Seasoned Traveller
Eat Curiously
in Sydney

27 Lesser-Known Sydney Restaurants

Words by Nick Jordan
Images supplied

When you Google the best restaurants in Sydney, the search engine returns a list of inner-city restaurants. Most are truly great, but Sydney is literally one of the most diverse cities on earth – and these lists miss that.

The most affordable places populating search results will likely set you back $40 a head – and that’s before ordering a drink. There’s a lot of Italian, Merivale for miles and white male chefs cooking in designer spaces that explain the price of the meals. Neighbourhood restaurants, often run by migrants, are overlooked. “Best Sydney Restaurant” articles misrepresent the city. It's why I run Have You Eaten, an interactive map that shows where different communities in Sydney like to meet and eat. 

This is my list of restaurants to try when you’re in town. They’re not the fanciest, but they’re the most interesting. And they all say something different about Sydney.

1. Gebran Lebanese Cuisine, Mount Lewis

Like most restaurants in this list, Gebran is loved by the community, but oddly unknown beyond Lebanese people and locals in the Bankstown area. Among Lebanese and other Levantine diasporas, it’s a restaurant for celebrations and deals; a step up from the local skewered meat and mezze venue (although they do both of those well), but not exactly a tablecloth fine diner. I particularly like it because they have what owner, John Gebran, calls “village grandma dishes”: whole lamb head stewed in broth, sausages stuffed with rice and spiced meat and other offally wonderful things. SeaSweet, the baklava shop next door, is also excellent.

175 Wattle Street, Mount Lewis,

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2. Yummy Seafood Chinese Restaurant, Beverly Hills

In food media and trendy hospitality circles, Sydney stalwart Golden Century gets all the attention for big-group Cantonese seafood experiences. But in the Cantonese community, there are many competitors. Yummy Seafood is one of the most popular, so much so it can be hard to get a seat. All the usual live seafood suspects are there, but there’s also a Chinese-only menu of more regional Cantonese specialities. If you don’t speak Cantonese or Mandarin, bring a friend or a nifty translating tool – there’s a language barrier when it comes to understanding the many options.

495 King Georges Road, Beverly Hills, Facebook

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3. Caysorn Thai, Haymarket

Thanks to a sizeable Thai diaspora and a recent history of Australian tropical agriculture, Sydney does Thai food really well. What Sydney – and Australia – doesn’t nail is regional nuance. Thailand has four cuisines: northern, Isaan, central and southern. Most Sydney Thai restaurants are central. Caysorn is the only genuine southern Thai, and it’s extremely popular with Thai people as a result. It’s loved for the effort that goes into making all the curry pastes and sauces from scratch, and for the spicy, sour, fresh, fishy and just generally hectic flavours (in a good way). If you want to try other regions, visit Yod for Isaan and Show Neua for northern.

Level 1, Prince Centre Building, 106/8 Quay Street, Haymarket,

4. Pochito, Mascot

Handmade empanadas, mounds of chips showered in meat and fried eggs, cakes so fat with dulce de leche they barely hold their own weight, hearty avocado-lathered sandwiches and hot dogs stacked so high with ingredients that they’re difficult to eat: this is what dining at Pochito is like. Run by the Bustamente mother-and-daughter team, the cafe is an ode to Chilean street food and culture. If you visit on a weekend, you might be lucky enough to catch some live music.

1021 Botany Road, Mascot, Facebook

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5. Aloonak, Ryde

Persian cuisine has a range of mezze-like dishes that are eaten as snacks and sides. Sometimes those snacks are jammed into baguettes along with pickles, tomato and mayonnaise and come as extremely hearty sandwiches. Aloonak is Sydney’s only Persian sandwich shop. Baguette fillings include kuku sabzi (herbed frittata) sosis bandari (spicy sausage) and kotlet (big, crunchy potato and meat fritters). Warning: a serving of chips is large enough to make a finishing a sandwich a challenge. While you’re there, check out Asal Sweet, a Persian dessert shop in the same block.

