Not often high on the lists of the most intrepid travellers, and to their detriment. The city itself can resemble an endless row of shopping malls interspersed by mosques and some crumbling buildings, but behind the rather ugly exterior lies one of Asias best food cities. Teeming with the amalgamation of Chinese, Malay and Indian food all being “National Cuisines”, the roots of each one slowly disappears into a large new tree of tastes and experiences. Each culture has its strict representatives, and each one has the renegades who blend and mix their palette to appease the inquisitive palate.
Whether you do the usual route and stay in Chinatown or Bukit Bintang, there are a few areas outside of the centre that have great food options. Bangsar is one of them, Brickfields and Damansara too, so it's worth a daytrip in a taxi to see a different side of KL.
Places to eat
Limapulo: Baba Can Cook ($$)
No visit to KL can be complete without a trip here. Entering into the weird and wonderful world of this excellent restaurant, with “Baba” sitting behind the cash register with his infectious smile. The thing to get here is the Nyonya Laksa, but beware it’s only available certain days of the week.
Itik Salai Masthar ($)
The religious flock to houses of worship, I worship at restaurants. Worth the nearly 45 minute journey out of KL, this tin-roof shack in the middle-of-nowhere, churns out euphoric smoked duck curries to throngs of devotees. Come early to avoid the crushing disappointment of "sold out". This curry is spicy, flavoursome, smokey and down right delectable.
Try be there before 1pm.
mr naan & mrs idly ($)
My standards for Indian food are extremely high. Taking into account the first solid food I was fed was a chapati, and having lived 6 years in Tamil Nadu, I am not easily amazed. This place literally blew me away. I hesitated to go there numerous times because of the name, but i'm glad I overcame my predjudice. The masala dosa here is killer, the chole bhature is mindblowing and they have potentially the best dal tarka on earth. Eat here multiple times, do it... do it!!
Cho Cha Foodstore ($$$)
When smart people find old buildings and turn them into gorgeous restaurants, hire good cooks and front of house, this is what you end up with. Great sharing plates, awesome presentation, decent prices.
Try their cold brew Darjeeling First Flush tea! Bingo
Since KL managed to cover almost every cuisine on earth, why shouldn't it have an amazing Sri Lankan place? Yarl takes the humble street-food style and elevates it with a modern restaurant, attentive staff and flavours like a Manny Pacquiao punch.
Madras Lane Curry Laksa ($)
With three competing Curry Laksa stands in the same small alleyway, things can get confusing. However, if you want the best of the best, look for the stall serving the green bowls. This curry laksa at 7RM will transport you far away from the rat infested alleyway you're sitting in. A truly transcendent broth.
Dharma Realm Guan Yin Monastery ($)
Jonesing for some vegan food? Sick of all the heavy curries? Head to this Buddhist temple during lunch hours (closes 3pm) and pay 8 RM for a huge meal of excellent plant based options.
Mollagaa Restaurant ($$)
A step up from the regular canteen-style banana leaf places, this gem around the corner from Leboh Ampang serves piping hot, spicy, mouth-watering Keralan meals.
Village Park ($$)
A veritable go-to for suburbanites on the hunt for Nasi Lemak. Jaw-crunchingly crispy chicken, coconut rice, sambal and an egg. If you only have a couple of days in KL you could skip this place, but if time is on your side then the journey out here is a rewarding one.
Admittedly not the biggest fan of Nasi Lemak, this one almost changed my mind. The chicken alone is worth the trek.
People in Kerala would bite their right arm off to get curry at this quality day in, day out. A completely sublime eating experience. Roll out the red carpet for their Mango Prawn Curry and Lamb Bone Marrow curry, truly transcendental dishes.
P.s. I've heard the branch inside Bangsar Village is the best of the two. Since it's the only one i've visited I can't compare.
Hawker Chan ($)
Headlines were made all over when this place got it's Michelin star, calling it "the cheapest michelin star meal in the world". Hailing from Malaysia, his first shop was in Singapore, but the prodigal son returned to his home-country in 2019 to open a branch in K.L. (amidst much fanfare).
You honestly can't go wrong spending a couple of dollars for delicious chicken and rice!
