It never ceases to amaze me the amount of food you can get in this town at a very reasonable price. Keep your eyes open, or listen to your colleagues, and value abounds.
My latest find was indeed thanks to my colleagues. As I was heading out for lunch recently, I heard them mention that they were headed to a nearby café for the third day in a row. That’s dedication and it obviously piqued my interest.
Lui’s Café is nestled near the highway just around the corner from Jaffe Road. I was shocked to hear from the two lovely proprietors that it has been around for six years. I hadn't bumped into it during my numerous wanderings, but considering its shoebox size that’s not much of a surprise. It seats about ten people snugly, and the whole operation consists of two burners. What it lacks in size it makes up for in efficiency. The kitchen turns out comfort classics for a pittance.
I’m partial to the beautifully roasted chicken lunch set for $35. It’s moist with a lovely crispy skin. You choose between salad, pasta, or baked potato to accompany it. While the pasta was a huge serving with fresh vegetables, the sauce was a bit sweet. Go for the baked potato. The size of a small football, it’s served with a heap of butter. It’s a huge portion that might make a return to work a challenge.
I’m also partial to a fresh piece of fish lightly breaded and served with the same choice of sides. And another item I unearthed is a perfectly toasted English muffin with smoked salmon, cheese, and baked beans. An unusual combination, but it works well.
The café also serves a wide range of sandwiches, salads, tea snacks, coffee, and a huge breakfast. I also saw some pizza specials and a nearby table laying waste to a waffle.
The genial ladies running the place make it that much more of a reason to go. They provide a friendly banter as you basically sit in their kitchen.
Lui’s Café is open during the week till 6 pm.
Shop 6B, G/F, Tung Wai Commercial Bldg, 22-26 Fleming Rd, Wan Chai.
Disclosure: Ryan Andrews is a sales executive for Time Out Hong Kong and he pays for all his meals. His sales job has no sway over his coverage in this blog.
With all the nooks and crannies in Hong Kong, it’s not surprising there is a plethora of dining speakeasies scattered around town. They exist in just about every neighborhood and at every price point. They’re a great place to take visitors, especially when you lead them down what is usually a shady hallway in a nondescript building. It’s always fun to see the uneasiness in their eyes, an uneasiness that changes to pleasure once they sit down to the tasty and inexpensive food.
Mama Chau’s meets the definition of a speakeasy in regards to the setting and the food. The surprising thing is the ramshackle building sits right next to Al’s Diner in the middle of Lan Kwai Fong. Take the rickety elevator to the 5th floor and you’re more or less in someone’s living room. It’s great to get into an elevator with a bunch of people and only press one button as everyone is going to the same place. Mama Chau’s has about 15 tables and draws a large lunch crowd. Calling ahead might not be a bad idea.
True to its name, the food comes out fiery hot and happily isn't toned down for Westerners. The lunch menu features about 15 items. They range from chicken and beef to more exciting items like sliced pig ear. It’s a festive atmosphere as the local office workers pass dishes back and forth. The dishes are made for sharing and could pass as Chinese tapas.
I opted for the wontons in spicy chilli oil, marinated cucumbers, and spicy chili chicken. The wontons were piping hot and came five to an order, the cucumbers had ample crunch, and the chicken was fork tender and covered in spicy chili. I was expecting to have to eat around bones in the chicken but each morsel was flesh only and maintained its flavour. Must have been all the chili oil. People around me were slurping noodles with spare ribs, although the chicken looked like one of the more popular items.
At $20, that was the the most expensive dish I ordered, and with a soda the bill came to $65. This place is hidden and once you discover it you may want it to remain that way.
5B, Winner Building, 37 D'Aguilar St, Lan Kwai Fong.
As the weather continues to decide what direction it wants to go, we’ll continue to have days that are a bit frigid. That means we still have plenty of time for hot pot, casseroles, and soups of all kind. Nothing wrong with that.
I recently stopped into Pho Delight on Johnston Road in Wan Chai and was ready to grab one of my favorite stomach-warming soups, pho (when in Rome...), when I realised I might have been jumping the gun. While everyone around me was slurping the national dish of Vietnam, a different bowl of goodness caught my eye.