103 Blaxland Road, Ryde, Facebook

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6. Taste of Shunde, Hurstville & Eastwood

It’s slowly entering the wider public consciousness that Chinese cuisine is split into many regional traditions. But what isn’t often talked about is just how nuanced that is. Cities have their own cuisines and there are even some district-level differences. Take Shunde, in Foshan, for example; a district cuisine prized for minimalism and excellent produce. It’s incredible that we can sample it in Sydney at Taste of Shunde. The specialities are roast goose (there's a good chance it's actually duck, but do one seems to care because it's so damn good), some rather delicate fish dumplings and what’s translated to “fried milk” (a fluffy, white scrambled egg-like dish). 

9-11 Crofts Avenue, Hurstville
Shop15 A5, A7/1 Lakeside Road, Eastwood

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7. Phnom Penh Mini Restaurant, Cabramatta

A noodle diner hidden in a Cabramatta arcade, what’s not to love? Phnom Penh Mini is well-known in Cabramatta and within the Cambodian community, but barely talked about beyond it. It pumps in the morning, when local Cabramattians pile in for num banh chok (turmeric and lemongrass flavoured fish noodle soup) and kuy teav (pork and chicken broth served on or beside rice noodles seasoned with kampot pepper, garlic oil and hunks of pork offal). It winds down after the breakfast rush and promptly shuts before 6pm.

15/73-79 John Street, Cabramatta, Facebook

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8. Gursha Ethiopian Restaurant, Blacktown

This is the spiciest of Sydney’s Ethiopian restaurants, both in terms of literal chilli heat and seasoning. Owners Yibeltal Tsegaw and Rahel Woldearegay are running the only Ethiopian restaurant that caters to Ethiopian and other East Africans, and those communities seek out the full-bodied spice experience. Like all good Ethiopian restaurants, the injera is spongy and you get plenty of it to mop up all those viscous, spicy stews. There are also plenty of vegan options, not to mention the chance to enjoy traditional, pan-roasted coffee after your meal.

3/115 Main Street, Blacktown,

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9. Raza Central Pupusas, Camden

Marvin Antonio Barahona’s restaurant is simple and small, but it has a big goal: to shift people’s opinions about El Salvador by disassociating the country from civil war and associating it with pupusas, a hearty Salvadoran flatbread made with corn or rice flour and often stuffed with cheese, beans and pork. As far as I know, this is Sydney’s only El Salvadoran restaurant.

Shop 19/1/15 Murray Street, Camden, Instagram

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10. Le Petit Louvre, Potts Point

Christian Estebe is proudly – perhaps obsessively – French, and Le Petit Louvre is his mission to convince everyone else just how great France is. His main sell is cheese, the best and brightest of France’s makers imported here to his glass cabinet. You can either eat it in your home, or sit in at this oddly ornate pocket of Kings Cross while drinking French wine to a soundtrack of Ravel, Debussy and Bizet. 

2 Springfield Avenue, Potts Point, Instagram

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11. Nanjing Dumpling, Haymarket

Remember what I was saying about the nuance and specificity of Chinese dining? This is another example. Andy Zhou’s little dumpling and noodle diner specialises in the food of Nanjing, known for salted duck, duck noodle soups, and pan-fried beef Jiaozi-style dumplings. 

6 Little Hay Street, Haymarket, Facebook

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12. Pondok Buyung, Kensington

Pondok Buyung is one of those restaurants that’s such good value it’s confusing. Every time I go I think to myself, “Surely that’s not how much all of this costs.” The food is from the Padang cuisine, a generally coconut-heavy and spicy tradition with lots of slow cooking (rendang is perhaps the most well-known example). Pondok Buyung doesn’t have a menu, which replicates the traditional service style. Instead, it’s a hot-cabinet wonderland where you choose what you want over rice. 

140 Anzac Parade, Kensington

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13. Yunn, Sydney CBD

Yunnan cuisine is rare anywhere outside China. There aren’t that many people from Yunnan province scattered across the world, and the food is difficult to cook beyond the province because it is so diverse. Yunn, located in Regent Place Shopping Centre, does a simple menu based around the renowned noodle soups, like douhua mixian (rice noodles with soft tofu, pickles, chives and a ridiculously savoury paste) and what’s known in English as “one pot noodles” (rice noodles in stock with bean sprouts, shredded tofu, pickled vegetables and pork). 

