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The Best Cheap Eats Under $20 You Can Find in Melbourne's CBD

There are big bowls of ramen, towering Korean sandwiches and cheesy pizza slices as big as your head, each for less than a lobster.
By Libby Curran
February 24, 2021
By Libby Curran
February 24, 2021


There are big bowls of ramen, towering Korean sandwiches and cheesy pizza slices as big as your head, each for less than a lobster.

Melbourne's food scene might be world famous, but it's not all fancy fine diners and lavish degustations. This fine city of ours also boasts a smorgasbord of top-notch culinary options to suit even the tiniest of budgets. Just because you're saving your dollars — or it's three weeks out from pay day — doesn't mean you've gotta give up the good stuff. We've scouted the CBD and unearthed the best tasty feeds under $20 that'll fill your belly without emptying too much from your wallet. There are big bowls of ramen, towering Korean sandwiches and cheesy pizza slices as big as your head, each one yours for less than a lobster. Step away from the mi goreng and check out these budget-friendly food finds.

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    Spice up your life the budget-friendly way by hot footing it down to Delhi Streets. A buzzy, modern Indian eatery, tucked away down Katherine Place, it’s plating up a menu of blissfully affordable street food, with no single-serve dish priced at more than $17. You’ll find naan pizzas, burrito-inspired wraps, tandoori classics and a whole range of thali. Opt for something like the chana bhatura — spiced chickpeas with tamarind chutney, pickled onions and fried Indian bread — and you’ll even have enough cash left over for a cooling mango lassi ($3.50).

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    There aren’t a whole lot of Michelin-starred restaurants that could claim a spot in a cheap eats guide. But at Lonsdale Street’s Hawker Chan — the original Melbourne outpost of Singapore’s award-winning hawker stall — world-class dining really does come with a teeny tiny price tag. The menu here is based around the same recipes that earned chef and founder Chan Hong Meng his Michelin status, including the legendary soya sauce chicken with rice ($8.30/$11). But head in armed with a twenty and you’ll have your pick of most of the menu — from char siu noodles, to pork hor fun and wonton noodle soup.

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    Butchers Diner

    This tiny diner has become a firm favourite for late-night eats, but you don’t need to be a night owl to appreciate its quality, meat-driven food offering. And you don’t need to be flush with cash, either, thanks to a lineup of daily dish specials that all come in under the $20 mark. On Wednesdays, you can nab yourself a mighty buttermilk crispy chicken sambo with ranch dressing for $17, while Thursdays are dedicated to hefty reuben sandwiches made with house-made wagyu pastrami ($18). Best of all, they’re available all-day long.

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    As one of the forefathers of Melbourne’s Korean fried chicken craze, Gami Chicken & Beer is a go-to whenever that chook craving hits. Even if you’re feeling extra cheap. Here, $19.50 will get you a half RSPCA-approved chicken, chopped into tasty pieces, fried until golden, and served with a cabbage slaw, pickled radish and plenty of napkins. You’ve even got a choice of flavours — maybe soy garlic or sweet chilli — which you can enjoy either as a coating for your chicken, or as a dipping sauce on the side. All that’s left to decide is whether you want that bird boneless or not…

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    There are few bad moods that a big ol’ slice of New York-style pizza won’t fix. So just imagine what four of them could do. Out of a tiny shopfront in Meyers Place, Pizza Pizza Pizza is slinging a range of hefty 18-inch pies, available by the whole pizza, as well as by the slice. And at just $5 a pop, these cheesy triangles are a steal. Choose from classic toppings like margherita, pepperoni, and ham and pineapple, or opt for a vegan or vegetarian iteration. Depending on your slice haul, you might even have coin left for an $8 garlic bread.

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    Just because the eats are cheap, doesn’t have to mean they’re bad for the planet. Zero-carbon street food kiosk Atiyah is serving up fast Lebanese fare with a minimal footprint from its tiny Fed Square kitchen, which is powered entirely by renewables. So you can feel extra good about yourself while you’re chowing down on that budget-friendly lunch. The kiosk specialises in manakish (a type of savoury flatbread) made to order, with its entire range of vegan, vegetarian and meat varieties all clocking in at under $10. Choose from the likes of goat labneh and olive ($10), za’atar with cheese and vegetables ($8), and organic lamb lahembajin cooked in tomato, onion and spices ($10).

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    Don’t be fooled by the generous portions and big flavours of Shujinko’s legendary ramen bowls — each of the six varieties comes in at less than $16. The famed ramen joint has long been a win for budget-conscious diners on the hunt for a hearty comfort food fix, renowned for its Tokyo-style tonkotsu ramen made with a signature slow-cooked pork broth. The soup base takes 12 hours to prepare and is finished with an array of top-quality local ingredients, yet you can slurp up a whole bowl and still have change left from a twenty. In fact, why not spend those leftover bucks loading up on a few extra toppings?

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    Not all sandwiches are created equal. And the towering monsters being whipped up at Dari Korean Cafe and Bar? Well, they’re about as far removed from those school lunch sambos as you can imagine. This laneway fusion joint is whipping up a menu of hefty burgers and sandwiches, ranging from the innovative to the downright quirky; all of them priced at under $20. Take your tastebuds on a trip to Seoul with the omelette-stuffed K-Street Toast ($15.50), or try the much-hyped Idol Sandwich ($17.90) — a riff on a viral sensation made famous by K-pop stars, featuring an unlikely combination of strawberry jam, slaw and egg salad.

    Image: Julia Sansone

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    An absolute cheap eats classic, the humble dumpling is your friend no matter how skint your bank account’s looking. And if it’s bang for buck you’re after, you’ll want to roll on into somewhere like the long-standing HuTong, in the heart of Chinatown. These Shanghainese specialists are serving up a rollcall of dim sum’s greatest hits, including dumplings in abundance. Here, you can dig your chopsticks into a steamer basket of xiao long bao ($12.80 for eight), plump prawn parcels ($9.80 for four), or maybe the boiled pork dumplings ($8 for six). But hey, why stop at one? With prices this low, that twenty dollar note can easily stretch to two serves.



Top image: Dari by Julia Sansone


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