In Penang you almost never have to pay top price for excellent food, but if you’re willing to fork out more than RM5 ($1.25 USD) for a meal, then you’ll get friendly service and great ambience to boot. Here are the 10 best restaurants on the island.
Restaurant, Middle Eastern, $$$
Prices here are not cheap, but the excellent food, draping foliage, and romantic ambience will make you feel like you’ve spent your money right. The Lebanese Mix Salad is a wonderful gastronomic assortment of fatush (mixed greens with Levantine bread), hummus, vine leaves, tabbouleh, and moutabel (eggplant dip with a consistency similar to hummus), and the Mix Grill presents healthy portions of tender grilled meat that will make any food lover shiver with delight.
Restaurant, Indian, none
If you like spicy, tangy, and tandoori, you’ll be in love with the food here. From succulent chicken butter masala to spicy lamb rogan josh, brilliantly red tandoori chicken to lady fingers pepper fry, this eatery serves up the best Indian food in town. We recommend the tandoori chicken and mushroom and peas masala — yumza!
Restaurant, American, none
If you like to choose your fish and have it cooked the way you like (without actually doing the cooking), step into Blue Reef, a well-established seafood restaurant in the Straits Quay Marina Mall. Baramundi, tilapia, Spanish mackerel — they’ve got it all, and you can have it grilled, fried, sauced, or tossed up in an English pie.
What the Duck
Restaurant, American, none
Located in Nagore Square, this restaurant can be easy to miss, but keep your eyes peeled and you’ll find yourself coming back to this charming little old heritage shophouse-turned-restaurant. Duck, in every form, cut, gravy, and style, will delight your senses and make you think of the French Riviera with an Asian twist. Your best value-for-money choice is the four-course set menu with the duck confit.
7 Village Noodle House
Restaurant, Chinese, none
Fancy noodles? Then you’ll fancy this place. This local favorite is best known for its broth-based soup noodles, koay teow th’ng, served with meatballs, minced pork, beansprouts, and fried garlic. Prices are street-style and don’t go over RM8 ($2) a pop. And for sides, we recommend the lor bak, a pork-and-onion roll wrapped in beancurd and served with ketchup.
Nona Bali Restaurant
Restaurant, Indonesian, none
If you want Indonesian food without paying for the flight ticket, come to Nona Bali. Featuring dishes like grilled sea bass on a bed of Indonesian sambal (spicy shrimp-based paste), ayam rica-rica (spicy chicken served with white rice), and the finger-licking bebek ijo (green chili deep-fried duck leg served with a conical tower of rice), the food here will have you wondering if you should perhaps take a flight to Bali after all.
Cafe, Mexican, none
Penang has been late in appreciating Mexican cuisine (there were no Mexican restaurants until a few years ago), but it got there in the end, and Holy Guacamole is its crowning proof. Your favorite burritos, nachos, fajitas, and quesadillas are available here, and most of it’s fresher than Chipotle’s. We tried the mushroom burrito in a bowl, and it arrived like a lucky break from Mexico City.
Restaurant, Japanese, none
The most stylish restaurant on our list doesn’t come cheap, but the food here will justify both price and design. The Korean-Japanese fusion eatery takes cooking to the next level by serving elegant hot pots with your choice of broth, noodles or rice, meat or fish, tofu or mushroom, plus vegetables. Their grilled salmon bibimbap is delectable, if a little slim on the fish, and their green tea panna cotta provides the perfect finish.
Restaurant, Italian, none
If you like fresh, tasty, and Italian, Il Bacaro is where it’s at. The gnocchi is made fresh every day, and pastas are served in generous helpings. We recommend the Linguine Crab, a delightful little pasta dish tossed with olive oil, cherry tomatoes, and chunks of fresh crab. For dessert, we urge you to try the molten chocolate lava desert complemented by vanilla ice cream — it’ll be a tingly hot-and-cold delight for your tastebuds.
Cafe, American, none
Coffee here may be a hit-or-miss affair, but food is a triumph for both chef and customer. Morning specials include American-style breakfast (scrambled egg, sausage, toast, baked beans, the whole lot), muesli-and-yogurt concoctions with fruit preserves; while lunch and dinner offers a wide selection of East-meets-West poultry and fish dishes. If in doubt, go for the tomato-based Tuscan-style chicken with white rice – if you think it’s an odd pairing, we thought so too, until we tried it!