Sydney was once a city whose best restaurants all came with a high price tag and glistening water views. Now, it’s all about small little spots tucked down alleys, underground caverns, and favorite old holes-in-the-walls still doing great things.
Dining by or near the water is still appealing in a city like Sydney. But so is eating and drinking in the middle of the city, in a transformed car park in Chippendale (it’s a neighborhood, not a stripper), or in an old hair salon. 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.
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 (Enmore, Erskineville, Surry Hills, Newtown), but is still very much a family-run business. Open all day and some evenings for dinner, the 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 wholesome food you’d be happy to eat pretty much anytime.
Paramount Coffee Project uses their 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 cheese subs, and fried chicken waffles with maple bacon. (There’s also now a PCP in Los Angeles.)
This relaxed seasonal cafe opened in Marrickville when the local scene was on the up-and-up. Since then, the neighborhood has really come into its own, and so has this place - they’ve added another cafe in Annadale. This neighborhood spot is all about excellent produce from small, local suppliers (they’ll even trade you in homegrown fruit and vegetables, pickle it, and sell it).
It’s easy to miss minimally-designed Artificer as you cruise down Bourke Street, but if you’re into coffee that would be a mistake. Artificer is very serious about its coffee: they import their beans to roast in-house, they get fancy milk from halfway across the country, and you drink out of fully compostable cups. There’s no food here, so this one’s all about the caffeine.
Bourke Street Bakery started in a tiny shop in Surry Hills in 2004, and has since spread far and wide across Sydney offering great bread and baked goods in various locations. They specialize in sourdough, which you can get in the form of a sandwich filled with chicken, ham, or roasted veggies. Their pastries are also worth getting involved with. Our move: the pork and fennel sausage roll, then a brûlée tart for dessert.
Shuk took over an old corner store in the backstreets of Bondi, and turned it into a lively spot serving homestyle Israeli food - the stuff they used to eat with their families back home in Israel. Baked egg shakshukas are the move here, as are 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.
On a corner in Paddington, Morris is an excellent example of the Australian everyday cafe. They serve great sandwiches with roast mushrooms and feta, poached chicken and tarragon, fish tacos, and huge fresh salads - like the Marrakech bowl with slow-roasted lamb and cauliflower. They also sell giant cookies, cold brew, hot milo (essentially Australian ovaltine - but way better), and milkshakes. On sunny days they open up all the windows to let the breeze in.
A fun east-meets-west spot in Haymarket (at the top end of the city), Boon Cafe is a Thai restaurant-slash-grocery store. Here you can have breakfast of crab congee, baked eggs with smoked fish and custard toast, peanut butter cookies, plus matcha and turmeric lattes. Order a lunch of rice bowls, spicy noodles, or sandwiches. Dinner is more traditional. On your way out, pick up sweet Asian treats for later.
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. 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, eggs and bacon rolls, smashed avocado on toast, or a fish burger. It’ll feel like a vacation.
Hubert opened in the Sydney CBD (Central Business District) in 2016, but feels like it’s been there for years. Make your way down the stairs into this underground cavern and you’ll feel like you’re in a rich person’s glamorous mansion somewhere in Europe. The space is split into a cocktail bar and dining room, where the walls are lined with wine bottles and vintage posters. Eat decadent 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.
Sydney does Italian food well, but this is one of our all-time favorites. The Italian owners know how to do the European style of all-day dining right, and Fratelli is one of the very few spots serving breakfast from 7am through to dinner and drinks late-night. In the mornings, order coffee and pastries, and from lunch into dinner, big plates of fried calamari, caprese salads, scampi with handmade pasta, and their famous tiramisu.
A real hole-in-the-wall local, this Italian wine bar is hidden down a side street of Paddington. This is a bar first and restaurant second, but the food here is fantastic. Owned by the same Italians behind Fratelli Paradiso, 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 does an Australian interpretation of modern Greek food. The restaurant is housed in an art deco space full of granite pillars and gold finishes. And the menu, which focuses on shared plates, is stacked with dishes like taramasalata, saganaki covered in honey, and a whole lamb shoulder served with warm pita and Greek yoghurt. Come in for a long, slow Sunday lunch.
Icebergs might be the best restaurant with a view in Sydney. It’s slick and sunlit, and set over Bondi Beach and the Icebergs sea pool below. You’ll get a white-tablecloth experience with perfect service (from the Italian staff), 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.
On the main drag of Hall Street, off Bondi Beach, Da Orazio is usually packed with locals drinking spritzes and eating wood-fired Neapolitan-style pizza with their families. The music is loud, the place feels fresh and fun, and it has a great vibe.
The Dolphin Hotel on Crown Street in Surry Hills recently got a makeover, and went from a dark corner pub to a white-walled bistro with a dining room and wine bar down one side. It’s worth a look just for the space itself, but come for dinner and stay late for a few drinks. It’s retained its traditional pub setup, so you’ll get meat plates and rosé in the wine bar, crab spaghetti and pork belly in the bistro, and pizzas, burgers, and steaks in the public bar up front. Drink local beer on tap, or wine from a large list of over 150 bottles and 35 by the glass.
Located in a former hair salon in Enmore, look for a bright pink exterior and you’ll find your way into a beautiful little bar and restaurant serving Turkish meze 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) and 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.
From the guys behind Sydney-favorites Porteno and Bodega is Continental Deli Bar Bistro. It’s a small 20-seat spot with 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). Canned things are a theme that extends to the food menu, which includes various styles of fancy fish and meats (sprats, sardines, mackerel and liverwurst) imported from Spain. Crack them open at the bar with some cheese, olives, and some crusty bread.
Many things about Nomad are impressive. The space, to start, is huge and beautifully-designed, with a large open kitchen and lively feel. The food is modern Australian but with heavy European influences and a focus on seasonal produce. And they make their own cheese, bread, and cured meats in-house. Australian wine is part of the concept here (they don’t serve anything else), but the list is about as extensive as it gets.
ACME plays hip hop and serves almost exclusively pasta. But this isn’t just any pasta. You’ll eat things like deconstructed mushroom lasagne and macaroni with pigs head and egg yolk. The mood is cool, the lights are low, and the music’s loud - it’s perfect for a date.
Chippendale has been evolving over the past few years into a happening neighborhood with exciting new spots constantly opening. Ester was one of the first, located in a slick, industrial-style space that was previously a parking lot. The food here mainly comes out of the wood-fired oven (your family-style dishes will sometimes arrive with a dusting of charcoal): burnt-butter prawns and 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).
Mr. Wong is pretty grand. 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 plates piled high with noodles and special fried rice.
Cheese is a big deal in Sydney, and a few new cheese-focused spots have popped up across the city recently. It’s a great thing. This one is named after a legendarily smelly British variety. You’ll find a wall of interesting cheeses to try, both imported and locally made. You can dine-in for wine, cheese boards, and croque monsieurs, or take some home.
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. Bulletin Place 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 a drink after work, or escape from the hustle of the city.
Mary’s Newtown is probably best-known for their burger, which lots of people would tell you is the best in Sydney. In a charming 100-year-old building, this bar is a great place to settle in for a while. They have Australian beers like Carlton and Young Henry’s on tap, but also sell some rare American bottles, and the wine and cocktail lists are strong as well.
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 and taxidermy buffalo heads and 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.