KK is one of the few cities in Borneo with an eating scene diverse enough to refresh the noodle-jaded palate. Besides the ubiquitous Chinese kedai kopi (coffee shops) and Malay halal restaurants, you'll find plenty of interesting options around the city centre - head to the suburbs if you're looking for some truly unique local fare.
In recent years, the local government has cracked down on shady dining establishments, implementing a health code grading system from 'A' to 'C ('A' being the best; consider giving restaurants with no grade a miss). Gradings are usually displayed on storefronts or windows. Also, all ice served in eating establishments is privately produced using filtered water.
Restaurants & Cafes
Kedai Kopi Fook Yuen (G33 Ground fl, No 4 Kompleks Asia City; kaya RM2.60; S 6.30am-1am) Cheap and quick, a snack of sweet kaya is the perfect energy booster after a morning of sightseeing. And this isn't your standard Singaporean coconut-egg-jam, Sabahans have developed their own version of this tasty confection. Wi-fi available.
Kedai Kopi Fatt Kee (28 Jin Bakau; mains from RMS; S lunch & dinner Mon-Sat) The woks are always sizzlin' at this popular Chinese place next to Ang's Hotel. Long lines are guaranteed, but it's always worth the wait. Their sayur manis cooked in belacan (shrimp paste) is Kah Hiong Ngui
Chap ( 019-870 0080; Block A, Ground fl, Kolam Centre Phase 2, Jin Lintas; mains from RM5.50; (37am-3pm) Head to Kah Hiong if you're craving the ultimate local experience. Tucked away in KK's suburban sprawl, this bustling restaurant specialises in ngui chap (beef soup) served with a special chilli sauce. Everyone knows about this spot - it's a local institution and has been featured on the local TV channel as one of the spots in town for a bite.
Shikai ( 088-484242; G15-16 Kompleks Asia City, Jin Asia City; mains from RM9; S lunch & dinner) Fancy lanterns dangle above jet-black furniture and swishing Lazy Susans. Lunch specials start at RM9 per dish, although weekend dim sum is the biggest draw. Vegetarians will find plenty of excellent tofu options scattered throughout the pan-Asian menu.
D Junction (088-703131; Batu 3, Jin Lintas; beer RM7, mains from RM10; Q lunch & dinner) Located just beyond the city centre, this small complex has a clutch of high-end franchised eating options including Royal Chino restaurant (serving delicious dim sum on weekends), Indian Spice Garden (specialising in North Indian favourites) and Umai (a Japanese affair overflowing with spicy sushi rolls and saucy karaoke). There's a sociable bar on the ground level with plenty of Tiger on tap, and a surprisingly excellent shrimp wonton soup.
Bella Italia ( 088-313366; 69 Jin Gaya; mains RM19; (3 lunch & dinner) In an attempt to muscle-mi their way into the competition, Bella Italia, in the Jesselton Hotel, has started a special 50% discount deal for pasta dinners between 5pm and 7pm.
Little Italy (088-232231; Jin HajiSaman; mains from RM23; (3 lunch & dinner) Dear homesick holiday-maker; this is your place. Create your own carbo-lode with a variety of saucey tributes to the Bootland. All things considered, it's a rather pricey endeavour, but it's definitely worth stopping by if you're in desperate need of a rice respite.
Port View Seafood Village (088-221753; lot 18, Waterfront Esplanade; dinner from RM50; (3 lunch & dinner) This cavernous Chinese seafood specialist feels like an aquarium where you can eat the displays - we've never seen such an extravagant array of live fish. Even if you don't eat here, it's worth walking into the foyer to check out the veritable cascade of turquoise tanks.
Kohinoor (088-235160; Lot 4, Waterfront Esplanade; dinner about RM50; O 11.30am-2.30pm & 5.30pm-11pm) There are several excellent restaurants along the Waterfront Esplanade, including this Indian place offering comfortable indoor seating and a breezy outdoor patio. Take advantage of their authentic tandoori oven and don't forget to grab a side of pillowy garlic naan.
In the early evening, head to Tanjung Aru at the south end of town near the airport for sunset cocktails and light snacks along the ocean. The area has three beaches - First Beach offers up a few restaurants, Second Beach has steamy local stalls, and Third Beach is a great place to bring a picnic as there are no establishments along the sand. A taxi to Tanjung Aru costs RM20, or you can take public transport (RM1.80) - take bus 16,16A or city bus 2.
