Sydney was once a city whose best restaurants all came with a high price tag and glistening water views. And while those places are still worth seeking out, a visit here wouldn’t be complete without trying some of the smaller, hidden away spots bringing food from countries like Sri Lanka and Japan, or those setting up shop in places like a converted garage in Darlinghurst, or an old furniture showroom in Surry Hills. All are examples of how Sydney’s food and drink culture has shifted towards a much more relaxed vibe.
A few tips:
- You should eat near the water at least once if you can. Proximity to the ocean = a great catch of the day.
- The cafe culture in Australia is unique: these places are fast, fresh, and often very serious about their coffee. You may wait 30 minutes for a table for breakfast at some cafes on busy weekends. Order a coffee while you wait - make it a flat white.
- Small bars are a big deal in Sydney. We recommend these over the big, burly ones. Try and find one good-old Aussie pub while you are here too. Order beers in schooners (half pint) or pints.
- Tipping is a thing in Australia - it’s just different. Ten percent is standard.
cafes and bakeries
Owned by a father and his sons, Shenkin is a true Sydney standby. This casual Israeli cafe started small and has since grown (to four locations with full kitchens and two separate espresso bars), but is still very much a family-run business. Open all day and some evenings for dinner, Shenkin’s menu includes things like flaky pasties filled with cheese, meat, and spinach, green and red shakshukas, and large plates of housemade dips with flatbread. It’s the kind of food you’d be happy to eat pretty much anytime.
There are a few things you must do when you come to Sydney: see the Opera House, lie out on Bondi Beach, and, if you’d like to spend a lot of money to be semi-terrified, climb the Harbour Bridge. Eating a lamington - a cube of sponge cake dipped in chocolate and covered in coconut - should also be on that list, and Flour and Stone’s version (they soak theirs in panna cotta) is the best one in the city. The bakery is small and popular, so if you can’t find a table to sit with your coffee and cake, take it all with you as you walk along the Woolloomooloo wharf. They also have a regular stall on Saturdays at the Carriageworks Farmers Market in Eveleigh (another Sydney must-visit).
This relaxed, seasonal cafe opened in Marrickville when the local scene was on the up-and-up. Since then, they’ve added a picklery just down the street and another cafe in Annadale. This neighborhood spot is all about excellent produce from small, local suppliers and they’ll even trade you in homegrown fruit and vegetables, pickle it, and sell it.
Prince Alfred Park has basketball and tennis courts, large open fields, and an outdoor heated pool, so it’s a great place to spend an afternoon. And since that afternoon should also involve food, pick up something nearby at Brickfield’s. This tiny corner cafe in Chippendale is a quick walk from the park and has a regularly changing menu of salads, sandwiches, and pastries, and a famous sourdough ciabatta loaf. The bacon sandwich hasn’t left the menu since it opened in 2012, but you don’t need us to tell you that a bacon sandwich is going to be fantastic - just order it.
Paramount Coffee Project uses its space to showcase new coffee roasters from around the world. And that space is a nice, big, and airy one that’s a very comfortable place to hang out. They’re (obviously) serious about coffee here, but the slightly American-style food is interesting too - they do things like eggs with pork hock and kale on toast, Philly cheesesteaks, and fried chicken waffles with maple bacon.
Shuk took over an old corner store in the backstreets of Bondi and turned it into a lively spot serving homestyle Israeli food. The baked egg shakshuka is our go-to all day choice, but we also love their salads full of herbs and grains and sprinkled with dukkah, and hummus with minced lamb. If you don’t have time to sit in, pick up an egg and bacon roll on the run. They also make their own bread and pastries.
A fun spot in Haymarket (at the top end of the city), Boon Cafe is a Thai restaurant/grocery store. You could head here for a breakfast of crab congee, baked eggs with smoked fish and custard toast, and peanut butter cookies, plus a matcha or turmeric latte. Or you could come for a lunch of rice bowls, spicy noodles, or sandwiches. Either way, pick up some sweet Asian treats for later on your way out.
dining by the water
Icebergs might be the best restaurant with a view in Sydney. It’s set over Bondi Beach and the Icebergs sea pool below. You’ll get a white-tablecloth experience with perfect service, a view over one of Sydney’s great icons, and an excellent people-watching situation. The food is modern Australian-Italian, involving lots of seafood. Come for lunch (because you want to see these views by day), or a cocktail at the bar before the sun goes down.
