The Retro Club
Unit No.P1/G/41/ Gr & 1, Ground & First Level, Block G, Signature Office, KK Times Square, Off Coastal Highway, Kota Kinabalu (08 825 4251).
One of several “restobars” – restaurants cum bars – in the KK Times Square nightlife centre, Retro Club is the only restaurant in the city serving up Southern comfort food with a nod to New Orleans. Popular choices are the shrimp gumbo, spicy buffalo wings, big bad barbecue beef ribs, tuna steak and old school half roasted chicken. The party area is above the restaurant featuring a live band every night, playing – you guessed it – retro music but hold off if you don’t like cramped, dark spaces. Pork-free. Kids’ menu. Credit cards accepted. $$$
Upperstar Grill & Bar Block C, Lot 8, Ground & First Floor, Segama Complex, Kota Kinabalu (Opposite Hyatt Regency Kinabalu)
The Upperstar chain of restaurants has strategic locations, generous seating, free internet in family-style booths, affordable tried and true local and western menu and most of all, cheap beer. The first Upperstar to open, this branch caters for the big party crowds that invade higher-priced Shenanigan’s just a few metres away. Besides the standard western fare of grilled salmon, fried chicken and chips, Upperstar has its own Uppercrust Pizza. Don’t expect gourmet food at these prices although the Malaysian Delight is a particularly affordable and filling meal of rice with classic condiments and chicken curry. Also, check out the kitschy memorabilia decorating its walls. Pork-free. Child friendly. Credit cards accepted. Disabled friendly. Free parking at night. $$
Cafés Brass Monkey Café & Bar Lot 1-0, Lorong Lintas Plaza 4, Lintas Plaza (08 826 1543).
Take a short little trip out of the city and you will find yourself in quaint little suburbs where food rules. Set in an open-air environment, Brass Monkey is a long established restaurant with a large selection of wines, and western menu of imported Australian steaks, local prawns and fish. This restaurant located in the bustling Lintas area is usually packed with local families on a Sunday night. The owner keeps the place at the top of its form with his culinary experience and friendly PR. Pork-free. Child friendly. Kids’ menu. Credit cards accepted. Free parking at night. $$
Kopi Ping Café Lot D-01-16 & 17, 1st Floor, Block D, Warisan Square (08 844 7956).
Kopi Ping Café’s popularity is due to its coffee and a good take on the classic comfort foods of Malaysia – nasi lemak, curry laksa, fried noodles, beef noodles, fish head noodles and chicken rice to name a few. However, their fish sauce vermicelli and buttermilk chicken with rice is their most popular dishes. Coffee here is also decent – have yours hot or cold with a little snack of roti kahwin. The environment is all wood and simple tastes, but comfortable. There’s wifi and service is fast.
Pork-free. Child friendly. $
Cheap Eats Hawker Kedai Kopi Seng Hing Block E Lot 10, Sinsuran Complex, Kota Kinabalu (08 821 1594).
A must-try when in Sabah is the delicious Tuaran mee. Originating from the district of Tuaran some 50km away from the city, this is one of the best places to get this special dish of dried fried egg noodles with slices of pork and egg rolls. The corner shop is only five minute walk from Gaya Street’s Sunday Market and close to the Le Méridien Hotel and Centre Point Sabah shopping centre. Also popular is the tom yum noodles with prawns, which is creamier than the Thai tom yum and closer to a curry. They only do breakfast and lunch service so do come early.
Child friendly. $
NEW Kedai Kopi Kim Hing Lee Blk F, Lot 7, Sinsuran Complex, 88000 Kota Kinabalu, Sabah.
This little half shop lot has been serving up hundreds of bowls of pork noodles locally known as Sang Nyuk Mee since 1982. Every local has his or her favourite but Kim Hing Lee has been hailed as the original. An iconic Sabahan favourite, what makes this a favourite is the soup of thinly-sliced pork and offal with noodles served dry or in soup. You can choose to have just meat and pork balls or offal like liver, heart and intestines but we definitely recommend the dry version of the noodles. Its popularity means its noodles start running out by 1.30pm so make sure you come early during breakfast or by 12.30pm. So popular are these noodles that the owners have opened up several branches that go by 'Sinsuran Sang Nyuk Mee'.
Kim Fung Market Bandar Kim Fung, Mile 4, Jalan Labuk, Sandakan
This place is a hawker food paradise anytime of the day. Noodles, dumplings, yau char kuay, grilled chicken wings, apam balik, tau foo fah and fried radish cake are the favourites here. Do not miss out on the roasted pork either.
Child friendly. Free parking. $
NEW Lido Food Court Lido Commercial Centre, Jalan Penampang.
This food court in the suburbs of Kota Kinabalu is arguably the most popular, at least among the Chinese community.
And no wonder! The sheer variety of food on offer means something for almost any every craving. Penang fried kuay teaw, oyster omelette, peanut pancakes, pork noodles, grilled seafood, grilled chicken wings, pan mee, dumplings and Sarawak laksa are all available here at cheap prices from RM1.80 onwards.
Child friendly. Free parking at night, $
NEW Suria Sabah Food Court Third floor, Suria Sabah Shopping Centre, 1, Jalan Tun Fuad Stephens, Kota Kinabalu.
Popular during the day time, this food court has a variety of Malaysian food, freshly baked breads and buns and snacks. The nasi lemak stall serves some of the best nasi lemak in town with accompanying chicken rendang for RM6.50 while the only non-halal stall, Five-Star Hainanese Chicken Rice offers good barbecues and roasted pork. Also recommended is Don Don authentic Japanese cuisine which serves freshly made udon and rice meals with choices of curry or simmered beef starting at RM8. Although good and cheap food here is plentiful, the view is the attraction to-die-for. Sit by the balcony and get a panoramic view of the South China Sea.
