Frugal Foo

Foo Thinking Money"Money can't buy me love"... But everything else is in this blog.

Where to eat in Melbourne from under $30 per day

It's not enough that I tell you where to go (and I mean that in the nicest possible way). Knowing where to eat in Melbourne city at value for money prices is as much about knowing a thing or two about how to seek out the best value cafe's and restaurants for yourself. After all, it is one of Melbourne's great simple pleasures to discover your own unique dining experiences. And when you do, be sure to share what you know with others, including Frugal Foo!

You can eat out in Melbourne for under AU$30 per day for a whole day of good food, not junk. Don't worry, you won't be missing out on the diverse array of interesting and fresh food for which Melbourne is famous.
Myth: "When traveling, eat where the locals eat."
Truth: Tourists are advised not to follow locals home into their kitchens.

Conventional wisdom when traveling on a budget is to "eat where the locals eat". That way you avoid the tourist traps and experience a more authentic side of local culture. True, but generally Melbournians eat at home if they can possibly help it. They eat out only when working, shopping or for a special occasion when cost is not the primary consideration. So outside of business or shopping hours it is difficult to find casual eateries aimed at feeding locals cheaply. After hours the top notch pricey restaurants are open for business, serving locals and tourists alike. For the budget traveler, cost is always a big consideration. Keep meal costs to a minimum by finding the high turn-over, efficiently run cafes and restaurants open to serve city workers, local and international students and budget travelers.

In Melbourne cafes and restaurants, dining in is usually the same price as take-away, unless there are separate prices listed on a take-away menu. When dining in, you wont normally be charged for hidden extras that you didn't see on the menu. The only exception is a per head or per bottle charge for corkage if you bring your own drinks. Tipping in Australia has never really adhered itself to the local culture. You may tip for exceptional service but be aware that the proceeds are often pooled and distributed evenly among service staff.

Let's start with breakfast. At most cafes you'll find raisin or fruit toast or a muffin to be the cheapest option. Look out for blackboard specials with coffee or tea included for around $5. See the Coffee and Toast post for a list of my favourites. Muesli or eggs are widely available and tend to be a little more expensive. In Melbourne, coffee is almost always made using an espresso machine and not the drip filtered kind. At around $3 a cup it's relatively cheap by international standards in my opinion. To see a range of great value breakfast places in Melbourne click Breakfast under Categories from any page in this blog.
The Age Cheap Eats 2010
The Age Cheap Eats 2010 available here
For lunch salad wraps, salad roles, rice paper rolls, sushi hand rolls and toasted cheese sandwiches can be found for small money at Melbourne food courts and cafes. Spend between $4 to $6 on these items. More fancy foccacia's and hot meals will cost more. Cold drinks add cost and are generally loaded with sugar or some kind of nasty sweetener. Carry your own bottle of water or ask for tap water at any cafe which is absolutely free and better for you. Click Lunch under Catagories from any page in this blog to see a collection of places to eat lunch in Melbourne from $5 for the food.
Tip: Don't pay for drinking water. Tap water in Melbourne is very clean and will be offered freely at any good cafe. Carry your own supply for meals at food-courts and while on the go.
If you're prepared to eat dinner early, (before 6:00pm) you can take advantage of food courts before they close at shopping centers such as Southgate and the Melbourne Central. You will find fresh healthy options at almost any Melbourne food court. Eating well is a matter of choosing wisely and avoiding what is obviously junk. If you don't fancy the tired old food on display, made-to-order stir-fries are available at most food courts. You can expect to pay around $10 for a hot dish, plus another $10 for a dessert and a coffee. Add around $6 for a glass of wine or beer. Popular for dinner are Southgate at Southbank and Crown which is open very late.

For inexpensive evening dining at restaurants it's a matter of seeking out those places which operate on a shoe string, supplying meals to a constant stream of locals and tourists all day and into the evening and can therefore offer good food at value for money prices. At these places you can expect to pay around $11 for a main. A little local knowledge will save you walking in to the wrong kind of cheap restaurant so read on.

For inexpensive Vietnamese cuisine in Melbourne's CBD head to the northern end of Swanston Walk where you'll come across a small scattering of very busy Vietnamese eateries. You'll find them as you stroll up the west side of Swanston Walk between Little Bourke St and Latrobe St. Brace yourself for crazy peak periods at lunch and dinner. You'll be sharing tiny allotments of table real-estate with other diners. Oh and one more thing round-eye, unless you like intestines only order what you understand.

Mekong Vietnam, 241 Swanston St, Melbourne. People come here for the Pho (Noodle Soup) - $8 for small, $9 for large. I must warn you that this place was recently singled out and fined for unclean premises. They have since rectified all problems and have been allowed to reopen after the Magistrate said they made a "conscientious response" to the charges. An optimist might argue it's better to eat somewhere that has just been through a major clean up because they are at a better known state of cleanliness compared to other places. Logical? Maybe not. Personally I wouldn't risk it. There are so many other options for Pho in Swanston St. Foo is cheap but not that cheap!
Melbourne Vietnam Noodle House, 251 Swanston Street,Melbourne. Most noodle or rice dishes are between $8 and $10.
Fried Kway TeowVietnamese Grill Bar, 305 Swanston Street, Melbourne. Rice or noodle dishes $9.20. Noodle and rice specials $9.50. Combination appetizer, main and drink $13.50.

