As celebrity chef Paul Prudhomme once put it: you don’t need a silver fork to eat good food. In honour of that adage, the Time Out Hong Kong food team has trawled the islands to sniff out the 51 best bites under 50 bucks. This summer, celebrate the noodle vendors, skewer sellers and eggette experts that make Hong Kong such a wonderful place to eat.
RECOMMENDED: Sink your teeth into a spread at some of Hong Kong’s best restaurants.
Hong Kong's best cheap eats
This family-run shop has been serving the traditional steamed rice pudding treats known as put chai ko for over 30 years, and they still do it the old-school way. From 2am onward every morning, one member of the family grinds rice into flour; combines that flour with sugar, water and red beans; and steams the mixture in cups. Try the brown sugar version, and celebrate this dying tradition while it lasts.
See the queue curling around the corner of Ferry Street? That’s for the skewers sold at Fei Jie (an affectionate name for a larger woman in the local lingo) – specifically, the turkey kidneys. Locals love them, foreigners not so much, largely because of their curiously chewy texture. Add dollops of mustard and sweet sauce, however, and you’ll see what all the fuss is about.
This shop makes a variety of sweet and savoury goods, including its acclaimed fish meat siu mai. Made by hand each morning, these siu mai eschew the floury mixture you often find around Hong Kong for the real deal: they’re made with three kinds of fish bought fresh from the Aberdeen Market. Don’t forget to add chilli and soy.
A rare non-Cantonese outlet in Shau Kei Wan, Indonesian Sate House serves some of the best cheap skewers in Hong Kong: pork, chicken, beef, mutton and squid, this place has it all. The tiny shop has a fantastic sauce recipe redolent of peanuts and absolutely potent in terms of spice level – a must for any Indonesian restaurant worth its salt. Expect queues. But expect the wait to be worth it.
Fish balls might be the most ubiquitous street snack in Hong Kong, and this takeaway stall in Sham Shui Po really delivers the goods when it comes to this street eat. Though the ratio of fish to flour is debatable, the texture is springy and light – a perfect foil for the viscous curry sauce they’re slathered in. Pick up a skewer of curried squid while you’re at it.
There’s no shortage of mouth-watering Thai dishes in Kowloon City. When it comes to Thai-style skewers, it’s tough to beat Kam Thai. Of all the options, the grilled pork really stands out. Crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside, the meat bursts with flavour as you bite into it. Drizzle it with the house-made satay or hot-and-sour sauce.
This popular shop specialises in the pork- and leek-filled potstickers called guo tie, which are the crescent-shaped cousin to Shanghainese sheng jian. Order them fried or, our pick, served in soup. Over 40 years old, Yuen Fong used to supply these dumplings to restaurants across Hong Kong. Now you can pick up packages of uncooked potstickers from here to prepare at home ($25 for 12).
This Michelin-starred dim sum chain does a lot of things well, but its baked char siu bao is utter perfection. Crispy on the bottom with sweet, cakey, spongelike domes on top, they’re a bit like a cross between pineapple buns and bao – delicious little Frankenstein’s monsters with a killer barbecue pork filling. One order is never enough.
Opened by former musician Oscar Siu Yun-pong, this small shop sells hundreds of Shanghainese pan-fried buns (sheng jian) each day. Served piping-hot, the buns have a soft, doughy top with the perfect crunch on the bottom, all of which encases a flavourful broth and toothsome pork filling. It’s no wonder this former prince of pop music is now known as the king of pan-fried buns.
Islam Food has been serving up excellent halal eats for over half a century, including its famous pan-fried beef buns. That speciality is basically a beef burger tucked into what looks like a Shanghainese pan-fried bun. Crispy on the outside, juicy on the inside and seasoned to perfection, these beefy little hockey pucks draw crowds from across Hong Kong. Once you try them, you’ll understand why.
This dumpling joint draws crowds where you’d least expect them: a shopping mall in Tsuen Wan. The lauded dumplings here are much larger than normal. Served in soup or fried, they can be a meal on their own. They come with a range of traditional fillings (chive and bak choi) as well as wild cards like cheese, lamb and onion, and spicy pork.
Specialising in Sichuan, Shanghainese and Cantonese cuisine, this modern Chinese restaurant has the art of dim sum on lockdown. The best part? Most dim sum and desserts cost no more than $50. Try the steamed lava taro buns. They come with a pair of fiery red lips printed on them – as you bite into them, hot, gooey taro comes flowing out.
