If it’s a competition for which country has the best street food culture, you could do worse than back Thailand. Bangkok’s street food culture may have recently been forced to clean up its act but personally, we think there’s nothing better than a steaming bowl of noodles eaten within tripping distance of traffic, washed down with a cold beer, of course. Lucky for Melbourne, Soi 38 continues to fly the flag for delightfully ghetto eats. Where? Tucked into the ground level of a carpark in the middle of the city, no less.
Melbourne loves an obscure venue – case in point. Nestled somewhere between the parking meter and the boom gates, you’ll find this hole in the wall. It’s tightly packed with people happily slurping noodles while perched at brightly hued metal foldout tables and the King and Queen of Thailand smiling benevolently onto them from their home on the wall.
The premise is simple: snag a table, then check your soup base, noodle preference, sides and drinks from the order form on your table, hand over your cash at the counter, and you’re away. The menu options adhere to the classics: Tom Yum (no sweet, lemongrass-overloaded, Aussiefied version here) topped with giant pork and prawn wontons, minced pork and crunchy bean sprouts (ask for the off-menu chilli jam to up your game significantly).
Then there are deliciously swampy boat noodles, aromatic Thai laksa and duck noodles and if you’re feeling extra fancy, go for the crab noodles. They’re a dry style Thai classic consisting of flat, golden noodles dressed with generous helpings of sweet crabmeat.
After eating every combination available, local noodle aficionados recommend 3mm rice stick noodles for a classic experience, egg noodles for when you require extra carb loading fortification, or no noodles and extra chilli jam if you ate too many noodles the last time.
Co-owner Andy Buchan started Soi 38 because he wanted to channel the spirit of Bangkok’s famous street food destination and namesake.
“One of the best things about Thailand is the food. It is not only delicious, but it is also plentiful and cheap. Much of Thai culture expresses itself through food and it is central to all occasions and celebrations.
"Top [co-owner and chef] and I wanted to bring something to Melbourne that we hadn’t seen and would make him proud to present to the city.”
That desire to offer food that unifies through its accessibility is one that Melbourne has embraced with gusto, making it truly one of the best bang for buck meals to be had in Melbourne, chopsticks down.
Mon - Sat 11:30am - 3pm
38 McIlwraith Place Melbourne City (under the Wilson Carpark)