A visit to China town in Little Bourke Street is a worthwhile experience. For downright cheap consider Camy Shanghai Dumpling House at 25 Tattersalls Lane (not to be confused with Shanghai Noodle and Dumpling House in the same lane). Prices for dumplings start at $4.50 for a plate of 10 steamed vegetable and mushroom dumplings.

There's no specific area for Thai food in Melbourne city. But there are good value places about the town. For example Chilli Cafe at 168 Russell St is open 7 days for lunch and dinner. Main meals from $10 to $13.

Drinks and snacks will also hammer your frugal food budget. Everyone has different tastes when it comes to drinks so I have not included them in the $30 budget with the exception of coffee and tea in the morning. Remember, Melbourne water is clean and free. Alcohol will of course come at a price. Arguably it's cheaper to take advantage of BYO (Bring Your Own) licenses at some restaurants around town. But watch out for corkage charges! "BYO" is usually clearly displayed on the restaurant signage and on the menu if they are licensed for BYO.

Avoid the temptation of unhealthy and expensive snacks at cafes and food courts by stocking up at supermarkets on snack items such as fruit and selected treats. This is especially true if you have children with you in town. The kids will want every dam thing they see decorated with a smiley face made out of lollies. The cost of a round of banana splits for each member of the family can add up. A true tight arse will open a packet of Tim Tams you bought from the supermarket and order yourself a coffee to justify the use of a table at a food court. I know I do!

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Melbourne's Food Court Underbelly

This article uncovers an underworld of hidden Melbourne food courts offering excellent value for money and a variety of interesting fresh food.

You could swing a T-Rex by its' tail in the ground floor lobbies of many city buildings. So much prime real-estate, not doing much other than offering air-conditioned comfort to office workers as they routinely walk across the floor from the front entrance to the lift and back again at the end of the day. Thankfully free enterprise seizes upon the opportunity of empty floor space and small food courts have emerged in the lobbies and basements of many city buildings. These "mini" food courts serving city workers during the week are not generally well known unless you happen to work at the same location. Yet unlike a traditional staff cafeteria, the mini food courts are open to anyone.

Food courts sometimes carry a stigma as crass food halls catering for fast food junkies looking to have their fix of salt, sugar and fat delivered 20 different ways in no time flat. In Melbourne, as would be expected anywhere in the free world, you will find all the usual franchise brand food outlets posted at prime food court locations and poised to serve out bulk amounts of cheap rubbish. But, take a second look beyond the Krispy-McHappy-Whopper menus, and there is genuine food to be found in almost any Melbourne food court.

You can find interesting and relatively healthy food options just behind the counters of most Melbourne food courts if you really look. In Australia, some of the leading fast food brands have become quite innovative in their approach to satisfying demand from consumers who are now better informed about nutrition than ever. The bottom line is the choice is yours. You know by now what food is better for you and what food is best avoided. The size of the portion you order is also in your own hands. Australia is a free country and it's up to you whether you "super-size" to a large fries and cola, or choose the chicken wrap and a garden salad.

Weekday "Mini" Food Courts
Usually smaller than the big food halls at Melbourne city shopping centres, these mini food courts are generally found in lobbies of city office towers. The mini food courts are a good option for inexpensive breakfast or lunch if you're in Melbourne from Monday to Friday. Generally I pay less than $5 for breakfast or lunch at these food courts.

Food Court at 530 Collins St530 Collins, 530 Collins St, Melbourne. It's unlikely that a 50 foot high person will enter 530 Collins St, but the ceiling of the lobby is high enough just in case. Despite the daunting dimensions of the ground floor, I found this food court tucked away toward the back of the lobby away from Collins St. From the Collins St entrance keep walking past the cafes and beyond the elevators to find the food court hiding toward the north end. To my disappointment, the place boasting "Hong Kong Style Breakfast" was not open at breakfast time. However Tutti In Piazza came to the rescue with coffee and fruit & nut toast for $6.50. The lesson in Italian while you wait is free!

Bourke Place, 600 Bourke St, Melbourne. Some good value lunches are $5 for 2 sushi rolls plus miso soup at Fa-Suto; $5 for basic sandwiches at Coffee Art; $5 for 3 rice paper rolls at Bento Place Sushi; or $6.50 Vegie curries with rice and Drums Cafe.

Collins Place, 45 Collins St, Melbourne. The Spinach and Tofu squares drenched in a sweet salty soy sauce at Think Asia are a novel thing for $1.30 a piece. For lunch order 2 or 3 with steamed rice (add $2.50 for the rice). Chicken dim sims $2. Curry Puffs $2.50. At Vivaldi focaccias start at $5. Sushi rolls start at $2.30 from Sushi Rush.

The Foundry Food Court, 399 Bourke St, Melbourne. Falafel Kebabs from $5 and decent salads are $5 are available at Eds Food Hut. At Nutrients, food on their menu is listed the way all menus should be translated. For example the curry menu reads "Lean red meat + any 2 serves of carbs $9". I hope it works for them and the idea takes off. Imagine such a translation for the KFC menu!

