These cheap and cheerful Melbourne restaurants serve up quality food that won't break the bank.
Avoid the queues at Hanoi Hannah and head to its no-frills eatery next door. The space is dedicated to Hanoi Hannah's takeaway operations, but a tiny communal table indoors lets you watch the chefs whip up their hawker-style Vietnamese fare. You can order favourites from the restaurant menu such as vermicelli salad with char grilled chicken or tender beef pho, or try something different such as pork belly banh mi or lemongrass beef stir fry.
Chef George Calombaris (of MasterChef Australia fame) set up this string of souvlaki restaurants that has stolen the hearts and stomachs of Melburnians. At Jimmy Grants fluffy pita is packed with tender meats, prawns or falafels, and there’s even a GFS, or gluten-free souva, with chicken and tahini yoghurt. If you're really hungry, choose the “eat like a Greek" option, which includes your choice of lamb or chicken, side salad, dips, chips and pita. Don't leave without sampling Calombaris's famous loukomades – Greek doughnuts with walnuts, honey and cinnamon.
Burger-loving locals need not head far to get their fix. 8bit, which started out in the westside suburb of Footscray, has set up shop smack bang in the middle of the city centre on the corner of Swanston and Little Bourke streets. Order the towering Double Dragon (double beef, double cheese and double bacon) or the Golden Axe (crispy fried chicken, sriracha mayo and slaw), with a side of crispy onion rings or beer battered fries. To finish, try the salted caramel milkshake.
This retro diner in Fitzroy is giving Colonel Sanders a good run for his money by taking the humble southern-style fried chicken to greater (and spicier!) heights. At Belles you start by choosing your protein – chicken tenders, drumsticks, wings, fish or mushroom – then choose from five levels of heat, ranging from mild to extremely hot. Throw in your favourite sides, such as collard greens or Old Bay fries, and slather with sauces. Our pick is the Belles blue cheese.
Lentil as Anything is a non-profit vegetarian restaurant that allows customers to pay what they feel the meal is worth, offering nutritious meals to all members of the community. There is a strong focus on Indian and Sri Lankan cuisine and most dishes are vegan and gluten-free. This Abbotsford outpost is a loud affair, attracting backpackers, students and creatives from breakfast till dinner. The menu, which changes daily, features everything from curried coconut laksa to crunchy fried onion pakora and Nepalese halwa with cashew, cardamom and coconut cream.
Having done the rounds of Melbourne and settling in Fitzroy, Miss Katie’s Crab Shack has become the go-to spot for crustacean cravings. The roving restaurant, headed up by chef Katie Marron, offers an authentic take on southern soul food. Think pots of prawns, fried chicken and waffles, fish tacos and a build-your-own Louisiana-style boil in Old Bay seasoning. Bibs are supplied in case things get messy.
The brains behind Latin-inspired Smith & Daughters in Fitzroy have opened an all-vegan delicatessen, Smith & Deli, around the corner on Moor Street. This takeaway-only business offers a hefty menu of sandwiches, such as the Friend Zone, a vegan take on the classic ham and grilled cheese toastie, and the Reubenstein, made from mock pastrami, sauerkraut, pickles and Russian dressing. They're so delicious that carnivores frequently need to be reminded they're meat-free. There's also a good selection of pies, soups and baked goods such as Twix tarts and challah sticky buns.
If you’re not afraid of a little Sichuan spice (or a queue of people) head to Tina's Noodle Kitchen on Swanston Street. Owner Tina Li's giant bowls of noodle soup are legendary in Melbourne and arrive at your table still simmering with a fiery layer of chilli oil on top. The menu covers all bases, from chicken, Wagyu and fish, to the more acquired flavours of intestine and pork kidney. The level of spice for each dish is indicated on the menu – only order a three-chili dish if you're really game.
Named after late American rapper The Notorious B.I.G., this New York-style diner is turning out some of the tastiest kebabs in Melbourne, courtesy of Maha Restaurant chef Shane Delia. Slide into a booth at Biggie Smalls and tuck into an East Coast, which packs pork, raw slaw, crackling, coriander and spiced peanut mayo into a round of pillowy pita bread. With a soundtrack of old-school hip-hop and drinks including the Brooklyn Shake (cherry, bourbon and white chocolate) and Root Beer Float (root beer, vanilla vodka and ice-cream), you’ll want to stay a while.