This no-frills noodle joint has been lauded by no less than the Michelin Guide. And deservedly so. The noodles are made fresh every day with duck eggs, giving them a light, springy texture, and the wonton wrappers are so wafer-thin you can see the shrimp almost bursting through them. The soup is boiled for five hours, too, imparting some extra flavour via the broth.
Step into this 70s vibe eatery for a taste of their boat noodles. There are seven variations to tuck into, all as authentic as any stalls from Thailand. While each portion isn't huge, it’s seriously cheap where each bowl starts from $25. The soup base of the boat noodles here is brewed using fresh pork bone to give it its rich flavour (and it’s not overly salty). They’re not skint with ingredients either where their signature pork boat noodles come with pig liver, pork belly and tons of other herbs. The curry brisket noodles and Hainanese chicken rice ain’t shabby either.
While most people only go for the signature delectable pho in this contemporary Vietnamese restaurant, no customer should miss the appetising house special fries. Dip the fresh, hot and richly-seasoned chips into the mentaiko mayonnaise for a cheap and joyful savoury experience. This is golden-fried goodness, the Pho Bar way.
The relatively young owner of this retro-looking shop bears certification from the national Thai cooking authority. That signals a level of authenticity you won’t find just anywhere in Hong Kong. Sure enough, the boat noodles are pretty traditional, boasting a rich brown broth thickened with pork bone, as well as tender beef balls and other bovine bits. You can also get your noods with pork, chicken or coconut curry brisket.
Loyal patrons of the King of Soyabeans hail its Shanghai-style steamed sticky rice as one of the best in town. It might look ordinary, but the hand-rolled sticky rice has the perfect bite, and the deep-fried dough has amazing crunch, too. Throw in some pork floss and preserved turnips, and you have a royally delicious combo here. Bonus: it’s all made to order.
The homemade glass sheets here are smoother than silk. But the real star is the spicy sauce, made with the holy trinity of chilli oil, garlic and vinegar – it’s equal parts spicy and numbing. Cucumber strips, coriander, dried tofu and peanuts provide cooling elements and textural contrast, taking this snack to another echelon.
Nasi campur is a beautiful thing – just white rice served with the curries of the day and maybe a skewer or two, all of which change depending on location and culinary influence. Pandan Leaf whips up a pretty mean and filling version of this omnipresent Indo dish, with sambal eggs, beef rendang and stewed veggies set around a mound of rice, which is garnished with fried shallots.
This old-school cha chaan teng in Sheung Wan takes luncheon meat on rice to the next level, loading it up with three eggs rather than the standard two. Creamy egg yolk spreads over the steaming-hot rice with the poke of a fork, and the flavour is enhanced by soy sauce. Not a fan of spam? Cha siu is actually the norm, but ham is another equally popular choice.
Out in Sai Wan Ho, this small shop serves some of the cheapest chicken rice this side of Bangkok. Though it may be pocket-friendly, the poultry doesn’t lack flavour or quality, which is pretty remarkable all things considered. If you want the classic, it will set you back just $35. Even the chicken thigh will cost you a paltry $48.
One of the most common dishes on Thai menus, pad Thai can be hit or miss… well, pretty much anywhere, but doubly so in Hong Kong. This stall in Kowloon City’s cooked food centre really hits the mark with its Thai noodles, though. They’re packed with prawns, peanuts and green onion. Toss some dried chilli on it, and you might feel as if you’re eating on the streets of Thailand.
Taiwanese street food specialist Yuan is Here delivers the best of the best from old Formosa. Go for the lu rou fan, or fatty minced pork on rice. The pork has just the right amount of grease to satisfy your cravings without overwhelming your palate. And for just $39, you can afford to try some of the other cheap eats on the menu.
Recommended in the Michelin Guide five years in a row, this cosy restaurant mainly serves Singaporean and Malaysian specialities, including the signature chilli pan mee. The chefs here work hard to develop depth of flavour, frying all the chilli peppers more than 40 times before tossing them with freshly cooked noodles. The addition of anchovies, minced pork and lard gives this dish extra oomph.
Having already made a name for himself in Shanghai, chef and owner Deng Hua Dong brought his traditional Sichuan cuisine to Hong Kong just a few years ago. Be thankful he did. The dan dan noodles are spectacular, with a broth that manages to be rich and spicy but not overpowering. You can easily finish your bowl in a couple of slurps.
