Sydney was once a city whose best restaurants all came with high price tags 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 more casual, smaller, hidden away establishments as well. This includes food from countries like Sri Lanka, Japan, and Israel, plus spots that have set up shop in places like a converted garage, an old furniture showroom, or a hotel rooftop.
With a movement toward Australian flavors and ingredients, restaurants and bars are increasingly looking closer to home to source produce, and showcase exciting new and inventive ways to eat and drink. In this list, you'll find lively bars, casual spots, and fine dining restaurants for special occasions, plus a couple of hotels to check out, and in their own way, they all capture the spirit of Sydney’s exciting food and drink culture.
BUZZY SPOTS WITH FUN ATMOSPHERE
photo credit: Nikki To/Buffet Digital
Ragazzi Wine and Pasta
This small pasta and wine spot is centrally located in a buzzy corner of the city, and it’s perfect for a glass of wine, pre-theater pasta, or just a break from the hustle of Sydney’s CBD. Ragazzi is dark and moody, with tables packed so tightly around a small L-shaped space that you’ll be tempted to steal off your neighbors’ plate—and be well-versed in whatever they’re gossiping about—before the end of the night. On the regularly changing menu, you’ll find handmade pasta paired with its perfect sauce, like cavatelli with squid ink, urchin, and chickpeas, gigli with pork and fennel sausage and chicory, or a classic bowl of spaghetti cacio e pepe. Get the anchovy butter on sourdough to start, a glass of wine from the list of over 250, and as much pasta as you can handle. It’s worth noting they’ve also got a standalone pasta shop, Fabbrica, a few blocks away, in case you haven’t had your fill by the end of the night.
There are a lot of great Italian restaurants in Sydney, but Alberto’s Lounge—which works just as well for a quick cocktail as it does for an all-night date—feels unique. Located between two city laneways, the leather banquette seating and close quarters ooze with ‘70s cool, but what really makes this place special is the Australian-influenced Italian menu. Kingfish crudo might come with fermented tomato, rainbow trout gets served up with pippies, and it all goes well with a wine list of local and Italian options. The same people are behind a bunch of other buzzing spots around town: underground French spot Restaurant Hubert, Sydney’s OG speakeasy Shady Pines, basement bar The Baxter Inn, and late-night pizza joint Frankie’s.
photo credit: Yusuke Oba
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 spot, the best crust style, and whether blotting is sacrilegious. But you’ll be far too distracted by how good the food is at Bella Brutta 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 cannoli are two great choices.
Lankan Filling Station
Lankan Filling Station opened in 2018 in a narrow converted garage and there’s never been a better reason to hang out in a space where they used to change tires. The menu at this Sri Lankan spot is made up of traditional dishes like sambols and curries, along with creative starters like devilled cashews and crab cutlets. It gets pretty lively, so come here with a group (make a reservation), order a bunch of colorful dishes to share, and soak it all up with rice and hoppers (rice-flour crepes).
photo credit: Alana Dimou
Chaco is a yakitori joint in Potts Point with long communal high tables, a cocktail bar, and a few seats up to the island kitchen. The a la carte menu (served during the week) has small plates, Fukuoka-style skewers, and many things cooked over charcoal, including the Horumon Yaki of chicken hearts, giblets, and soft bones. On weekends they serve a $95 seven-course tasting menu of greatest hits, but whenever you’re here, definitely dive into the sake and shōchū menu—the helpful waitstaff are always ready with advice. Meanwhile, if you’re pining for ramen, the same people own Chaco Ramen, a tiny bar in Darlinghurst serving steamy bowls in a room that feels like a clubhouse filled with your best friends.
NEIGHBORHOOD CAFES AND BAKERIES
Sure, rooftop bars are pretty great, but AP Bakery is something even better: a rooftop bakery. On top of the Paramount House Hotel in Surry Hills, you’ll find trays filled with freshly baked baguettes and bagels, flaky pies, focaccia, buttermilk croissants, buckwheat dark chocolate croissants, cream-filled donuts, and sweet fruit danishes. It’s the perfect place to enjoy one of Sydney’s (almost always) sunny mornings, with a coffee (Reuben Hills supplies the beans) and city views. There are some larger options on the menu too, like a crispy bacon sandwich on fermented potato ciabatta, wagyu beef pies, and seasonal salads.
