Kuala Lumpur may be better known for its nightmarish traffic and soaring humidity, but things are heating up on the culinary front, as well.
Fancy masala thosai for breakfast, dim sum for lunch, sticky date pudding with homemade vanilla ice cream for tea, followed by coq au vin or beef rendang for dinner?
Here’s our top list.
Cilantro is probably the top fine dining restaurant in Kuala Lumpur. Chef Takashi Kimura dishes up sleek modern French cuisine laced with Japanese influences.
Think grain-fed lamb rack with houba miso and unagi paired with foie gras.
Purely French staples are given a deft contemporary twist, such as the steak tartar with a sunny quail’s yolk and wafer-thin parmesan crisp.
The degustation menu lets you sample his signatures for just $51.50 (220 ringgit) for three courses, a definite steal given the top quality of the cuisine.
Cilantro Restaurant & Wine Bar, MiCasa All Suite Hotel, 368-B, Jalan Tun Razak, 50400 Kuala Lumpur; +60 3 2179 8000
Kuala Lumpur may be better known for its Cantonese food, but Shanghai dishes up tasty and refined Shanghainese dishes.
The specialty here is the braised pork belly in a rich savory sauce, best enjoyed with plenty of rice to mop up the sauce.
Another great dish is the siew long bao, or steamed pork dumpling that are filled with piping hot broth and tender minced pork.
Highlights on the dessert menu include the Shanghai layer cake and glutinous rice balls.
Shanghai Restaurant, 183, Jalan Bukit Bintang, Bukit Bintang, 55100 Kuala Lumpur, Wilayah Persekutuan Kuala Lumpur; +60 3 2715 9000
Bijan is in a prime KL location, at the top of the popular Changkat Bukit Bintang strip.
One of the few upmarket Malay dining restaurants in town, and a very charming one too.
You can sit outside amid the green and try traditional Malay favorites such as rendang and ayam percik (barbecued chicken).
It has a pretty decent wine list too.
Bijan is popular so reservations are recommended.
Bijan Bar and Restaurant, No 3 Jalan Ceylon, 50200 Kuala Lumpur, + 60 3 2031 3575
Diners can try home-style Malay dishes, many based on recipes handed down through the generations in owner Sherena Razaly’s family.
The presentation may be modern, but the flavors are all traditional in signatures such as sambal tumis udang (fried chilli prawns) and ayam goreng lengkuas (fried chicken with blue ginger).
Enak Restaurant, LG2, Feast Floor, Starhill Gallery, 181 Jalan Bukit Bintang; +60 3 2141 8973
5. Oriental Pavilion
It’s housed in a suburban shopping mall, and on some nights, it plays host to wedding banquets.
But the food at Oriental Pavilion — a mid-market Cantonese establishment — is decidedly good, which is why it’s packed on most days, especially the weekends.
Regulars come for its dim sum and excellent roasted meats, especially the char siew (barbecued pork) and siew yoke (roasted pork) with crisp, moreish crackling.
Oriental Pavilion, P1-04, Level 1 Podium, Jaya 33, No.3, Jalan Semangat, Seksyen 13, 46200 Petaling Jaya, Selangor Darul Ehsan; +60 3 7956 9288
Manicured gardens, a minimalist decor and delicious Japanese cuisine combine to make Fukuya a Zen-like sanctuary.
It’s a particularly welcome stop amidst the mad bustle of Kuala Lumpur’s city centre. Fukuya also has several semi-private rooms that look out onto the gardens, making it very popular for private dinners and corporate dos.
Artfully presented multi-course kaiseki meals are chef Takao Ando’s specialty.
Fukuya, No 9 Jalan Delima, 55100 Kuala Lumpur +60 3 2144 1022 / 1077
7. My Elephant
Thai soups, rich curries and refreshing salads make up the hit list at My Elephant.
This casual Thai eatery started life as a neighborhood joint in PJ and has since expanded to a second, more stylish outlet at Sri Hartamas.
The pork-free menu, however, has remained the same and the food is still as good.
Recommended dishes include the duck curry with tender roasted duck and topped with lychees, grapes or pineapple. There is no wine list although you can BYO and beer’s readily available.
