15 places for best zi char in Singapore for hearty feasts that are unmistakably local

By Sarah Chua December 14, 2023
15 places for best zi char in Singapore for hearty feasts that are unmistakably local
Photos (clockwise from left): @thebelly_eats, @thefatfam_, @tofu_eats_travel, Keng Eng Kee/Instagram

Zi char — meaning “cook and fry” in the Hokkien dialect, sometimes spelled “tze char” — is a beloved facet of Chinese Singapore food culture. Maybe it’s the sheer diversity it encompasses, or the anticipation of savouring hearty comfort food crafted by seasoned culinary artisans. Or perhaps it’s the universally-loved wok hei flavour that seamlessly accompanies every zi char experience.

In a city where zi char establishments and stalls seem to grace every corner, the challenge lies in picking out the best of the best.

As with many local culinary treasures, the question: “Where can you find the best zi char in Singapore?” naturally sparks spirited debates among food enthusiasts. That’s why we’ve taken it upon ourselves to curate a list that covers all the bases.

So if you’re on the hunt for the best zi char in Singapore, look no further. 

From affordable zi char gems that still rank among the finest, to decades-old household names, we’ve done the legwork and compiled our top picks for the best zi char in Singapore.

1. Hao Kee Seafood Deluxe

203 Toa Payoh North, 01-1097 
Open: Monday to Sunday (11am to 2pm, 5pm to 10.45pm)

Chye poh kway teow. Photo: @haokeeatblk203toapayohnorth/Instagram

Why visit? Run by chef Jeremy, who took over the reins of the business from his father and has been polishing his zi char craft for over 20 years, the crowning glory here is the signature chao tar bee hoon (from S$6), a seafood bee hoon pancake where the outside is burnt to a delectable golden brown crisp. The inside is kept moist, soft and hearty, providing a lovely balance for both texture and flavour. The dish is made perfect with a squeeze of sour-sweet lime that cuts through the oiliness — it’s indulgence in every bite.

Price range: $$

Crowd favourites: Fans also love the mee sua gor (S$5), the Teochew-style chye poh kway teow (S$5), where the preserved radish lends a delightful salty tang to the noodles, the crispy kai lan with pork floss (from S$12) and fried beancurd skin roll (from S$10), Hao Kee’s take on the ngoh hiang.

2. Two Chefs Eating Place

116 Commonwealth Crescent, 01-129
Open: Monday to Sunday (11am to 2.15pm, 5pm to 11pm)

Butter pork ribs. Photo: @thebelly_eats/Instagram

Why visit? The offerings at Two Chef’s Eating Place are decidedly unconventional for zi char fare and are precisely why people keep returning to its hallowed grounds. With numerous signature dishes in its bank and each worthy of its fame, dining at Two Chefs is one of those restaurants where if you’re not early, you’re late.

Price range: $ to $$

Crowd favourites: Diners like to begin with the drunken cold cockles ($7), served in a cold, spicy sauce and topped with ample chopped garlic, chilli and chives. Two Chefs’ star is the butter pork ribs (from $10), where fried battered pork chunks are covered in a buttery condensed milk powder for an unexpected sweet and creamy touch. Other highlights include the coffee pork ribs (from $10), prawn ball with pork floss (from $15) and the golden mushroom beancurd (from $8).

3. Ban Leong Wah Hoe

122 Casuarina Road
Open: Monday (4.30pm to 10.30pm) to Sunday (11.30pm to 2pm, 4.30pm to 10.30pm)

Moonlight hor fun. Photo: @banleongwahhoe/Instagram

Why visit? Located just off Upper Thomson Road, the restaurant started out as an economic rice stall in the 1980s before becoming the zi char restaurant it is today. Named after the supermarket that once occupied the same space (“Ban Leong”) and after the owner Mr Teh and his brother (“Wah” and “Hoe”), dishes here are of the classic zi char variety. The seafood selections are its strengths, and no surprise there as Mr Teh also runs a seafood business at Senoko Fishery Port, ensuring that dishes at Ban Leong Wah Hoe are the creme de la creme. 

Price range: $$

Crowd favourites: You cannot go wrong with classics such as the har cheong gai (fried prawn paste chicken, from $8), XO fried rice (from $6), Moonlight hor fun (from $6), served with a golden egg yolk on top, and chilli crab ($8 per 100g). The restaurant’s other signatures include the stir-fried lala (from $15), where clams are served in a light and flavourful broth, and the hotplate oyster (from $15), a fluffy omelette loaded with oysters and chilli.