Freshwater Place, Southbank. $5.50 for two bruschettas at In a Rush. $4.50 Salad roll from Kenny's Bakery. At Kenny's, there is a stand selling tempting lunch items in the corridor, but be sure to check out what's on offer at the counter inside. A Subway is also at Freshwater Place offering the usual worthy lunch time alternatives. Check out my Subway post.

Little Lon Food Court. Crn Exhibition St & Little Lonsdale St. The murals on the walls at this food court under the Telstra building would make for awkward explanation to little children. Nonetheless, for lunches under $5 I can recommend the $4 pack of 2 rice paper rolls, $3 falafel and salad wrap, $4 mini-baguettes or $4.90 toasted sandwiches. $1 fresh fruit. Coffee or tea starts from $2.80.

McPhersons, 546 Collins St, Melbourne. The conversion to a food court has not harmed the original art-deco architecture of the McPhersons building. The best value anywhere in Collins St is Maru Shih Delicious at McPhersons for good simple everyday food. Toasted ham and cheese sandwiches are from $3.45 or baguettes for $5.90. Nero has sandwiches from McPhersons Building Food Court$5. There is also a Subway at the McPhersons food court which I have covered in my Subway post. For breakfast Maru Shih Delicious offers coffee & toast for $3.95. Coffee alone is $2.80. This is surprisingly reasonable tasting coffee. Speedy Nicks offers Coffee and Fruit Toast chock full of fruit, nuts and seeds for $5. Coffee or tea alone is $2.50.

Oaks On Collins, 480 Collins St, Melbourne. Wraps from $5. Hot soup with bread from $6.50.

Paramount, 181 Exhibition Street.
Major Food Courts in Melbourne City
Open everyday for shoppers, tourists and locals, these major food courts located mostly in large shopping centres are a tad more expensive, but still offer good value when compared with restaurant dining.

Australia On Collins Food CourtAustralia on Collins, 260 Collins Street, Melbourne. Take the glass elevator or escalator down below ground level to the food court. Kebab World have falafel or lamb wraps for only $4.50. Having eaten the lamb, I would recommend the falafel since the lamb meat is that awful kebab sausage meat. Made to order stir-fries from Tasty Thia start from $9. Il Divo is here offering pub style food from as little as $10 for a Chicken Cacciatora or $13 for Lamb Shanks. Curiously Il Divo remains unlicensed to serve alcohol. Australia on Collins is open 7 days for breakfast and lunch and closes at 6:00pm Monday to Friday and at 5:00pm weekends. Il Divo remains open later for dinner everyday except Sunday.

Crown Food Court, Crown Entertainment Complex, Southbank. Open until very late, this food court is big on variety and probably the most expensive food court in Melbourne, but not by much. The costlier meals are a small price to pay for the location. There are some worthwhile free attractions at Crown including the Crown Atrium water and lighting effects featuring special displays at Christmas time and Chinese New Year. After dark feel the heat from the spectacular gas brigade fireballs on the river bank just outside the food court door.

David Jones Food Hall, 310 Bourke St, Melbourne. Not Cheap. But a good variety of interesting food to eat there or take home, heat and serve.

DFO Food Courts, 201 Spencer St, Melbourne. Direct Factory Outlets were once genuine manufacturers shops attached to warehouses and moving only stock which was not going to sell in retail stores. Now days I can't tell the difference between a DFO and a regular retail store. Anyway, here is yet another shopping center to explore in Melbourne with 2 food courts plus various cafes. The mural on the north wall depicting the entire history of Victoria's railways makes for a welcome distraction under trying circumstances while Mrs Foo seems to vanish into clothing store change rooms. The mural took 5 years for the artist Harold Freedman to paint (possibly while waiting for Mrs Freedman in the shops) and can be enjoyed from the viewing platform upstairs at the north end of the shopping centre.

Galleria, Corner of Bourke, Elizabeth and Little Collins Streets, Melbourne. Lean meat wraps can be found Wrappers. Weekend trading is limited at Galleria.

Southgate Food Court, Southbank. Dine by the Yarra river against the city skyline backdrop. Rhumbas has a licensed bar and a broad selection of food. Wine is $7.50 per glass. Main meals such as the lamb tagine make for a fitting main course at $11.90. Little India serves all manner of hot curries from between $8 and $11. Trading hours vary according to time of year but you will find the Southgate food court open 7 days until at least 8:00pm which makes it an option for an inexpensive dinner.

Melbourne Central Shopping Centre Food Court, corner Swanston St and Latrobe St in Melbourne Central Shopping Centre. Come up the escalator from Swanston St.

Melbourne Central Railway Station Food Court, beneath Latrobe St at Melbourne Central Railway Station (see map). Better value for money than the Melbourne Central Shopping Centre food court several floors above, this compact underground haunt is a favourite for commuters and students. Uncommon for a food court are a selection of steamed dumplings, dim sims and buns at Bamboo City. Assemble an inexpensive lunch such as a steamed pork bun, two dim sims and a dumpling for only $5. Noodle soup dishes are $7.90. The Melbourne Central Railway Station Food Court is open for breakfast, lunch and early dinner (if you don't mind eating before 6:00pm) 7 days a week.