We hesitate to feature this hole-in-the-wall joint, because we don’t want to ruin a good thing. Alas, it’s impossible to beat the value for money at Soo Viet. Most of the items on the menu cost less than $50, including the flavourful pho. Grilled pork neck, raw beef slices, shredded chicken – you’ve got your pick of the lot for fillings, and all are great.
The smells emanating from this Indian-Pakistani eatery will have you salivating before you even know what direction they’re coming from, and that’s a good sign that you’re in for something special. For a fast and filling meal, pick up a hearty and fragrant curried mutton paratha from the to-go counter. Bring napkins, but expect to walk away with orange-tinted fingers anyway.
Beef satay French toast doesn’t sound like an appetising combo, but this unconventional pairing is on point. Stuffed with fresh beef that’s been marinated in homemade satay sauce, the French toast here is fried to a beautiful golden brown and topped with butter and condensed milk. Sweet, savoury and spicy elements come together much better than you’re imagining. Try it and you might even find yourself ordering seconds.
This is the place to go to get your carb fix. At this stall in the Wong Nai Chung Cooked Food Centre, the toast is almost as thick as the width of your hand. Crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside, topped with your choice of spread – peanut butter, condensed milk, jam – this ultra-thick toast might make you reconsider the merits of your keto diet.
You might not realise that Shake Shack started out as a hot dog cart. For an original taste of the fast food franchise, try the Shack-cago Dog. It comes with all the fixings that make a great Chicago-style dog: onions, tomatoes, sport peppers, relish, a pickle spear, celery salt and mustard. Our only gripe? The bun doesn’t have poppy seeds and the relish lacks that trademark neon glow. But such is life.
A trusted name since opening in 1978, Gala Café is no stranger to queues and crowded tables. This famous spot is well-known for its liberal portions – specifically when it comes to its egg sandwich. There’s more fried egg than bread at play here. While that might seem to throw things out of proportion, in actuality this eggy mess is comfort food in its purest form.
This long-standing shop has been serving classic banh mi since at least the early ’90s. That means pork belly, pâté and pickled veggies on proper French baguettes, all prepared in the very definition of a no-frills environment. It may be a tiny shop, but it still turns out well over 100 sandwiches each day. For only 39 bucks, it’s hard to beat the price, too.
Lines wind out the door of the Danish Bakery, one of the quaintest mom-and-pop shops in Hong Kong. This place has been serving pork chop sandwiches for longer than most of our readers have existed, and there’s a reason for that: they’re incredibly delicious. Deep-fried and slathered in mayo and tomato ketchup, the sandwiches are best washed down with dong lai cha (iced milk tea).
Take a Hong Kong-style waffle, add copious portions of ice cream and maybe some culinary accoutrements, like milk tea pearls, and you’ve got yourself a dessert fad that won’t do your diet any favours but will satisfy your sweet tooth. You can pick from more than a dozen flavours of ice cream to pimp your waffle: durian, rum raisin, cookies and cream. All are delicious.
This neighbourhood dessert store offers more than 20 varieties of traditional Chinese sweets, including Hong Kong-style sago pudding, grass jelly and shaved ice. But the crowd favourite is clearly the steamed ginger milk pudding. You can enjoy it both hot and cold. In either version, the incredibly smooth texture of the pudding delivers a powerful punch.
Can’t get enough of Japan’s jiggly soufflé pancakes? Then check out this Michelin-recognised shop, where the pancakes look like they belong in an artisan café but are sold at prices you’d find on the street. There’s a decent variety of flavours to choose from as well – black sesame, matcha, sweet potato, mango and so much more – starting at $29.
You may remember this 40-year-old shop as the Hong Kong torchbearer for the ‘Michelin curse’. After it was recognised by the guide, its rent was hiked and the shop moved to a new location around the corner. Politics aside, this dessert shop really packs them in, all eaters looking for a taste of classic Chiuchow desserts, like red bean soup with lotus seeds and black sesame soup.
This old-school shop specialises in the cheap and delicious baked goods endemic to Hong Kong: pineapple buns, ‘wife cakes’ (lou po beng) and siu bang, stuffed mochi-like pancakes topped with a sprinkle of sesame seeds that are becoming harder and harder to find these days. Beat the queues here to pick up siu bang stuffed with peanut butter, custard, red bean and more.
The tofu fa, or tofu pudding, at this treasured shop speaks for itself. There are two kinds available: one made from regular soybeans and the other from black soybeans. Both are stone-ground to make soymilk, which is blended with gypsum powder and left to solidify, producing a silky texture. Try it warm, and top it with red sugar to give it that caramelised look and some added sweetness.
