At Shi Li Fang
Herbal chicken broth hot pot with fatty pork belly and toothsome hand-pulled noodles, all for just $10? Yes, it’s possible at Shi Li Fang. The Taiwanese steamboat restaurant offers steamboat set lunch meals for just $9.90 (taxes not included; so take note) that even comes with a drink of your choice. You pick a soup base (the place prides itself on not using MSG), a main protein and the type of noodles for your meal. Then on top of that, you get a good heaping of vegetables – slices of cabbage, carrot, winter melon, bok choy – tofu, black fungus, enoki mushrooms and an egg. It’s definitely enough to induce a post-lunch food coma.
Prepare to queue 2 to 3 hours for this soya sauce chicken rice. Chef Chan Hon Meng has been cooking soya sauce chicken for over three decades and has elevated the humble fowl to its, err, beak potential. Each bird is tender and juicy – have it on a bed of rice, with a helping of steamed nuts and dark sauce ($2) or order half or the whole chicken to share (from $7).
We hear that Chan has plans to expand his business in a tie-up with an F&B group soon. Considering that he's getting on in years, he might not be cooking for much longer. So head down to get the world's cheapest Michelin-starred meal, cooked by the original chef, while you still can.
At Sungei Road Laksa
The shop name says it all. With only one thing on the menu, this humble eatery still rakes in long queues every day. The laksa gravy, cooked over charcoal, is light and not too spicy – that’s what the sambal is for. Stir it in if you want more heat in your bowl ($3). Topped only with fishcake and plump cockles, you’ll polish off a bowl in under 5 minutes.
At Happy Owl Café
If you ever find yourself in the Whampoa or Balestier area late into the night hunting for supper and caffeine to keep your belly warm, seek out Happy Owl Café. This no-frills eatery, which shuts its doors at 5am, serves up freshly brewed coffee of any kind, for just one dollar. We say go for the latte, and drop an extra $2 for free flow coffee. It’s even cheaper than your coffee shop kopi.
At Hjh Maimunah
The queue at this nasi padang restaurant stretches out the door even before lunchtime hits. We can't blame the crowd, though, as only the early birds get the worm. Or in this case, stellar beef rendang and sambal goreng. Also, don't miss out on the tauhu telor that sells out fast. Aside from quintessential nasi padang dishes, there are also rarer ones like lemak siput sedut, sea snails swimming in a coconut-rich broth.
At Chow Fun Restaurant & Bar
Sometimes (often) when you can't decide what to eat, wouldn't it be nice if you could just sample everything on the menu? At Chow Fun – a tongue-in-cheek reference to Chinese noodles sold in America – you can. Have your pick from 18 Asian and Western dishes that, perhaps in a nod to the small plates trend, come in tasting portions ($2.90) like the pork belly Bibim Guksu. The meat is cooked for 24 hours in a honey-mirin glaze and laid over spicy noodles mixed with Korean hot pepper and sesame sauce. Selected flavours are available in regular sizes ($15.90) but we know you'd rather eat as many different noodle dishes 'til you're full.
At Tamoya Udon
Clinching the ‘Best Udon Maker of Kagawa Prefecture’ in a Japanese TV show, Tamoya pulls thick wheat flour noodles that are a result of blending three types of flour and adjusting the amount of salt to our city’s humidity levels. Pick from hot or cold dishes – prices range from $5.80 to $13.40 a bowl, but only the beef, pork and curry udons will set you back more than $10. Once you’ve made your choice, pick up a veggie ($1) or prawn ($2.50) tempura to accompany your bowl. Our favourite? The pork sanuki udon ($9.80) – its light broth complements the salty-sweet pork perfectly.
At Truly Test Kitchen
Hidden away on the upper floors of a nondescript building in the Tai Seng industrial estate is a kopitiam housing a quartet of food stalls that serve up fare that's as cheap as chips. There’s Truly Curry Rice, Handmade Meatball Porridge, Mian for noodle dishes, and Truly Western. It’s at the lattermost where you’ll find Singapore’s cheapest fried chicken and waffles. For just $4.50, you’re treated to a sweet and fluffy waffle, topped with crispy and tender chicken, and a heaping of French fries. Maple syrup is served on the side, but it’s too dull to add any dimension to the dish, so you’re better off eating the chicken and waffle on their own.
At $9.90, it’s the cheapest chirashi in town. Catering to the ‘lunch in front of the computer’ crowd in the CBD is The Tuckerbox Lunch, whose convenient bento don sets are particularly popular. While it’s a little disconcerting that upon ordering you’re presented with a lacquer box yanked straight from the chiller, rest assured the boxes are packed fresh every day. And you’ll get a good portion of rice, topped with chunks of raw salmon, sweet beancurd skin, tamago, tobiko, cucumber, wakame, picked ginger and a few slices of pickled radish. Unfortunately, there isn’t a special sauce (we’re looking at you, Teppei) to bring everything together – a sprinkling of furikake is all the extra seasoning you’ll get. But for that price, which includes free miso soup and tea if you dine in, we can’t complain.
