It’s hard to know if it’s the wobbly chairs, the plastic flowers and grapes hanging from the ceiling or the faded tapestries on the wall that make Chinese Noodle House so unique. At the back of a courtyard off Quay Street, just walking past the front door will have the staff shouting at you and offering you a menu. There’s never a spare table, but they’ll happily take your order while you wait in the courtyard outside. They encourage BYO, and their special recipe eggplant is not to be missed.
Technically in Chippendale, Freda’s is on Regent Street just up from Ultimo and well worth walking the extra block. An independent bar with a strong wine list, a beautifully built space, and cheap roast dinners ($15 a plate) on Sunday during winter, it might end up a weekly affair. They do regular happy hours and host a range of local DJs – check their Facebook page for details.
Just down from Ultimo towards Darling Harbour, the Chinese Garden of Friendship is a peaceful oasis amidst the constant bustle of the area. Combining the traditional elements of water, stone, garden and architecture you’d hardly know you were in the heart of Sydney. At just $3 for a student ticket, you’re buying yourself a clear head and a calm afternoon away from the stress of everyday life.
Surry Hills, Newtown & Glebe
While Surry Hills is home to some of Sydney’s fanciest restaurants, there’s also some good cheap eats to be had. El Loco is a Mexican-style cantina at the back of the Excelsior Hotel on Foveaux Street – tacos are $5 a pop and so delicious you’ll probably want to order a few, heavy on the Pico de gallo. The vibe is relaxed and street-style, just right for a busy Friday night or any old Tuesday when you can’t be bothered with cooking.
In Newtown, there are almost as many Thai restaurants as there are bus stops, each as inexpensive and delicious as the next. For something a little different, try Tamana’s, a North Indian diner that does quick and easy thali plates (1-3 curries with rice and naan) for less than $15. The curries are pre-prepared and right there on the counter so you know exactly what you’re getting.
Just a few blocks away on Enmore Road, Saray is a bit of an institution for local take-away connoisseurs. Serving Turkish pizzas and kebabs, this place is most famous for being a late-night treat. The kind of place you stop by on the way home after a few drinks.
Carriageworks is a large multi-arts centre on Wilson St in Eveleigh (just next door to Newtown). Housed in the old Eveleigh Rail Yards, it is an extensive and beautifully converted industrial space that hosts local and international exhibitions as well as workshops, performances, and public events. There’s a great bar and café, and on Saturday mornings between 8 a.m. and 1 p.m., the city’s best farmers market takes over. Buy your weekly fruit and vegetables, or just explore, making sure to taste the range of baked goods and artisan products on hand.
Potts Point, The Rocks & Woolloomooloo
Circular Quay is nestled in beside the Rocks. Not only are you happily situated between the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge, but you also have boundless opportunities to explore everywhere else. Catching a ferry is easily the best way to see Sydney and cheap, at that!
An Opal card will get you to Watson’s Bay for fish and chips, to Millers Point for Luna Park, or as far as Manly, cruising past North and South Head where Sydney Harbour begins.
The Museum of Contemporary Art (known as the MCA) has been a favourite part of The Rocks for many years. The original building was constructed in the 1950s but didn’t open as a gallery until 1991. Since then, it has been home to all kinds of touring exhibitions and installations and hosts a large portion of the Biennale of Sydney when it’s on. In 2012, the building officially reopened with a new wing and almost double the space. Whether you’re here for a free exhibition, or you want a coffee with a view at the upstairs bar, it’s a phenomenal spot to pass the day.
Bondi to Coogee
The Bondi Markets are open every Sunday from 10 am – 4 pm, and you can easily spend a day exploring the eclectic range of stalls. For an outstanding experience, you should bypass the regular farm produce and food stalls, lovely as they are, and just go for Australia’s favourite breakfast, lunch or dinner: the sausage sizzle! Thick cut white bread, a crispy (some might say burnt) sausage, juicy onions straight off the grill, a big squirt of ‘killer’ (tomato sauce / ketchup) and some mustard and you’re done. The sausage sizzle stalls are usually fundraisers for charities like the local school, or the junior lifesavers, so it’s a good cause as well as a healthy meal for under $5!
The classic cheap meal for generations and the perfect way to end a day of sun and swimming in this part of town is, of course, fish and chips on the beach, straight out of the paper, as the sun sets. In Bondi, head to Fishmongers on Hall Street where they hand cut the chips and only ever cook the fish to order – fresh is best, and all priced for less than $15. A Fish Called Coogee is just off the beach in Coogee and a little more expensive, but always a crowd-pleaser. Try their traditional mixed-pack, or Balinese, prawns for something different.
The Inner West is changing, and it isn’t as cheap and humble as it once was. Housing prices have increased significantly in the last 10 years, and more and more cafes and small bars are opening their doors alongside the rundown old family owned shops.
Lucky for you, it is still one of the best places in Sydney to get a cheap dinner. Illawarra Road, just down from Marrickville Station (use the Bankstown Line) is the best place to get Vietnamese Pho outside of Ho Chi Minh City. This traditional rice-noodle broth is a simple and warming blend of spices, fresh mint and bean shoots, and usually chicken or beef. It’s a beautifully fresh and fragrant dish, and for just $10 you’ll get a bowl bigger than you can possibly manage. Don’t be fooled by the old tiled floor and fluorescent lights at Pho Ha Noi Quan, it’s popular for good reason. For somewhere a little nicer, Pho Hai Duong recently reopened as PHD with bright red walls and big timber tables that will seat all your friends.