At Singapore’s best local restaurants, don’t expect fine dining – this is all about fantastic flavours, low prices and authentic dining experiences. As Singapore is made up of a large percentage of expats, trying to pick out where locals go is more complex than in most other places in Southeast Asia. One thing is for sure: local Chinese-influenced (Peranakan) restaurants have stood the test of time, despite the influx of Japanese ramen restaurants and American burger joints.
In Singapore, everyday local food is anything but ordinary. With restaurants often run by the same family for generations, the recipes have been honed throughout the years so they specialise in exacting dishes that can match swankier places in terms of taste, and smash them when it comes to the cost. These are the restaurants, hawker centres and food stalls where Singaporeans go to get their fix of genuine local flavours.
Ya Hua Bak Kut Teh
Bak kut teh or pork bone tea is a classic local dish in Singapore, and there are plenty of restaurants specialising in this stewed pork rib dish. Ya Hua Bak Kut Teh, an iconic restaurant that has been around since the 1970s, is one of the most successful due to the peppery yet balanced broth and succulent meat.
Ya Hua has been so successful, in fact, that they now have several branches spread throughout Singapore. The best branch to try the Teochew-style dish is on Havelock Road, which you can easily get to from Tiong Bahru or Clarke Quay.
Location: 593 Havelock Rd, Singapore 169641, Singapore
Open: Tuesdays and Thursdays from 11am to 2am. Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 11am to 3am. Sundays from 11am to 10pm (closed on Mondays)
Phone: +65 6235 7716
Swee Choon Tim Sum Restaurant
Swee Choon is a longstanding dim sum joint that opens throughout the night, so it’s the perfect post clubbing feed. The unusual opening hours for a dim sum restaurant (this is traditionally a breakfast and brunch food) attracts a lot of end-of-the-night groups coming in to feast on the dim sum to try and ward off the impending hangover.
A full range of steamed dumplings is on offer and most cost around S$2 for a delicious and affordable meal. After midnight, the varied clientele offers some excellent people watching, too.
183-191 Jalan Besar, Singapore 208882
Wednesday–Monday from 11am to 2.30pm and from 6pm to 6am (closed on Tuesdays)
Phone: +65 6225 7788
Khansama Tandoori Restaurant
Centrally positioned on Serangoon Road, with an easy-to-find corner location and an almost gothic-like red and grey colour scheme, Khansama Tandoori Restaurant makes our list for its utterly delicious Tandoor oven-cooked delights.
Buffet lunches, which are mostly meat-based, start from around S$12, while a whole leg of marinated lamb, cooked for 2 hours, can be enjoyed if you come with friends (S$99).
The smoky infusion that Khansama Tandoori Restaurant produces is second to none; certainly, a unique flavour that can only be properly produced by using the huge brick oven, reaching temperatures of over 260°C.
Location: 166 Serangoon Rd, Singapore 218050, Singapore
Open: Daily from 10am to 12.30am
Phone: +65 6299 0300
Smith Street (Chinatown Food Street)
Closed to traffic at dusk, Smith Street takes on a gregarious personality to the delight of visitors. Traditional Chinese lanterns light the streets, and the busy area has a genuine buzz to it thanks to the crowds who come for supper, sitting on the small plastic stools that line the road.
Navigate your way through more than a dozen stalls under iridescent neon lights and take your pick of popular street favourites.
There’s plenty to pick from: fresh seafood, wok-fried noodles, crispy duck and steamed dim sum, among others. Not only is the food extremely tasty, but the prices are extremely affordable (starting at S$3 a dish), so you can try a bit of everything.
Location: 335 Smith Street, Singapore
Open: Daily from 11am to 11pm
Long Beach Seafood Restaurant
Airport – East Coast
Locals often tout Long Beach Seafood Restaurant as one of the best local places for a plate of Singapore’s national dish – chilli crab. The crab is fresh and the flavours are spicy, just as it’s supposed to be.
This beachfront diner is simply decorated and packed with Singaporeans on weekends. The menu is comprehensive: you’ll find a full range of seafood on offer, with many options for frying, boiling or barbequing available. Plus, the relaxed setting makes a nice change of pace from the downtown hustle.
Location: #01, 1202 ECP, 04 East Coast Seafood Centre, Singapore 449881, Singapore
Open: Daily from 11am to midnight
Phone: +65 6448 3636
Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice at Maxwell Food Centre
Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice is a famed chicken on rice stall in Maxwell Food Centre – it made headlines around the world when it was included in the Michelin guide in 2016 and 2017.
Already busy, this made the crowds swell even more, with more and more tourists joining the long line of locals waiting to get their fix of steamed chicken on oily rice, with a chicken broth served on the side.
This is the equivalent of a PG family movie – everyone can enjoy the simple flavours and it’s healthy for all ages.
Location: 1 Kadayanallur St, #01-10/11 Maxwell Food Centre, Singapore 069184, Singapore
Open: Daily from 10am to 5.30pm
Ya Kun Kaya Toast
Kaya Toast cafés are a mainstay of the Singapore local dining scene and serve one of the most popular breakfasts in this thriving city-state. A typical serving consists of thick toast with kaya jam (a mix of sugar, coconut milk and butter) liberally applied, with some soft-boiled eggs on the side, which you are expected to crack into a bowl and then dunk the toast into.
Ya Kun Kaya Toast is a popular franchise in Singapore, but at this China Street branch, you’ll most likely be surrounded by old aunties and uncles getting their morning fix of kaya toast and strong tea or coffee.
Location: 18 China St, #01-01, Singapore 049560, Singapore
Open: Monday–Friday from 7.30am to 7.00pm, Saturdays from 7.30am to 4.30pm, Sundays from 8.30am to 3.00pm
Phone: +65 6438 3638
The Coconut Club
Ann Siang Hill
This colonial shophouse serves some of the best nasi lemak in Singapore. This spicy Malay chicken dish is served with coconut rice, anchovies and peanuts and is often topped with a fried egg.
It’s the only main dish on the menu (and, at S$12.80, it’s not exactly cheap), but Coconut Club also serves tea and coffee. The interior is bright and modern – perhaps not what you would expect from a ‘local’ restaurant in Singapore, but it has proven a big hit with locals, expats and inquisitive travellers.
Location: 6 Ann Siang Hill, Singapore 069787, Singapore
Open: Tue – Sat 11:00 – 15:00 (closed on Sundays and Mondays)
Phone: +65 6635 2999