Owned by a father and his sons, Shenkin is a true Sydney mainstay. This casual Israeli cafe started small and has grown to three locations with full kitchens (all serve breakfast and lunch, while the Enmore location also serves dinner Thursday-Saturday). Even with all that expansion, each location has kept the warmth of the original, with a true local feel and the family still running the show. Shenkin’s menu includes things like flaky pastries filled with cheese, meat, and spinach, green and red shakshuka, and large plates of housemade dips with flatbread—the kind of breakfast we’d be happy to eat every day.
Flour and Stone
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—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).
The cafe culture in Australia is unique: these places are fast, fresh, and often very serious about their coffee. Cornersmith in Annandale is a relaxed, seasonally-focused option that’s entirely vegetarian. If it’s a nice day, there are a few small tables outside, or Cornersmith offers DIY picnic boxes, and they’ll even let you borrow a picnic blanket to take to the small park right across the street.
photo credit: Tuga Pastries
You’ve seen approximately 89 people’s photos of the iconic Icebergs concrete pool, and while it might be the most famous, it’s not the only one of its kind. About a 15-minute drive away is the coastal eastern suburb of Clovelly where you’ll find a similarly beautiful beach and attached concrete pool area. After a swim, make sure you head up the hill to Tuga, a tiny pastry shop. Their pasteles de nata are some of the best you’ll find, so get a few and one of their incredible almond croissants, then head outside to eat in the sun and leave a trail of flaky pastry in your wake.
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.
A fun spot in Haymarket (at the top end of the city), Boon Cafe is a Thai restaurant inside a grocery store. You could head here for a breakfast of crab congee, baked eggs with smoked fish, and pandan custard toast, plus a matcha or turmeric latte. Or you could come for a lunch of rice bowls, spicy noodles, and sandwiches. Either way, don’t leave without wandering through the aisles and buying something sweet for later.
photo credit: Josh Niland
Saint Peter is one of the hardest reservations to get in Sydney, but a meal at this fine dining spot is a seafood experience like no other. Billed as “fin to scale” dining, Saint Peter serves a set menu of sustainable seafood prepared carefully by chefs right in front of you at a marble-top bar. And as serious as that sounds, it makes for a theatrical experience that’s a whole lot of fun. You’ll need to plan ahead if you want the full dinner experience, but lunch is a little more casual, with an a la carte menu of oysters, fish charcuterie, and a selection of salads and vegetables. And, if you’re interested in a spin on the classic fish and chip shop, the same chef owns Charcoal Fish, where the beer-battered stuff comes with yogurt tartare sauce, and you can order Murray cod fish wings.
On a residential corner block in the charming backstreets of Paddington, it’s hard not to fall in love (or at least, lust) with Ursula’s. A few other celebrated Sydney restaurants were in the same space over the years, but this latest iteration has a very distinct, bistro-influenced feel. Ursula’s spills over two elegant floors and is filled with sunlight, making it perfect for a long, romantic lunch, although dinner here is fantastic too. The menu features produce-driven dishes using European techniques with Australian flavors, like handmade pasta with Moreton Bay bugs, beef carpaccio, and steamed blue-eye trevalla or a roast lamb with green curry vinaigrette. Desserts are beautifully constructed (the pandan custard with coconut meringue and pineapple sorbet was our favorite on a recent visit) and worth leaving room for.
Sitting up on a North Bondi hill with spectacular ocean views, this 45-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.
photo credit: Yusuke Oba
This cafe, restaurant, and bar has been serving classic Italian food on the sidewalks of Potts Points since 2001. Come for a coffee and pastry while you read the paper and pretend to be a local, or settle in for a long lunch or dimly-lit dinner. The menu is scrawled on a blackboard inside and often includes dishes like calamari fritti and housemade scampi pasta. Order a spritz and work your way through the long wine list, or get the waiter to surprise you with something that’s already open. Don’t leave without a plate of the boozy tiramisu.
Restaurant Hubert opened in Sydney 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 mansion hidden somewhere in Europe. The space is split into a cocktail bar and dining room, where you’ll eat comforting French food like steak tartare with fries, chicken fricassee, and crème caramel. It’s hard not to love this one.
photo credit: Yusuke Oba
The Apollo serves upscale Greek food, which means a menu focused on shared plates like taramasalata and saganaki covered in honey, as well as larger ones like a whole lamb shoulder served with 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 or a big group dinner.
Ester Restaurant & Bar
Located in an industrial-style space that was previously a parking lot, Ester is one of the best spots in Chippendale—a 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 abalone and chicken skin with mandarin kosho, and pork belly. But no matter what else you order, start your meal with the roasted oysters and a blood sausage sanga (which is just an Australian term for sandwich).
