Photo: Early morning at Candi Dasa.

Eat and meet

Candi Dasa couldn’t be considered a culinary destination, with one or two exceptions, but some of the newer joints are at least trying in the decor department. In response, some older restaurants have lifted their game while others are sticking to the tried, true, and not that great. One thing is guaranteed: you won’t go hungry. An overabundance of restaurants line the main drag — during the quiet season it’s sad to see so many empty, with five or six staff waiting for customers.

Between the fancier spots, a spattering of tourist-friendly local warungs, and a night market of sorts, you'll satisfy both your palate and pocket. Several older traveller restaurants serve the usual suspects: pasta, jaffles and safe local dishes. Many have the same menu and prices and offer happy hours. There’s sometimes entertainment on offer such as live music or traditional Balinese dancing — not what you’ll see in Ubud, but some sweet local kids strutting their stuff. Several seafront hotels have restaurants open to the pubic, and you can use their pools for free. Seafood, of course, is on most menus — but check it’s fresh. Many restaurants offer a free pick up and drop off service around the local area.

Daytime-only Loaf Cafe has a hipster city-cafe style with blackboard walls, comfy benches and rusty industrial chairs. A great selection of cakes (try the syrupy orange cake) are served with cream or ice cream at no additional charge — how it should be! They have freshly baked bread and do sandwiches and pies too. Along with juices, milkshakes and smoothies, they serve Dimattina coffee from Australia and they have decaf. Cool air-con inside and a couple of cushioned cane chairs outside provide a comfortable stop on your way to Tenanagan, as it’s right near the turnoff.

Rumah Makan Dé 5, at the western end of Jalan Raya Candi Dasa opposite Bali Palms Resort, is a Chinese-Indonesian warung serving up the usual suspects, done quickly and well. Alongside nasi goreng and noodle dishes, they sometimes have fresh fish and prawns, which can be fried, grilled or done in a number of Indonesian styles. Menus are in English as well as Indonesian. This is a place to rub shoulders with the locals and other tourists and enjoy a cold Bintang. Great simple food and good prices.

Funky and colourful Hungry Crocodile has a fairly standard selection of Western and Indonesian favourites with a French influence, with most mains around the 50,00-70,000 rupiah price range. What gets you in is the indoor swimming pool — watch out for crocodiles! They have live music some nights, and a free pickup and drop-off service.

At the western end of Candi Dasa Pasar Batu Madeg is a small beachside market that livens up in the evenings. During the day it’s mostly sellers of bakso, a simple and delicious (fish) meatball soup in a thin broth. You’ll be charged tourist prices, but not exorbitantly so, and you get the great view for free.

Honestly, we weren’t going to list The Hot Dog Shop, and we certainly weren’t going to stop by this hole-in-the-wall plastic-chair hamburger joint (snobs that we sometimes are), but the friendly Aussie owner enticed us in and convinced us to try a burger. We will eat our words — it was fantastic! Bread was not sweet Asian-style, but great fresh and fluffy stuff they get specially made in Denpasar. We had the chicken burger (35,000 rupiah) which came with a breast fillet, marinated in herbs and grilled to perfection. Salad was fresh and included beetroot (like all good burgers should), and the chilli sauce we requested was spicy and tangy. Unfortunately we couldn’t try the mahi mahi burger (35,000 rupiah), as they only serve fresh fish, and couldn’t source any. Although not on the menu, they can do vegetarian burgers too. The beer is icy cold and the service warm.

The Dining Room has gone all out on the romantic-style decor with a huge round thatched, curtained room with bright white furniture. A mosaic-covered oven out the front cooks up wood-fire pizzas — available in large or small sizes (35,000 -100,000 rupiah), and they have a delivery service. As well as pizza, the menu has a bit of a Middle Eastern bent, with tagines (55,000 rupiah) and some interesting Greek and Turkish desserts. There's a long international wine list (and a wine shop next door). A selection local wines by the glass are some of the best value we’ve seen in Bali — 35,000 rupiah for an extra large pour.

La Rouge’s gold baroque-style chairs with red velvet upholstery and gold curtains seem a little out of place in sleepy seaside Candi Dasa, but the style is more Raj than tacky. The menu spans Indonesia, Europe and has an extensive Indian selection. Lots of curries, and several vegetarian options. Prices are at the higher end -- expect to pay 60,000-145,000 rupiah for mains.

New Queen Pub is very much old-school Bali. Did someone say Bob Marley? Expect live music and sing-a-longs with a fun party atmosphere. Food is available, but keep in mind it’s primarily a pub. Busy in high season. Cold beer. Be careful of the jungle juice.

Jojo’s Coffee and Juice Bar is a daytime-only cafe that serves an okay coffee, or at least the best we had in this area of Candi Dasa (for a great coffee head south to Mendira House). Jojo’s has an interesting selection of ice cream flavours too — with huge servings. The attached dress shop and piles of magazines offer some browsing opportunities. A good stop for a quick pick-me-up.

Towards the centre of town, friendly Warung Jepun, a hole-in-the wall, was chock full of tourists when we visited. The usual options are available, together with fish curries (35,000 rupiah) and ikan pepas — fish steamed in banana leaves with local spices -- (35,000 rupiah), plus great fresh juices (10,000 rupiah). Cheap and cheerful.

