The Best Restaurants & Bars In Singapore
photo credit: Mark Ong
The first thing you should know about Singapore is that food is the national pastime, obsession, and sport. The country, which is about half the size of Los Angeles, has more than 7,000 restaurants, cafes, hawker centres, and bars, and they’re scattered all over the island. There’s excellent Chinese food in Little India, curry noodles that’ll clear your sinuses in the Central Business District, and even a killer burger at the airport.
Luckily, getting around to all those places isn’t an issue with or without a car. The country’s public transportation system is comprehensive, air-conditioned, and easy to navigate. Which is fortunate, since walking around this tropical city in 90% humidity isn’t ideal.
Despite being one of the world’s smallest countries, Singapore manages to cram restaurants into any space possible, which makes sifting through them a rewarding but tiring task. If that sounds like something you'd outsource to literally anybody else, you’ve come to the right place: here’s our guide to the best restaurants and bars in Singapore.
HAWKER CENTRES, KOPITIAMS, & OTHER CASUAL SPOTS
The Coconut Club proves that change can be good as long as the rice remains the same. They recently moved into a bright two-story shophouse, which is a kind of historical building with internal courtyards scattered throughout Singapore, and still execute their excellent nasi lemak (a.k.a. their signature coconut rice dish) along with some nifty additions: a slew of curries, an extensive dessert selection, and an exciting cocktail menu. If you’re somehow not full on fishcakes and vegetable curry, have a coconut shake or their pineapple Old Fashioned as you seriously consider moving to Singapore.
Sari Ratu is our pick for the best nasi padang in town. You start with a big plate of rice on a plastic tray and then point at various dishes they have on display. That’s when the staff starts piling food on until you can’t see the bottom of the tray anymore. A list of all the options would be longer than the credits of a Marvel movie, but we like the black-sauce squid, the potato patties, and whatever curry they’re making that day.
Editor's Note: Yang Ming Seafood is closed until March 23rd, 2023. Their other location at 71 Ubi Crescent Excalibur Centre is open.
Everyone talks about Singapore’s hawker centres (and rightfully so), but the majority of Singaporeans eat at kopitiams (think of them as mini-hawkers hidden in housing estates). In one of those kopitiams in Bishan is where you’ll find Yang Ming Seafood. It’s a zi char, which basically means a small place that encourages communal eating and has a large menu focusing on wok-fried dishes that often originated in home cooking. Call ahead, order the Lobster Andrew for your group, and debate whether Andrew is the chef’s name, the lobster’s name, or somehow an adjective. Then, portion out the silky rice noodles with smoky lobster steeped in soy and garlic and wonder why lobster is prepared any other way.
You’ll find our favorite local coffee shop, YY Kafei Dian, two blocks away from the famous Raffles Hotel where the Singapore Sling was invented. They serve things like kaya toast, a white bread bun loaded with coconut jam and butter that’s part-sandwich, part-dessert, and claypot noodles loaded with pork, Chinese cabbage, and egg. This small spot on Beach Road makes their kaya and buns in-house before toasting them on a griddle that’s been around forever. Grab a bun and a coffee, then stroll over to the Raffles Hotel to explore the grounds.
Alexandra Village flies a little under the radar since it’s tucked away behind a row of auto shops, but locals know what’s up at this hawker centre. Highlights include the sliced fish hor fun noodles, spicy claypot laksa, and some legitimately awesome soup dumplings. The Bukit Merah area is what’s known as heartland Singapore, meaning any area beyond the city center, yet it’s just ten minutes away from glitzier areas like Orchard Road and Holland Village. You can find a large concentration of excellent spots here (like neighborhood favorite Keng Eng Kee or Durian Lab), which makes this one of the better hawker centres around.
While you’re wandering through the Tiong Bahru neighborhood looking at bookstores, ’50s architecture, and tiny antique shops, you’ll need to find somewhere to eat—and that place should be Tiong Bahru Food Centre. Once you make your way to the second floor of the Tiong Bahru Market, you can get roast meats from Lee Hong Kee, prawn noodle soup from Min Nan Pork Ribs Prawn Noodles, rice cakes with pickled vegetables at Jian Bo Shui Kueh, and icy desserts from Liang Liang Garden (get the Milo Dinosaur Ice Kachang—it’s like a hot chocolate snow cone) all without leaving the building. Head over with a group of friends when you’re in the area, make sure you’ve got cash, and order everything.