After scanning the menu, I came to the conclusion it was from the spicy soup noodles section, specifically: shredded chicken in soup noodles with satay and peanut sauce. The soup base had a deep brown colour that hinted at the fact it might be able to live up to its two-spicy-chilis designation on the menu. It did indeed. It was a pleasurable heat tempered by the peanut sauce. Sliced onion and herbs floated near the top of the generous bowl of noodles. Tender chunks of white and dark meat chicken were strewn throughout. For $40, this was definitely a welcome blast of heat from the cold and damp conditions outside.
As is usually the case at these tasty but cheap haunts, the place is packed at prime hours. While people are jammed into the narrow space, the service is efficient. Definitely not a place to linger though. (And don’t try to stupidly read the paper as I did on my last visit.)
Quite a few people were also eating the daily special curries, which we’ll try next go around. The spicy pork knuckle in beef soup noodles looked like a winner as well.
197 Johnston Rd, Wan Chai, 3168 2057.
Half the excitement about moving into a new abode or office is to check out the surrounding neighborhood. If you’re like me, you’re not looking for movie theatres, department stores, or home furnishing outlets. You’re looking for grub.
It’s always fun to wander around and make a mental list of what you have to try and what looks sketchy. In a city like Hong Kong a move just a few blocks from your previous address can expose you to tasty treats you never knew existed. You have spots you could try for weeks without having to dial up a repeat visit anywhere.
After a recent office move this has been the case. Simply moving a few blocks up and a few blocks over has opened up a culinary goldmine. What a city! I had walked by Lockhart Road Market plenty of times but for whatever reason had never popped in.
Like many of the markets around town it is indoors and consists of 4 or 5 floors. Some floors will contain tailors, shoe repair shops, and jade stands. Others have fishmongers, butchers, and vegetable stands. More often than not one entire floor will be a cooked food center.
Anyone familiar with Anthony Bourdain’s Hong Kong episode of No Reservations will remember his coverage of the Java Road Food Center in North Point. The center at Lockhart Road is similar. Basically one huge cafeteria with about 10 different “restaurants” slinging ridiculously cheap Chinese food. With the large bottled beer advertisements on the wall quoting prices cheaper than 7-11, you can understand why this place is constantly jammed, especially at the lunch rush.
It can be intimidating at first because you’re not sure who is serving what. My suggestion is to take a lap around the place and eyeball what looks good. Once you’ve decided take a seat the efficient staff will help you out if there is a language barrier. Pointing politely always helps and fellow diners aren’t afraid to lend a hand.
We were entranced by a huge pile of steaming noodles covered in yellow curry sauce and shrimp, bbq pork, chicken, egg, ham, peppers, and onion. Yes, the kitchen sink. It was quite spicy and even more so when we added chili sauce. All the flavors melded together and it was a struggle to finish the huge portion. A truly satisfying lunch. We added a diet coke and were presented with a tab for $26, which seemed almost unfair. Suffice to say we’ve been back since. Please not that there is an entrance on both Lockhart and Hennessy Road.
25 Lockhart Rd, Wan Chai/Causeway Bay
Cheap sushi isn’t an oxymoron in Hong Kong -- it does exist. Sushi aficionados realise, though, that quality usually counts more than quantity, and quality costs. Read any food message board and you’ll see requests for cheap sushi in any given neighborhood. Read any reply and you’ll see a snarky comment saying something like "eat at your own risk, you get what you pay for". I think part of the problem is asking for “cheap sushi”.
I think the better question is, “Where can I find sushi at a reasonable price that tastes fresh and can cure my craving hassle free?”
Well, these places exist all over town. One of my recent finds has been a small shop located on the ground floor of 16 Spring Garden Lane in Wan Chai.
It seats about 20 with a small kitchen and it has daily specials. It’s a tiny no-frills operation, but the service has always been friendly and efficient. One caveat: stay away at prime lunch hours -- there's always a line of people outside clamouring to get in. Once inside, I guess the only way to describe the prices is indeed cheap: 10 pieces of sushi for $45.
