Hong Kong has “one cafe or restaurant for every 600 residents;” the cream of this crop constantly receive plaudits from awarding bodies like Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants and the Michelin Guide, not to mention their adoring fanbase.
To get the full Hong Kong dining experience, though, you’ll have to take the bad with the good. You’ll be asked to share seats with strangers. You’ll be confronted with some of the rudest waiters you’ve ever had the displeasure of meeting.
But in exchange, you’ll tuck into some of the most heavenly dishes in the world, with some amazing value for money if you stick to our list of the best restaurants below.
It’s renowned for offering “the world’s cheapest Michelin-star experience,” but this only applies to the Sham Shui Po branch (out of six branches in Hong Kong), which sees long queues and hours-long waits for seating in its tiny, frills-free interior.
Tim Ho Wan’s sublime dim sum is well worth the long wait. Their baked char siu bao (crumbly buns filled with Cantonese char siu roast pork) is the shop’s mustn’t-miss dish, but honestly, everything off the menu tastes great and gives excellent value for money.
Yat Lok has a long history in Hong Kong, having opened its first stall in 1957. Its present location near Hollywood Road makes this Michelin-starred roast meat shop a popular tourist stop, who come in droves to try the roast goose and pork.
The shop's roast goose can be served either over noodles or over rice. Either way, the meat stands out for its superior tenderness and flavor, thanks to its "secret" marinade and 20-step preparation. The menu also includes Hong Kong barbecued meats; try their fatty char siu, slabs of Brazilian pork belly marinated in traditional Chinese barbecue sauce.
Expect long lines during the lunch or dinner rush; come between 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. to avoid the crowds.
The Peking Garden experience combines theater and flavor in equal measure.
Order their signature Peking Duck, and a white-gloved waiter will carve that bird right at your table. Order their ironically named Beggar’s Chicken (two days’ advance order required), and the waiter will set its clay shell aflame before cracking it open with a golden mallet. The main room hosts nightly noodle-making demonstrations at 8:30 p.m.
A local favorite since its debut in 1978, Peking Garden now operates in seven branches across Hong Kong, though only the Central location has a Michelin star. The Tsim Sha Tsui location has an excellent view of Victoria Harbour; time your visit for the Symphony of Lights.
Best Milk Tea: Lan Fong Yuen
The tiny size of Lan Fong Yuen’s stall in a Central back alley suggests their famous beverage is best bought as takeout.
Their “silk stocking milk tea” is super smooth and creamy, filtered through pantyhose (!) to balance the body of the five different types of tea used, the creaminess of the milk and sweetness of the sugar.
If you insist on sitting at the few available tables, you’ll be expected to order more than just tea (their Hong Kong-style French Toast is to die for), and share the table with strangers. Two other branches are located in Sheung Wan and Tsim Sha Tsui.
Best Noodles: Tsim Chai Kee
You won’t find Guangdong noodles as good or as cheap elsewhere in Hong Kong: Tsim Chai Kee serves three types of noodles paired with your choice of three types of toppings (beef, wontons, and some of the largest fish balls you’ll ever see), served in a tiny location in Central’s Wellington Street.
Given all that, the price is a steal: about US $4-7 for a bowl. Expect long lines during the lunch rush; smarter eaters wait for the mid-afternoon lull to eat here. You’ll still be expected to share a table with strangers, though, as is common in eateries around Hong Kong.
Best Classical Cantonese: Ser Wong Fun
The same family has run Ser Wong Fun for over 120 years, and its classical Cantonese menu has earned undying loyalty from its patrons.
Ser Wong Fun is particularly renowned for dishes rooted in traditional Chinese medicine. In wintertime, order their snake soup, a traditional dish made from snake meat, infused with chicken, ginger, chrysanthemum, and mushrooms. In traditional Chinese medicine, snake is a “heaty” food that increases blood circulation and combats winter chills.
Exotic foods not your thing? Their chicken claypot rice is just the ticket.
The Chairman goes out to prove that quality Cantonese cuisine can also be sustainable — and largely succeeds. The staff relies on local providers for their ingredients — meats from slaughterhouses in the New Territories, vegetables from their own farm in Sheung Shui, and seafood hand-picked every morning from the Aberdeen Market.