Regent Place Shopping Centre, 101A Bathurst Street, Sydney, Instagram

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14. Shri Refreshment Bar, Harris Park

There are a tonne of restaurants in Sydney serving ‘street food’, but generally these place are actually dishing up street food inspired cuisine. Their chef went to [insert Asian] country for a month, appropriated a few ideas and is now charging a small fortune for them. Shri Refreshment Bar actually serves street food. It's little more than a window with a few basic tables and a menu of under $10 snack foods, made to be eaten right then and there. It’s north Indian, so look forward to handmade flat breads, fried handhelds and thick curries. 

53C Wigram St, Harris Park, Facebook

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15. Tama Sushi, Neutral Bay

This is a simple one. Nothing new or crazy-different here, just excellent quality sushi without having to pay triple figures. It’s very well respected in the Japanese community for that reason, and for the fact that at the helm of the restaurant is none other than chef Tamaki, who has more than 50 years’ experience. It’s also a really friendly and warm vibe. 

79 Military Road, Neutral Bay, Facebook

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16. Rocs & Rolls, Wiley Park

This may be one of the only places on Earth that could win an award for best pub restaurant while also being in the running for the worst pub. The Wiley Park Hotel may be one of the most atmospherically drab and visually uninteresting pubs in all of Sydney, but Rocs & Rolls, the little kitchen inside, produces incredible Vietnamese grilled seafood. The chefs visit the market each day, pick out whatever molluscs and crustaceans look especially delicious, and then you decide how you want them cooked (garlic and butter, sate, salted egg yolk sauce, a sweet and sour tamarind iteration, etc.). Book ahead.

Wiley Park Hotel, 67 King Georges Road, Wiley Park, Facebook

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17. The Greek Islands Taverna, Sutherland

This is a typical taverna experience: service like they know you, loud family gatherings earlier in the evening, ouzo drinking later in the night (once, when I was there, 70-plus-year-old owner Yanni Hatzikiriakos poured out free ouzo for everyone when 9pm hit), and food that pleases everyone, regardless of age or class. The only difference is that you’re paying Sydney prices.

47/40-44 Belmont Street, Sutherland, Facebook

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18. Khushboo Sweets and Restaurant, Lakemba

There are three main spots for Bangladeshi dining in Sydney: Rockdale, Lakemba and the south west area around Ingleburn. In the latter, there’s Nababi, Dawat and Nawab’s. In Rockdale you have Khushboo and Hut-Bazaar. There’s another Khushboo in Lakemba, which is also home to Grameen. All are excellent. The only reason I’ve picked Khushboo in Lakemba is because it has more legacy as one of the pioneering restaurants in the area. They also have an incredible sweet and snack shop up the road called Dhaka Delight.

38 Railway Parade, Lakemba, Facebook

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19. Hansang, Strathfield

Hansang is known for two things: exceptional banchan (Korean side dishes) and their broths, one of which is made by simmering beef and ox bones for 72 hours in giant cauldron (you’ll spot that on your way in). That’s not to say the rest of the enormous menu here isn’t any good. There’s also chicken and tripe hotpots, grilled mackerel, yukhoe (Korean raw beef with radish and egg) and Korean restaurant classics like fried chicken scattered on the tables between glasses of soju. 

Shop 2/8-14 Lyons Street, Strathfield,

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20. Club Uruguayo de Sydney, Hinchinbrook

This club was founded more than 40 years ago by a few Uruguayans who met on a plane fleeing the incoming dictatorship. Now it’s a massive hall that features an asado-style barbecue restaurant, a bakery filled with dulce de leche-based pastries and a stage that hosts salsa nights, live music and all of Uruguay’s World Cup games. Absolutely unique and extremely fun. 

56-62 Whitford Road, Hinchinbrook,

21. Mazaidar Foods, North Parramatta

Mazaidar is legendary in the Pakistani community. While it doesn’t have the history of some of Sydney’s other North Indian and Pakistani restaurants, its reputation comes from the quality and consistency of the food. The owners will recommend the specials menu, featuring more Pakistani-leaning dishes like haleem (legumes and lamb cooked for so long they adopt a porridge-like texture), paya (spiced and stewed cow hooves) and gajar ka halwa (sweet carrot pudding).