This timeless café is a Hong Kong institution. While there are several other staples on the menu, you’re going here for one item only. That would be the flaky, custardy and utterly perfect egg tarts, made with an egg yolk-based pastry topped with several layers of butter pastry. These tarts may be $10 a pop, but they’re worth the (relatively) high price tag.
Spam is a Pacific Island staple, and one of the most classic dishes featuring it is without a question the humble Spam musubi. Take a slice of what is clearly the most natural meat product on Earth, put it on top of sushi rice seasoned with some soy sauce, wrap it all in toasted seaweed and you’ve got yourself a oneway ticket to Flavour Town.
Open less than half a year, this little shop offers Japanese treats not easily found in Hong Kong. Among them are several kinds of rolled Japanese omelettes called tamagoyaki. They’re made fresh with eggs from Hiroshima, a splash of dashi and toppings that include pink dried shrimp, ruby red shrimp roe and shredded seaweed. Or, for a quick and cheap lunch, grab a bento ($40).
Although known for its star-patterned eggettes, this shop offers so much more than gimmicky treats. There are tons of flavours to choose from, including some unconventional options like candied pineapple and corn with pork floss. To make the most waves on social media, order the ‘taro starry’, a sweet purple-andgold eggette with awesome texture.
This popular street food stall in Sham Shui Po is known across Hong Kong for its singular creation: deep-fried salt and pepper rice rolls. Made to order and best enjoyed hot, the rice rolls have great crunch. They taste even better with a dollop of mayo or Thai sweet chilli sauce.
The prized treasure at this delightfully unchanged Cheung Sha Wan institution is the decades-old stone mill. This anachronistic piece of equipment is used to produce everything from tofu to tofu skin to soymilk. Want to try a finished product? Get the fried stuffed tofu, which comes topped with a thin slice of fish meat, and pair it with a glass of cold soymilk for a perfect snack.
Your deep-fried bird comes in a range of unusual flavours here – rose, wasabi and lime, and salted lemonade being just a few of the different sauces in which this restaurant dresses its chicken wings. Sure, some of them might sound weird, but they work well as a contrast to the crispy wings. Our pick? That classic Hong Kong flavour combo: black truffle and garlic.
Go boujee with your weekday breakfasts at Feather & Bone. The purveyor of gourmet goods and maker of delicious eats elevates the classic bacon and egg roll, placing a sunny side up fried egg on top of a rasher of smoked bacon that comes from free-range pork. If you’re feeling inspired, you can pick up the ingredients to replicate it at home, too.
It’s hard to find a good bagel in Hong Kong – they tend to be flat and doughy – but R&R does them about as well as anyone. You’ll save more if you buy your bagels in bulk, but if you’re looking for a quick bite to eat, you can grab a bagel with schmear for 40 bucks here. Our favourite is the poppy seed with lox-speckled cream cheese.
Some days, it feels like it’s easier to find the holy grail than good (and good value) Mexican food in Hong Kong. Direct your search to Te Quiero Mucho for a pleasant surprise. Most of the tacos here cost less than $60 apiece, but we recommend the crab tostada. Packed with jicama, avocado and chilli, this tostada is a cut above your stand Tex-Mex fare, and you won’t break the bank eating here, either.
Hip tapas joint Pica Pica offers a lot of tasty dishes that won’t punish your wallet if you’re not out for a feast (which makes sense, what with it being a tapas restaurant and everything). Try the squid croquettes. Packed with chopped squid, black as coal and creamy on the inside from the addition of squid ink and topped with tangy aioli, the croquettes come in at only $15 each.
British salon Hugger Mugger and partner venue Chaiwala have teamed up to run a pretty excellent happy hour from 5pm to 7pm each day. Drinks and bites both clock in at only $50. That includes the excellent Bombay fried chicken: a small plate of fried boneless chicken thighs tossed with a house-made spice mix, as well as curry leaves and pickled tomato mayo.
Elgin Street’s hip Hotal Colombo brought Sri Lanka’s vibrant array of flavours to Central when it opened in late 2018. See: the idli with sambhar and podi, savoury rice cakes floating in a spicy lentil gravy with coconut cream. Not much on the menu will break the bank, though. A meal for two shouldn’t go over $300, including drinks.
What’s a cheap eats list if we don’t mention a good ol’ bowl of wonton noodles? This quintessential Hong Kong meal is one we can’t do without. The use of king prawns at Tsim Chai Kee gives the wontons in this dish an extra springy texture, so there’s more bounce for your buck.