Singapore

15 Iconic, Cultural, and International Places to Eat in Singapore

Jumbo Seafood in Singapore - a place for chili crab

Updated July 8, 2022

From the most expensive fine dining restaurants to the cheapest Michelin One-Star food stall, Singapore has some of the most exciting places to eat in the World. It is a city where crab is the national food, and hawker centers are iconic fixtures. It is a city that promises the richest and most authentic cultural dining experience.

From iconic places to eat Southeast Asian specialties to a lavish international buffet, from the local Zi Char family restaurants to a trendy Spanish tapa bar, this guide will take you to exciting places to eat that will make your dining experiences here in Singapore the most enjoyable and memorable.

Table of Contents

Places to Eat Traditional Local Food in Singapore

JB Ah Meng

Hours: Daily 4:45pm – 2am

JB Ah Meng in Singapore - white pepper crab and other good eats

JB Ah Meng is one of the best places to eat in Singapore and has attracted celebrity chefs from around the World to dine there. It is most famous for the White Pepper Crab – a must-try when you visit!

Crab is almost like the national seafood of Singapore and JB Ah Meng specializes in the white pepper version (while most places serve the more popular chili version). Their crabs sell out often and I recommend that you reserve your crabs as you reserve your table.

For more information, read my Review of JB Ah Meng in Singapore.

National Kitchen by Violet Oon

Hours: Daily lunch 12pm – 3pm; dinner 6pm – 10:30pm;

High tea 3 – 5pm (Fri – Sun only)

Violet Oon is a local celebrity chef, and her specialty is in Peranakan cuisine. It’s like a fusion of Chinese dishes with a Southeast Asian flavor.

The National Kitchen by Violet Oon is located in the National Gallery of Singapore. If you are planning to visit the gallery, you can hit two birds with one stone. This is exactly what my wife and I are doing right now. After walking for hours in the museum, we are ready to order a feast.

The chicken wings are great. They have a spicy turmeric coating and a hint of lemongrass.

Beef Rendang is like a Southeast Asian beef stew cooked with coconut milk and some strong spices. The flavor is bold and delicious.

The dry laksa is a soupless rice noodle, almost like spaghetti with gravy. The prawns are fresh and sumptuous.

Kueh Beng Kah is a tapioca cake, which is my favorite Southeast Asian dessert. It has a cheesecake-like texture and is moderately sweet. This promises to be a delightful dessert.

Violet Oon Satay Bar and Grill

Violet Oon Satay Bar in Clarke Quay Singapore
Credit: Violet Oon Satay Bar and Grill

Violet Oon Satay Bar and Grill is another creation of the celebrity chef. This restaurant has more of a focus on satay and drinks. Satays are well-marinated and have a rich flavor. They are chargrilled and served with spicy peanut sauce. A sprinkle of grated pineapple adds the finishing touches of the dish.

The selection of entrees is quite extensive. Many of the items on their menu are also the signature dishes in the National Kitchen. For example, beef rendang and dry laksa. For dessert, I highly recommend the Kueh Beng Kah, which is a tapioca cake with a cheesecake-like texture.

The restaurant is located in vibrant and charming Clarke Quay, right next to the taxi stand. There is also easy MRT access from the Clarke Quay station.

Sin Ming Roti Prata

Hours: Daily 7am – 6pm

Roti prate topped with a fried egg on the left, and a plate of coin prata on the right.
Credit: Sin Ming Roti Prata

Located in Upper Thomson, Sin Ming is not the easiest place to find but has the best roti prata in the Lion City. They are very popular, and lines are always insane during breakfast and lunch times. It seems that the only way to avoid the long line is to come very early in the morning, before 7:30am.

Their prata is always served piping hot, and they are not overly oily.  Their signature dish is the coin prata which is not like a flatbread, but is thicker and airier, and shaped somewhat like a Danish pastry. The crust is crispy, and the inside is soft, fluffy, and slightly chewy – which is almost like heavenly.

They have many varieties of prata available, such as banana milk, cheese, mushroom, strawberry, among at least a dozen others. However, I always prefer the plain one and eat it with curry. Be warned that their curry is very bold in flavor and spiciness, so make sure that you can take the heat before ordering. Their curry is (spicy) hot enough to literally make you sweat!

Places to Eat Singapore’s Iconic Cuisines

Jumbo Seafood

Hours vary by location

Chili crab from Jumbo Seafood in Singapore

You probably already know that crabs are the iconic national seafood in this island nation, and Chili Crab is something that you seriously don’t want to miss.

There are plenty of restaurants in Singapore where you can find the famous chili crab. But if you are in the gorgeous, vibrant, and somewhat romantic Clarke Quay area, Jumbo Seafood is the place to go.

