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Your guide to university cheap eats

Whether you’re a student or the city’s north is your hood or workplace, we’ve found the affordable feeds you need. From the humble sandwich to parmas and vegan curries, here’s what’s cooking around Melbourne Uni and RMIT.



One of Melbourne’s hottest bao spots since it opened in 2012, Wonderbao can stop those hunger pangs fast for a few dollars. Their classic steamed buns are filled with satisfying flavours like barbecue pork. They also do gua bao – little pockets stuffed with yummy things including crispy eggplant. Plus, new takes on the Chinese snack: bao burgers, an egg-and-bacon breakfast bao, and ice-cream bao.

Four bao filled with colourful salad in a brown cardboard box


Poolhouse Coffee

Tucked under the heritage Melbourne City Baths, Poolhouse Coffee do more than excellent (Dukes) java. Like chai lattes and cold-pressed juice. Tasty toasties and Vietnamese-style baguette sandwiches. Doughnuts and cronuts. All for under $10, so you can dive right in and have change to spare.


Studying in the heart of the city is rife with temptation, which can lead you off campus and far away from your coursework. Luckily for RMIT students, there’s a STREAT cafe right on campus. Not only can you get award-winning coffee and freshly baked pastries –  you’ll be helping out a very worthy cause, as this cafe doubles as a social enterprise that helps disengaged youths find training and job opportunities.

Captain Melville

Among apartment and office towers, Melbourne’s oldest pubs endures – lately under the name Captain Melville, after the 19th century bushranger. There’s an old-fashioned feel about their dining room specials’ prices too, like Tuesday’s $15 chicken parma and Wednesday’s $17 steak. We rate the Captain’s burger as one of the best in town, and it’s only $15 on Mondays. Start the week right!

A burger on a plate with chips, a glass of beer beside it

Burgers at Captain Melville

Near the University of Melbourne

Animal Orchestra

Popular with university students and alumni alike, Animal Orchestra serves home style food in keeping with its heritage terrace-house setting. Pull up one of the comfy mismatched chairs, check out the ephemera on the walls, and ponder the blackboard menu. Lots of dishes are around $10, including paninis, pizzas, tapas and dips with bread, so consider a nicely priced drink too.

Prince Alfred Rooftop and Bar

A favourite Melbourne Uni watering hole was recently transformed into the Prince Alfred Rooftop and Bar. It’s fancier than before but don’t worry, there are plenty of student-friendly specials like the $16 weekday express lunch. Day and night you can also chow down on $16 parmas on Tuesdays, $16 burgers on Wednesdays and $17 steaks on Thursdays. Vegos aren’t forgotten, with Monday’s $15 vegan specials, and everyone loves happy hour drinks, especially on the rooftop when the sun’s shining.

A bar with blue walls and timber tables

The Prince Alfred

Briscola Cafe

If you’re looking for good cafe food and drinks at good prices, check out Briscola Cafe near the law school. Sit inside with a bagel. Sit out on the footpath with the frittata of the day. Or get something to go if the weather’s nice.

Lanzhou Beef Noodle Bar

Across Asia, big bowls of noodle soup are the tasty go-to tummy fillers that don’t empty wallets. Lanzhou Beef Noodle Bar brings north-eastern Chinese style to Carlton, making broth according to a traditional recipe and noodles by hand. Most takes on the eponymous dish are only $12.80 (try the cold sesame option on hot days). If you have room or just want a snack, there are dumplings as well as drinks for loose change.

Baretto Cafe

Craving an egg and bacon croissant for breakfast? Need a quick lunchtime sandwich or late afternoon coffee and cake pick-me-up? Baretto Cafe has got you covered. It couldn’t be more handy for Melbourne Uni students – it’s on Grattan Street in the Alan Gilbert Building. Go on, take a break!

BLT bacon lettuce tomato sandwich croissant with scrambled egg

Treat yourself to a breakfast croissant at Baretto

Mantra Lounge

Eating well doesn’t need to cost the Earth. The menu at Mantra Lounge is 100% vegan and 100% delicious, from lasagne and faux sausage rolls to the Chocolate Pleasecake. Most dishes are under $10, and the curry meal deals are also a globally inspired bargain at $10 to $13. It’s a feel-good place for everyone, whether you’re an animal lover or just looking for something tasty on Meat-free Monday.

Porta Via

It’s in their building, so law students are often found getting a coffee or some brain food at Porta Via. But everyone, from arts students to office workers, are welcome to wander into this Pelham Street cafe opposite University Square. Grab a bite, like salad or a focaccia, and enjoy it at their undercover seating or on the lawn across the street.
Looking for more cheap eats? Try these 10 CBD lunches for under $10.