Cheap eats: Darwin
Food that’s cheap but yum
By Jess Wilkinson & Jennifer Pinkerton
Darwin is all about hitting up Asia next door for a bit of food inspiration. From flavour-packed laksas to expertly brewed espressos, the cheap eats on offer in this tropical town are laid-back and best enjoyed outdoors – much like Darwin itself.
Darwin will make you hungry
Newcomers to Darwin often waltz right past Sari Rasa's easy-to-miss exterior, sitting at the end of a plaza corridor filled with tax agents and massage shops. But, come at lunchtime and the place is packed. Try the chilli beans in coconut sauce, grilled eggplant and white fish curry. Note: this place is a cash-only joint so stack up those dollar dollar bills before going.
This ramshackle gem will take you right to South-East Asia with their fresh and fragrant laksas and soups and charcoal chicken with a sweet and spicy Timorese sauce. A word to the wise - be sure to get in early for dinner, ‘cause the restaurant closes at 8pm.
If you're day-tripping to Litchfield National Park or Berry Springs Nature Reserve, make a pit stop at Crazy Acres. Owner and chef, Karen, makes a mean picnic platter with smoked barramundi, honey roast ham, salad and roast beef that will give you change for $20. Make sure to try the mango cheesecake, too.
Alley Cats Patisserie
Over a cup of Campos coffee, a brand that hails from Sydney's hipster suburb of Newtown, tuck into a cronut, a twist on the classic custard doughnut, or the cruffin, a croissant and muffin fusion. Alley Cats also has a hole-in-the-wall sister café, The Rabbit Hole, inside Smith Street Mall that’s worth a peek.
Chow's menu takes its cue from Vietnamese cuisine, as well as Malaysian, Thai and Indonesian. Start with a plate of spring rolls , then move onto a laksa, pad thai or Vietnamese chicken curry.
Eat at Martin's
Not to get all presumptuous or anything, but this is probably Darwin's healthiest café. Eat at Martin’s selects and prepares its food according to Ayurvedic principles, the Indian medicinal tradition of maintaining wellbeing through clean, well-balanced food. This means the café is vegetarian only. Highlights include its chocolate and chickpea (yep, chickpea) cake, plus the breakfast treat: black organic quinoa in coconut milk, served with pears, ginger, spices, yoghurt, coconut cream and walnuts.
At charm Manoli’s Manolis Papathomas shares his father's Greek culinary wisdom and inherited recipes. Wall-sized prints of Santorini form a backdrop, plastic vines and marine-themed paraphernalia trail from the ceilings and, on Friday and Saturday nights, the sound of live bouzoukis fills the air. Manolis's style is mezethes, or shared plates. Indulge in the fried saganaki cheese (AUD$17), pureed potato and garlic dip (AUD$7), chargrilled octopus (AUD$25) and spanakopita dishes (AUD$14) – leaving room for galaktoboureko (AUD$9.50), a moreish Greek vanilla slice. 64 Smith Street, Darwin City
Jetty & the Fish
Food vans don't come much cuter than this pint-sized, illustrated red truck. Jetty & the Fish is run by two Darwin youngsters, Kate and Grant. From Thursday to Sunday evenings on Nightcliff Foreshore in the city's north, they serve up hot chips (AUD$3.50) and other treats, such as South Mexico-inspired fish tacos, served with spicy white sauce, cabbage and coriander (AUD$5). Bring your own drinks and settle in at the foreshore for one of Darwin's famous pink sorbet sunsets. 260 Casuarina Drive, Nightcliff