Midtown Plaza, 246 Bourke St, Melbourne. Pitas from $3.50 at Purely Simply Natural.

QV Urban Market, 210 Lonsdale St, Melbourne. "Urban Market" is a brilliant marketing phrase to excuse the fact that absolutely no work was done to properly fit out this retail space, leaving shop tenants with the task of adding their own ceiling, wall and floor refurbishments within and around their shops. It barely works in my opinion. Still, massive volumes of customers come, eat and leave at a steady churn since no one really wants to linger in such a place.

Southern Cross Railway Station Food Court, Southern Cross Station in Spencer Street. "All aboard! Mind the gap." The fat controller waves his flag and Thomas the blue number one engine chugs off. Such memories are stirred awakening my inner child as I sit in the Southern Cross Station food court looking over the regional arrivals and departure platforms. All I need are a few dials and switches and for a moment it's just possible to believe I have full control over a life sized scale model train set laid out below. Back in present day reality, the trains are electric, the fat controller is replaced by technology and addressing station staff as "fat" may result in a "personalised" and very rigorous ticket inspection followed by a rather uncomfortable removal from the platform. Oh and as for the food, I had a chicken skewer on bed of steamed rice for $5.40. Steamed rice is healthier than fried rice and cheap but bland. Sauce it up with large helpings of the various sauces available on the counter (I warned you I was a tight arse!).

Melbourne CBD Food Courts Map

Click on markers within map to find food courts. Map can be zoomed etc.

Monday to Friday Melbourne City Food Court Locations
Week day mini food courts

Major Melbourne City Food Court Locations
Major food courts

View Melbourne City Food Courts in a larger map

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Camy Shanghai Dumpling House

Sometimes it's more fun to leave a place with a story to tell, than to have had a "normal" night out. Despite anything you've heard about Camy the dumplings are worth it. I get the feeling nothing else matters more than dumplings here. Sure there's no ambiance, shabby decor, gruff service and an unidentifiable odour in the air but the queues at the door speak for the immense popularity of this place. Die-easy would-be diners sometimes come no further than the front door before fleeing when spluttered at by an abrupt staff member attempting to match parties of diners to scarcely available seats. But when you're paying $4.50 for a plate of 10 steamed vegetable and mushroom dumplings, or 8 beef or port dumplings, it's worth ignoring all the quirks. Fried dumplings cost a little more, but I wouldn't want to eat these succulent little babies fried. Dumplings are one of those Chinese foods it's hard to stop eating. Are you done at the ninth? Tenth? Eleventh? Just order another plate full.
The Age Cheap Eats 2010
The Age Cheap Eats 2010 available here
Help yourself to hot tea and soy sauce from the alcove near the front door. Cutlery, chopsticks and chili sauce is available at the tables. Expect to be seated at tables with other diners and bring cash to pay.

Camy Shanghai Dumpling House
25 Tattersalls Lane(not to be confused with Shanghai Noodle and Dumpling House in the same lane)
Open 7 days for lunch and dinner.
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El Gran Cafe - "It's corn Jim, but not as we know it."

Beef Arepa2010 UPDATE: EL GRAN CAFE ON LONSDALE ST HAS BEEN REPLACED WITH MADAM KAYES PLATZ WITH A MALAYSIAN THEME. I just noticed this while walking past and fell over all the tables and chairs out front. Nothing struck me as particularly good value for money and Madam Kayes after my quick glance at the menu board while brushing myself off. El Gran is now located in South Melbourne on St Kilda Rd. I can't say if my original post below is still accurate. If anyone has tried El Gran in it's new location please comment.

The irony of the Beef Filled Arepa is that it is the cow that ends up inside the corn. Arepas are a corn bread which can be stuffed with a filling a bit like we would fill a pita bread. El Gran Cafe offers an authentic taste of South America off busy Lonsdale St in Melbourne. For $7.95, they offer a range of Arepa hot fillings you can choose from. The uninitiated gringo visiting here for the first time won't know what fillings to order for their Arepa without asking the staff. Upon request, they will produce a handwritten list of fillings from which you can choose. I ordered the Beef with Cheese Arepa for lunch (pictured). Interesting, but I found the beef to be a little stringy. I'm still flossing it out that evening. I'd be prepared to give the Arepa concept another try with perhaps the Chicken and Avocado next time. Other Latin American discoveries are Empanadas $4 (looking a bit like a pastie) or Spanish Frittata $5.95.

Chicken Pesto Penne PastaThe best value lunch has to be the Pasta Dishes for only $4.95. Behind the glass counter you'll find little white bowls of pasta ready to be heated and served. Not huge, but just about the right size for a light lunch. Be early for those.

Breakfast also can't be overlooked. The most simple fare is raisin toast for $2 a slice. Thickly cut it's served with strawberry jam. A bagel is $4.50. Coffee is $3.60. Tea $3. There are all manner of traditional and contemporary hot breakfasts ranging in price between $9 and $16.

