The Sandakan waterfront is lined with simple restaurants serving Malay favourites like fried rice, curries and grilled satay with peanut sauce. Most have nearly identical menus and prices (5-15 ringgit for mains), but our pick is Harbour Bistro Cafe which is one of the few serving beer. The ambiance is lovely at night when the fairy lights are turned on, even if the waterfront is a bit stinky.
For cheaper eats, try the food stalls on the second level of the Sandakan Central Market where you'll be hard pressed to spend more than five ringgit on a meal. Each food stall has its own specialty ranging from nasi lemak to grilled fish and Chinese vegetarian food to Indonesian soto soup. The best selection is around lunch hours.
Twenty-four-hour curry cravings can be satisfied at Restoran JJ Corner. There's a big menu of Malay/Indian food like mee goreng, briyani rice and roti canai (fried flatbread with curry) and you can wash it down with teh tarik or fresh fruit juice. It's extremely popular with locals and prices are a bargain.
For something a little classier, try the English Tea House & Restaurant on a hilltop overlooking the city. A traditional set of scones with clotted cream, strawberry jam and your choice of coffee or tea costs 18 ringgit, and Western mains like fish and chips or beef fillet are 22-35 ringgit. They also serve harder beverages than tea, and it's 15.50 ringgit for a Pimm's Cup or 19.50 ringgit for a beer.
But the best spot in Sandakan for a drink is hands-down the Ba Lin Bar & Bistro on top of NAK Hotel. The rooftop has been turned into the mellowest spot in Sandakan with potted plants and comfy chaise seating. Western food like thin-crust pizzas, grilled lamb and hot wing are spot-on, if a bit expensive. It's the place to be at sunset and alcoholic bevvies are 15% during happy hour from 14:00 till 19:30.
Ba Lin Rooftop Bar & Bistro: Rooftop of NAK Hotel, Jalan Pelabuhan Lama, T: (89) 272 988, open 07:00-late, http://www.balin-sandakan.com/
English Tea House & Restaurant: 2002 Jalan Istana, T: (89) 222 545, open daiy 10:00-00:00, http://www.englishteahouse.org/
Harbour Bistro Cafe: Lot 88 Harbour Square, T: (89) 235 315, open 15:00–late
Restoran JJ Corner: Junction of Jalan Tiga and Jalan Pryer, T: (89) 213426, open 24 hours
Sandakan Central Market Food Stalls: 2nd level, Central Market, most stalls open 08:00-17:00