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 centers, and bars, and they’re scattered all over the island, with no discernible pattern as to what goes where. There’s excellent Chinese food in Little India, a killer burger at the airport, and curry noodles that’ll clear your sinuses in the Central Business District.
Luckily, getting around to all those places isn’t an issue with or without a car. The country’s public transportation system is comprehensive, clean, 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. Luckily, we’ve done that for you. While there are bound to be objections from Singaporeans everywhere, here’s our guide to the best restaurants and bars in Singapore.
Ann Siang Hill is a street in Chinatown lined with restored shophouses and packed with bars and restaurants, but the Coconut Club is the real standout. They specialize in one thing: nasi lemak, a platter of fluffy coconut rice topped with a fried egg, fried chicken, and a heaping portion of fried peanuts and anchovies. The dish can be found in almost every hawker center in the city, but because Coconut Club uses a special type of rice and a unique strain of coconuts that they milk in-house, theirs really is the best.
There have been plenty of upscale restaurants to come and go in the pricey Dempsey Hill area, but this Indian curry house has been here since the ’60s. We think it’s partly because it’s one of the most laid-back places in the neighborhood, but mostly because no one has ever gone to Samy’s and left hungry. Order the signature fish head curry, chickpeas paneer, and whatever else catches your eye.
Between being inside of a shophouse in front of an open-air carpark and having a tiny, quiet dining room, this small French restaurant seems like it’s trying to hide. But it’s not working: there’s always a wait for the fantastic food at this Duxton Hill spot with only seven tables. Come for the more affordable set lunch ($40-$65 USD) of dishes like spelt risotto with sweetcorn and romanesco, and to enjoy the rare calm in a city that can be anything but.
One part fancy restaurant, one part supervillain hideout, Jaan is on the 70th floor of the Swissotel. Which means you’ll have one of the best views of the city while making your way through a tasting menu of English dishes like welsh pork loin and cornish seabass. While it’s still pricey, go during the day to look out over the entire city and pretend you’re a billionaire, even if you don’t have the commas in your bank account to back it up. Puns about “elevated food” will not be tolerated.
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 a CVS receipt, but we like the black-sauce squid, the potato patties, and whatever curry they’re making that day.
The average lifespan of a restaurant in Singapore is under five years, so the fact that Zam Zam has survived for over a century should tell you just how good this place is. They serve Indian-Muslim food and some of our favorite dishes are the murtabak, a chopped chicken and cheese sandwich that’s been crisped up on a grill, and the nasi briyani, a rice dish served with mutton, chicken, or beef. Sit by a window while you eat - partly because there’s barely any air conditioning, but mostly so you can look out on Masjid Sultan, the most famous mosque in the country.
Park Bench Deli makes the best and most creative sandwiches in Singapore. The space looks like it was decorated with things found at garage sales, which is perfect because the menu feels similarly all-over-the-place, but in the best way. All the options are on a floor-to-ceiling bulletin board, with things like the PBD breakfast sandwich made with mini ricotta hot cakes, scrambled eggs, tater tots, bacon and sausage or their fried chicken sandwich with two kinds of sauce on a potato roll that’s so good it’ll make you wonder if this is the best sandwich in Asia. We certainly think so.
Served at every kopitiam (or coffee shop), kaya toast is coconut jam and butter spread onto a white bread bun - so it’s part sandwich, part dessert. And while picking a favorite one is sort of like picking a favorite sibling, we’ll always choose YY Kafei Dian’s. This small spot on Beach Road makes their kaya and buns in-house before toasting them on a griddle that’s been around forever. It’s also two blocks away from the famous Raffles Hotel, where the Singapore Sling was invented. We’d recommend wandering the grounds, but skipping the long lines for the bar and the $25 USD cocktail in favor of a bun and a coffee here.
Built in a former hardware store, Chye Seng Huat is next to a church and a Buddhist monastery, and down the street from several Hindu temples. It’s probably just a coincidence but we like to think that the coffee at this Kallang cafe is part of the reason everyone gets along. You’ll see pancakes or the sticky fig pudding on most tables - and they should be on yours too - but their huat burger is highly underrated.
The Harding Road location of this local chain is situated behind a wall of trees, so it feels like a rainforest hideout - if rainforest hideouts served truffle fries by the pile and disguised pad thai as a salad. When you need somewhere for a casual lunch or to meet up with someone who will have one or two small humans in tow, this is the perfect spot. Every PS Cafe location is consistently good, but there’s something about the outdoor patio, full bar, and selection of cakes that makes this one our favorite.
Hawker centers in Singapore are like people across the city complaining about the heat: they’re everywhere. These large, food court-style markets are made up of stalls that specialize in one or two items each. When you find yourself in Chinatown - which you will, to roam around various religious centers and historical landmarks - you can’t miss stopping at one of our favorites, Maxwell Food Center. Toss a pack of tissues on an empty table (the local way of saying, “This seat is taken”), look for the longest lines, and follow the crowd. At Maxwell, those lines are for the chicken rice, the oyster cakes at Maxwell Fuzhou, and assorted roast meat noodles at Fu Shun Jin Ji - where the hawker basically has a doctorate in pork. People swear by the chicken rice from the Tian Tian stall, but sneak over to Ah Tai Chicken Rice instead - it’s the hawker equivalent of the quiet kid at the back of the class who gets straight A’s.