A whole large crab already cut into pieces and with the shells cracked open is served in a wok-shaped dish filled with a stimulating chili sauce. The heat of the chili is moderate, which I think is enough to give the dish a good kick without being overwhelming. The sauce is on the mildly sweet side and it retains the rich natural flavor of the crab that is cooked in it.

Wear a bib, get your hands messy and dirty, and savor every bite of the meat that you manage to extract out of the shells. They have five restaurants in Singapore including one at the airport so hopefully you can find a convenient location near you.

Long Ji Zi Char

Hours: Daily 5pm – 10:30pm

Crab cooked in a rich brown sauce and served over thin rice vermicelli.
Credit: Long Ji Zi Char

Long Ji is a traditional Zi Char family restaurant (Zi Char is a Singaporean dining term that refers to casual home cooking, usually done by braising in a hot liquid or stir frying in a very hot wok) that is best known for their crabs.

Crabs are like the national food of Singapore and Long Ji serves several renditions of this popular seafood, each in its own unique and delicious way.

Their signature dish is the crab beehoon which is a cut-up whole crab cooked in a rich brown sauce and served over thin rice vermicelli. Chili Crab is cooked in a sweet and spicy tomato-based sauce. Other local favorite ways of cooking this national shellfish include black pepper, white pepper, salted-egg, butter sauce, and ginger & onion.

Song Fa

Hours vary by location

Song Fa - the traditional Bak Kut teh in Singapore

Song Fa is a familiar household name in the Lion City and the lines of each of its seven restaurants are almost always out the door and wrapped around the block. This is one of the best places to eat bak kut teh, or pork rib soup, in Singapore.

The peppery broth is made with pork ribs, a blend of secret spices and lots of garlic and white pepper. The white pepper gives a distinctly strong flavor to the broth that is stimulating to the palate. The rib meat, which has soaked in the richness of the broth, falls off the bone and almost melts in your mouth.

After you finish your ribs when there is more room in the bowl, you can ask for a refill of the broth. They will happily do that.

If you really like the soup and want to duplicate it in your own kitchen, they do sell boxes of pre-mixed packets of the spices at the cashier’s counter. I always pick up a couple of boxes whenever I’m in town.

Wee Nam Kee

Hours vary by location

A Hainanese chicken thigh cut up into pieces.
Credit: Wee Nam Kee

Hainanese chicken rice is a Southeast Asian specialty as well as an iconic Singaporean dish that is not to be missed. Wee Nam Kee has been in business since 1987 and is the top household name in Hainanese chicken rice. I usually go to their main branch in United square, but they have 7 restaurants scattered across the Lion city to serve you. Go here for a list of their locations to find the one nearest you.

The poached chicken has great texture, and is tender, moist, and flavorful. The special fragrant rice is cooked with chicken bone broth and oil infused with ginger, garlic, among other spices. The sweet aroma of the rice fills the air as the dish is brought to your table. While this dish is served throughout Asia, I can assure you that you will find the most authentic and memorable flavors right here in Singapore.

Iconic Food Centers and Places to Eat in Singapore

Chinatown Complex Food Centre

Hours: 8am – 10pm (Individual stall’s hours may be different)

Chinatown Hawker Center in Singapore- Hawker Chan's soya sauce chicken
Credit: Hawker Chan

Your visit to the Lion City is not complete without a trip to a hawker centre. They are like food courts, some of them are open-air, and most of them are without air-conditioning. However, you can always get some of the best meals at bargain prices. Most of the stalls are open for lunch and dinner.

There are literally over 100 hawker centres in Singapore, and my top favorite is the Chinatown Complex Food Centre. It is the largest with over 250 stalls. It is also one of the most convenient, just off the Chinatown MRT station. Moreover, I find this location one of the cleaner ones among the several that I have visited.

Its most famous anchor is Hawker Chan, who is famous for his soya sauce chicken rice. This eatery was voted the cheapest Michelin-starred restaurant in the World in 2016. A delicious entrée of soya sauce chicken with rice cost less than three USD. It beat out Tim Ho Wan from Hong Kong which previously held the title.

Other local favorites here include Hokkien mee (Chinese Fujian-style chow mein), bak kut teh (pork rib soup), and the juicy soup dumpling xiao long bao (XLB).

Maxwell Road Food Centre

Hours: 8am – 2am (Individual stall’s hours may be different)

Maxwell Road Hawker Centre - aka hawker market in Singapore
Credit: Hit1912/Shutterstock

Maxwell Road is my number two favorite among all the hawker centres in Singapore. This food court is also clean and orderly and is more comfortable than many others that I have been to.

The main anchor here is Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice. This is a chicken rice dish completely different from Hawker Chan’s Soya sauce chicken rice. Soya sauce is not used here. The Hainanese chicken rice is a fragrant rice made with chicken broth and spices. And yes, chicken fats too! But that’s why it tastes so good.