El Gran Cafe
South American food.
Open 7 days for breakfast and lunch.
139 Lonsdale St

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Melbourne Breakfast 2009 Coffee and Toast Round Up

Coffee and ToastSome people are strictly meat and potatoes, but when it comes to breakfast, I'll admit to being a coffee and toast man. In the morning I'm a light eater. What I'm really after is good coffee. Add toast to that and we can call it breakfast. Luckily I live in Melbourne where making good coffee is taken seriously at many cafes. Any kind of food outlet not at least running an espresso machine just doesn't cut it in this city.

You can expect to pay between $2.50 to $3.60 for a small cup of coffee in Melbourne. Unlike parts of Europe which are also serious about serving good coffee, the coffee here in Melbourne, Australia is cheap enough to enjoy as often as you have a spare 15 minutes.

Since the toast makes this breakfast, I usually go for a gutsy raisin or fruit toast, topped only with a little butter. These are my staples. I have been known to be tempted by the odd crumpet (of the kind served on a plate) dripping with honey, but will again return faithfully to fruit toast with butter.

Listed below are some of my favourite good value cafes for a pleasant coffee and toast breakfast in Melbourne.

Open 7 Days
Covering overheads for staff on weekends, you can expect to pay up to $8 for coffee and toast at these cafes open any day of the week. Note that some cafes also charge a 10% surcharge on weekends and public holidays. Most businesses in Melbourne are closed on the mornings of Christmas day, Good Friday and ANZAC day.

The Bean Room. 261 - 265 Russell St, Melbourne. $4.50 for two slices of poppy encrusted raisin toast, or $2.50 for a single slice. $3.20 for coffee.
Brubakers at Crown. Crown Complex, Southbank. $3.50 for two slices of thick cut raisin toast. $3.50 coffee.
Café Aniamo, 36-38 Degraves St, Melbourne. Plain toast $4. Raisin Toast $4.20.
Degraves Espresso, 23-25 Degraves St. Crumpets or Toast with condiments for $4.50. Coffee is $3.40.
El Gran Cafe. 139 Lonsdale St, Melbourne. $2 per slice of thick cut raisin toast. Coffee is $3.60. Tea $3.
Five66. 566 Flinders St, Melbourne. $4.50 Blueberry Bagel. $5 Sultana & Cinimon Bread Toast. $3 Coffee. $3.50 Tea.
Journal Canteen. Shop 1, 253 Flinders Lane, Melbourne. $7.20 Coffee & Toast.

Open Monday to Friday
Usually better value if you're in town during the week, these places will see you through breakfast for as little as $5 to $6. Keep your eyes open for blackboard specials in any part of town during the week. "Coffee & Muffin" combinations are widely available for around $5 but make a poor excuse for a nutritious breakfast in my opinion.

The Maj. 219 Exhibition St, Melbourne. $5 Raisin loaf toast with coffee or tea.
Olivino. Shop 1, 50 Lonsdale St, Melbourne. $6 coffee with 2 slices of fruit or raisin toast. Or $5 for one less slice of toast.
Hydra Cafe. 480 Collins St, Melbourne. $5.50 Coffee & Fruit Toast.

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Subway Subs - Size doesn't matter after all.

Time now to tackle the big issues. The Subway 6 inch sub versus the 12 inch. This is a conspiracy I tell you. If man did not go to the moon, and if Princess Diana of Wales was murdered, then it's also no coincidence that the 6 inch Subway subs never seems to satisfy the hunger compelling you each lunch time toward the 12 inch option. Who buys the 6 inch anyway? It's a good sandwich for little children and super models I suppose. But you know if you eat only a 6 inch sub for lunch you'll be snacking by mid-afternoon. On the other hand, 12 inches of carbohydrate as a regular lunch seems surplus to dietary needs, and there's no way that one whole foot long bread roll is going to remain absolutely silent in your tummy all afternoon at the office while you attend to an executive round table or that important client power point presentation. It seems choosing the length of your Subway Sub is quite the conundrum...

Fortunately I have the answer. Firstly you must altogether resist the lure of fresh smelling bread from the glass door ovens just behind the counter (another clever part of the conspiracy). Then stand back and take a moment to read the menu board. You will discover that any of the 6 inch Subway subs can be made as a salad for around $1.50 extra. Basically they ditch the bread roll and put all the fillings in a bowl. It seems that you get much more filling this way but it should be said that I haven't actually measured the quantity of salad in anyway. For anyone on a low-carb diet avoiding the bread makes sense. In fact depending on the dressing you choose, you're reducing the carbohydrate by up to three quarters. Keep it healthy by sticking to the low fat fillings and dressings you would normally choose for a sub.

My personal favourite for value for money is the Veggie Delite as a Salad (don't forget the cheese which adds a little substance to any green salad) for around $5.25 at most Subways in Melbourne. Or if you must have a cow (ie eat meat) perhaps the Roast Beef sub as a salad for $6.45 will do the trick.

Subway sandwich outlets are located all around town. The Subway website doesn't list all of them. In this map I have marked Melbourne city Subway locations for the ones I have discovered so far.

