you’re in the Queen Victoria markets, make a side trip to the Borek Shop, not too far from the Bratwurst Shop & Co. Here, you can grab yourself a Turkish borek (baked pastry) to take away for later, or go ahead and do both the bratwurst (German sausage) and borek—treat yourself!

Most of the borek here sit around the AUD$5–6 price point, so grab a few for dinner once the market closes around 3 pm. These cheap and cheerful snacks of either lamb, beef, spinach, and cheese (or a variety of other fillings) all wrapped up in a flaky pastry are not just satisfying, but also great value for money.

Five Points Café

Get in here early for breakfast as Five Points is only open from 7 am–3 pm. Located on Little Collins Street, this little bagel shop is the perfect spot to grab a bite and go (or stick around for a leisurely breakfast). It’s also important to note that the coffee here from Redstar Roasters is a welcome treat in the morning.

What makes Five Points a true treat is not just its budget-friendly menu, but the range of bagels fillings to choose from. Go classic with a simple cream cheese filling, add in some smoked salmon or create a heartier Ruben. More creative combinations like the Peking duck, pulled pork, avocado, feta, as well as Nutella filled bagels, are also available.

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Gwen Luscombe


Gwen Luscombe grew up in the United States before being bit by the travel bug early in life. Always on the lookout for a great new restaurant and researching her next travel destination, she now calls Melbourne home.