Phil's Pizza
Photograph: Phil's Pizza

The best cheap eats in Kuala Lumpur

Fuel up with these cheap eats – all under RM15. Your chow-down starts now. Additional reporting by Darinee Durai

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Eating well doesn’t mean you have to pay more, especially if you're in a food-centric city like Kuala Lumpur. Wherever you may be in the city, at any time of the day, there's bound to be a hot dish waiting for you... under RM15. We’ve got you covered for the best cheap eats our city has to offer.

Hokkien mee is a Kuala Lumpur hawker stall staple — and many late-night cravings have been satiated at Damansara Uptown. The long-standing legend began operations in 1998, plastic tables and chairs sprawled out on the kaki lima of Damansara Uptown. 

Today, it’s spread out over three shoplots, complete with air-conditioning, and even has branches in Kuchai Lama, Puchong, and USJ Subang Jaya. A plate of Hokkien Mee glistening with dark sauce, topped with prawns, cabbages and — the all-important addition — crispy pork lard will set you back RM15.90. (The version without prawns costs RM14.40.) For pairing, also order a plate of fried chicken wings (RM11 for two pieces). 

Capital is very IYKYK. Formerly of Jalan Post Office Lama in downtown Kota Bharu, Capital was a local favorite long before it set up its Damansara Uptown outpost — still family-run with authentic, home-made ingredients — and we’re all the more thankful for it, because Kota Bharu’s loss is Kuala Lumpur’s gain. 

A plate of nasi dagang with gulai ikan tongkol, half a hard-boiled egg, fried salted fish, a few slices of fresh cucumber and pickled onion, and a dollop of red sambal costs RM12.90. Other protein options include beef rendang, chicken curry, prawn, or squid. For only RM4.50, indulge in the roti kahwin slathered with a thick layer of butter and kaya, a kopitiam speciality found in Kelantan. 

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  • Mexican

Tina’s Taquiera seems like it's been around a lot longer than its couple of months, in part because it’s the restaurant reincarnation of Curbside Cantina, the OG of Mexican-inspired taco trucks in Kuala Lumpur, wheeling since 2014. If you pop by Tina’s Taquiera in Damansara Kim today, you’d still find the recognisable red-and-black food truck parked out front. 

The husband-and-wife team of Awangku Imran aka Tubby and Noreen has earned a deservedly loyal and devoted following with their signature Baja-style tacos topped with beef brisket (RM14) or fresh fish fillet (RM11), plus a heaping of crunchy cabbage slaw, avocado salsa, and pico de gallo. Other protein options: chicken, lamb, local Perak duck (also a crowd favourite), prawn, or zucchini for non-meat eaters. To drink, find iced teas, Mexican chocolate, smoothies and more.

Bangsar is home to maybe a dozen banana leaf rice restaurants. We’ll not engage in debate over the best (don’t @ us!), but we’ll certainly say we’ve often looked forward to a finger lickin’, waistband breakin’ meal of banana leaf rice at Bala’s Banana Leaf. 

A queue is common, but it moves along fairly quickly. Go for the signature BBL special: briyani rice or ‘special’ rice served with two vegetable varieties (think cabbage stir-fried with turmeric or patta gobi, diced cucumbers and pineapples, fried bitter gourd or pavakkai, spinach, and more), accompanied with a thovayal chutney, papadam and salted chili, plus several types of curries and dhal, will set you back RM14. On its own, the meal is more than enough for just one, but don’t let that stop you from ordering a side of butter chicken, fried squid, mutton varuval, or if you’re lucky and it’s on the daily specials, the slow-cooked lamb shank featuring fall-off-the-bone tender meat. Also good: nasi lemak (RM5.50), thosai (order the Instagram-viral pink beetroot thosai, RM5), and appam (from RM3). Round out the meal with masala tea or mango lassi. Bala’s also has the advantage of an air-conditioned second floor; this is especially key when it’s not just the curries that’ll make you break a sweat, but also the worsening heatwave.

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  • Pizza

In 2020, Phil’s Pizza first opened as a narrow half-lot in the buzzy suburb of Bangsar — yep, during the height of the pandemic — and today, has two locations at REXKL and The Gaskey Alley, and is even sold frozen at BilaBila Mart. It has a consciously cool, Gen Z-approving energy that everyone loves to snap, but its extra-large, thin-crust New York-style slices are more satisfying than a thousand views. 

The beef pepperoni (RM13) and the truffle (RM15) options are particularly popular. Other flavours, such as chicken hot wings (RM13), margherita (RM13), and smoked duck with pineapple (RM13) are also available on the short but sweet menu, alongside craft sodas and cookies. For bigger groups or sharing, opt for the 12-inch or 18-inch whole pizzas.

