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 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 and 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.
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 (all serve breakfast and lunch, the Enmore location also serves dinner Thursday-Saturday) and a separate espresso bar in Newtown. But they all still very much feel like family-run businesses. 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 - the kind of food we’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).
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 one 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. They also have a picklery in Marrickville where they hold regular workshops on bread and cheesemaking, home-brewing, preserving, and vegan baking.
You’ve seen approximately 89 people’s photos of the Icebergs iconic 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, counter-only pastry shop. Their Portuguese tarts (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.
Shuk took over an old corner store in the backstreets of Bondi and turned it into a lively spot serving Israeli food. The shakshuka is our go-to all day choice, but we also love their salads full of herbs and sprinkled with dukkah, and the hummus with minced lamb. If you don’t have time to sit in, pick up an egg and bacon roll on the run or some of their house-baked bread and pastries. There are also two locations in the suburbs of Chatswood and Elizabeth Bay if you find yourself outside the city.
Paramount Coffee Project uses its space to showcase new coffee roasters from around the world. And that space is a big and airy one that’s a very comfortable place to hang out. They’re (obviously) serious about coffee here, but the 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.
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.
Icebergs might be the best restaurant with a view in Sydney. It looks out over Bondi Beach and the Icebergs sea pool below so you’ll get a white-tablecloth experience with perfect service, a view of one of Sydney’s great icons, and an excellent people-watching situation. The food is Australian-Italian and involves lots of seafood. Come for lunch (because you want to see these views during the day), or for a cocktail at the bar as 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 a 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 right on the water 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 trip if you’re looking for something really special. Sit out on the deck at a wooden picnic table 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.
This all-day cafe, restaurant, bar, and bakery has been serving classic Italian food on the sidewalks of Potts Points since 2001. Come for a morning 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. Make your way through the long wine list, or get the waiter to surprise you with something that’s already open, and don’t leave without a plate of the boozy tiramisu.
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 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.
Hidden down a side street in Paddington, this Italian wine bar is one of our favorite spots for a casual dinner. 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 and daily specials like sardines on toast or anchovies with fennel, and the wine list focuses on interesting natural wines and makes it easy for you to try something new.
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 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 or a big group dinner.
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 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 (an Australian term for sandwich).
This Chinese diner pulls out all the stops: it’s a massive space spanning 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, live mud crab, and big plates of noodles. Though since they offer the duck 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.
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 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 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 bring a group of people (they take reservations for six or more), order a bunch of 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 before. The menu is broken up into small plates and skewers - everything from tuna belly and chicken wings to heart, 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 a great night.
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 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 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 chilli 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 smaller ones you’ll find hidden down lanes and in basements. One of the best examples is Charlie Parker’s, an underground cocktail bar with a lively speakeasy feel. The bar works with local producers to source ingredients for their cocktails 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 very easy to settle into for a good night.
With its exposed brick and low-lighting, Arcadia Liquors is a comfortable and casual place to try a couple schooners (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.