4. Kok Sen Restaurant

2/4 Keong Saik Road
Open: Tuesday to Sunday (12pm to 2.15pm, 5pm to 9.15pm)

Big prawns hor fun. Photo: @miss_foodbaby/Instagram

Why visit? Awarded a spot on the Michelin Guide’s Bib Gourmand list in 2019 and 2023 — and thus a no-brainer pick for our list of best zi char in Singapore — Kok Sen Restaurant has come a long way since its beginnings on Keong Saik Road almost 50 years ago. Now feeding eager diners in a larger, more elevated space not far from its original spot, Kok Sen continues to keep its menu focused on Cantonese-style zi char classics with a twist. 

Price range: $$

Crowd favourites: Its most well-known dishes are the big prawns bee hoon soup (S$19) that features a rich, slightly spicy broth, big prawns hor fun (S$19) that is comfortingly eggy with just the right amount of wok hei and the claypot yong tau foo (from S$15). Kok Sen’s homemade yong tau foo ingredients are uniquely stuffed with fish, prawn and squid, lending even more flavour and texture to the dish.

5. Por Kee Eating House 1996

 69 Seng Poh Lane, 01-02
Open: Tuesday to Sunday (11am to 2.30pm, 5pm to 10.45pm)

Champagne short ribs. Photo: @missduapui/Instagram

Why visit? Por Kee Eating House’s charm lies in its nostalgic set-up, where round tables surrounded by the iconic red plastic chairs extend far beyond the actual restaurant and you dine right next to an open carpark. The Cantonese-style dishes are also charming in their own way, sitting between traditional flavours and unique twists. Por Kee is something of a zi char institution in Tiong Bahru, so be sure to make a reservation if you’re going with a large party.

Price range: $ to $$

Crowd favourites: Por Kee’s signature is the champagne short ribs (from S$26) — or you can have the long rib version at $11 a piece — where the hint of bubbly delicately comes through in the thick glaze coating each piece. Fans of Por Kee also love the silky-soft homemade beancurd (S$16) as well as zi char mainstays like cereal prawns (S$22) and fried beef hor fun (from S$8) in a black bean sauce.

6. Sik Bao Sin (Desmond’s Creation)

Lorong 34, 592 Geylang Road
Open: Tuesday to Sunday (11.45am to 2.30pm, 5.45pm to 9.30pm)

Tofu prawns. Photo: @nusfatclub/Instagram

Why visit? It is easy to be overwhelmed by the choices in a typical zi char menu, but at Sik Bao Sin, the selection is kept to just 13 with some seasonal off-menu dishes. Run by second-generation chef-owner Desmond Chia, the Michelin Guide’s Bib Gourmand 2019 listee differs from other zi char places, in that it does not serve any carb-focused mains — only dishes that you have with rice.

With every dish cooked a la minute by chef Desmond in a one-man kitchen, do expect longer-than-usual waiting times. But hey, for that level of attention, it’s worth it.

Price range: $$

Crowd favourites: Regulars at Sik Bao Sin go for the steam fish head, tofu prawns where both lead ingredients are covered in silky swirls of egg, steamed pork with salted fish, ginger chicken and the simple yet wonderfully cooked kai lan beef. As there are no prices on the menu, make sure to ask the staff about it before you order.

7. Chui Xiang Kitchen

126 Casuarina Road
Open: Tuesday to Sunday (11am to 2.30pm, 5pm to 10.30pm)

Lobster at Chui Xiang Kitchen. Photo: @jonnyeatss/Instagram

Why visit? Two words: lobster porridge. Starting at S$35, Chui Xiang Kitchen’s Teochew-style signature dish features a fairly generous amount of lobster, with the porridge simmering in a hearty, layered broth that hits all the right notes.

The eight-year-old restaurant, helmed by chef-owner Kok Kwang Chiu, is relatively young compared to our other picks on this list, but that has nothing on its repertoire of elegantly executed dishes, a reflection of chef Kok’s years of experience in Chinese kitchens.

Price range: $$

Crowd favourites: Make sure to also try the signature cabbage spring chicken (S$28) — where a stuffed chicken is wrapped in cabbage leaves and served in a claypot — the tender and generously glazed Marmite pork ribs (from S$16), homemade beancurd with mushroom (from S$13) and beef hor fun (from S$14) that serves up that perfect, smoky wok hei flavour.

8. Sin Hoi Sai Eating House

187 East Coast Road
Open: Monday to Sunday (4pm to 3am)

A selection of dishes at Sin Hoi Sai Eating House. Photo: @bright.chaipat/Instagram

Why visit? Although the Sin Hoi Sai branch in Tiong Bahru boasts a spot on the Singapore Michelin guide, it is the sister restaurant at East Coast that the crowds seem to love more. At Sin Hoi Sai Eating House, it is not uncommon to see a good mix of tourists and locals seated on round tables that extend well onto the walkway. 

Like its old school interiors that hark back to the 1980s, zi char dishes here are unpretentious and of that sweet-spot quality.  And with its closing time of 3am, it is one of the best spots in the east to cure those midnight munchies.