My Elephant Thai Restaurant, Section 17, Sri Hartamas Aman Suria, USJ 9 Ampang; +60 1022 01283
8. Devi’s Corner
Popular for breakfast, lunch and dinner, Devi’s is the go-to spot for tasty local Indian cuisine.
There are a few branches all over the city including a very popular one in Bangsar, but we like the Taman Tun outlet best for its consistently good and fresh fare.
The vibe’s casual, the service is friendly, and the prices are very reasonable — a little over $2 (10 ringgit) gets you a pretty decent meal.
As for the menu, it is downright extensive, from fluffy roti canai and marsala dosai to mee goreng, tandoori chicken and an entire counter laden with platters of fried vegetable, curries and rendang, to which you help yourself.
It’s open till the wee hours, a real boon if you’re after a late-night fix.
Devi’s Corner, Cnr Jln Telawi 1 & Jln Telawi 3, Bangsar Baru, Kuala Lumpur 59100; +60 12 267 6714
9. Sri Nirwana Maju Banana Leaf
Lunchtime is busy. Good luck finding a seat if you arrive late.
This is the place to know if you are after a traditional banana leaf meal — rice, vegetables and other dishes of your choice served on a banana leaf along with pickles, pappadums and various curry sauces.
Try the fried chicken and incredibly light battered squid rings, which are particularly moreish.
Sri Nirwana Maju Restaurant, Jalan Telawi 3, Bangsar Baru, Kuala Lumpur, +60 3 2287 8445
10. Bistro a Table
Cannelloni of scallops with Indonesian black nut tapenade.
The traditional French bistro is given a stylish twist at Bistro a Table, with chic furniture and a deftly updated menu by former food stylist and private chef Isadora Chai.
The place seems to have garnered a loyal, well-heeled following.
The menu changes daily although most signatures — including the cannelloni of scallops with Indonesian black nut tapenade — are permanent fixtures.
Bistro a Table, 6 Jalan 17/54 46400 Petaling Jaya, Selangor; +60 3793 12831
11. Wong Kee
There’s only one good reason to park yourself at this old-style coffeeshop at noon sharp and that’s Robert Wong’s siew yoke, or roast pork.
He roasts it himself in recycled oil drums in an alley behind the coffee shop and scrapes the skin by hand to ensure crisp crackling.
The results are stunning — tender, tasty meat layered with pearly fat and golden crackling, turning a humble meal of meat and rice into something quite out of this world.
Wong Kee, 30, Jalan Nyonya, Pudu, 55100 Kuala Lumpur, Wilayah Persekutuan Kuala Lumpur; +60 3 2145 2512
12. Sambal Hijau
Off the tourist path in Kampung Penchala, Sambal Hijau you’ll find authentic Malay favorites including the ikan bakar, freshly grilled fish served with some sambal and a squeeze of lime.
The impressive selection of dishes is freshly laid out by about 11:30 a.m., so the early bird gets choice pick.
Malay staples include richly spiced beef rendang and chicken curry, as well as more exotic dishes such as pan-fried paru (beef lungs).
Sambal Hijau, Lot 2990, Jalan Sungai Penchala, Kampung Sungai Penchala, 60000 Kuala Lumpur, Wilayah Persekutuan Kuala Lumpur; +60 3 7731 2045
13. Kim Lian Kee
This Petaling Street stalwart is renowned for its Hokkien mee, aka black mee, fat wheat noodles fried with seafood and pork in a rich, inky sauce.
There are actually two Kim Lian Kee — the modern, air-conditioned three-storey restaurant that has an extensive menu, including butter prawns, chee cheong fun (steamed rice rolls) et al, and the original old stall that is located just across the street, complete with rickety wooden stools and tables.
Unlike in the new stall, the noodles are cooked over charcoal stoves here, which impart a deliciously smokey wok hei.
Kim Lian Kee, 92, Jalan Hang Lekir, City Centre, 50000 Kuala Lumpur, Wilayah Persekutuan Kuala Lumpur; +60 3 2032 4984
Erawan is a find for lovers of fine Thai cuisine.
