Affordable Zi Char Restaurants For Under $20 Per Dish
Zi Char. Ask any Singaporean and they all have their own say on the Zi Char store they swear by. Best cereal prawn, best salted egg fish, best curry fish head, best har cheong gai, the list is never ending. It is a very polarizing topic, to say the least. But there are some great and affordable Zi Char restaurants that many Singaporeans consistently flock to each day to get their fix. So check them out below!
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1. JB Ah Meng
I’ve been going to JB Ah Meng ever since it was located in a sketchy alley at Geylang and I think the food is incredible. While the location and service left a lot to be desired, the food was beyond compare and the sea of packed tables stands testament to the quality of the food there. You may think that I’m being seriously biased but I’ve personally seen famous local chefs who own Michelin star restaurants on my visits. Pictures of famous international celebrities are also plastered across the restaurant so you know this is not just me being biased.
The most popular and famous dish by far is their “san lou bee hoon” which loosely translates to 3-storey bee hoon. While bee hoon is usually seen as an unexciting dish and as a male who ate a whole lot of national service bee hoon, it is not normally a dish I’d be leaping to order. But seriously, do yourself a favour and order the bee hoon if you visit.
- Address: 534 Geylang Road, Singapore 389490
- Average price per dish: $19
2. Two Chefs
Another place that I’ve been visiting for a long time with my family, Two Chefs was simply “that zi char place” we went to for comfort good food. It was not till many years later that I realised that it was a famous and popular zi char joint which should have been apparent from the long waiting times each time we visited.
Famed for their butter pork ribs, it is a decadent dish that I’ve had many times. The ribs were seared perfectly on the outside, juicy on the inside and covered with a good amount of milk powder. Yes I know, the milk powder can seem like a strange ingredient but trust me, it works and is absolutely delicious. Be warned though, recent visits have required me to wait even with a reservation so don’t expect to be seated immediately even if you made a reservation.
- Address: Blk 116, Commonwealth Crescent, #01-129, Singapore 140116
- Average price per dish: $15
3. Keng Eng Kee Seafood
A stand out amongst zi char places in that it doesn’t have grumpy service staff, Keng Eng Kee is famous for their moonlight hor fun topped with an egg yolk. Another popular dish that my friends really enjoy is the coffee pork ribs which to those who don’t know, is fried pork ribs glazed with a thick coffee sauce. Started decades ago as a hawker stall that grew to have its own restaurant, Keng Eng Kee continues to pull massive crowds each night so if you intend to visit, call to reserve your booking to avoid disappointment.
- Address: 124 Bukit Merah Lane 1, #01-136, Singapore 150124
- Average price per dish: $20
4. Kok Sen Restaurant
For those who worked in the CBD as I did for a time, an affordable yet delicious lunch meant bracing yourself to face the heat, lines and crowds at either Maxwell food centre or Amoy street food court. For a long time after I finished work, I thought I’d have to head out to the heartlands for a great zi char dinner. One day, however, a colleague brought me to Kok Sen and I was delighted.
Now, Kok Sen is a Michelin Bib gourmand restaurant for both 2016 and 2017 and while I’m happy for them, I’m a little grumpy that it has brought curious crowds and it has become challenging to get a table. Standout dishes include their famous big prawn hor fun, stir-fried Kung Pow frog and cereal squid as opposed to the cereal prawns that can be found everywhere.
- Address: 30 Keong Saik Rd., Singapore 089137
- Average price per dish: $18
5. New Ubin Seafood
New Ubin Seafood was originally a zi char store started on Pulau Ubin. As a result, it was considered and dismissed as being way too far when there were good alternatives that were closer. A lot closer. Yet they had a loyal base who enjoyed the isolated location, the fresh seafood and great food would eventually see them open multiple locations across Singapore.
Claiming to have stuck to their roots despite having grown out of their original location, New Ubin was awarded a Michelin Bib Gourmand in 2017 and at one of their locations at Hillview. They serve local dishes with a slight twist with influences from Italian and French cuisine. It sounds eclectic and bizarre but it was surprisingly good when I finally managed to get over my prejudice and approach it with an open mind.
So I recommend purists who have turned their nose up at it thus far to give it a shot although it is a little pricier than the others.
- Address: Various
- Average price per dish: $30
Featured Image Credit: @instarepost20 and New Ubin Seafood
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