There are other chicken rice stalls as well, one was said to be owned and operated by an ex-Tian Tian employee. Pork porridge (congee) is another specialty of many hawkers here. A popular anchor is Zhen Zhen Porridge.

This is a very diverse market and there are numerous other dining options, including plentiful of Western foods if you are craving for a menu closer to home.

Newton Food Centre

Hours: 12pm – 2am (Individual stall’s hours may be different)

Newton Food Centre - Singapore's hawker Centre in the movie Crazy Rich Asian

Remember the movie Crazy Rich Asians? One of the first things that Nick did as soon as they arrived in Singapore was to take Rachel out to dinner. They were enjoying a table full of food with friends Colin and Araminta, the supermodel and hotel chain heiress. That scene was filmed at the Newton Food Centre.

Newton is my other favorite hawker centre. Most of the seating is outdoors, so it may not be as popular on a hot day. But at night, this place is bustling. Some of the stalls also sell craft beers which makes the atmosphere even more lively. (Did you notice the beers on the table in the Crazy Rich Asian scene?)

This market in general is better known for their seafood. Take your time to walk around and you will see large selections of fish, shrimps, lobsters, and crabs. One of the famous hawkers here is Alliance Seafood of Michelin Guide fame. They are famous for their chili crab, which is always a crowd pleaser among locals and tourists alike.

Food Republic

Hours: Daily 10am – 10pm

Among all the great places to eat in Singapore, the hawker centre experience is unique and is almost a must-visit. But I just told you above that most hawker centres are open air, not air-conditioned, and some are not very clean or comfortable.

Food Republic is a great alternative. It is an extensive dining atrium structured just like a hawker centre. But it is in a modern setting in a clean, air-conditioned, and comfortable environment. It still retains the street-food atmosphere and delivers the hawker stall experience in a thematic village-like backdrop.

This particular Food Republic is on the third level of VivoCity, the largest shopping mall in the Lion City. It is easily accessible via MRT. There are ten other locations throughout the island nation. Most are open for lunch and dinner for both dine-in and takeout.

Places to Eat Fusion and International Food in Singapore

FOC Restaurant

Hours: Tue – Sat 12pm – 11:59pm; Sun 6pm – 11:59pm; Closed Mon

FOC Restaurant is an authentic Spanish tapa restaurant that brings a slice of Barcelona flavor into the streets of Singapore. It’s a trendy and high energy place with an upbeat and lively atmosphere.

I am teaming up with my local foodie buddies and we are ordering a lot of small plates from their extensive menu. Prices are moderate to moderately high, but the quality is good.

The chicken wing sandwich is made with boneless wings and topped with avocado mayo. Prawns on a sizzling platter are fresh and succulent. Octopus slices are tender and delicious.

Another great small plate is the mushroom croquetas which are very rich in flavor. Want some veggies? The whole cauliflower with pickles and a generous sprinkle of goat cheese is amazing. A squid ink paella completes our extravaganza for the day.

Orchard Café

Hours: Daily 12pm – 2.30pm; 6pm – 10pm

An enormous salad bar with salads, seafoods, and tubs of dressings.
Credit: Orchard Cafe

Located inside the Orchard Hotel, the Orchard Café has one of the best values in lunch buffets in Singapore. It was recently renovated and now features an inviting open-space design with an ambience that reflects casual elegance.

The salad bar is extensive and offers both Asian and Western spreads which includes Japanese sashimi, sushi, as well as cold cuts and seafood. The local section features an impressive noodle station that serves the best Singaporean laksa. A large variety of Indian and Malaysian cuisines are also available.

The Western section features a carving station as well as a charcoal grill. A large assortment of meats and seafood are served there. The chicken satay and BBQ beef briskets are my personal favorites. Last but not the least, the dessert station offers plenty of delicious local favorites such as mango cake, lychee mousse, and durian penget. The spread there is quite amazing so be sure you go there with an empty stomach!

Tim Ho Wan

Hours vary by location

There are numerous places to eat good dim sum in Singapore. But I still have to give Tim Ho Wan a visit so that I can explore all their global locations.

They have many locations in Singapore. This particular restaurant is inside Plaza Singapura (Dhoby Ghaut MRT station). Of all the THW’s that I have been to outside of Hong Kong, I rank Singapore on the top of my list.

The deep-fried chili crab dumpling is amazing and is a must-try. It is like a traditional taro pastry (woo kok), but the filling is chili crab. It’s great that THW includes some local flavor in their varieties.

Another rather unique dish is the 3-star siu mai (pork dumpling) with 3 distinct flavors: Ham, black mushroom, and quail egg.

Explore the original Tim Ho Wan in Hong Kong.

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