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Where to Eat When You're Saving but Don't Feel Like Another Meal at Home

Places for a weeknight feed that won't blow the budget.
By Imogen Baker
October 04, 2017

Where to Eat When You're Saving but Don't Feel Like Another Meal at Home

Places for a weeknight feed that won't blow the budget.
By Imogen Baker
October 04, 2017


in partnership with

Places for a weeknight feed that won't blow the budget.

When you live in Melbourne, budgeting can be tough. Even though you're trying to save money, everywhere you look there are temptations: gelato being scooped on every corner, dumplings beckoning sweetly from bamboo baskets, scents of bacon wafting on the breeze. And don't even think about walking down Lygon Street — you won't make it out without a face full of fancy pasta. The whole city conspires to part you from your money and fill your belly with delicious eats.

But just because you're on a money diet, doesn't mean you have to go hungry or resort to the sad 'food hacks' you've started using to save some dosh. You can still indulge in some cheap and cheerful meals out and save up for your talking Japanese toilet (or whatever it is you're saving for). That's the fine thing about cuisine in Melbourne — there's something delicious available for every budget.

The trick is to develop an encyclopedic knowledge of the best deals and specials and work the menu to live a sparkling life on a still budget. That's what we've done. In partnership with American Express, we've pinned down the best eateries in Melbourne that won't ruin your saving schedule — and they accept Amex so you can just tap if you're running low on cold, hard cash.

Got yourself in another dining situation and need some guidance? Whatever it is, we know a place. Visit The Shortlist and we'll sort you out.

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    Fonda is a good pick for cheap, but incredibly cheerful Mexican. The peppy interior is covered in blonde wood and millennial pink and blasts a bouncy soundtrack to create the perfect environment for Fonda’s Aussie take on Mexican.

    We recommend the DIY tostada board ($21) or a selection of six-inch tacos ($6.5-7.50). You’ll find classic faves twisted with some modern additions, like the crispy sweet potato with pomegranate and jalapeno-basil aioli.

    If you have the hunger of a bear, head straight to the trio of quesadillas ($15-16) or the burritos loaded up with black beans and quinoa for a cheap, filling feed.

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    Good things may come in small packages, but finer things come served as tasty morsels on wooden boards. The Italians call this cicchetti, and it’s one of the defining features of Lygon Street’s hippest bar, Heartattack and Vine. The drawcard for those of us on a budget is the individual servings at only $3.50 a bite (or $10 for three). You can satiate your need for a night out with a few tasty morsels, without blowing the budget.

    The rotating cicchetti covers anything from a bowl of humble olives to crostini topped with slow-braised ox tongue, smoked cod or roast peach and whipped goat’s cheese. You never know what you’ll get, but you can rest assured it’ll be buonissimo.

    Image: Brook James.

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    The vegetarian menu at Trippy Taco means the prices are just generally lower than your average Mexican joint. If you’re a sceptic, have some faith. Mexican without meat is possible and, what’s more, it’s incredible. They offer what you’d expect: mouthwatering tacos, burritos, quesadillas and bangin’ nachos, all served all with vegan soy cheese and tasty meat substitutes.

    Food comes out super quickly, so there’s no waiting around and questioning your decision for an hour before your burrito arrives. Just make sure you rock up before the crowds rush in. The no-frills cantina can only seat 45 amigos, and it can get a bit squishy.

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    Considering the resumes of the duo who established Tuck Shop Take Away — between them they’ve worked at Attica, Vue De Monde, Chez Dre and the Fat Duck — you would expect the prices to be ridiculous. But, the retro vibes here extend to the menu too, with burgers starting at just $11 and jaffles at $7.50.

    It’s a teeny tiny venue with space for only 11 people to be seated at a time. So, if you are lucky enough to grab a table, don’t go past the salted Fantale milkshake ($7) and the slow-cooked lamb jaffle with Vegemite and cheese béchamel ($9.50) and served with hand-cut, triple-cooked chips ($3 for a side) to top you off.