While the rice-to-fish ratio is a bit off (obviously in favour of the rice), the fish is cut well and tastes fresh. More importantly, they just don’t throw a bunch of salmon at you. The set recently included eel, salmon, crab roe, scallop, and tuna, just to name a few. With miso soup and green tea (upgrade to soda for $2), this is definitely a reasonably priced sushi that taste fresh.
Other patrons were digging in to sashimi, tempura, and rice bowls. I’d say I don’t want the secret to get out on this one -- but looks like it already is.
G/F, 16 Spring Garden Lane, Wan Chai.
I was taking my monthly spin through LKF and Soho the other day to see what carnage had taken place. By carnage, I mean the revolving door that is the Hong Kong bar and restaurant scene. If you don’t make the rounds regularly, you won’t even recognise some neighborhoods with so many openings and closings. No doubt many are due to fierce competition, some to bad luck, and others to wacky ideas that never panned out.
I was planning on grabbing one of the $80-$100 set lunches that are abundant in these neighbs when something caught my eye. What used to be Atomic Patty in LKF across from Lux had become Pizza Milano. Yes, burgers had been booted for pizza. Definitely not a swap that was going to help anyone’s New Year’s resolutions, but a swap all the same. I always found Atomic Patty merely decent after imbibing. The photos always looked better than the finished product. I’m thinking they just weren’t doing enough day business to make it.
Regardless, the prime location near Bar 7-11 wasn’t going to sit vacant for long. Enter Pizza Milano. I knew I recognised the name, and indeed an outpost exists on Lamma Island. As I’m usually involved in a seafood frenzy when on Lamma, I have never given it a go. This time I did. The exciting thing is they serve an array of different slices for $30. I was going to go for two when the counterman said they were offering a regular pie for $60 (normally a $100) as an opening promotion. Who can say no to that? Eight slices of mushroom and pepperoni arrived shortly thereafter.
I’ll say it was good enough to finish eight slices, but not amazing. The crust was thin with a bit of char and the toppings were ample, but the tomato sauce tasted straight out of the can, and for once a pizza joint caked too much on. The crust also had some sagging issues, but overall the pizza was definitely serviceable.
I do see this place being successful. They have name recognition, a great location, slices, tons of choices, and they sell an item that people don’t mind sharing for lunch. They also offer some counter seating, and Stella on tap.
I see them doing a decent lunch business and a massive late night one. The regular pie can definitely be taken down by one person if the mood strikes -- ie, after you’ve been at Bar 7-11. With only Cul-De-Sac and Ebeneezer’s selling slices nearby, it is a welcome addition to the hood. Looks like pizza beats burgers in this battle of the bulge.
G/F, No.7, Lan Kwai Fong.
No, this venue isn’t in Wan Chai and we’ve gone one better and gotten off the island all together.
Is Macau too far to go for lunch? Not if you’re going to A Lorcha.
A Lorcha is as popular as that Macau institution Fernando’s. Although the wait tends to be shorter, reservations aren’t a bad idea. It’s a small place, but the efficiency of the staff makes it feel less crowded than it really is. The menu is quite large and consists of all the Portuguese staples like cod, clams, sardines, chorizo, and grilled meats. It’s nearly impossible not to over order here. Most of the dishes are under $100, making you that much more inclined to add items to your order as you see them being set on the table next to you.
The meal starts with piping hot crusty rolls that are a perfect vehicle for sopping up all sorts of liquids, including the beer and tomato sauce served with the steamed clams. While it seemed we got more empty shells than clams, the pungent broth made up for it. Staying in the seafood category, we also worked in an octopus salad that was fork tender.
As is the case at Fernando’s, the grilled chicken is one of the highlights at A Lorcha. It sounds so simple but it can separate a great kitchen from merely a good one. We ordered ours spicy and received tender meat and a blistered skin. The ridiculous amounts of salt and oil made it that much more enjoyable.
The tomato and onion salad was humdrum, but by then the sangria was kicking in and all was well. The tab was $480 all up, and that included a great pudding covered in crumbled biscuits.