When you want a similarly beautiful view to Icebergs, and similarly great food, but in a more casual space, head to Sean’s. Sitting up on the North Bondi hill with ocean views, this 30-seater restaurant has a small, regularly changing menu focused on locally sourced ingredients and produce grown on the owner’s farm in the Blue Mountains. Think scallops, yabbie tails, kingfish carpaccio, and seafood linguini, with a wine list made up of exclusively Australian wines. And for those who like to look at the water, but not eat from it, there are always a few non-fish options. It’s a great place to spend a leisurely afternoon or evening.
Sunny, bright, and beachy, The Boathouse (as the name suggests) is set on the water’s edge in a converted boathouse on a pier. It might be a little further than you’d usually go for brunch (an hour’s drive out of Sydney), but it’s well worth the journey if you’re looking for something really special. Sit out on the deck at wooden picnic tables on the pier and take in Sydney’s northern beaches while you eat fluffy muffins, granola, egg and bacon rolls, smashed avocado on toast, or a fish burger. It’ll feel like a vacation on your vacation.
Hubert opened in the Sydney CBD (Central Business District) in 2016, but it feels like it’s been there for much longer. Make your way down a set of stairs into this underground cavern and you’ll think you’re in a glamorous mansion somewhere in Europe instead of in the Sydney CBD. The space is split into a cocktail bar and dining room, where the walls are lined with wine bottles and vintage posters. Eat comforting French food like steak tartare with fries, duck liver parfait, chicken fricassee, creamed spinach, and crème caramel. It’s hard not to love this one.
Hidden down a side street in Paddington, this Italian wine bar is one of our favorite spots for a good glass of wine and a nice bowl of pasta. It’s a bar first and restaurant second, but the food here is still fantastic. You’ll eat bowls of handmade pasta and daily specials like sardines on toast or anchovies with fennel. The wine list focuses on interesting natural wines and makes it easy for you to try something new.
The Apollo serves an Australian interpretation of contemporary Greek food, which means a menu focused on shared plates like taramasalata, saganaki covered in honey, and a whole lamb shoulder served with warm pita and Greek yogurt. The restaurant is housed in an art deco space full of granite pillars and gold finishes and is a great spot for a long, slow Sunday lunch.
Stanbuli is located in a former hair salon in Enmore, so look for a bright pink exterior and you’ll find your way into a beautiful little bar and restaurant serving Turkish street food. It’s the kind of place you stumble upon for a quick drink, and easily settle in for the night at the marble-top bar. Start with a small glass of raki mezesi (aniseed-infused liquor), then order plates of stuffed mussels, octopus on black-eyed peas, and charcoal lamb kofte with sumac, all of which will be delivered to you on a silver tray like you’re royalty.
Located in an industrial-style space that was previously a parking lot, Ester is one of the best spots in Chippendale - a trendy neighborhood with tons of exciting spots to eat and drink. The food mainly comes out of the wood-fired oven (your family-style dishes will sometimes arrive with a dusting of charcoal), including things like burnt-butter prawns, whole chickens, cauliflower heads, and braised goat. But no matter what else you order, start your meal with the wood-fired oysters and a blood sausage sanga (that’s a sandwich).
This Chinese diner pulls out all the stops: it’s a massive space spanning two levels, with big tables, moody jazz, Chinese posters, and Lazy Susans. Go for dim sum (lunch only) or a dinner of dumplings and Peking duck, live mud crab, and big plates of noodles and special fried rice.
If there’s one place in this city to go for ramen, it’s Gogyo. The Surry Hills location is known for the charred ‘kogashi’ style, or burnt miso ramen, which is a dark, clear soup and the best thing here. They also serve the more traditional tonkotsu ramen, and a chilli shoyu with habanero pork mince and tomato (another favorite of ours), all of which are best with a pint of Asahi on draft.