Le 48 has a lovely spot overlooking the lotus pond. The menu is French-Indonesian fusion, with some traditional French dishes sans fusion such as coq-au-vin (100,000 rupiah). Mains are around the 60,000-100,000 rupiah mark. There’s a menu to keep les enfants happy too, with items like chicken nuggets (45,000 rupiah). Wines are local, and by the glass, with the pour generous.

Classy Vincent’s has a reputation of being the best in town with prices to match — 70,000-230,000 rupiah for mains. A relaxing lounge bar in front has large comfy rattan chairs, and the lovely rear garden is romantic at night. They have live jazz some nights too. The menu is promising, with all sorts of local and international combinations such as foi gras creme brulee (100,000 rupiah), but we felt it didn’t quite live up to its reputation food-wise. Our crab tortellini starter (70,000 rupiah) with imported Alaskan crab, scollops and prawns served with a pumpkin puree was good, and presentation and service were excellent, however our fish main was overcooked and not great. Maybe it was an off night. We would give it another go, but just lessen your expectations somewhat. Vincent’s is very popular and you may need to book in high season.

Jalan Pantai Indah

Aquaria is attached to the hotel of the same name, tucked away in Jalan Pantai Indah. Aquaria serve fresh, healthy, well presented food with a daily changing menu. They can cater for many dietary restrictions and do small portions on request. Mains are around 75,000 rupiah. They also do a three-course set meal for 145,000 rupiah. Bright and serene, the restaurant overlooks the pool in this breezy seaside location. They offer free pick up from the Candi Dasa area.

Ganesh Lodge’s restaurant is streetside of their hotel overlooking a fantastic pool. They have the same French influenced menu as Hungry Crocodile at the other end of town with prices around the 50,00-70,000 rupiah price range — fresh salads and good coffee with popcorn on the side as a bonus.

Sengkidu and Buitan

Cute little Lu Putu in the back of Mendira has bright orange walls on the street side and a pretty garden out the back. Its large Balinese and Indonesian menu is a step up from the average warung fare. Prices are more restaurant than warung too — nasi campur 50,000 rupiah, chicken curry 45,000. They only have a couple of tables so bookings are recommended. Lu Putu also run cooking classes for 450,000 rupiah (minimum two).

Mendira House has the best coffee in this part of East Bali — worth making the trip from Candi Dasa. The tiny gift shop would not be out of place in a swanky middle-class suburb of a big city (or at least Seminyak), but a little out of place in this local village. They have no chairs as their licence is takeaway only — but there is a bench outside. If you prefer the air-con comforts of inside the shop, the friendly staff will offer a stool from behind the counter. The owners told me they did have a couple of stools, but to comply with regulations had price tags attached — and someone bought them. Excellent coffee. No food, just ice cream and chocolate.

Seasalt at top-end Alila Manggis has a deservedly great reputation. It's named for the neighbouring salt farms and set in a fabulous outdoor pavilion surrounded by lotus ponds with views to the ocean. The imaginative menu mixes authentic Balinese and fusion flavours. Many ingredients come from their own organic garden. The speciality is the traditional Balinese megibung — an assortment of dishes served in the unique way of sharing food during ceremonies in East Bali. Pricey, but great for a special night out.

Aquaria: Jalan Puri Bagus Samuh; T: (0363) 41 127; (0817) 978 9574;;; open daily 08:00-22:00.
Ganesh Lodge: Jalan Pantai Indah; T: (0363) 41 567;;
Hungry Crocodile: Jalan Raya Candi Dasa; T: (0363) 438 1003; open daily 08:00-22:00.
Jojo’s Coffee and Juice Bar: Jalan Raya Candi Dasa; T: (0819) 9900 6611; open daily until 18:00.
La Rouge: Jalan Raya Candi Dasa; T: (0363) 41 991;; open daily 11:00-23:00.
Le 48: 48 Jalan Raya Candi Dasa; T: (0363) 41 177;;; open daily 7:00-23:00.
Loaf Cafe: Jalan Raya Candi Dasa; T: (0812) 4629 9878; T: (0363) 4381 130;; open daily 8:00-18:00.
Lu Putu: 9 Jalan Mendira, Sengkidu; T: (0363) 42 186; luputu@luputu; open daily 12:00-22:00.
Mendira House: Jalan Mendira, Sengkidu; T: (0821) 4517 1907; (0821) 4437 0011;;; open daily 9:00-18:00.
New Queen Pub: Jalan Raya Candi Dasa; T: (0812) 3653 1832; (0812) 3653 1832;; open daily 9:00–00:00.
Pasar Batu Madeg: Jalan Raya Candi Dasa (opposite police station)
Rumah Makan De 5: Jalan Raya Candi Dasa; open daily 11:00–22:00.
Seasalt: Jalan Raya Buitan, Buitan; T: (0363) 41 011;;
The Dining Room: Jalan Raya Candi Dasa; T: (0363) 42174, (0363) 42175;;; open daily 08:00–22:00.
The Hot Dog Shop: Jalan Raya Candi Dasa; T: (0817) 9707 339;; open daily 11:00-20:00.
Vincent’s: Jalan Raya Candi Dasa; T: (0363) 41 368;; open daily 11:00-23:00.
Warung Jepun: Jalan Raya Candi Dasa.

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