Child friendly. Kids’ menu. $
Kopitiam Wiya Chicken Rice and Coffee Shop Block F, Lot 4, Segama Complex (08 821 4378).
Pay a visit to one of the oldest and most established KK restaurants and try their famous pyramid-shaped Hainanese chicken rice. Located in the city centre, this easily-accessible institution has 2 floors devoted to the increasing demands of customers. Sit on the ground floor and watch the world go by or sit in the comforts of air conditioning upstairs for an extra RM0.50 per person.
Child friendly. $
UFO tarts @ Syn Ming Hing Café and Bakery Block 14, Lebuh 2, Sandakan.
Known as ngau si tat, literally translated as cow dung tarts, these little desserts of deliciousness where invented right here in Sandakan and are totally unique. A thin flat vanilla sponge but with an egg yolk custard and egg white meringue, it is too easily devoured. There are several bakeries that do it but Syn Min Hing is one of the oldest places. An old school coffee shop, they also do other freshly baked buns and cakes daily.
NEW Yee Fung Kopitiam 127, Jalan Gaya, Kota Kinabalu city centre (08 831 2042).
The most popular and accessible spot for Kuching laksa in town, this place, smack along Gaya street serves bowls and bowls of creamy, coconut milk laden laksa, topped with prawns, shredded chicken, omelette, sprouts and coriander. It’s not super spicy, instead it’s served with a side of spicy sambal for added kick. The claypot chicken rice and beef ball noodle soup or ngiu chap is also recommended. Be prepared to share tables with a crowd of locals and tourists if you come on Sundays for brunch when the Gaya street crowd is at its busiest.
Mamak NEW Kedai Makan Islamic Restoran Basement Level Food Court, Centre Point Sabah, Kota Kinabalu.
Low profile in nature, but speaking volumes in taste, this nondescript shop serves nasi campur and other mamak-style food. We recommend the Roti Cobra. Don’t worry there is no exotic meat here. Roti cobra is basically a typical roti canai glorified with a sunny side up egg (soft center yolks), vegetables with lots of meat and gravy. A good budget option for lunch. The biryani is good if you’re hungry as the heaping pile of flavoured rice and chicken curry will hit that spot.
Halal. Child friendly. $
Chinese NEW Emperor’s Delight 6, Jalan Pantai, opposite Esso petrol station, Kota Kinabalu (08 828 8686).
One of few places in KK that does la mian and Shanghai-style xiao long bao. You can watch the chefs work the long strands of noodles which will be served to you either with braised meats, in hot soup or our favourite, minced meat. The dumplings, onion pancake and red braised pork belly are also good, and we love the red chilli oil. The modern décor and menu with pictures makes it an easy and hasslefree dining experience.
Credit cards accepted. Free parking at night. $$$
NEW Five Star Hainanese Chicken Rice Fourth floor, Palm Square, Centre Point Sabah.
This sibling-owned string of restaurants serves what the name suggests. Simple Chinese everyday comfort dishes like steamed or roasted chicken rice, roasted pork, kon lou noodles and their claypot noodles are all delicious and go for RM6.50 to RM9 per dish. Prices are slightly higher than your average coffee shop, but the efficient service, variety of dishes and relative cleanliness is worth it and locals agree as evident from the lunch crowd.
Child friendly. $
Fatt Kee Restaurant @ Ang’s Hotel 28 Lorong Bakau, Jalan Pantai, Kota Kinabalu.
Another local institution, this corner shop in the centre of the city is popular for its oyster sauce chicken wings. During the day, they run a brisk lunch business, where you can choose up to four dishes from a selection of ready cooked dishes and pay a flat RM6 per person – a good deal in this city. But don’t bother going after 1pm as they run out quick. At night, the restaurant does à la carte. The assam fish curry and pigs trotters are also firm favourites. Go early or be ready to wait and hustle for a table.
Child friendly, $
Good Taste Bak Kut Teh Leila Road, Bandar Nam Tung, Sandakan (08 961 5899).
Bak Kut Teh here is a little different. For those who cannot have pork, seafood is this place’s specialty and they do it well. The herbal soup here is much more peppery, but the huge succulent peeled prawns, fresh fish slices, fish balls and
whole steamed fish can be had anytime of the day.
Free parking. $
NEW Kuo Man Homemade Noodles and Fish Paste 5 Jalan Tuaran, Batu 1 1/2, 88450, Kota Kinabalu (08 822 1189); Lot BG 06, Ground Floor, Warisan Square Kota Kinabalu City Centre.
Kuo Man is famous as a homemade noodle house where KK families have been regularly patronising for some 40 years. You might need a taxi or some local knowledge to get to their original restaurant but Kuo Man recently opened a new branch in Warisan Square which makes it easier for tourists to try these unique noodles out. You have a choice of fish paste balls, fish slices or beef slices among others and either wet or dry style.
Child friendly. $
Yu Kee’s Bak Kut Teh 74, Ground floor, Jalan Gaya, opposite Jesselton Hotel, Kota Kinabalu (08 822 1192).
The name bak kut teh translates as ‘pork bone tea’ because of its strong herbal soup flavoured by pork bone marrow. This uber-famous Chinese delicacy is a formidable and filling dinner for those with a healthy carnivorous appetite. Yu Kee restaurant has throngs of locals and tourists coming in for their little bowls of porky goodness. Order your favourite pig parts – pork balls, ribs and meat are the most popular but if you have the stomach for it, the intestines and liver are deliciously unique in taste and texture. Business starts as early as 5.30pm nightly till about midnight but peak dinner periods means you’ll have to wrestle for a table.
Free parking at night, $
UFO Tarts at UFO Cafe