  • Thai
  • Seksyen 17
  • price 1 of 4

Formerly known as Lai Thai, Kedai Makanan Frame Thai has been a neighbourhood staple in Petaling Jaya for many years, somewhat hidden away in Happy Mansion from the casual foodie. Don’t expect too much on décor, but despite its humble interior, the bustling restaurant has great service plus genuine Thai bites, making for a perfect spot for your next catch-up, family get-together, or even a super casual date (especially if you need to weed out the weak from the ones who can take the heat). Braised pork leg with rice (RM18), pad thai (RM15), and the punchy stir-fried minced pork with basil leaves (with rice, RM15) are the most frequently ordered dishes here, but we also love the grilled items, like grilled sausage (RM5) and grilled squid (RM20). For dessert, don’t miss the mango sticky rice (RM12) and a bowl of red rubies in coconut milk (RM12). Frame Thai also sells imported condiments, snacks and other sundries from Thailand.

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  • Japanese

In a city teeming with four-figure, MIchelin-rated omakase menus, Shin Zushi has earned a following for being an unfussy sushi spot with still-affordable fresh fish. Start with some edamame (RM6), tamago mentaiko (RM10) or a light seaweed salad (RM7). If you’re after a roll, there are plenty to choose from: fresh tuna (RM6), salmon roe (RM8), soft shell crab (RM7), and more. Sashimi lovers will want to go in for salmon belly (RM15), or classics such as tuna (RM12) and octopus (RM11). 

If raw fish isn’t your style, Shin Zushi offers plenty of cooked and hot options; their signature, in fact, is aburi sushi i.e. nigiri sushi prepared grilled, seared or torched. Also popular and under RM15: gyoza (RM9), rice bowl with your choice of protein, like teriyaki grilled chicken (RM13) or tama mentaiyaki (RM13), and roast duck ramen (RM15). Go early to beat the queue.

Fish head noodle, or yu tao mai, is the star of Kaki Bola. Since its opening in ’99, first-timers and returning faces have flocked to the stall for its signature dish: meehoon in a milky fish broth cooked with Carnation evaporated creamer, topped with tomatoes, pickled mustard greens, and the all-important deep-fried fish head, with a side of chili sauce dip (RM15). It’s great on its own, but the addition of XO sauce contributes a layer of umami that keeps customers coming back for more.

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  • Indian
  • Brickfields
  • price 1 of 4
Lawanya
Lawanya

Come lunchtime, the queue at this family-run South Indian food fixture, established since ’83, starts to stretch out of the lorong. Don’t blame the crowd, as the early birds get the stall’s signatures: chicken varuval and mutton curry. 

Ask for a plate of rice – white, brown or briyani – and then scoop up the spread, served buffet-style in claypots. Staples include bhindi fry, fried chicken, fish curry, spinach with coconut and chillies, and spicy sambal sotong. There isn’t a fixed price – in economy-rice fashion, you’re charged for what you heap on your plate, whether it’s a big helping or a smaller one – but a plate of rice, one fish or meat and three vegetables, with pappadum and rasam will set you back about RM15.

  • Bukit Bintang

Chee Meng, Old Klang Road’s worst-kept secret since the Michelin Guide awarded it a Bib Gourmand, was founded by Yeok Kai Seng in ’65. The chicken rice ticks all the right boxes: a plate of silky smooth steamed chicken (or opt for the roast chicken, if you’re in that camp) drizzled with sesame and soy sauce, served with rice cooked in chicken stock, and a small bowl of sup kacang, all for RM12. Don’t forget the kicap manis on the side, and the chili garlic and ginger dips. 

For a super-sized meal, also spring for the supporting side dishes, such as kerabu mangga (RM13), crispy brinjal stir-fry (RM12), and salted egg yolk squid (RM20).

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  • Japanese
  • Kuchai Lama
  • price 2 of 4
Sanuki Udon
Sanuki Udon

Make a bee-line to this cosy, unassuming shop in Taman Desa for its, you guessed it, sanuki udon. The house special is served hot or cold in a delicious dashi, then topped with an egg, scallions, and little bits of tempura crunchies. It’s the noodle equivalent of a cat sitting on your lap or the sound of Bob Ross’ voice, and for only RM7. (In fact, with the exception of the kakiage udon (RM10.50), all udon on the menu are below RM10.) Our other go-to orders are karaage (RM8), sweet potato skewer (RM3), and prawn tempura (RM3.50).
 

  • Hawker
  • Petaling Street
  • price 1 of 4

Soong Kee has been a food fixture for almost eight decades, making it one of the oldest, if not the oldest, beef noodle shops in town – and it’s still a firm favourite, after all these years. At this third-generation restaurant, take your pick of kon lou or soup, but day ones know you must order the classic (yes, the kon lou): thin, springy egg noodles topped with choy sum and a sauce of signature braised minced beef. Make it a meal with a side of beef ball soup, sliced beef soup, or mixed soup (with brisket and tripe). A small order costs RM10, while an upsize to big will set you back RM12.