First Beach Cafe (088-245158; Aru Drive, Tanjung Aru; drinks RM10, mains RM8-20; S 9am-2am) This restaurant boasts the best sunsets in KK and it's hard to argue: it's right on the beach at Tanjung Aru and you can literally step down from your table onto the sand. This is a good spot for light nibbles and beer in the evening.
Tanjung Aru Seafood Restaurant (088-245158; Tanjung Aru; dinner from RM60; (3 11am-2pm & 5-1 Opm) It's more about the sunset than the seafood here, but diners never complain (until they see the bill!). While locals prefer scruffy seafood markets around Sinsuran, this spot is a perennial expat fave. There's a cultural show on the weekends starting at 7pm.
Hawker Centres & Food Courts
Night Market (off Jin Tun Fuad Stephens; meals from RM2; i3 dinner) The night market is the best, cheapest and most interesting place in KK for dinner. Vegetarian options available. For details on the Night Market.
Centre Point Basement Food Court (Basement fl, Centre Point Shopping Centre, Jin Pasar Baru; mains RM3-10; (3 lunch & dinner) Your ringgit will go a long way at this popular and varied basement food-court in the Centre Point mall. There are Malay, Chinese and Indian options, as well as drink and dessert specialists.
Grace Point (Grace Point, Tanjung Aru; mains RM2-8; (3 lunch & dinner) Take bus 15 out near Tanjung Aru for some local grub at this KK mainstay. The development is actually quite chic compared to the smoke-swathed food courts in the city centre - KKers joke that the public bathrooms here are Borneo's nicest (and it's true!). Go for the Sabahan food stall (located in the far right corner when facing the row of counters) and try hinava - see opposite for more info.
There are a variety of places to stock up on picnic items and hiking snacks, including the centrally located Milimewa Superstore (Jin Haji Saman) and long King Supermarket (Jin Gaya). 7-Eleven (Jin Haji Saman; E3 24hr) is conveniently open throughout the evening.
DRINKING & ENTERTAINMENT
Averaging 12 cans of beer a month per capita (not including smuggled goods), Sabahans are big drinkers by Malaysian standards, and KK's nightlife allows plenty of scope for visitors to join the party. The Waterfront Esplanade (Jin Tun Fuad Stephens) houses a good number of upscale 'resto-bars', while Beach St, in the centre of town, is a semi-pedestrian street cluttered with bars and eateries. Live music (usually karaoke) takes place almost every night in the latter's central round. Most of KK's larger venues rely heavily on live music to pull in the punters, providing regular employment for a whole flotilla of local and Filipino cover bands. The quality of the performances is often encouragingly high, but drinks are quite pricey.
Bed (088-251901; Waterfront Esplanade) Get those bed puns ready: the space that launched a thousand quips is arguably the fulcrum of KK nightlife, and it's a rare night out that won't see you ending up in Bed at some point. Bands play from 9pm, followed by DJs til closing.
Cocoon (1088-211252; Jin Tun RazakSegama) In the busy corner of town opposite the Hyatt, Cocoon is a smart bar-restaurant that goes all bar in the evening when the live bands emerge. The post-gig DJs have a tendency to talk over the records, but at least their R&B-leaning tunes are danceable.
Shenanigan's (088-221234; Hyatt Regency Hotel) Following the international 'Irish pub' model, from dodgy draught Guinness to drunk and incapable patrons, this has long been a popular establishment in KK. Live bands perform most nights from 9pm and the place is totally rammed on weekends. Prices are horrendous (up to RM30 for a small beer) but get better during happy hour.
Blue Note (088-225800; Shangri La Tanjung Aru Resort) If you're staying out of town or just fancy a change, the spacious Blue Note doles out plenty of DJed tunes, though jazz aficionados may feel cheated.
Hunter's (fa) 016-825 7085; Kinabalu Daya Hotel) A favourite for local guides and expats, Hunter's offers up karaoke, sport on the plasma TV and balmy outdoor seating in the heart of the action.
Shamrock (088-249829; 6 Anjung Samudra, Waterfront Esplanade) Well, the Irish have landed in KK and they've brought everything with them (except the bad weather): Guinness, meat stews and Kelly green decor.
Also worth a look:
Upperstar (Jin Datuk Saleh Sulong) Opposite the Hilton, this pleasant semi-outdoor bar offers cheap booze and decent pub grub.
Rumba (Le Meridien Kota Kinabalu, Jin Tun Fuad Stephens) Upbeat and danceable tunes are spun at this happenin'night spot.
The Loft (Waterfront Esplanade) Yet another option along the pub-lined waterfront. Good place for sunset cocktails.
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