Vegetarian, vegan, halal—Penang has the best food in Malaysia, hands down. When the clock strikes food o’clock (or, in the case of this month, iftar), it’s time to head on over to one of these eateries for a gastronomic delight.
The oldest restaurant in Penang may not be the fanciest, but it sure will please your tastebuds. Operating from two different shophouses (two doors apart, which can be confusing), Hameediyah serves excellent mamak (Malaysian food of Indian-Muslim origin) food, ranging from teh tarik (pulled tea) to mee jawa (Javanese noodles), crispy samosas and different colored curries.
If you’re looking for kampung (village) classics, look no further. This simple, no-frills restaurant has been operating for 60 years and counting, serving Penang its favorite lauk-pauk (dishes), including fish head curry, grilled egg plant, pasembur (salad with beancurd, turnip, and shredded cucumber), curried pineapple, and, of course, the queen of Malaysian salads—the kerabu kacang botol(a salad of winged beans, shredded coconut, onions, and red chillies).
Heritage meets urbanization at Lagenda, where traditional Prawn Lemak Pineapple comes in an impressive conical tower, and side dishes arrive in a congkak set (a traditional mancala game). If you like sago (tiny tapioca pearls), you’ll enjoy their signature dessert showered with coconut cream. Western-style dishes are also available here (locals rave about the carbonara).
Who says Penang can’t do global? This understated Russian and Central Asian eatery brings beef stroganoff, beetroot salad, kompot (sweet non-alcoholic drink), and solyanka (spicy Russian soup) to George Town, and serves it up without frills or fuss. You can easily miss this small restaurant if you’re not looking, so be sure to keep your eyes peeled.
Soft shell crabs are the latest thing in town, and nowhere does it better than D’Marta. Want your soft shells in a burger, in gravy, served with rice, or on its own with sweet chili sauce? At D’Marta, you can have your crab (shells) and eat it, too.
Possibly the best Nyonya cuisine in Penang, you’ll find this stall at the food court in Tesco. With curry chicken, beef rendang (beef stewed in spices), chicken kerabu (cooked with black fungus), and sautéed kai lan, food here is tasty, canteen-style, and wallet friendly.
This chain store has the best hummus, falafels, and shawermas (meat prepared and grilled on a spit) in town. Wrap it up, dress it down, lap it on rice, or toss it with a salad—you can pick your meat and your prep-style, and have it within 10 minutes. We recommend the biryani lamb, too, which comes with rice and a small salad for RM24 ($6).
This relaxed, open-air restaurant features straw-woven canopies and wooden picnic tables with UV light (to chase away the mosquitoes). The extensive menu runs a couple of hundred dishes, all for reasonable prices. Enjoy a banana leaf meal, for which the waiters will come by with mini pints of curry, or go à la carte with assorted curries, naans (Indian flatbread), and even Indian-style char koay teow (fried flat noodles). Vegetarian options are also plentiful.
Here’s another local and tourist favorite. Located in the busy, bustling Little India, the tandoori chicken is flavorful, tender, and perfectly complemented by garlic naan. Don’t expect a butler service; the waiters are busy, and the cooks more popular than Kanye West after a concert. Just go in, sit down, and flag someone down for a menu.
This semi-buffet-style restaurant prides itself on friendly service, reasonable prices, an oft-boisterous crowd, and excellent food selections spanning East and West. It’s also known for its kek lapis(traditional Indonesian multi-layered cake), so be sure to pick up your portion here.