FANCIER SIT-DOWN SPOTS
Instead of spending what looks like their entire budget on chandeliers, Violet Oon’s would do just fine with folding tables and blank concrete walls. Because when the food arrives, you won’t be able to focus on anything else. The restaurant serves upscale Peranakan food, and the must-tries are the dry laksa noodles, the beef rendang, and their buah keluak ayam, a stew made with chicken and candlenut that’s infused with fresh root spices.
The historic Gillman Barracks is no longer the military base it used to be, but the folks at Naked Finn clearly didn’t get the memo because their food has some serious firepower. (Yes, that is indeed our best attempt at military humor.) Place your trust in their well-informed waitstaff and you’ll get rewarded with things like a pancake made from squid, littleneck clams with white wine and fish sauce, and rice noodles with sakura shrimp. Even though the restaurant sits on old barracks, the space actually looks more like a greenhouse now. After your meal, explore the surrounding arts district—go gallery hopping, stop for waffles and ice cream at Creamier, or drink some Wonka-esque cocktails at Hopscotch.
Bedrock Origin is an upscale spot on the island of Sentosa on the southern side of Singapore. They do old-school favorites like grilled lobster tail and plenty of steaks, but also serve things like an excellent grilled kingfish collar and a plant-based beef wellington, which puts Bedrock in that rarified air of “steakhouses that actually care about vegans.” The A4 Wagyu ribeye is fantastic, but the tomahawk steak, which can only be described as “Flintstonian,” steals the show. While on Sentosa, check out Quayside Isle boardwalk or the vibey Tanjong Beach Club.
The Paragon is an upscale mall filled with the type of stores that sell $100 socks, but our favorite way to spend money in the building is at Imperial Treasure. You’ll find some of the best peking duck in the city at this white tablecloth, banquet-style Chinese restaurant. Dinner here feels like an event every night of the week and it’s not uncommon to see a head of state eating next to a family celebrating grandpa visiting from out of town. Whichever side of that spectrum your group falls in, make sure you order the signature duck and Imperial Treasure’s lesser-known (but just as delicious) crispy duck stuffed with glutinous rice ahead of time.
Most people don’t equate Singapore with good Mexican food. But if anybody questions why you’re going to Nixta for dinner and not another hawker centre, all it takes is one course for their opinion to change faster than they can say “tuna tostada.” Getting a reservation here requires some planning, but everything on the menu is great—go for tlayudas made with fresh ground masa tortillas, the killer duck barbacoa, and their Nixta Old Fashioned that’s made with tequila instead of whiskey. Enjoy it all in the warm space that’s constantly buzzy and slightly smoky, like how we imagine Matthew McConaughey’s ranch.
There aren’t that many Italian restaurants in Singapore that cure their own meat, make their own pasta, or invent their own type of pizza dough. Come to think of it, there aren’t that many Italian restaurants that do that anywhere. But La Bottega, in Joo Chiat, does all of the above and more. The menu has several standouts, but ordering their “Newpolitan”-style pizza (which has more pillowy dough, extra crispy bottom, and a literal patent pending) with their housemade sausage and the pappardelle with guinea fowl is non-negotiable.
There are a few different options when it comes to seating, but you’ll want to be in their alfresco space, a quaint garden complete with vintage iron benches and cascading ivy. Get a group together, make a reservation, and order everything that ends in a vowel.
GOOD FOR GROUPS
With a space that can only be described as “India, but make it art deco,” Firangi Superstar hits with all the energy of a Bollywood film. Order things like a tandoori lamb saddle, sweet potato-kale pakoras, and cumin-glazed carrots, and pair it all with a chai masala cocktail. Keong Saik Road, just up the street, is a must-visit if you’re in the area as well—Kok Sen Zi Char’s chili prawn rice noodles, the pasta wizards at Bar Cicheti, and the spectacular beer hall The Guild are some of the highlights.