Seni SattiSorru ($)
Life is about the people you meet. Today I went by Tandang (see below) to see if they had any t-shirts, and ended up having a long talk with the people working there. One of them was a self-confessed foodie and hurriedly wrote down a long list of places to try. This was one of them. Since it wasn't too far away I headed down, ate exceptional clay pot mutton curry that was invented by the owner, forced myself to leave a bit so I could physically walk afterwards and headed into the most insane downpour I can remember. With a bloody smile on my face.
Note: Closed Mondays!
Vishal Food & Catering ($)
In a back alley on the border between Chinatown and Brickfields lies this little gem. For those (like me) who prefer to eat in the stillness of self-reflection, they have 2 small tables outside. The banana leaf is top class, but is heavily dependent on timing, if you miss the lunch rush the food might not be as fresh.
As to the often posed question of "why so many banana leaf places serve Luke-warm food?": Indian's eat with their hands, and they're not made of asbestos.
Lot 10 Hutong ($)
Smack bang in the heart of Bukit Bintang is a foodcourt to rule all foodcourts. It would take you a week to try all the places represented in the basement, but give it a shot. Special mention goes to Penang Famous Kuey Teow with duck egg !! It's worth paying a little extra for the richness of the duck egg compared to a regular chicken egg.
I also tried the rabidly famous Ho Weng Kee but left half the food, it just wasn't to my taste.
Layali El Sham ($$)
Syrian food isn't an obvious choice in KL perhaps, but this supremely popular place serves the best you can find. Fresh pita's done in a proper oven, charcoal grills converting raw meat to edible delicacies and friendly service.
Betel Leaf ($$)
Undoubtably one of the best places for South Indian food in KL. Prices are a bit higher than the roadside places but its worth it.
Try the house special chettinad chicken curry!
Ramen Bari-Uma ($$)
You're not going to find much better ramen than this in KL. A thicker shoyu-tonkotsu style broth, with the most meltingly, mind-blowing piece of pork you've ever encountered. This pig died happy, so honour its memory by stuffing in another helping!
Paradise Restaurant ($$)
As desi as your aunty used to make it, Pakistani food of the highest order. Sumptuous lamb dishes, succulent chicken curries, pillowy breads. Grab a plate, pile up your fancy and a waiter walks past and calculates the amount for you.
kagura Ramen ($$)
Opting to try a different style of ramen I headed for Kagura which specialises in the chicken-bone broth or “Tori Paitan “. Whilst in the throes of ecstasy spooning down mouthful after mouthful, you'd be hard pressed to miss the porcine variant. It's really THAT good!
Tip: Order the spicy chicken broth one if you can handle the heat!
Valentine Roti ($)
Roti Canai is one of the things I look forward to sink my teeth into the most when I land in Malaysia. I will literally get one the first day I arrive, no matter what time of day it is. After having hunted high and low for over 20 years, i'll go out on a fragile limb and claim this to be the best in KL. Definitely the best i've tasted at least. The roti itself is unspeakably crispy, fluffy and soft at the same time, the curries are magnificent and the fact that it's so far out of the centre means you avoid a lot of the scent of dreadlocked backpackers wafting in and ruining your meal.
Shin Kee Beef Noodle ($)
There are two beef noodle shops within 200 meters of each other in Chinatown (Soong Kee, has the better beef balls, this place the best noodles). Both are worth visiting for different reasons. Neither of them make the perfect bowl they're both bloody delicious.
Sangeetha Veg Restaurant ($)
I would consider it almost humanly impossible to make a better masala dosa. The actual dosa was crispy yet had pockets of softness, the sambar was to-die-for, and the chutneys were next level. If you come here and hate this dosa you can go take a long walk off a short plank, my friend.
TIP: Go to the Leboh Ampang branch, its the best one.
Nam Heong ($)
Moist, tender, lip-smackingly amazing Hainanese chicken in Chinatown? TICK!
Ever with my ears to the ground, the old chinese receptionist bestowed legendary status on this fine establishment, so with that recommendation ringing in my ears I considered it my duty to test his utterances. He was bang on! The deceptively plain looking broth also packed a deep chicken punch! Poultry sacrifice of the highest order.
