Queues are often part and parcel of a good dining experience, and these five hawker-style restaurants are well worth the wait.
Chin Chin’s no-booking policy and occasional long queues are almost as famous as it is spicy curry and cold beer.
The fiery Thai diner on Flinders Lane in the CBD has pretty much been a tourist destination since 2011, helped along by an appearance on Masterchef and rave reviews in the press.
But it’s the vibrant flavours – and the noisy, neon-lit vibe of the place – that keep people coming back. Written on paper placemats, chef Benjamin Cooper’s menu is a sweet, sour, Southeast Asian-inspired tour de force.
Perennial favourites include the Southern Thai curry of braised goat with shredded coconut and minted yoghurt and the Crying Tiger – BBQ sher Wagyu beef, chilli tamarind, glass noodles and mint.
Unless you’re a group of 10 or more you can’t book, so if you want a table at lunch without queuing, get there from 11am.
Chris Lucas, the brains behind Chin Chin, is planning a new cafe/wine bar/bistro at 23 Bourke Street, once home to dining icon Society. Batard will open in the heritage building mid 2020 with a focus on wine, oysters, steak frites and house-made charcuterie.
If you’re looking for a quick Vietnamese fix with a backstreet vibe, Hochi Mama Kitchen has you covered. With a graffiti-decorated interior, dim lighting and cool R&B soundtrack, the dishes here are designed to be photogenic and “Instagram -friendly.”
The menu includes the usual Vietnamese favourites like pho, rice vermicelli noodles, caramelised pork belly and more.
We went for the “Biggie Smalls” lunchtime deal at $21.90 each – a choice of a small starter plate and a larger main, which we shared.
For the small plates, we had the prawn dumplings and the crispy vegetable spring rolls and for the large plates we chose the spicy fried chicken (it packs a real punch) and the beef and basil stir fry. Between two, it was more than enough to satisfy.
The drinks here are all inspired by Vietnamese fruits, so expect ingredients like fresh sugar cane, lychee, longan, dragon fruit, rambutan and mangosteen.
Be sure to book to avoid a queue, especially at lunch time. Either way, it’s food worth waiting for.
Annam is one of Nigella Lawson’s Melbourne favourites, and it’s not hard to see why. Chef Jerry Mai’s authentic brand of Vietnamese, Cambodian and Thai flavours are zesty and exciting, and never fail to disappoint.
From the trademark red chopsticks and kung fu movies projected on the wall of this sleek industrial space to the long bar and busy open kitchen, Annam is a personality-packed dining experience.
On a recent visit we went for the Little Saigon Banquet at $45 per person, which was more than enough food between two of us.
It included lemongrass new nuong (pork skewers in lettuce leaves), chicken dumplings, wok-tossed lemongrass beef with vermicelli noodles, waygu bo kho (braised beef, tomato, lemongrass and root vegetables) and wok-tossed greens.
The banquet menus change regularly so don’t be afraid to be guided by your server.
If you’re after something more casual, Mai is also the force behind the fast and fresh Vietnamese pho and banh mi stalls, Pho Nom.
Red Spice Road has been a lunchtime institution on McKillop Street, near Hardware Lane, since it first opened 12 years ago.
But in August, the South-East Asian eatery famous for its communal dining approach is shutting shop and moving to new digs up the hill at 141 Queen Street.
To mark the occasion, there’ll be a street party on August 24, the final day of trade at its current location, with a hawker-style street food market, roaming food, a lion dance performance and DJs.
With McKillop Street being redeveloped, this is your last chance to dine under the huge red lantern, large-scale artworks and stunning street murals before the shutters come down. (Rest assured, they’ll return as part of the new fit out at Queen St).
The menu at Red Spice Road takes inspiration from Thai, Cambodian, Burmese and Vietnamese cuisines and includes a mix of small and large plates designed for sharing.
Small bites include sticky chicken rib with cumin, fennel and coriander and delicious sweet corn fritters.
Large plates include the signature Pork Belly with hot mint, chilli caramel and black vinegar; pickled tea leaf salad; local fried sea bream; and braised ox cheek with a Southern Thai curry of sweet potato and carrot.
Try their express lunch menu and enjoy a starter and five large sharing plates for $36 per person. The menu changes every couple of weeks.
See you at the new digs in September.
The pan-Asian flavours at Gingerboy pack plenty of punch, whether it’s scallop siu mai with XO chilli dressing, duck larb with lotus and pomelo, or sticky rice with chicken and lap cheong.
A popular fixture on Crossley Street since 2006, Gingerboy delivers a modern-Australian take on Asian street food with dishes like pork and fennel seed siu mai, masala spiced pot stickers and massaman curry of roasted cauliflower, sweet potato, chilli peanuts and red onion slaw.
They have a lunchtime special on weekdays for the CBD crowd that includes six dishes served in under 45 minutes.
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