Price range: $ to $$

Crowd favourites: It has to be the silky Moonlight hor fun (from S$7) and the restaurant’s delectable take on ribs, such as the red wine pork ribs ($23), Marmite pork ribs (S$11) and Guinness pork ribs ($S11), all boasting a indulgent sticky glaze. For zi char classics, don’t miss out on the salted egg prawns (S$16) that are so crispy that you can eat them as they are.

9. Long Ji Zi Char

253 Outram Road
Open: Monday to Sunday (5pm to 10.30pm)

Crab bee hoon. Photo: @tofu_eats_travels/Instagram

Why visit? Lovers of crab bee hoon, look no further. At Long Ji Zi Char, which began as a humble Bukit Merah hawker stall in 2013, the crab bee hoon (S$140 per kg) is prepared by owner-chef Mac Kong, who hails from Malaysia. With the bee hoon fried until it’s almost burnt — but not quite yet! — to achieve maximum wok hei and a fragrant sweet-meets-savoury gravy cooked with crabs, cabbage, oyster sauce, and lard bits, each bite is a true melange of flavours.

Price range: $$

Crowd favourites: Fans of chef Mac’s cooking gravitate towards his more innovative dishes, such as the fermented pork belly (from S$17) that pairs superbly with the Crab Bee Hoon and the salted egg pumpkin (from S$15) that hits the sweet spot between sweet and salty.

10. Jiak Modern Tzechar @ Hillview

HillV2, 02-044, 4 Hillview Rise
Open: Monday to Sunday (11.30am to 9.30pm)

A selection of dishes at Jiak Modern Tzechar @ Hillview. Photo: @happibelly_/Instagram

Why visit? Jiak Modern Tzechar challenges zi char conventions with its cosy, cafe-style interiors, but when it comes to the food, this halal Chinese restaurant keeps things authentic with some surprises — and affordable prices to top it all off. 

The signature here that has diners coming back for more is the curry fish head (S$24), packed with just the right amount of spice alongside the delicate fish meat. If it’s the “modern” that you’re looking for, Jiak’s slipper lobster black bee hoon (from S$26), where halved slipper lobsters and squid ink bee hoon come together with delicious wok hei flavour, is right up your alley.

Price range: $$

Crowd favourites: The Thai-style steamed sea bass (from S$28), light yet potent lala in superior broth (from S$14) and claypot golden chicken (from S$12) cooked in a Thai-inspired sauce are the clear favourites.

11. Chuan Kee Seafood

1091A Lower Delta Road
Open: Monday to Sunday (12pm to 3.30pm to 4.30pm to 10pm)

Bi feng tang wok-fried prawns. Photo: @gohtravelling/Instagram

Why visit? Though a little out of the way and located right in the middle of an open-air carpark, Chuan Kee Seafood still manages to draw a strong crowd, not just because of its immaculately well-cooked dishes — of which there are many — but also because of the many freebies that are sure to keep the young ones entertained. If you’re dining here, look forward to free ice cream, popcorn, cotton candy, balloons, and tau huey!

Price range: $$

Crowd favourites: Diners that make the trek to Chuan Kee love the bi feng tang wok fried prawns (S$22), where crispy prawns are covered in garlic and dried chilli, and the curry fish head (S$25). Meat lovers will love the lotus leaf duck (S$18) that is tender and juicy with a bold gravy and the coffee pork ribs (S$12). Those who prefer lighter dishes can go for the si fang tofu (S$12), a seaweed-coated homemade tofu covered in shimeji mushrooms, a thick sauce and a dusting of anchovies, and the Four Heavenly Kings (S$12), a simple yet effective dish of stir-fried long beans, okra, petai and brinjal.

12. JB Ah Meng Restaurant

534 Geylang Road
Open: Monday to Sunday (5pm to 2.15am)

San lou bee hoon. Photo: @natfatdiaries/Instagram

Why visit? The Singapore Michelin Guide’s Bib Gourmand 2017 restaurant is known to be a hotspot for chefs, having hosted famous ones like Michelin-star holders Joris Bijdendijk and Gordon Ramsay and the late Anthony Bourdain. Perhaps it’s the combination of great food and a late closing time, where chefs who’ve closed their establishments for the day can relax with a good bite. With such illustrious fans, it’s no question why JB Ah Meng makes the list for Singapore’s best zi char.

Price range: $$

Crowd favourites: Make sure to try the san lou bee hoon (S$7), JB Ah Meng’s take on the burnt pancake noodles that has a deep-brown crispy char on the outside, but still moist and flavourful on the inside. Seafood standouts include the white pepper crab (prices vary) that is delicately peppery and not too spicy, salted egg prawn roll (from S$20), served with juicy corn kernels that are cooked with the same salted egg batter, and the fried garlic chilli clams (S$16) that pairs well with the san lou bee hoon.