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 Center. 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.
It’s easy to define what Penang Seafood Restaurant isn’t: fancy, expensive, or subtle. What it is, though, is a loud, rowdy, and busy Chinese restaurant that works for two but is better for ten. Cover your table with dishes like fried pork belly and penang char kway teow, a peppery rice noodle dish with Cantonese waxed sausage, bean sprouts, and stir-fried cockles, while you mentally map out how to fit their full-sized fish tanks in your apartment.
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. Except for the grilled Alaskan crab legs, which are always available and a must-order, the menu changes pretty regularly. 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 cost at least $75 per person. Burnt Ends will be moving out of Keong Saik to Dempsey by end of the year so make sure to visit before they leave. And look forward to going to their new location where they are also opening a bakery.
Everyone in the country has an opinion on who makes the best chili crab, but almost everyone agrees that Roland’s was the first. Housed above a multi-story parking lot, it’s not the easiest place to find but it’s well worth the search. Rolands specializes in traditional Singaporean seafood, and while the sweet and spicy crab is the star here, it would be a mistake not to get the black sauce prawns and the crispy baby squid, which tastes like calamari tater tots. Go with a big group, get a bucket (or three) of Tiger beer, and eat until the parking lot empties out.
After your first meal at Odette, you won’t be able to stop talking about it - like parents after their baby’s first word (“Glab” is definitely a word). Arguably the finest of all the fine dining restaurants in Singapore, everything in Odette is perfectly curated, which is appropriate since it takes up a corner of the National Gallery. Every staff member is knowledgeable enough to captain a trivia team and will guide you through the four or six-course French tasting menus. Just make sure whoever you bring is extremely special to you: dinner for two will set you back at least $400 USD.
Hai Di Lao feels like a restaurant from the future. There are iPad menus, wireless chargers built into every table, and a manicure station, just because. Bring friends and make sure to try the house specialties you won’t find elsewhere, like homemade fishballs stuffed with roe, and shrimp noodles (yes, noodles made of shrimp).
Starting a sentence with “The best _____ in Singapore is at…” will probably start a fight but here goes: The best pasta in Singapore is at Bar Cicheti. The original Cicheti is a fine spot but this Keong Saik restaurant is the cooler younger brother that went to art school and is now dating an heiress. There’s dark wood, art on the walls, and a light-bulb arch, and the restaurant makes all their pasta by hand, something that isn’t easily found in Singapore. Order half portions to try more, except for the cacio e pepe. That one deserves a full serving and a round of applause to go with it.
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, which is kind of like if Indian curry, Chinese noodles, and Malay spices had a baby. Try the dry laksa noodles, beef rendang stew, and their buah keluak ayam, a casserole made with chicken, candlenut, and infused with fresh root spices.
Keng Eng Kee is like that neighbor you grew up with who got super popular in high school but still made an effort to hang out with you. The restaurant has been around since the ’70s, and has more tourists now than there ever used to be - but locals still occupy most of the tables. There isn’t much in terms of atmosphere, but you’re not here for that, you’re here for the legendary horfun - a stir-fried seafood noodle dish (topped here with an egg yolk) - and the Mingzhu Roll: tofu skin stuffed with salted egg, ham, shrimp, the secret to absolute moral truth, and mushrooms.
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.
There isn’t any restaurant in Singapore quite like Cloudstreet. The menu reads like someone threw together a Venn diagram of Sri Lankan, Australian, and European food and just said “Here. Eat it.” Magically, it all works. The set menu at dinner costs more than $200 USD per person, but with unexpected combinations, like smoked kingfish with clarified watermelon and horseradish and confit potato with smoked herring and egg yolk. It’s one of the most unique dinners you can have in the city.
Boat Quay is a fun sprawl of bars and restaurants by the Singapore River, and the best meal in the area is easily at Ibid. On the ground floor of a former shophouse, Ibid only offers a single tasting menu, and while the food (like roasted duck with aged mandarin peel and chou farci) is definitely high-end, the restaurant still welcomes the national outfit of shorts and loafers. Once you’re done, stop by 28 HongKong Street, a small, hidden bar with no name and phenomenal cocktails about a five-minute walk away.
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 and 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 B’s.
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 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.
There are some hotel bars you avoid: the ones with dusty bottles on Ikea shelves and a guy in a suit drinking warm Stella. Then there’s The Other Room, a speakeasy hidden behind unmarked velvet curtains in the lobby of the Marriott Tang Plaza, that you should seek out even if you’re not ending your night in a room upstairs. The cocktail menu is divided by era, so you can drink an Old Fashioned made from a 19th-century recipe, or try something from their collection of rare liquors, many of which they age themselves. It’s not the cheapest place in town but no place this interesting ever is.
We’re pretty sure Junior The Pocket Bar is the result of a challenge to build a cocktail bar in a space the size of a studio apartment. It’s an ideal spot for a two-person catch-up because, well, you can’t fit many more than that in here. The bar’s concept changes every six months, so you can go for mezcal cocktails in January and return for tiki drinks in July. What doesn’t change is how good everything is and that this will be the most fun you can have per square foot since that time you threw a party in your college dorm room.
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, this place serves Belgian Trappist ales and plays Norwegian death metal over the speakers - in a somehow tasteful way. There are people covered in tattoos at every table eating hakka crispy pork, and while the food is a requirement, the permanent body ink is up to you.