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"Grungy Chic" Alleyways in the Melbourne CBD

If you believe large shopping malls are soooo 1999, and you'd prefer to remain unseen and insulated from the orderly consumer culture of mainstream Melbourne, then this hodge-podge of lane-ways could be the place for you. Hence forth in this blog these lane-ways will be known as the “Grungy Chic Alleyways”. This is where you come to potter through unpretentious little booth sized boutiques, before perhaps stopping for a latte which you sip while sitting curbside on a timber crate outside a cafe with a European sounding name.

Aspiring to be at the opposite end of high fashion, these alleyways are in contradiction to the elegance of Melbourne city within which they are embedded. Within the boundaries of Bourke St and Flinders St to the north and south, and Elizabeth St and Swanston St to the east and west (see shaded area on map), the grungy chic alleyways are punctuated by gratify and other "street art" not often tolerated in an Australian central business district. Kept busy 7 days a week as locals traverse narrow path ways from Flinders St Station to the main shopping precinct, compact little cafes offer a range of great value breakfasts and lunches. Leave behind the fake posh accent from south of the Yarra and staff at these hole-in-the-wall businesses serve you with a smile even if you have a sensible haircut and did shower this week.

This list of my favourites for breakfast or lunch is under constant review.

B3 Café et Pâtisserie, Centre Place
Outright favourite of mine for lunch. Superb Baguettes for only $4. I could easily eat their Smoked Salmon Baguette for lunch every day of my life. Soup $4. Huge rice paper rolls $5. Why ever cut your own lunch?

Centro Espresso Café, Shop 2 Centre Place
Open 7 days Breakfast and lunch
Sandwiches from $4.50

Health Cosmos, Centre Place
"Lunch time special" on week days is a decent sized Ham, Salami or Salmon role for only $3.50.

Degraves Espresso, 23-25 Degraves StDegraves Espresso Cafe
Open 7 days Breakfast and lunch. Open for Dinner on Mon-Fri.
Wait to be seated, the staff are the ones wearing the most black. Arrive for breakfast before 8 am to claim prime people watching position behind the big frame glass windows looking out into Degraves St. Best value breakfast here is Crumpets or Toast with condiments for $4.50. Coffee is $3.40. Porridge is $7.50. Cooked breakfasts start at $9.50 for plain eggs on toast, up to $15.90 for Eggs Florentine. Degraves Espresso sets the tone for grunge chic in this area.

Café Aniamo, 36-38 Degraves St
Open 7 days all day except closed Sunday for dinner.
A tad less expensive than Degraves Espresso across the lane. Plain toast $4. Raisin Toast $4.20. Other hot breakfaCaffe e Torta Raisin Toaststs up to $15.

Caffe e Torta, 314 Little Collins St
Open 7 days for Breakfast and lunch.
Not especially cheap but a convenient launching place before setting out on a day of hard core shopping. Fruit toast is all of $6.90 but it’s a substantial serve of 3 slices which should provide sustenance without snacking at least until lunch time. When I requested only two pieces, they served two thicker cut slices for the same price. Toast or croissant with condiments $6.50. Coffee is $3.40. Tea $3.70. Add 10% on weekends and public holidays.

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Click on the icons in the map for more detail.

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Equinox Cafe & Bar

It is said that you can stand an egg on it's end on the day of the equinox. The equinox is the moment in time twice yearly when the sun is directly over the equator resulting in one day of exactly 12 hours light and 12 hours dark no matter where you are on the globe. It is the earths mid point between tilting back and forth on its axis creating warm and cool seasons. Fascinating hey! So why name a bar "Equinox"? It doesn't even serve eggs. Equinox just seems to be one of those words you can use to name anything when you're stuck for a name for something. Gyms, car models, mining companies, you name it, "Equinox" can be used to make any thing sound more interesting.

Despite such an exciting name, Frugal Foo was drawn into the Equinox Cafe & Bar more by the specials board. Each day of the week has a different special for lunch and dinner. They range from $6.90 for a burger or Cesar salad on Monday, up to $10.90 for the rump stake on Thursday. On Saturday and Sunday you can have any pasta or green curry for only $7.90. My lunch visit was on a Tuesday and I had the Vegetable Pizza special for $6.90. Filling, but not worth more than $6.90 in my opinion. Lots of cheese and nice use of herbs but I could hardly identify much in the way of vegetable pieces. I shall return one day to try the rump which sounds like exceptional value.

Bravely, I did not order a drink at this city bar as I prefer no alcohol during business hours. As if my mind was read by the staff, a glass of cool water was forth coming without me even asking. Nice touch guys.

Happy hour is from 4pm to 10pm. $10 jugs of beer and $4 glasses of wine are on offer.

Oh and lastly, that egg story is a myth. You can stand an egg on it's end any time of the year with a little patience. The trick is settling the yolk.

Equinox Cafe and Bar
Open 7 days Lunch and Dinner
Corner Elizabeth St and Little Lonsdale St, Melbourne

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Flinders Station Bakehouse

I think we can safely say that the Flinders Station Bakehouse is neither a bakery nor a house. Rather it is a booth under the railway station annex with a counter facing the street for passers-by without railway tickets. Here you will find some low cost lunch options such as sandwiches and rolls for $4. I had the Roast Beef roll (pictured). Focaccias are $5.90. The nearest seating are park benches along the Yarra river if you head down the stairs at the bridge or Federation Square is across the road. Since it was a cold day I headed to the South Gate food court to consume my roll indoors (naughty naughty Foo!).