Pizza is a big deal in Sydney, and it’s not unusual to get into a heated debate over the best pizza spot, the best crust style, and whether blotting is sacrilegious. But you’ll be far too distracted by how good the pizza is here to comment on the way your friends fold their slices. This Newtown spot serves thin, wood-fired pizzas with toppings like mortadella, fior di latte, and clams and has a wine list full of local, natural wines. Just make sure you save room for dessert - the tiramisu and cannolis are two great choices.
Lankan Filling Station opened in 2018 in a narrow converted garage and there’s never been more of a reason to hang out in a space where they used to change tires. The menu at this Sri Lankan spot is made up of mostly traditional dishes like sambols and curries, and starters like devilled cashews and crab cutlets. It gets pretty lively, so bring a group of people (they take reservations for six or more), order a bunch of different colourful dishes to share, and soak it all up with rice and hoppers (rice-flour crepes).
From the communal wood tables and low stools to the portraits of famous Japanese chefs on the walls, eating at Chaco Bar is incredibly comfortable, and you quickly feel like you know everyone around you, even if you’ve never been to Sydney or this restaurant before. The menu is broken up into small plates and plenty of skewers - everything from tuna belly and chicken wings to pigs hearts, tongue, and liver. But if you’re looking to cut down on decisions, go with a bowl of their ramen, which is only available on certain days of the week (last time we checked it was Wednesday and Sunday). And while you can order sake, shoyu, and Japanese beer, they’re also BYO, which means you don’t have to spend much money here to have an enjoyable night.
bars with good food
There are some things you don’t want to have to search for, like alcohol at your brother’s roommate’s art show. But other times, the search is part of the fun. Love Tilly Devine is hidden down an alleyway in the backstreets of Darlinghurst and you’ll feel both accomplished and in-the-know once you find it. This split-level wine cellar - full of hanging plants, and tables for two - has a huge drinks list with over 300 wines (by-the-glass options as well as bottles), cocktails, and local beers. And while the food menu is small, everything pairs well with a drink, like duck liver pate and a glass of Chablis or a hearty piece of lasagne and a bottle of Burgundy.
Usually when you eat out of a can it’s the day before payday. So you might start out skeptical of Continental Deli, but you’ll soon realize the canned menu items at this European-style bistro in Newtown are the highlight. There’s a more formal dining room upstairs, but the bar is where you want to be, drinking a Mart-tinnie (a martini that comes in a can), and eating various styles of canned fish and meats, like sardines, mackerel, and liverwurst. Round it out with some cheese, olives, and crusty bread.
Poly is located in an old furniture showroom in the bottom of the Paramount House Hotel and despite there being no mattresses or living room sets leftover from its early days, we still kind of want to move in. This dark 80-seat bar/restaurant hybrid is run by the same people as Ester and the food menu includes lots of snacky things you can eat with your hands, such as grilled nettle flatbread, anchovy toast, and crudites with labneh. Sit up at the bar solo or with one other person and get a cocktail to start while you pore over the large wine list to plan your next drink.
bars just for drinking
Bulletin Place is a hard-to-find spot in its namesake location, Bulletin Place in the CBD. But it’s worth the effort to find: enter the doorway next to Cabrito Coffee Traders and climb the stairs to the first floor bar. This spot is all about its cocktails - the drinks menu changes daily, depending on what’s available and in season, and is written on a butcher’s roll on the wall. It’s a small space, but the perfect spot for an afternoon drink, or to escape from the hustle of the city.
With its exposed brick and low-lighting, Arcadia Liquors is a comfortable and casual place to try a bunch of different beers on tap. Though if you’re looking for a bit more Vitamin D, grab a seat out in the courtyard, and switch to spritzes. And since Arcadia often hosts pop-up food vendors and live music, it’s the kind of place you go for a knock-off with a mate and end up staying until late into the night.
Just when you thought the night was over, someone dragged you into a random doorway down an alley in Darlinghurst and now it feels like you’ve fallen down a rabbit hole. Shady Pines Saloon is a world of cowboys, taxidermied buffalo heads, peanuts everywhere, and an overall damn good time. Your first move? A shot of bourbon at the bar. There are plenty of beers and cocktails too, but use this for what it is - a truly excellent dive bar.