289 Rua do Almirante Sergio, Macau
Since I relocated from New York City to Hong Kong three years ago, I’ve constantly been told that Star Street is the next up-and-coming neighborhood. Having lived in the area and worked in the vicinity, I just haven’t seen it come to pass.
I don’t know why. It’s a perfect little neighborhood away from the hustle and bustle with a street layout much like Lan Kwai Fong. Maybe it’s too far from Central or the office crowd just hangs in the hood during the week. Personally, I like that it hasn’t become another drunken carnival. One is plenty.
Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of great haunts, but I’ve seen a lot of turnover, places maybe not seeing the foot traffic they were promised. Those that have found a following on the other hand have fared fairly well. I think Slim's is one of them. It has a lengthy happy hour, free peanuts, tasty pub fare, and great tunes.
It really wasn’t in my rotation, though, until they started offering $10 Slim burgers all day on Saturdays. They’re basically mini-burgers. Look at these bundles of love! They are ridiculously juicy with fresh tomato and a toasted bun. The only knock would be that slippage occurs when biting into these naughty guys. I usually go for three with a side of fries, but I'm quite confident I could eat five or six at a sitting. That’s the great thing, at $10 bucks a piece it doesn’t really matter if you leave one on the plate.
I remember when I was younger, Burger King used to occasionally offer a three pack of mini-burgers called Burger Buddies. Let’s just say they might have found some friends.
1 Wing Fung St, Wan Chai.
Yeah, I know it's in Wan Chai, near our office, so you can all bitch at me later -- but I just had a decent lunch set that I think is worth blogging about.
I went to Zambra (which, technically, is also very accessible from Causeway Bay) and picked myself up a takeaway tuna sandwich on toasted ciabatta, a small pasta salad, and an iced tea for just $52. The set is also available with a chicken or turkey sandwich, and, delight for the caffeine fiends, coffee.
The sandwich wasn't overwhelmingly awesome, but it was healthy and filling, and the pasta salad had nice little chunks of grapes and olives, which, while a slightly weird combo, brightened up what would otherwise be a pretty boring salad.
Sorry, I don't have any pics, but I do have this handy map!
I spend an inordinate amount of time deciding what and where I should eat.
I never leave the house and just grab the first thing I see, nor do I understand people who eat just for sustenance. I’ve withered away Saturday afternoons just deciding where I should grab a quick bite, as if I was deciding my last meal on earth. It's obsessive compulsive and not in a good way -- although OCD rarely ever is a good thing.
It’s sometimes nice when the decision is made for me and the pressure is off. The flipside is if the meal is lacklustre, I pout like a three-year-old child for the rest of the day and dissect what I should have eaten.
That was the case recently when I was slogging through the annoying throngs of Christmas shoppers in Central (is it me or does the commercialism of Christmas become grosser by the year?) and the better half suggested we go to the food court above the 360 supermarket in the Landmark.
I hesitated. I’d been before at lunch during the week when it becomes the de facto cafeteria for every worker in Central and let’s just say the people-watching was a lot more interesting than the food. I figured I’d give it another go, though. At least I’d have options.
As I made my first of two laps to scout the offerings, I knew I had made a mistake. Everything looked good but not great and the prices were definitely on the high side. You can’t argue with the variety. Sushi, southern US food, soups, salads, sandwiches, noodles, pizza, curry, Mexican, vegetarian, pasta.
I could see why people would end up here. It was for people that didn’t want to make decisions; for people who just wanted sustenance.
Being a sucker for Mexican food and not always loving the choices in Hong Kong, I ordered a burrito. The thing was massive (it should be for close to $80), but the construction was all wrong. Overstuffed with fillings, the thing was a soggy mess before I found a seat. There was no layering for that perfect bite. It became a fork and knife affair, but it didn’t matter with dry meat and undercooked beans. The giant log fell apart, along with my attitude for the rest of the day.
Why hadn’t I tried that new Thai place? Why not beef brisket noodles on Wellington Street? We should have gone to get a burger. Suffice to say the shopping the rest of the afternoon didn’t go swimmingly and I’m a bit afraid to see what might end up in my stocking.
More often than not the food court is great in theory, not in execution.
360, The Landmark, 15 Queens Rd, Central.