This Chinese restaurant pulls out all the stops: the massive space spans two levels, with big tables, moody jazz, painted brick walls, and lazy Susans. Bring a big group for dim sum (lunch only) or a dinner of dumplings, Peking duck pancakes, live mud crab, and big plates of noodles. Though since they offer the duck pancakes and a few other dishes in half portions, you could just as happily come with one or two other people who are down to share.
BARS WITH FOOD AND VIBES
photo credit: Yusuke Oba
10 William St
10 William Street is a pretty shopping strip in Paddington where furniture showrooms sit next to suit tailors, artisan jewelers, and clothing boutiques. On the other side of the neighborhood strip is this Italian wine bar, one of our favorite spots for a casual dinner with a side of people-watching. It’s a bar first and restaurant second, but the food here is just as fantastic as the wine. You’ll eat bowls of handmade pasta, giant pretzels dipped in whipped roe bottarga, 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.
photo credit: Nikki To
Love, Tilly Devine
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 like a local once you find it. This split-level wine cellar—full of hanging plants and tables for two—has a small food menu and a huge drinks list with cocktails, local beers, and over 300 wine options. If you’re already feeling overwhelmed, the specials are a good place to start and the staff are extremely knowledgeable, friendly, and always ready to help you figure out which Chablis will work with the duck liver pâté.
photo credit: Hollie Adams
Continental Deli Bar Bistro
While Americans are newly obsessed with eating tinned fish at restaurants, Sydney’s Continental Deli has been serving a full menu of canned things for years now. There’s a more formal dining room upstairs, but the bar is where you want to be, drinking a Mar-tinny (a martini that comes in a can) and eating various styles of canned fish, like sardines, mussels, and octopus. It’s an ideal spot for a low-commitment drink with friends, or an intimate date where you have to huddle close to hear each other over all the noise.
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 want to move in. This dark 80-seat bar/restaurant is run by the same people as Ester and the food menu includes lots of snacky things, such as octopus with carrot and chili oil, and anchovy toast with egg butter. 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 and plan your next drink.
Sydney is known for its big burly boozers and swanky city bars, but some of its best are the ones you’ll find hidden down lanes and in basements. One of the prime examples is Charlie Parker’s, an underground cocktail bar with a lively speakeasy feel, that sits below iconic restaurant Fred’s. The bar works with local producers to source native ingredients for cocktails that get flavor from every part of the plant, so we usually focus on those, though there’s also wine and beer. It’s fun, a little flashy (more vintage MG than Hummer), and an easy place where you can pop in for a pre-dinner drink, or post up for a boozy night.
With its exposed brick and low lighting, Arcadia Liquors is a comfortable and casual place to try a couple schooners (a specifically Australian beer glass size that's between a half pint and a pint) of the 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 and a beer at the bar. There are plenty of cocktails too, but use this for what it is—a truly excellent dive bar.
photo credit: Tom Ross
Paramount House Hotel
This inner-city boutique hotel has New York loft-style rooms, Japanese timber baths, and little touches like gorgeous terrazzo floors. Despite the prime location on the fringes of the CBD, in walking distance from Surry Hills and Chippendale (two suburbs you’ll want to explore), Paramount House Hotel is a place you don’t really need to leave. There’s Paramount Coffee Project on the ground floor, the excellent restaurant/bar Poly next door, and subterranean, arthouse Golden Age Cinema below street level. There’s also a recreation club where you can do pilates and yoga, next to AP Bakery on the rooftop. And if you need somewhere to work while you visit, co-working setup The Office Space is also in the building.
The Old Clare Hotel
Very centrally located in Chippendale, right near Central Station, you could jump straight on the train from the airport and be at The Old Clare in under 30 minutes. The industrially designed accommodation is in a converted heritage-listed building that was once a brewery, and it’s a great place to stay when you want to be in the thick of Sydney’s food and culture. It’s within walking distance to downtown Sydney and the hip surrounding inner-city suburbs. Rooms are spacious and luxurious and there’s a rooftop bar and a lap pool that’s worth visiting for a drink even if you aren’t staying here.
Ace Hotel Sydney
The Ace is the newest addition to the Sydney hotel scene, opening their first southern hemisphere location in 2022. There’s a sunken lobby lounge bar that you can sink into and lose hours schmoozing, and a cool, ground floor restaurant Loam. There are 257 rooms, all fitted out with guitars and in-room vinyl collections, while the public areas of the hotel feature artworks by local artists Nadia Hernandez, Tony Albert, and Ramesh Mario Nithiyendran. We hear a fire-centric rooftop restaurant, Kiln, is set to open soon.