Historically, Australian cuisine has included British pub food, Asian influences, and local animals like kangaroos and crocodiles. Finer restaurants, especially in Sydney, are increasingly serving “Mod Oz” cuisine: an attempt to meld local ingredients with the disparate cooking traditions brought to Australia by its variety of immigrants.
Despite being an international, cosmopolitan city, I found Sydney to be underwhelming as a foodie destination. However, there are still some great eats to be found. You can often find tasty but inexpensive food by just looking for restaurants with the longest line, some of which are below.
Spice I Am
Location: Surry Hills
Upon arriving in Sydney, everyone recommended Spice I Am, for good reason. Their moderately-priced Thai food is great and best eaten communally. Like many Australian restaurants, Spice I Am is BYOB, so while you’re waiting in line outside, make a quick run to the bottle shop across the street for some beers. You’ll need a cold drink if you plan on ordering curry.
Spice I Am has two locations: Darlinghurst and Surry Hills. Make sure to visit the latter, even though it’s likely to be busier. I made the mistake of visiting the more upscale Darlinghurst location, which somehow manages to be both more expensive and not as good.
Mamak usually has a line stretching down the street in Haymarket, near Chinatown. Here, patrons are waiting to sample the roti, an unleavened bread common in South Asian cooking. While waiting in line, you can watch through the large front window as Mamak’s cooks toss each roti dough before cooking it. Mamak can be an inexpensive lunch or dinner, especially if your group eats family style, a great way to sample multiple dishes.
Cuisine: Spanish (tapas)
Location: Surry Hills
Tapas does not immediately spring to mind when thinking of Australia, but don’t hold that against El Bulli. Since 2006, El Bulli has been serving authentic Spanish tapas in a dimly-lit, cozy hallway of a restaurant. They nail staples like jamon and sangria but also serve more unique dishes like their crispy gnocchi in a serrano ham, blue cheese, and white wine sauce. Whatever you order, make sure to leave room for churros, with dulce de leche, for dessert. They’re the perfect cap to a boozy, gluttonous evening.
The Fish Market
The Sydney Fish Market is the perfect place to try a variety of fresh, local seafood. You can find classics like fish and chips, local favorites like Sydney rock oysters, and something other than seafood from the specialty food stores who have booths at the market.
With so many options, it’s easy to get carried away if your eyes are bigger than your stomach. At one stand, I kept ordering whatever caught my eye, only to reach the cash register and realize I had spent $65 on lunch for two people. I did not regret it for a second.
Table for 20
Cuisine: Varies (3-course, set menu)
Location: Surry Hills
Moving up the price spectrum a bit, Table for 20 feels more like a dinner party than a restaurant: you’re seated at one of two large tables and served a set menu of three-courses. As their website says, “There are thousands of normal restaurants in Sydney. This is not one of them.” In addition to a good meal, you also have the chance to make a few new friends at your table.
You must be seated promptly at 8pm, so I suggest arriving early and grabbing a drink upstairs at (the unfortunately-named) Sticky Bar. In addition to good food that feels like it was made by a friend, Table for 20 also serves complimentary Limoncello at the end of the meal and provides live music.
Cuisine: Varies (8-course degustation menu)
If you’re looking to splurge on a culinary adventure, try Oscillate Wildly. This award-winning restaurant serves an eight-course degustation dinner. You won’t know what’s on the menu until you sit down to eat.
At AU$100, this award-winning restaurant is not cheap, but its dishes are unique and extremely tasty. For example, when I visited, one of the courses was rabbit with carrots served three ways. Much like the restaurant itself, the dish was a little cheeky and damn good.
Have you eaten at any of the restaurants above? We’d love to hear your thoughts on these or any other great Sydney restaurants in the comments!