Flinders Station Bakehouse
Facing St Kilda Rd adjacent the Taxi rank.

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The Maj

Queen Victoria might well have been amused here since The Maj is part of Her Majesty's Theatre in Exhibition St. This is one of the last remaining places in the city you can sit down and have coffee brought to your table for $2.50. And the 7th cup is free with the loyalty card. For breakfast I had the raisin loaf toast with coffee for $5. We were not amused at the small medallion sized slices of toast. The lesson here is to not be the first in the morning to order the toast sliced from the narrow end of the Vienna style loaf.

Tea is $2.50 if that's what starts your burner in the morning. Also on the menu is Toasted Muesli with yogurt and a side of fruit salad for $7.50. Or if you prefer your arteries to be that little bit harder there's the "Maj Muffin" for $4.50 comprising fried egg, bacon and melted cheese in an English muffin.

Wireless internet is available for $5 for 30 mins with a coffee.

Highlight: For theatre buffs there is a sense of nostalgia within these 19th century theatre walls. Framed cartoon caricatures of theatre greats hang above the dining room.

The Maj
Open for food Mon - Fri 7am to 3pm. The bar opens at other times for theatre performances. There is direct access to and from the theatre foyer or from Exhibition St.

219 Exhibition St
Melbourne Vic

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Brubakers Bagel Bar at Crown

Part of the Crown complex and away from the food court, a meal at Brubakers buys you the right to dine on the river bank without the expensive restaurant price tags and without the relentless pestering from waiting staff attempting to second guess your every need. Light lunches start at $4.50 for a toasted sandwich. Salmon or Vegetarian bagels (pictured) are available for $5.50.

Other mains for lunch or dinner range from $6.50 for a spinach and ricotta cannelloni, up to $12.50 for a steak sandwich. For me the cannelloni served with a salad and a glass of house red wine ($5.00) made for a pleasant meal but fails to satisfy even a moderate hunger at dinner time. A dessert from behind the counter for $4.95 fills the gap. There you will find an assortment of tarts, slices and other sweets including lemon meringue, cheese cake and tiramisu. Dessert is washed down with a coffee for $3.50. In total the 2 course meal with wine and coffee was $19.95.

There is a kids menu with the price set at $7.50 for a meal with a soft drink. It offers the usual assortment of beige coloured foods which we insist on feeding our kids when dinging out.

Brubakers is licensed. Beer starts at $6.50 for a Heineken. Red or white house wine is $5 per glass.

Criticism: Don't wear a dark suit. The birds have made numerous white coloured deposits over the chairs, the tables and even the TV's.

Brubakers Bagel Bar
Open 7 days breakfast, lunch and dinner. (Note Sunday opening later at 10am).
Crown Casino Complex
8 Whiteman Street

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Dontoo Japanese Food - Speedie Japanesie

My order is served and waiting for me on the counter before I can put the change in my pocket. It's that fast!. The curries here are hot (temperature) and ready to be served with rice in a flash. I had the Tofu curry for $5.80. It went down really well on this cold winter day in Melbourne. The serves are a decent size and I struggled to finish. Dishes with meat start at $6 and range up to $8.30 for a Bento Box.

One criticism; I found a piece of chicken in my Tofu Curry. To me this was a bit of a bonus but had I been vegetarian I'd have possibly turned a lighter shade of pale.
The Age Cheap Eats 2010

Dontoo (Don Don Too)
Open Mon - Fri lunch time only
330 - 332 Little Lonsdale St

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The Bean Room

Raisin ToastFor breakfast, toast here is $4.50. Fruit toast or raisin toast is available. If you're a light eater in the morning like me then you can ask for a single slice for only $2.50. I have a slice of this poppy seed encrusted fruit toast and a coffee totaling $5.70. An alternative inexpensive breakfast is the cereal at $4 + 80c for yogurt. Other main meals range up to $15.

I sometimes come here when I need my parking validated for the QV car park. They take coffee seriously so it should please. Car parking aside, I can think of worse ways to start the day than The Bean Room for coffee and fruit toast.

The Bean Room
Open 7 days for breakfast and lunch (7am to 5:30pm)
261 - 265 Russell St
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La Camera Southbank - Go the Full Monty

Relax. Keep your pants on. I'm about to reveal to you one of Melbourne's best value breakfasts. At $7.50 it's not what Frugal Foo would normally call cheap. Most days Foo likes to eat breakfast for around $5. But Frugal Foo looks for VALUE and the breakfasts at La Camera have been a long time local favourite at Southbank.

From Monday to Friday, La Camera discount all their top price breakfasts down to $7.50. And coffee or tea is only $2. The weekend price for many of these breakfasts is $14.50 and $3.80 for coffee, so at $7.50 and $2 respectively it is great value during the week.

