Frugal Foo

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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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