Great places to eat in Kuala Lumpur

What we say: 3.5 stars

KL is one of world's great unsung culinary destinations. You could stay for a year, eat out every night, and still not exhaust the city's supply of superb eateries. What truly impresses about KL's eateries is how high overall standards are, especially places that are popular with locals.

Food courts are a good starting point for seeing the variety of cuisines on offer in the city. Essentially they offer street food, relocated to more comfortable surroundings. Hutong in Lot 10 is the pick of the bunch, having made a deliberate effort to keep its outlets as "traditional" as possible.

For a true blast from the past though, it's worth searching out some of a few remaining old-school Chinese-run coffee shops. The top choice is venerable Yut Kee, which has been around since 1928. Another good choice, although more of a restaurant than a cafe, is Kedai Kopi Lai Foong.

We adore Jalan Alor.
We adore Jalan Alor.

The best place to head for Chinese street food is Jalan Alor in Bukit Bintang. The sheer number of eateries can be daunting, although anywhere full of local customers is likely to be a safe bet, such as ever-popular Wong Ah Wah. For a marked step up in comfort, though not in prices, head to Din Tai Fung or Dagon-i.

One food experience that should be tried at least once by every visitor to KL is banana leaf. At its most basic, this meal consists of rice, south Indian curries, salads and chutneys, served on a banana leaf.

The city's best two purveyors of this culinary treat are Devi's Corner and Sri Nirwana Maju. Another good spot for banana leaf is Nagasari Curry House, which also turns out some great north Indian food, as well as serving ice cold beer.

Breakfast of champions.
Breakfast of champions.

You will not find any beer at the city's Mamak shops -- cafes run by ethnic Indian Muslims -- but they still make great refreshment pit stops. A good introduction to Mamak fare is Restoran SK Corner, which offers all the favourite snacks and drinks.

Most of the Malay food on offer in KL is of the cheap and filling variety, cooked up in the morning in big vats, and served up at roadside stalls. For this reason, the best way to eat authentic, freshly cooked Malay cuisine is by going upmarket. The best example of this is Bijan, which is hard to beat when it comes to quality and authenticity.

One of the oddities of the KL culinary scene is that food from Malaysia's Southeast Asian neighbours is so disappointing. Rare exceptions include Sao Nam, the best Vietnamese restaurant in town, and Restoran Thai Somtam Seafood, by far the most authentic Thai eatery.

Another oddity, although this time a welcome one, is the quality of Middle Eastern food, particularly in Bukit Bintang, which has large expatriate communities from that region. Small local chains Tarbush and Al-Amar are both reliably good purveyors of Lebanese cuisine.

I'll have three of each please.
I'll have three of each please.

Pizza and pasta are extremely popular among Malaysians, although much of the stuff served up in KL would leave most Italians bemused. For the most authentic joint in town, head to Neroteca, which is refreshingly non-halal, while nearby Bar Italia is not far behind.

Italian food is by far the most popular European fare in KL, but other cuisines from Europe are also represented. It is relatively easy to get good Spanish food for example, with tasty tapas and larger dishes at both El Meson and Pinchos.

The vibrant area around Changkat Bukit Bintang has the greatest concentration of gastropubs or bistro bars. They include Twentyone and Albion KL, which both deliver tasty food in a pleasant, informal setting, at reasonable prices.

For KL's best cafe culture though, you have to go to Bangsar Baru. Top picks include The Antipodean, which has been mobbed since it opened, and Espressamente Illy, for the best Italian coffee this side of Milan. People with a sweet tooth will find much to like about Alexis, the city's queen of indulgent desserts.

Banana leaf curry - don't leave KL without it.
Banana leaf curry - don't leave KL without it.

It is easier to get good vegetarian food in KL than virtually anywhere else in Southeast Asia. Indian places, whether north or south, always have meat-free dishes, while there a number of superb dedicated vegetarian places, including Saravana Bhavan, and Bakti Woodlands.

There are also dozens of Buddhist Chinese eateries, such as Blue Boy and the canteen at the Dharma Realm Guan Yin Sagely Monastery, which rely heavily on "mock meat" dishes. Most normal Chinese places are also happy to whip up something special.

Although the vast majority of food in KL falls into the cheap and cheerful category, the city does have a burgeoning fine dining scene. French cuisine features heavily, as does Italian and Japanese. Taking advantage of set meals and steering clear of alcohol will make prices somewhat less scary.

Cilantro, which is thought by many to be the best restaurant in KL, turns out a high quality fusion of Japanese, French and Italian cuisine. A touch less accomplished perhaps, but incredible value for money, is the set lunch at Sage. Far more intimate than either, and more classically French, is Cuisine Gourmet by Nathalie.

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