Highlight: My personal favourite is the Full Monty which has eggs anyway you like them, toast, bacon, sausage, mushrooms, tomato relish, baked beans and a hash brown. Not at all greasy as it so easily could be. My dining partner swears by the Veggie Brekkie which is the same thing minus bacon and sausage, add avocado and spinach.

Criticism: The prices have risen and I kinda suspect the sausages are not quite the full monty I remembered in previous years. Signs everywhere say no bill splitting but that is often conveniently forgotten at the checkout.

La Camera
Open 7 days for breakfast, lunch and dinner. $7.50 breakfasts only available Mon - Fri from 7:30am until 11:00am excluding public holidays.
La Camera is perched one level above the food court on the mid Level East End at Southgate - Melbourne, Australia
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Meshiya Japanese Restaurant - "Linner" Anyone?

Possibly Homer Simpson has already discovered this otherwise hidden meal time. "Linner" as you would have guessed is half way between lunch and dinner. Some days eating lunch at the customary time just isn't possible. You're just too busy, or maybe not hungry, but for whatever reason it's mid afternoon and you still haven't eaten. "Linner" is the answer. And Meshiya has a mid afternoon "happy hour" deal which fits the bill.

Between 3:00pm and 4:30pm Meshiya serves up a selection of three main course dishes for only $6.80 each. On offer are two fried rice dishes one featuring eel and the other crab, or an ox-tongue noodle soup. I wasn't game to try the ox-tongue. Some things just aren't meant to go into my mouth thanks! I ordered the eel which for no rational reason seems more palatable.

Also of reasonable value and available on the menu at any time are selection of rice dishes and Ramen (noodles in broth). I have had the Oyoka Don (rice topped with chicken and egg) for $10.30 which was a decent feed.

Highlight: The dining room has a cosy feeling on a cold day in town as you sit slightly sunken below footpath level. It beats sitting in that awful QV Urban Market food court nearby. Prompt and friendly service.

Criticism: The eel on fried rice dish was a little oily for my liking. My fellow diners ordered the crab on fried rice and disagreed with my complaint saying they were quite happy and will come again. Bill splitting was discouraged.

Meshiya Japanese Restaurant
Open 7 Days 12:00pm until 11:00pm
QV Shopping Centre (Meshiya faces Lonsdale St at ground level)
200 Lonsdale St
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Diane SuShi - Blink and you'll miss it.

Often cheap sushi is mostly rice with a little bit of filling up front for show. Not so at Diane SuShi in the city. They've lifted their game in the last 12 months. Their prices have risen slightly but this is still the best value sushi I know in this part of town. Prices of hand rolls start at $1.60 for the Special of the Day which is California roll every day. The average hand roll price is $2. This compared with places very nearby asking a flat price of $2.50 per roll.Two California and a Tabikko roll

Best Value Meal: May I suggest a filling lunch of 2 California rolls and 1 Tokikko and Avocado roll for $5. Soy sauce and wasabi included.

Other Menu offerings: Smoked Salmon roll $1.80, Chili Salmon roll $2 (recommended!), plus many other unusual hand roll flavours within this price range. All food is take away only.

Highlight: The sushi is always fresh and feels chilled which is reassuring.

Criticism: Right on the noisy bus stop.

Heading up Lonsdale St away from Melbourne Central Shopping center look out for the entrance to the City Mart Asian Grocery. Diane Sushi is but an opening on the right as you would enter the Grocers. You can easily walk straight past if you don't know it's there.
Diane SuShi
270 Lonsdale St
Melbourne 3000

Open 7 days a week

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Olivino Cafe Breakfast for $5

Coffee and ToastEven simple coffee and toast tastes better when someone else prepares it. The fruit toast alone provides a square breakfast loaded with apricots, dates and all sorts of seeds. Two slices with coffee will cost $6, but honestly, I only order one single slice and I'm satisfied. And for a single slice it's a dollar less.

Best Value Meal: Coffee with one slice of Fruit Toast $5.

Other Menu Offerings:
Coffee with 2 slices of Fruit or Raisin Toast $6
Coffee with an Egg & Bacon Roll $7
Coffee with Banana Bread $6
Bircher Muesli $6.90

Highlight Dining Here: Modern feel. Surrounded by lots of glass for those of us who like to watch...

Criticism: Expensive coffee ($3.50) if you buy it on it's own. But a loyalty card is available offering your 7th coffee free.

Directions: Olivino is best approached from Little Lonsdale St despite it's street address being Lonsdale St.
Shop 1, Urban Workshop Building
50 Lonsdale St
Ph 9663 0800

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About Frugal Foo

Frugal Foo Face
This blog started off as a dumping ground for much of my own inane ramblings about money saving discoveries I had made around my home town of Melbourne.

Now days much of the content is contributed by other frugal living enthusiasts from around the globe who have stories to share about their successful money saving ideas, or ways to conserve other limited resources, without further complicating their lives or wasting precious time.  I sincerely hope to continue to receive tips and ideas from other people via comments and guest articles.  Of course your personal opinions may often be different to mine but that's no reason to hold back.  I look forward to reading what you have to say.

For more information about writing a guest post, please read the guest post policy.
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