Most people have heard of Serangoon Gardens because of the famous Chomp Chomp hawker centre, but the quaint neighborhood has plenty else to offer, with East Bistro at the top of the list. This casual Chinese spot is headed up by the former chef of Lei Garden, a local Chinese fine dining institution, but even still, East Bistro has been thriving as a bit of a neighborhood secret. Though based on the strength of their crispy char siew buns, “fried” rice in seafood soup, and of course, their sticky and tangy sweet and sour pork that’s served “Hong Kong style” over ice, it won’t be secret for long.
In Singapore’s world of hot pot, there are big-name chains, quiet neighborhood spots, and places like Tong Xin Ru Yi. Instead of plastic tables or mismatched furniture, Tong Xin Ru Yi kind of looks like the set of an old-school kung fu film, with bamboo screens and rattan chairs. When it comes to the food, expect rich, flavorful broths and an extensive list of hotpot items, like black bone chicken, shrimp paste, and tasty mutton ribs. The sides are also worth exploring, including the marinated spicy beef sticks, the shake-shake pork (their vastly superior answer to popcorn chicken), and tempura-style fried mint leaves.
Studying the menu at Rempapa is a bit like getting a Masters in Peranakan cuisine, a combination of Indonesian, Malay, and Chinese influences. Everything they serve tastes like it’s been turbocharged, including Peranakan staple paper-wrapped chicken, any of the rendangs, or their candlenut fried rice. Rempapa styled their space to look like a black, white, and copper brasserie, which is a bold choice, but like everything on the menu, it just kind of works.
We’re not entirely sure what makes the food at Burnt Ends taste so good, but the prevailing theory is some form of Australian magic. The restaurant moved to a larger space in the Dempsey Hill area, but that somehow made reservations even harder to get. The menu changes pretty regularly, but what you can count on, though, is that everything from lettuce to duck hearts will have grill marks and be delicious—and that dinner will set you back at least $100 per person. Be sure to order their off-menu beef marmalade, a sweet and tasty mess of concentrated beef jam heaped onto their in-house sourdough. It’s like the Burnt Ends version of a secret handshake (but with meat).
Sultry, sleek, and upholstered with more velvet than Prince’s wardrobe, Jigger and Pony is the hottest cocktail bar in Singapore—and we can see why. Everything here is appealing: The drinks are dangerously drinkable, the menu actually looks like a magazine (seriously), and everyone seems like they came here directly off a runway somewhere. If you somehow can’t find something you like on the menu, have one of their bartenders whip you up something, find a spot for prime people-watching, and revel in the fact that you got to drink at the best bar in Asia.
If Bruce Wayne retired as Batman, took his fortune and said, “I’m going to build a bar,” Atlas would be that bar. Filled with more brass than a marching band, Atlas has several hundred small-batch gins and cocktails in a huge gilded space straight out of The Great Gatsby. You’ll see just as many tables with business people trying to close deals as you will with fascinated tourists. So grab a cocktail, sink into your seat, and try to count how many copper fixtures there are before you need another drink.
If Native were any cooler, it would be rolling its own cigarettes and reciting French poetry in the back of a vintage car. This is the spot to bring your friend who reads about barrel-aging techniques for fun so you can watch them get excited about how good this place is. The drink menu is constantly changing, but always includes ingredients from around the region, which in the past has meant things like spiced Thai ants sprinkled on top of a cocktail. If Native is too crowded, both Spiffy Dapper and Employees Only are excellent plan Bs.
Comparing Druggists to other beer halls is like comparing a paper airplane to a 747—they’re just not the same thing. Located in an old-school Chinese medicine hall, they replaced the creaky wooden shelves with a revolving line-up of beer taps. This place serves Belgian trappist ales and plays Norwegian death metal over the speakers—and somehow, in a tasteful way. Get a plate of their chicken fried with prawn paste or their Iberico pork burger, which hits harder than a Myrkskog drum solo.