Hyderabad biryani house ($)
Tucked away in a small corner past the line of almost identically named Hyderabad Dum Biryani, Biryani House, Hyderabad Biryani Restaurant, is the O.G! Hyderabad Birjani House may look simple, but is deceptively talented at creating mouthwatering Biryani for your anxious stomach. Try the Brinjal Korma also, which adds a nice touch of vegetable spicy goodness to the otherwise rich, moist rice.
santa chapati house ($)
This tiny hole in the wall serves KL's best chapati, and their curries are nothing to sneer at. Clean, delicious, friendly and value for money, the perfect place for lunch before walking around Chinatown.
Cafes, Bars and Oddities
Probably my favourite bar in KL, housed in a 100 year old building where the bar tenders still wear starch white shirts and do everything “properly”. The furniture and decor bring you back to the 50s, and it literally feels like time stopped when you walk in. Prop yourself up by the bar, order a Gin Tonic and get awash in nostalgia.
A proper speakeasy cocktail bar in the heart of Chinatown. The drinks are delicious and well prepared, but don’t expect to get away without splurging a weeks budget. Go on, treat your liver with some quality exercise! Added bonus is they won't play the fucking Eagles or Bob Marley here.
Side note: Wear shoes and trousers on the weekends, they don’t let in sandal/flipflop wearing hippies.
Tandang Record Store
The underground scene in KL revolves around this very record store. Browse in here for eclectic music on vinyl or CD, check the t-shirts out, have a chinwag with the people working there to find out if there are any upcoming shows. This place is the beating heart of KL's counter-culture.
Piu Piu Piu Cafe
One floor down and one building to the left from Tandang is Piu Piu Piu. If you get stuck upstairs talking to the guys, pop down, grab a take-away coffee and head back up again. This spot is a curious little cafe with a gallery out back.
Feeka Coffee Roasters
Perpetually packed with trembling hearts, Mac computers galore, sunglasses affixed, this is your spot for excellent coffees in BB. The outdoor area is conducive for books and bird song.
Located in a heritage building from 1888, this and Coliseum Cafe are two places to unwind, read the newspaper, and pretend that literal madness is not ensuing outside the door.
Warning: Sometimes they have live music, which as you know in Asia, can be a mixed bag.
Upstairs at VCR is a peaceful seating area overlooking greenery and other tomfoolery, downstairs is an homage to all things caffeine, cold brew and kombucha, whilst the front yard serves as a haven for vape-thusiasts and people organising their instagram. The coffee's are on point, and the place is not stuffy or snooty despite it's hipster magazine looks.
Old China Cafe
With their 100 year old marble top tables and decaying decor, there's nothing to hate about this place except the constant throng of twat tourists who only come in for a selfie and then bugger off.
BB Bottlez Houz
Amidst all the rich ex-pats splurging thousands of Ringgits on hookers and manhattans lies this humble wine shop with a few tables out front. People with a nose for a bargain stand outside with their cheaply bought beers or dodgy bottles of gin. You always end up talking to the most random people from Azerbaijan, Mongolia, Iran or Pakistan and there is a general feeling of joviality with our backs turned to the passing elite.
Leaf & Co
Optimal people watching occurs when you order a coffee and sit at one of the front tables. It's also comedic seeing the number of backpackers who walk in sweating like a zambian bbq, trying to find Mingle Hostel which is upstairs.
My most vivid emotional experiences are to do with nostalgia and sehnsucht. The longing for a thing past, for a time gone, for a lingering sensation that will never be quenched. Areas like Kampung Baru perpetuate those feelings while offering balmy winds to dry the tears. The entire area is going to be demolished in the future to make way for modern monstrosities, so take the time now when you can to meander around it's charming lanes and streets.
Yes, it's in every bleedin guidebook about Malaysia, but if you by some chance are like me and don't travel with the book of lies in your pocket, then head over on a daytrip and spend a few minutes gazing at temples inside the cave.
It will be a work-out climbing the stairs, and you'll feel famished afterwards which means you can try out another of the restaurants above. Win-win
The Green Man Pub
At the risk of seeming disingenuine, I will add a football bar for shits and giggles. If you're tragically hanging around changkat, then this is probably your best bet for a quiet pint to cheer along your team.
All these recommendations are just personal opinions based on my palate, things change, chefs get fired or replaced, places open-close, relocate, so take it all with a pinch of MSG and discover your own gems too. But please do try a few of these, they have been researched exhaustively.