At Nam Seng Noodles and Fried Rice
We’ll be the first to admit that, flavour-wise, this is not the best wonton mee around. The wontons and char siew ($4-$5) are nothing to write home about, but everyone’s really here for the noodles: they’re thicker than usual and come swimming in a slightly soupy base of soya sauce and sesame oil. If anything, it reminds us of the version from our school canteens – and that in itself makes the dish special.
At Azmi Restaurant
While there’s a wide variety of curries to choose from at Azmi, ask any connoisseur and they’ll tell you that chapati goes best with mutton keema ($5.20). Tear off some of the warm flatbread, scoop up the devil-red mix of minced mutton, potato and peas, add a slice of raw cucumber or onion, and stuff it all in as the keema dribbles down your hand. It’s so good, you won’t mind the mess.
At iSteaks Diner
What started out years ago as a hawker stall serving affordable steaks has since gotten an upgrade – it’s now got two air-conditioned outlets, in Serangoon Gardens and Holland Village. Thankfully, the new digs didn't come along with significantly higher prices. Besides very decent steaks, the hawker-style Western fare runs the usual gamut of soups, burgers, pastas and grilled meats like chicken and lamb chops. But for under ten bucks you’d wanna order the beef burger. You get a juicy patty, cheese, lettuce, tomato and a side of fries. Granted, it’s not the best burger in Singapore by a long shot, so we’d recommend you add toppings such as sautéed mushrooms, bacon or a fried egg – they’re all $1 a pop.
At Teppei Daidokoro, Timbre+
Yamashita Teppei – he of the affordably priced omakases, kaisen dons and kushiyaki sticks – replicates his Daidokoro ('Japanese kitchen') concept at the new Timbre+. Staples such as katsus, meaty Japanese curries and teppanyaki dishes are all served in bowls, but we say go for the yakitori don ($8.80) – sticks of meat brushed in a smoke-infused glossy lacquer of sauce and served over rice.
At One Ice Cafe
It’s hot out, and it seems like it’s only going to get warmer. So chasing the current bingsu, or Korean shaved ice dessert, trend has its benefits. And why splash the cash for what is essentially ice kachang? One Ice Cafe has the most affordable bowls of bingsu on the island. Ranging from $6.80 to $8.80, its shaved ice bowls come in flavours like matcha, chocolate banana and peanut. Sure, its range of toppings might not be as elaborate as those from other joints, but the bowls still come in impressive mounds. Apart from a scoop of vanilla ice cream topped with an Oreo cookie, the Oreo Bingsu ($6.80) has a thick bed of cookie crumble covering lightly flavoured shaved ice – any more condensed milk would be way too cloying. Grab a friend or two to help clean the bowl up.
At Guzman Y Gomez
It’s hard to beat Guzman’s price tag for a wholesome burrito that’s stuffed with rice, soft black beans, salsa, melted Jack cheese, and your choice of filling: mild or spicy grilled chicken, steak, fish, or roasted pork – there’s even a vegetarian option with sautéed onions, mushrooms and guacamole. We chose pan-seared fish, dressed in a tangy garlic-lime sauce that removed any hint of fishiness. You can pimp out your burrito with add-ons such as guacamole ($1) and brown rice ($0.50), too.
At A Noodle Story
It’s got one of the longest queues at Amoy Street Food Centre, and for good reason. The ‘Singapore-style’ ramen the two young lads at this stall whip up is like a cross between wonton mee, mazesoba and magic. Over springy mee kia tossed with a moreish and slightly sweet chilli oil, they pile sous vide char siew, wontons, a potato-wrapped prawn, spring onion and an onsen egg.
At Porsena Deli, PasarBella @ Suntec City
Former head chef of Lolla, Kyle Henderson, swaps small plates for sarnies – and you’ll wanna dig into his banh mi. It’s loaded with thick slabs of pork belly, a spread of housemade chicken liver paté (it adds a subtle earthiness), and pickled veg, all tied together with Sriracha and crammed between fluffy rolls. And for a local touch, ask for it ‘Bruce Lee style’ and the servers will dredge the meat through kong bak sauce for a kick of sweetness.
At Portico Platos, Timbre+
Available in two sizes – $9 and $16 – this never-mind-the-food-coma dish comes loaded with clams, mussels, prawns, octopuses and snapper, piled atop briny, paprika-spiked rice. Unlike in his flagship, Portico Prime, chef Nixon Low has no plans yet to feature on the menu here the seafood sourced from the waters off Ubin – but you can't have everything now, can you?
At Ah Bong's Italian
Hawkers serving up pastas are not exactly hard to find these days, but Ah Bong’s Italian is probably the only one that boasts a chef who cut his teeth under a Michelin-starred chef. Chris Ng is an accountant-turned-cook who trained with Bruno Menard – his Tokyo restaurant L’Osier holds three stars – at his erstwhile La Cantine here in Singapore, and it shows in the plates Ng dishes out. The humble stall has no more than an ever-changing three pastas (each $10 or less) on offer each day, such as meat ragu, linguine with beef cheek and pork belly, and our favourite: the mac ’n’ cheese ($7), which is thick with Kurobuta bacon, mushroom and truffle oil.