Just about every suburb in Sydney has a restaurant or two, a cafe or coffee shop, and a place that sells takeaway food. However, there are are a number of places in Sydney where you can window shop through many restaurants and make your choice.
Cafes serving breakfast start opening at 6AM and breakfast is usually served until 11AM, or occasionally all day. Orders for lunch start at about noon and continue until about 3PM. Many cafes will start closing late afternoon, although a few may remain open for dinner. Restaurants usually open for dinner around 5PM-6PM and while there are exceptions (usually concentrated in areas with active nightlife), last orders for dinner are typically taken around 10PM. Restaurants in business areas open for lunch as well. It is common for restaurants in suburban locations to sometimes be closed on Sunday, Monday or Tuesday nights. It is more expensive to get a sit down meal in the evening, than it is for lunch.
Prices in Sydney's restaurants vary. Breakfast at a standard cafe (food plus a coffee or juice) can cost anywhere up to $20 for a full English breakfast or other substantial meal. A main meal in a mid-range restaurant is around $25 - $35. Upper mid-range averages around $35 - $45. At the real top-end places a dinner for two with wine can run up to $400-500 and beyond.
For the more budget-conscious, Sydney s multicultural demography means plenty of quality ethnic cuisine for cheap prices, particular Asian restaurants. Many restaurants particularly in the city will also offer lunch specials . For example, a good Koreanset lunch can be found for less than $15. A bowl of noodles in Chinatown will run you $8 or $9. Some Thai curry with rice at any of the many restaurants all over Sydney will cost about $10.
Newtown in Sydney's inner-west (approx 4km from the CBD) is renowned for its inexpensive cafes and restaurants on King St, in particular Thai food. It is highly popular among students from the nearby Sydney University. For an Asian bent, head to Chinatown for authentic Asian cheap eats.
As well as restaurants, there are numerous food courts scattered throughout Chinatown packed with Asian eateries where the rock bottom priced food (but no less tasty) can be found. Sit down at a laminate table shoulder to shoulder with hungry locals for some bubble tea and a sizzing plate of delicious Asian food. If you have a little money to spend, yum cha (dim sum) for lunch at one of the many Cantonese restaurants around Sydney is a regular ritual for many Sydney siders. Yum cha can be had in Chinatown (avoid the touristy al fresco places on Dixon Street, go to East Ocean or Marigold instead), the city (Zilver, Sky Phoenix and others) and most urban centres around Sydney. Expect queues on weekends and brusque service all days - it s all part of the charm of yum cha. Some yum cha restaurants have now abandoned the trolleys, and instead give you a menu to tick your items which will be brought to your table. Some only have trolleys for specials or on weekends.
Sydney is also home to some of the world s best restaurants. If you are wanting to try Sydney's finest rated restaurants during your visit, make a booking well in advance at Quay or ARIA in the The Rocks; Tetsuya's, Est in the City Centre; Marque in the City East or Pier in the Eastern Suburbs.
Neil Perry is one of Sydney's celebrity chefs, and runs Rockpool at The Rocks. He also has the Rockpool Bar and Grill in the city, not far from Circular Quay, with Spice Temple downstairs.
If you want to splurge on the location make an advance booking at Forty One, on the forty first floor of Chifley Tower in the City Centre but be aware the food may not live up to its price-tag (sadly as at 2010, Forty One has closed for good), or Guillaume at Bennelong Restaurant in the Opera House. You may be lucky on a weekday and get a walk-up table at one of the restaurants in Campbells Cove in the The Rocks.
If you want to have fine dining away from the central Sydney, try Jonah's in the far Northern Beaches - go for lunch, the view is stunning. Alternative, Berowra Waters Inn is an experience unlike any other and a top pick for devouring excellent European / Modern Australian cooking overlooking a natural bushland waterway in northern Sydney. (You will need to arrange a car, or, for the jet set, take a sea plane!)
Take away food in Sydney can be as cheap as buying the ingredients and making it yourself, and many stores specialise in take-away food. There will usually be a picnic table, park or beach nearby to eat whatever you can select. Quintessential Aussie takeaways include the meat pie (minced beef with gravy sauce in a crusty pastry shell), sausage roll (sausage mince in a puff pastry casing), usually topped generously with tomato sauce/ketchup, and fish and chips (inherited from the British to be sure but loved by all Australians). Most restaurants will do take-away food as well, but almost certainly at a premium to the cost of buying food from a take-away. Outside of the city an occasional restaurant may offer a 10% discount for take-away.
Vegetarian and special diets
Vegetarians are well catered for. Every restaurant will usually have at least one vegetarian dish. Indian retaurants can be relied upon to provide a wider selection. Maya Sweets on Cleveland St is a must visit for vegetarians and Wafu does Japanese with lots of vegan and vegetarian options. The trendy East Sydney and Inner West suburbs have many choices, Cabramatta in the western suburbs have many Asian Buddhist cuisine resturants that are vegan and vegetarian. There is an awareness of gluten-free and dairy-free diets in Sydney, and again the more trendier inner city suburbs are more likely to cater for these diets.
It seems every weekend, there is a food festival on in one of the suburbs of Sydney. Usually the idea is that restaurants take part, providing smaller portions of their signature dishes around $7-$12 a plate. The largest food festival, the Sydney International Food Festival, which showcases Sydney's food culture is in October, which includes the night noodle markets operating in Hyde Park in the City Centre
The general rule on tipping in Australia is that it is not compulsory and generally not expected. This remains true for most cafes, and for counter service in Sydney. However for a full service restaurant in a tourist areas and mid to higher end restaurants a tip would be expected by the waitstaff. However, most Australians will still not tip, and you should feel free to follow their lead should you wish to. Some snootier waiters may raise an eyebrow, but nobody will follow you or give you a hard time. Otherwise a 10% tip added to the bill or rounding the bill up to the nearest $10, $20 or $50 to a maximum of 10% (depending on the size of the bill!) will usually meet their expectations. They may be expecting a little more if you have an American accent, as they are well aware of what Americans tip at home.
Australians are casual. While most people make an effort to dress up for fancier restaurants, there is no requirement and both restaurants and diners alike are relaxed about dress standards. There are no restaurants in Sydney that require jackets for men for instance, and jeans are common except perhaps in the most expensive and posh Sydney restaurants. Generally, wear what you feel comfortable in.