Where to eat and drink: Kinabalu Park

Kinabalu Park: Where to eat and drink

The mountain air can certainly build up an appetite, but fear not, restaurant options abound whether you’re staying near the park headquarters, Ranau or Poring.

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Mount Kinabalu HQ
As with the accommodation choices, restaurants inside Kinabalu Park are run by Sutera Sanctuary Lodge and are more expensive than those nearby. However many of the climbing packages include meals, so you may end up eating at one regardless.

Gather round the fire at Liwagu. Photo by: Sally Arnold.
Gather round the fire at Liwagu. Photo: Sally Arnold

Balsam Buffet Restaurant inside the park is, you guessed it, a buffet restaurant. Meals are served at set times, and It can feel chaotic when there are large groups of climbers. If you have a mountain appetite, it’s not bad value — plenty of choices are available and it’s good for filling up on carbs before your climb. Breakfast, lunch, dinner are 40/55/65 ringgit.

Liwagu Restaurant also inside the park is the “fancy place” on the mountain. Sip a liqueur in the cosy lounge by the open fire, or dine outdoors on the terrace overlooking the jungle, or one of the two smart dining rooms—cafe style or a more formal alternative. Pricey local or Western food includes snacks such as roti canai (14 ringgit) and burgers (24 ringgit), or more substantial meals. Beers, wine and a full bar are available.

A cold day dining at Panataran Kinabalu. Photo by: Sally Arnold.
A cold day dining at Panataran Kinabalu. Photo: Sally Arnold

Restaurant Panataran Kinabalu directly opposite the park entrance is run by Sabah Parks staff co-operative and is the place to go for excellent value and tasty local meals and to rub shoulders with the mountain guides. Panataran Kinabalu is not going to win any awards for its decor, but on a clear day a stunning view of Mount Kinabalu is a beautiful backdrop to your bowl of noodles. The menu is extensive with Malay, Chinese and a handful of Western meals. If you’re particularly hungry or wish to share with a group, many dishes can be ordered in small, medium or large. Takeaway local-style lunches or sandwiches make a good picnic if you’re climbing the trails. An attached mini-market sells ice cream and sundries, but has a different schedule to the restaurant, and is only open daylight hours. Restaurant Panataran Kinabalu is very popular and you may have to wait for a table, but not too long as service is brisk. If you can’t wait, walk 400 metres west to Restoran Bayu Kinabalu for a similar menu with similar prices and ambience, but much less busy. Neither serve alcohol.

The first thing you’ll notice walking into 89 Station, is the wall of empty beer bottles (well, it’s the first thing we noticed). This almost-industrial-style cafe that looks like it’s housed in a shipping container (it’s not) sits on the highway 850 metres east of the park entrance. A blackboard displays the mostly Chinese menu with many pork and seafood choices. They even serve ostrich with a choice of black pepper, curry, blackbean or ginger sauces (15/20/30 ringgit). Oh, and they serve beer. Super-friendly service with good spoken English. 89 Station will deliver in the local area too.

It's mostly Chinese dishes at 89 Station. Photo by: Sally Arnold.
It's mostly Chinese dishes at 89 Station. Photo: Sally Arnold

89 Station: 850m east of Kinabalu Park; T: (0165) 823 688, (088) 881 300; www.facebook.com/89StationKundasang; open daily 09:00-15:30, 17:30-20:30.
Balsam Buffet Restaurant: Inside Kinabalu Park; open daily: 06:00-11:00; 12:00-16:00; 18:00-21:00.
Liwagu Restaurant: Inside Kinabalu Park; open daily 06:00-22:00.
Restoran Bayu Kinabalu: 400m west of Kinabalu Park; open daily 08:00-17:00, sometimes 10:00-18:00.
Restaurant Panataran Kinabalu: Opposite Kinabalu Park; open daily 07:00-19:30.

The advantage (besides accommodation being cheaper) of staying in Ranau is the abundance of food choices. We didn’t know where to start, and everything we tried was good. Many restaurants operate 24 hours to cater to passing truck drivers and despite what you may think the food in these places looked fresh and tasty. For self-catering Milimewa Superstore on Jalan Kibarambang is the largest supermarket in town. Ranau is also famous for a yearly durian festival, so if you’re a fan of the stinky king of fruits this is durian central.

We tried Restoran Yeong Hing’s excellent barbecue Chinese duck rice (6 ringgit) served with a bit of flare from the smiling staff.