    Image: Brook James.

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    George Colombaris may be a fancy man from the television, but his restaurant chain, Jimmy Grants, isn’t as expensive as you might think. In fact, it’s really reasonable. They serve up gourmet souvas from $10.90, featuring succulent cuts of meat, seafood or falafel, some salady bits and (most importantly) oregano-sprinkled chips, all wrapped in a crispy yet soft pita. Meats and seafood range from the lighter chicken and prawns to heartier lamb and beef short-rib. And if you really want to treat yourself, but in a fiscally responsible way, throw in a few saganaki soldiers ($3 each) to your wrap and float away in cheesy bliss.

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    Bimbo Deluxe

    Bimbos, in case you’re not familiar, is a warm yet grungy little place nestled right on the corner of Rose and Brunswick streets in Fitzroy, and they’re renowned for their $4 pizzas. Yes, $4 pizza. You heard right.

    Though it’s practically a health hazard to price pizzas so low, we ain’t mad. There is the caveat, however, that they’re only $4 when you pay through the Bimbo Deluxe app, but whatever. Unlike Meatloaf, we will do anything for love. As if that wasn’t enough, they also serve up $8 brioche burgers with fries and $6 dessert pizzas. If you want to eat in relative peace, we recommend getting there a little early on the weekends before the big crowds arrive.

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    Northcote Social Club

    If you’re doing NSC on the cheap, go straight for the sharing menu. It’s arguably the most interesting and diverse part of their offering, plus with the generous serves (and some help from a side of chips), you can get away with a cheaper, heftier meal.

    We’d also recommend the chipotle chicken tenders served with celery and blue cheese sauce ($15) or the lamb ribs with cumin yoghurt and pomegranate ($15) for the hungry meat-eaters among you. Both dishes are tender and flavoursome with a good balance of sauce to meat. For everyone else (vegans included), the beetroot carpaccio ($12) is a tasty and surprisingly filling winner, served with cauliflower cream, a soft herb salad and toasted almonds.

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    When all you want is a warm bowl of miso soup or the comforting taste of Japanese curry, but don’t want to dip into your savings, Samurai is there.

    You’ll be sure to forgive the faded decor and out-dated posters when you spot the outrageously cheap and highly delicious sushi menu. A ten-piece salmon and avo roll will set you back $7.50, while eight pieces of the spicy tuna clocks in at $10. The entrée menu is even more ridiculous with agedashi tofu at $4.20, several gyoza for $4.70, yakitori chicken skewers for $4.70 and many other sweet deals.

    And, if you really want to go crazy, flip the page to the mains. Grab a chicken katsu curry for $9.50 or salmon teriyaki for $15. We also highly recommend snagging a green tea milkshake ($4.50). The flavour is smooth and rich enough for die-hard Japanese diners, but not too overpowering for those unfamiliar with the taste.

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    A meal at Penang Coffee House is so cheap, you could hardly do it for any less at home. The menu is jam-packed with Malaysian delicacies, all served with big portions and hearty flavours. The noodle dishes are the best value, averaging $13.50 for a big bowl of thrown noodles, and you really can’t go past a $13 bowl of laksa with chicken and prawn. Also, you can guarantee you’ll take leftovers home.

    You can also fill up on bite-sized pieces from the entrée menu. The sang choi pau ($8.50) consists of fragrant mince pork inside fresh lettuce cups and is a killer option for hard-core savers. Another good thing about eating at Penang is that you won’t be the difficult frugal friend because nothing on the menu is over $20 — the whole exercise is innately frugal. More than that, the bustling atmosphere is great — a slice of excitement and chatter that can be sorely missed when you eat in every night.


    As you drink and dine with your American Express, reap all the sweet rewards of being a Card Member. Explore the many ways American Express has your back here.

    Top image: Brook James. 

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