515 Church Street, North Parramatta,

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22. Hungry Paulie, Eastwood

Taiwanese food is sadly underrepresented in Sydney, with most venues bringing the culture by way of fried chicken (think Two Peck and Hot Star). They’re delicious, but Arthur Kuan-Lung Chu from Hungry Paulie’s deserves all the plaudits for introducing a much more nuanced and comprehensive vision of Taiwanese food to Sydney. His restaurant, a big upgrade from his original breakfast stall down the road, is usually pumping, so prepare to wait if it’s the weekend or busy meal time.

Shop 3/3-5 Trelawney St, Eastwood,

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23. Pasticceria Tamborrino, Five Dock

Competition for Italian pastry shops in Sydney’s inner west is fierce. Families have their loyalties and pasticcerias are proud of their history. But if one place should be crowned king, it's Tamborrino. Although many will be expecting Papa’s in Haberfield to reign, it’s now more factory, less family. Tamborrino remains the same old-school handmade shop it always was. The headline acts here are the aragosta or lobster’s tail (a brittle pastry pumped with chantilly cream) and the sfogliatella (a similar pastry but with ricotta inside). 

75 Great North Road, Five Dock,

24. Peranakan Place, Auburn

I literally have no idea how this place still exists but I’m absolutely thankful for it. First of all, there’s the cuisine they serve, a unique subset of Malaysian food born from Malay and Chinese intermarriages yonks ago that is extremely rare outside Malaysia and Singapore. Next, the owner –head chef and occasional front-of-house maestro, Sam Wong (he’ll tell you to call him Uncle Sam) – is too old to still be working (sorry, Uncle Sam). Finally, the effort he puts into cooking genuine food is unbelievable. He makes everything from scratch, including the base for ayam buah keluak, a stew made from the poisonous keluak nut (processed to be safe of course). It's so rich in colour and flavour that it’s befuddling for anyone trying it for the first time. 

139 Parramatta Road, Auburn,

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25. Jagerstube, Schofields

Schofields, which is essentially the edge of Sydney suburbia and the start of actual paddock-lands, has two great eateries: Limestone and Jagerstube. The latter is Sydney’s only genuine option for Maltese bread, rabbit and pasta; the former is a giant Bavarian beer house that looks and feels like it’s been teleported from Europe some 50 years ago. Jagerstube claims it’s the biggest beer hall in the southern hemisphere, though who knows if that’s true. Regardless, you can orger typically Germanic meaty, carby and colossally-sized meals, plus Bavarian beers served in one-litre jugs. If you’re lucky, your visit will coincide with a traditional German accordion band. 

Australian Croatian Club Braca Radic, 79 South Street, Schofields,

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26. Song Fang Khong, Fairfield

With a Laotian and Vietnamese community, many of Fairfield’s restaurants are constitutional threads in the local cultural tapestry. For the Laotian community, those include Lao Village and Song Fang Khong. More people outside the community have heard of Lao Village, simply because of its street frontage with a visible sign from the train station. Song Fang Khong is hidden on a backstreet next door. Both serve the kind of astonishingly intense food the local Laotian community expects: papaya salads with pla ra (a particularly pungent variation of fish sauce), raw beef larb dressed in a bile-based sauce, crispy rice and fermented sausage with volcanic spice levels, plus all the typical Laotian barbecue options. 

7 Anzac Avenue, Fairfield, Facebook

27. Lankan Railway Cafe, Mortdale

This is probably the most popular restaurant in Sydney within the Sri Lankan community, though there are some big venues in Pendle Hill (Sydney Marina, Miruna's Super Takeaway) and Toongabbie (X Dream, Chef Ceylon) that are also in the running. It’s all thanks to Chanaka Gunasekara, a chef with high-end experience and bursting pride in Sri Lankan cuisine. This is certainly not high-end though; it’s only a small space with a big takeaway trade and barely anything over $15. Wednesday specials and weekend buffets are a particular hit.

2/1 Morts Road, Mortdale, Instagram

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