Delicious duck at Yeong Hing. Photo by: Sally Arnold.
Delicious duck at Yeong Hing. Photo: Sally Arnold

Restoran Ajung Selera, a standard Malay point and pick joint, offers an overwhelming number of delicious looking dishes that are even tastier than they look. We tried a chicken dish cooked in sweet soy sauce and spices (a standard local dish, but good here). Fresh fruit juices are available too. Cheap.

Below MK Hotel, Mama Kopitiam serve a late breakfast of toast, eggs and sandwiches plus local dishes and dubious snacks (nuggets). An extensive drink menu of milkshakes, floats, blended drinks and coffee make this a popular hangout for local students.

The chicken in sweet soy worked for us at Restoran Ajung Selera. Photo by: Sally Arnold.
The chicken in sweet soy worked for us at Restoran Ajung Selera. Photo: Sally Arnold

Across the highway, down by the bridge, in the late afternoon and early evening the riverside carpark tuns into a small night market. There’s nowhere to sit and eat, but prepared food and drinks can be taken away (or you could sit on the roadside), and it’s an interesting spot to wander about and mingle with the locals.

A little out of the centre of town, Hakka Food Court is a huge barn of a place worth seeking out. Stalls at this very clean hawker centre span a larger geographical region than the name suggests. We tried a stall selling yummy handmade Taiwanese noodles and dumplings. The friendly owners here spoke good English too. Drinks are sold at a central counter, and although not on the price list, they sell beer at cheap prices. We had to stop at the lolly and biscuit stall with all sorts of treats in big glass jars (you never know when you might be caught without food). The pineapple biscuits are morish. Hakka Food Court can be found about 500 metres past the tea statue towards Poring, along the road leading to Ranau Hospital.

Mama Kopitiam: Lorong Kibarambang, below MK Hotel; open daily 09:30-22:00.
Ranau Hakka Food Court: road near Ranau Hospital; open daily: 08:00-24:00.
Restoran Ajung Selera: Corner of Jalan Kibarambang and Lorong Kibarambang; open 24 hours.
Ranau Night Market: carpark near the river; open daily from 16:00.
Restoran Yeong Hing: Block G, Jalan Kibarambang, diagonally opposite Lodge 88 I; open daily 07:00-14:30.

Delectable Taiwanese noodles and dumplings at Hakka Food Court. Photo by: Sally Arnold.
Delectable Taiwanese noodles and dumplings at Hakka Food Court. Photo: Sally Arnold

Whether you’re in Poring to visit Kinabalu Park, or heading to jungle camp at Lupa Masa, you’ll not have far to go for a feed. Many local restaurants line the road outside the park entrance. Most cater to the lunch time crowd, but enough stay open for an evening meal.

Our all-time favourite here is Restoran Sri Papar. It’s not the cleanest looking place, and they keep odd hours, so if you plan for dinner, drop in to let them know you’ll be coming. The best dishes here are the meat or veggie dishes with a sauce (10-12 ringgit) — kari, kurma, rendang, asam pedas or asam manis. All are divine, so go more than once to try them all. Let them know how spicy you like it too.

If you’re staying at Lupa Masa the guides will more likely than not arrange to meet you at Nongling Restaurant Poring, so you may as well have a bowl of noodles while you wait. This popular and clean looking place serves “Asian and Western food”, but mostly rice and noodles.

Enjoy the amiable atmosphere at Round Inn for dinner or just drinks. Photo by: Sally Arnold.
Enjoy the amiable atmosphere at Round Inn for dinner or just drinks. Photo: Sally Arnold

Definitely the quirkiest place in town, polka-dotted Round Inn’s Restaurant below their equally quirky hotel serves up the usual Malay-Chinese-Western mix (but mostly Chinese). They have steak on the menu too — we didn’t try so can’t say if it was like butter or old shoe leather, but we’d stick with the Chinese food. Round Inn serves beer and some evenings the cave-like interior (something about the round doors and windows that give that impression) has a jovial local pub atmosphere.

Nongun Restaurant Poring: Jalan Poring; (0888) 78 260, (0148) 664 209; nonglingrestaurant.blogspot.co.id; open daily 07:30-21:00.
Restoran Sri Papar: Jalan Poring; (0888) 76755, (0198) 093 155; unreliable hours.
Round Inn: Jalan Poring; T: (0888) 79584; open daily 08:00-21:00.

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Sally spent twelve years leading tourists around Indonesia and Malaysia where she collected a lot of stuff. She once carried a 40kg rug overland across Java. Her house has been described as a cross between a museum and a library. Fuelled by coffee, she can often be found riding her bike or petting stray cats. Sally believes travel is the key to world peace.