The 10 Best Restaurants in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia

Michelle Leong

What’s better than the beaches in KK? The food, of course.

1. El Centro

Restaurant, Bar, Mexican

© El Centro, Kota Kinabalu

If you’ve lost your salsa, this is the place to find it. This restaurant-bar brings Mexican cuisine to downtown KK, and adds a few of its own selections. Satays and mezze platters are served alongside tacos and fajitas, and the four-cheese pizza will be the melt-in-your-mouth reason to break your diet. Vegetarian options are available.

2. Little Italy

Restaurant, Italian

You may be 6,624 miles (10,661 km) away from Italy, but that doesn’t mean you can’t feel like you’re eating food straight out of Tuscany. Established in 2000 by the Ceresas, this bistro-style restaurant imports up to 80% of its ingredients, and makes fresh pastas and sauces every day. The Spinach Cannelloni offers warm pockets of delight, while the Spaghetti al Nero di Seppia is carbo-loading at its best. This place tends to get crowded, so don’t be surprised if you have to queue.

3. Welcome Seafood Restaurant

Restaurant, Malaysian

© Welcome Seafood Restaurant, Kota Kinabalu

If you’re more about food than ambiance, then this is the place to enjoy your fill. Seafood is caught and weighed in front of you before it goes into the kitchen, and you can choose the cooking style. Fried? Sauced? Garlicky, spicy or lemony? It’s all up to you!. Try the Wet Butter Tiger Prawn, Salted Egg Crab, and the Chili White Clam — you might get a mini seafood orgasm. And they have beer, too, if that’s your thing.

5. Brass Monkey

Restaurant, Malaysian

Brass monkey lamb combo
© Brass Monkey Cafe & Bar

If it looks like a pub and feels like a pub, it probably has pub grub. Located in Lintas Plaza, Brass Monkey is a funky little joint with eccentric decor, a laid-back ambiance, and spectacular food. The King Kong steak and the Roast & Grilled Combo Lamb (with meat so tender it falls right off the bone) are out of this world. And if you fancy some dessert, the Monkey Business is a fruity, chocolatey, Swiss roll delight.

6. Chilli Vanilla

Restaurant, Malaysian

Hungarian Chicken Roulade
© Stephanie Frey / Shutterstock

Almost as busy as the street it’s located on (Jalan Haji Saman), Chilli Vanilla is your go-to destination for delectable Eastern European cuisine. Serving Hungarian classics like the Hungarian Goulash and Chicken Roulade, this bistro also gladly offers “international” cuisine — their Moroccan-Inspired Lamb Stew and Chilli Chocolate Braised Beef are dishes made with love and time (slow-cooked).

7. Laundroluxe

Restaurant, Malaysian

Laundroluxe lamb
© Laundroluxe, Kota Kinabalu

Ever get bored while doing your laundry? Have no fear! Laundroluxe comes to the rescue with an elegant dining experience featuring beautifully-presented European-style cuisine. The creamy seafood risotto is a must-try, and the braised lamb shank is so deliciously tender you’ll wonder why you don’t do your laundry more often.

8. Kohinoor North Indian Restaurant

Restaurant, Indian

Indian cuisine
© hlphoto / Shutterstock

Indian food is known for the spices, and few places do spices better than Kohinoor. For an exciting, hot-to-the-tongue treat, try the Mutton Rogan Josh, a thick, Kashmirian meat dish that will thrill your taste buds and at least three other senses. Supplement it with Jeera rice and a mango lassi, and you’re set for the evening. This restaurant in located at the Waterfront Esplanade, so you can sit outside at the terrace and enjoy the sea view.

9. Mad Ben Cafe

Restaurant, Malaysian

Pizza rolls
© Mad Ben Cafe, Kota Kinabalu

Snugly situated in the popular Gaya Street, this urban-looking café offers an appetising retreat from the crowd outside. Food here tends to be European (think burgers, steaks, risottos), but there are local options, too, including the beef stew rice and the lamb curry rice. For an innovative Italian surprise, try the pizza rolls. And if you like your desserts creative, go for the Matcha Adzuki Mousse Cake — it’s yum!

10. Fook Yuen

Restaurant, Malaysian

Dim sum
© Adamlee01 / Shutterstock

This self-service, cafeteria-style eatery offers dim sum favourites (like prawn dumplings and black glutinous rice), breakfast toast with kaya (coconut jam), and well-loved local selections like Laksa, Nasi Lemak, and Curry Mee. It’s like eating at OldTown White Coffee, but for half the price. With all that money saved, you can even supplement your meal with Malaysia’s favourite mamak drink, the teh tarik (pulled tea).

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