13. Lam’s Garden

ARC 380, 01-16/22, 380 Jalan Besar
Open: Tuesday to Sunday (11am to 2pm, 5.30pm to 8pm)

A selection of dishes, including the Twin Tower crispy noodles. Photo: @thefatfam_/Instagram

Why visit? Having spent years cooking in the kitchens of Shangri-La Hotel, Traders Hotel and Hotel Jen, the dishes served by chef-owner Lam Loon Tuck are nothing short of quality, honest cooking. 

Formerly known as Chef Lam 65 during its time at Golden Mile, the newly rebranded Lam’s Garden at ARC 380 still features the same, good flavour, perhaps because each dish is cooked to order, thus guaranteeing the utmost attention to detail. It may be the reason why fans consistently return to enjoy Chef Lam’s cooking in spite of his many moves.

Price range: $ to $$

Crowd favourites: The star here is undoubtedly the Twin Tower crispy noodles (from S$6.50) atop a silky, eggy sauce that you can drench the noodles in after you’re done taking photos for Instagram. While the beloved fish head steamboat is no longer available, the curry fish head (S$28) is a stunning alternative with its fresh fish and housemade rempah. The dish that really captures Chef Lam’s skill with the wok, though, is the humble fried french beans (S$12).

14. Keng Eng Kee Seafood 

01-136, 124 Bukit Merah Lane 1
Open: Monday to Sunday (11.30am to 2pm, 5pm to 10pm)

Steamed crab with egg white and Chinese wine. Photo: Keng Eng Kee/Instagram

Why visit? The restaurant, also known as KEK, boasts many buzzy accolades and the food here is easily considered among the best zi char in Singapore by local foodies. Now a third-generation establishment run by siblings since it first opened its doors in 1970, KEK has a spot on the Singapore Michelin Guide, was featured in Netflix’s Street Food and once played host to the late Anthony Bourdain. 

And yes, it is more than deserving of the fame it has achieved, as dishes here are all just elegantly cooked with little to no fault. For the crab lovers, you may also want to check out KEK’s Tampines branch for the claypot vermicelli crab (S$88 per kg) that features springy glass noodles alongside a juicy mud crab and plenty of garlic flavour.

Price range: $$

Crowd favourites: Dive into KEK’s signature Moonlight hor fun (from S$9.80), often touted as one of the best — if not the best — in Singapore. For dishes to have with rice, there’s the coffee pork ribs (from $18.80) with its strong coffee taste in the glaze, the golden pearl roll (from $17.80) where deep-fried beancurd skin is stuffed with salted egg yolk, prawn and more. 

For a crab dish beyond the usual, try the crab meat broth with fish maw and sea cucumber (from S$35.80) and steamed crab with egg white and chinese wine (prices fluctuate depending on market prices).

15. Hua Yu Wee Seafood Restaurant

462 Upper East Coast Road
Open: Monday to Sunday (12pm to 3am)

Crab with ketchup and chilli sauce. Photo: @lickscreenfortaste/Instagram

Why visit? An iconic heritage landmark in the Bedok area, Hua Yu Wee’s colonial bungalow location is easily recognisable as you drive along Upper East Coast Road. With its beginnings in the 1950s, it is among the oldest zi char restaurants on our list —- and those decades of expertise and perfecting their craft is evident in the faultless cooking present in every dish.

Hua Yu Wee’s winning feature is consistency and thus it’s no surprise that it draws both locals and tourists to its quiet grounds. Needless to say, reservations are a must.

Price range: $$

Crowd favourites: It’s hard to make the wrong pick here. Popular dishes are the sweet and spicy crab with ketchup and chilli sauce (S$73.50 per 800g), the butter crayfish (S$30.24) and the coffee ribs (S$15.12) where the glaze boasts a bold coffee flavour without being too bitter. The poached prawns in hua diao wine (from S$19.44) is a must for prawn lovers, while meat lovers will get on board with the slice beef with ginger and spring onion (S$19.44) that is just remarkably tender.

Hungry for more? Check out the newest tie-up between Mama noodles and Hue Restaurant, or read about JJ Lin’s new Miracle Coffee cafe at ArtScience Museum. 

All restaurants and stalls except for Two Chefs Eating Place, Ban Leong Wah Hoe, Por Kee Eating House 1996, Chuan Kee Seafood, Lam’s Garden, and Hua Yu Wee are on GrabFood delivery service.

Do explore the new GrabFood Dine-in service for awesome deals. 

Alternatively, you can book a ride to visit these zi char restaurants and stalls in Singapore.

Sarah Chua-HungryGoWhere

Sarah Chua


Sarah is constantly seeking out new coffee spots and cocktail bars around the world, and should probably drink more water while at it.

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