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  • Chinese
  • Kampung Baru
  • price 1 of 4
Restoran Kin Kin
Restoran Kin Kin

This is not a reach: Kin Kin invented chilli pan mee. Sure, we’re spoiled for choice now with Madam Chiam, Jojo Little Kitchen and Super Kitchen, but the OG in Chow Kit remains the standard-bearer by which all other chilli pan mee is judged. Fresh, springy noodles (RM10.50) are topped with crunchy ikan bilis, minced pork, a runny egg and – the star of the dish – a dollop of dry, pan-roasted chilli flakes.

  • Indian

It took almost 10 years for Senivasagam Manikam aka Seni to finalise the base recipe and the method used for his claypot rice. While he was working with the Japanese, one asked him what sort of food do Malaysian Indian hawkers do à la minute? Instead of listing down dishes that Indians do prepare on the spot, the question sparked an idea in Seni’s head. He tried cooking all sorts of dishes and found them to be unsatisfying, nothing feasible for a business. “I tried and gave up multiple times before getting positive feedback for this particular style of food cooked in a claypot,” he shares.

Now if you think you’re going to get charred bits of rice stuck to the claypot like you’d be accustomed to with Chinese versions, you might be disappointed. In Chinese versions, the rice is usually cooked in the claypot with the other ingredients. For Seni’s version, the onions, tomatoes, curry leaves and masala are sautéed first. Then the choice of protein is added and thoroughly cooked before cooked rice is stirred in. The mixture is left in the claypot for a few more minutes and then served immediately. The result is a dish where ideally every rice grain is coated well and retains its heat as you keep eating.

It’s not at all watery like when you’d have curries with white rice and if you’d like your dish to be different from the standard masala, you could tell them you’d like something else. They’ll be able to tell you what other types they can make for you on the day itself. They are able to do claypot varuvals, paratels and other types of South Indian styles. Curious about the types of proteins they have? Well, the usual suspects like chicken (RM11), mutton (RM14), prawns (RM17), squids (RM14), fish (RM17) are there. There are two sizes; the smaller gets you one drink and the bigger, two drinks. You could also ask if they have duck or turkey or crabs and check the price with them as it is subject to change. If you’re dining with someone and don’t mind sharing, a banana leaf ‘set’ is an option at RM29. This consists of rice, a choice of protein (kampung chicken or mutton) and a vegetable.

Seni SattiSorru has been in Brickfields for three years and the crowds are inevitable during lunch hours as well as the weekends. In fact, the demand is so high, Seni has opened his second outlet in Klang, third in Malacca, fourth in Johor Bahru and said he is scheduled to open in places like Penang and even Singapore. To circumvent any inconsistencies in those franchises, Seni says, “The masalas and spices will all be done in a central location and delivered to them.”

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  • Malay
  • Mutiara Damansara
  • price 1 of 4

This famous corner lot next to a mosque is old news for nasi kukus fiends. Here’s proof: a thriving Facebook fan page (with nearly 19k fans), ‘panjang gila’ lunchtime queues, and approximately 30,000 packets that get sold every month. But is it a stretch to declare Ilham the best nasi kukus joint in town?

It’s my luck that when I visit this time, Ilham is having a bad day. The common ethos I’m used to at Ilham is: Rice is individually steamed on order (can you really have nasi kukus any other way?) and ayam goreng rempah is freshly strained off the sizzling oil. But this time, I suspect they had a large catering order cancelled because I’m chucked a pre-packed brown packet exposing a cold chicken leg, bound with a rubber band.

Expectedly, the rice is lumpy and the chicken is soggy. But in my eyes, Ilham hasn’t sinned yet. I devotedly wait for the pre-packaged rice to run out, just about when the cook fires up the wok for a fresh batch of chicken. After an extra 20 minutes in line, the poultry shines – the crispy, not-too-thick skin is fragrant with spice and the flesh is moist and balmy. The rice also improves when prepared on order, but doesn’t come close to the feathery-yet-firm texture achieved by its greatest competitor, Nasi Kukus Farni.

The variable in a study of most nasi kukus in KL is the side of kuah kari – and Ilham pulls off a mean version. Thick and sweet, it’s made from a blend of three curries: fish curry, a mild Kelantanese gulai darat and kerutuk daging (an eastern kuah made of asam gelugor, coconut meat, gula Melaka and a load of spices). Curry mixed into rice, threads of warm chicken, a side of ripe pineapple and a crushing of keropok ikan – it’s all as comforting as the fact that nasi kukus is a thing that exists.

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