Despite avoiding unsustainable ingredients like birds’ nest, sea cucumber or sharksfin, The Chairman’s menu still stays true to the Cantonese ideal of freshness and flavor — all coming together in their signature dish, a steamed flower crab in aged Shaoxing wine. Reserve a week in advance for guaranteed seats.
This property by famed chef Joel Robuchon boasts three Michelin stars, and charges accordingly for the privilege of dining here (one full course dinner will set you back about HKD 2,000 or US $260).
Well-heeled guests can experience contemporary French cuisine in one of two settings: the open L’Atelier kitchen, where you can watch the chefs hard at work preparing your order; or at the more intimate Le Jardin. Decor, service and food meet the highest possible standards, though reservations are required.
Best Cha Chaan Teng: Kam Wah Café
Kam Wah Cafe doesn’t scrimp on the cha chaan teng experience: established in 1973, the menu has changed very little since, focusing on ultra-sweet and creamy coffee and its signature bolo yau (sugar-crusted bun sandwiching a thick slab of butter).
The bolo yau is commonly called a “pineapple bun” in English, though it contains no pineapple: it’s so named because of the bun’s corrugated surface.
Typhoon shelters are small harbors along Hong Kong’s coast where fishing boats sought protection from storms. These shelters yielded a unique culture, whose most famous export is a fried crab dish generously topped with red chili, spring onions, garlic and black beans.
Under Bridge Spicy Crab specializes in typhoon shelter crab, priced according to the crab’s size, with heat levels customized to your taste (watch out: their “medium spicy” is still pretty caliente).
The original restaurant is quite literally under a bridge, though two other branches have since opened nearby. Staff are under orders to sell you larger sizes of crab than you ordered.
Best Street Food Experience: Sing Heung Yuen
Only about 30 dai pai dong (street food stalls) survive in Hong Kong’s backstreets, their formerly large numbers decimated by increasingly stringent zoning laws. Sing Heung Yuen has beat the odds, helped in no small way by its famous tomato noodle soup.
Made from three different canned tomatoes and your choice of instant noodles or elbow macaroni, the vibrantly-colored soup can be topped with any combination of pork cubes, luncheon meat, beef, fried eggs, sausages, or more. Try to visit before the lunch rush, as waiting times can get crazy long.
Best Afternoon Tea Experience: The Peninsula Hotel
Mark Twain may or may not have called it “the finest hotel east of the Suez”. Since its founding in 1928, the Peninsula has retained a pre-eminent place in Hong Kong society, reinforced every afternoon by the long lines for the hotel’s Classic Afternoon Tea.
Expect a wide-ranging menu of canapes, pastries and scones to go with your tea. It’s as posh as it gets: sipping Earl Grey in the creme and gold-colored lobby as the Lobby Strings serenade you with selections from Handel and Bach. Tea is served from 2-6 p.m. on a first-come, first-served basis.
No self-respecting Hong Kong visitor will depart without having an egg tart or three for breakfast. These custard-centered pies can be had all around Hong Kong, but the best can arguably be found at Tai Cheong Bakery.
Tai Cheong introduced the use of short crust in their egg tarts, producing a not-too-sweet custard embraced by a buttery, flaky pastry cup. You can buy their signature product from 14 branches throughout Hong Kong, but most egg tart purists swear by the main outlet at Lyndhurst Terrace in Central.
Best Fresh Seafood: Chuen Kee
It’s a long way from Hong Kong Central and getting to this seaside location in Sai Kung requires an hour’s MTR and minibus ride. However, the ultra-fresh seafood experience justifies the long trip. The aquariums in Chuen Kee hold a variety of live fish, prawns, lobster, eel and crab, which you can have cooked your way.
Regulars swear by the deep-fried mantis shrimp, seasoned with salt, pepper and paprika; and the steamed snapper, served in an umami-filled sweet soy sauce.
Diners at Chuen Kee are charged per kilo of food plus a cooking fee; avoid if you’re expecting cheap eats.
Their Snoopy Rice looks almost too pretty to eat (which can be said about most of their menu), but it’s part of the Charlie Brown Cafe experience. Lattes with Snoopy’s face; Charlie Brown smiling out of their tiramisu; even an afternoon tea served out of a birdcage like one Woodstock would live in.
The food is kid-friendly and delicious, with or without the Peanuts branding. The experience seems designed to be Instagrammable; if you want to take something home, check out the store selling Charlie Brown merchandise.