For many backpackers, Melbourne can be a rude shock. You’ve heard so much about the place. You’ve always wanted to go. Your friends did a stint here and loved it, and now your visa’s finally been approved and you’ve committed to a year or more without even having set foot in the country. Wide-eyed and a little jet-lagged, you arrive in the city full of hope and decide to celebrate the start of your new life with a drink. You find the nearest bar – it’s kind of a dingy place, but that’s okay. You enter and order a beer from the tall, fiercely bearded man behind the bar. He fills your glass, looks you in the eye, and with a completely straight face says, “that’s fourteen bucks mate”. A sinking feeling. You do the conversion in your head. Homesickness suddenly kicks in. But it doesn’t have to be this way. There are plenty of ways to eat, drink & live it up in Melbourne without breaking the bank. Students, backpackers, and local cheapskates have been doing it for years. High taste on a low budget? Here’s the food & beverage low-down from a lifetime local.
Dinner & Drinks
We begin with two quintessentially Melbourne spots that are a lot more than just a delicious steal-of-a-meal. The Lucky Coq is one of Melbourne’s most vibrant, must-visit bars, offering cheap drinks, a charming outdoor space, a variety of events, and $4 dollar pizzas between 7-9 pm. A one-stop-shop for a good night out.
Similarly equipped with a beer garden and great social vibes, The Penny Black opens its doors to workers, locals and travellers alike. This happening bar has some great, cheap dinner & drink options and some of Melbourne’s finest live local bands. These two are real standouts, but for a more exhaustive list of bars with affordable food and drinks, click here.
The Backpacker-budget Favourite… Supermarkets!
The ultimate penny-pincher. Travelling Australia on a South-East Asian budget? Like to mix and match? Maybe you just enjoy cooking at home? The best bang for your buck is undoubtedly found at your local supermarket.
A local supermarket that never fails to disappoint is Aldi. Aldi have an incredible, fresh, and nutritious range of a variety of food (and almost everything else) at super-low prices. Aldi Specials are always a great option for home-cooking, a picnic, or just a snack, and come complete with wholesome meal ideas and great recipes for home-made treats. Cooking at home is a great way to save money and still be eating the delicious meals that’ll leave you and your mates happy, healthy, and energised to enjoy Australia’s most liveable city!
Vegetarian / Vegan Gems
For vegetarians, vegans, hipsters, and anyone else looking for a meat-free (but still hearty) option, Melbourne has you and your budget covered. For unbeatable prices, head to Crossways (slyly tucked away in The Walk Arcade, 309-325 Bourke Street). Crossway’s Hare Krishna devotees provide wholesome vegan/vegetarian lunch & dinner cooked with plenty of love. There’s a new menu every day and the prices are hard to beat no matter where you’re from. And it’s all you can eat. You’ll be hard-pressed to find better value for money in the heart of the CBD.
Next up is Lentils As Anything, a true favourite amongst locals and travellers. This bustling, volunteer powered establishment doubles as a hub for arts & culture while offering high-quality cuisine with a ‘pay as you feel’ model – so you can give exactly what you think the food was worth! While there are locations in Thornbury and St Kilda, check out their Abbotsford Convent restaurant for the full experience. They have a beautiful garden, live music, occasional markets, and some inspiring poetry and spoken word nights.
And finally, we cannot leave out the Moroccan Soup Bar. Here you’ll find a truly memorable and authentic Moroccan meal for a great price. Getting a seat usually takes some standing in line, but with COVID-19’s social distancing guidelines, they are currently only open for some of their ridiculously delicious takeaway.
Other Cheap Food Gems
There are plenty of other cheap eats around the city, but we had to slip in a few more budget favourites before moving on to the best option of all. For affordable Japanese cuisine in the heart of the CBD, Don Dons is the spot. If you’re a little ways out of the city, situated in south-side suburbia is Oasis Bakery which has an amazing variety of middle-eastern food and is truly all the rage right now. Finally, for a classic $10 pizza, pasta or parma, Forester’s Pub and Dining in Collingwood is another place to have a budget bite and beverage.
While Melbourne is a city known for its decadent cuisine and world-class coffee, you can still make it work on a tight budget. You’ll be surprised how well you can eat for not a lot of money if you know the right spots. And there’s no shame in asking the price of a drink before you order it.