The menu is miles apart from the usual Thai fast-food, focusing instead on elegant dishes that are hard to find outside of Thailand.
To ensure absolute freshness and a bespoke experience, guests who make reservations get to choose their dishes from a lengthy menu available on their website.
In comparison, walk-in guests get a decidedly limited selection.
Erawan, Lot L1-17 & L1-18, First Floor DC Mall, Plaza DC, Damansara City, 6, Jalan Damanlela, 50490 Kuala Lumpur; +60 3 2788 4180 / 4181
15. Dancing Fish
The signature dish at Dancing Fish is, predictably, dancing fish — fresh, whole fish deep-fried so that it resembles a fish leaping out of water.
Served with sambal teresi and soy sauce, it is an Indonesian favorite.
Malaysian and Indonesian specialties include an excellent sate and kerabu (salad).
In addition to the food, Dancing Fish’s friendly service and pleasant air-conditioned setting has earned it a loyal, well-heeled following.
Dancing Fish, Lot T120, 121 & 122 285, 3rd Floor, Bangsar Shopping Centre, Jalan Maarof, Bukit Bandaraya, 59000 Kuala Lumpur, Wilayah Persekutuan Kuala Lumpur; +60 3 2095 6663
16. Ben’s General Food Store
Thin and crispy pizzas, bistro staples such as roast chicken, and a host of very tempting, ready-made salads make up the casual menu at Ben’s.
They don’t take reservations and many of the tables are communal, so you have to share with strangers.
But its cheery setting has struck a winning note with the city’s diners.
Home-style desserts include excellent sticky date pudding with vanilla ice cream.
Ben has two branches in the city, the newest being its Publika outpost.
LG13 (AL), Lower Ground, No. 699, Glomac Damansara, Jalan Damansara, 60000 Kuala Lumpur; +60 3 7733 6044
Frangipani has proved its mettle and staying power, which is no mean feat when you’re on the competitive Changkat Bukit Bintang strip.
Chef-owner Chris Bauer serves up a menu that’s modern, French and sleek with dishes such as black “rice” risotto with grilled freshwater prawn, baby squid and oyster.
First-timers will be impressed by the stunning courtyard setting around an inky black pool.
The Frangipani Langkawi Resort & Spa, Jalan Pantai Tengah, 07100 Langkawi Kedah, +60 3 4952 0000
Lafite is a fine dining institution in finicky KL.
Lafite draws the who’s who of KL and has widely been considered one of the city’s top restaurants since it opened in 1985.
Chef de cuisine John Nash joined the kitchen late last year and serves a contemporary European menu including signatures such as Wagyu beef millefeuille.
Lafite, 11 Jalan Sultan Ismail, Kuala Lumpur, 50250 Kuala Lumpur, Wilayah Persekutuan Kuala Lumpur; +60 3 2074 3900
19. Tamarind Springs By Samadhi
Tamarind Springs is based within Ampang’s natural forest reserve, which is around 15 minutes drive from the city, and serves traditional Indochinese cuisine.
The kitchen at the award-winning restaurant is headed up by Thai chef Somjuhan Wandee, who prides herself on using only the freshest and most authentic ingredients, both local and imported.
Menu highlights include the Vietnamese pan fried pesto and snakehead fish roe crisp, Phnom Penh wagyu beef lok lak with lime and black pepper and the Laotian deep-fried perch in Tamarind Spring’s spicy sauce.
Tamarind Springs, Jalan 1, Taman Tun Abdul Razak, 68000 Ampang, Selangor; +60 3 4256 9300
Located on the 38th floor of the Grand Hyatt Kuala Lumpur, THIRTY8 overlooks the Petronas Towers and showcases panoramic views of the entire city.
Executive Sous Chef Stefan Beck is at the helm of the kitchen, providing a menu made up of a combination of Western, Chinese and Japanese cuisine.
The Australian Wagyu steak and the Szechuan chicken come highly recommended.
THIRTY8, 12 Jalan Pinang, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 50450; +60 3 2074 3900
Editor’s note: This article was previously published in 2012. It was reformatted, updated and republished in 2017.