The Coconuts Guide to the Best Malaysian Food in NYC: Where to find authentic nasi lemak, mee goreng, laksa, bee hoon, teh tarik and more

Taste Good. Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray.
Taste Good. Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray.

Malaysia is world famous for Michelle Yeo, Jimmy Choo, and the 1999 classic, Entrapment, directed by Jon Amiel and starring Sean Connery, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Ving Rhames. Another fun fact: Malaysia also has the world’s largest roundabout, in Putrajaya.

Malaysia is likely the most probable birthplace of cendol (if you know, you know). Not to reignite the “Great Malaysian-Singaporean Food Squabble” (circa forever), or anything. But, since we’re on the topic of food nationalism, you may as well have a look at our Guide to the Best Singaporean Food in NYC at your own trigger risk.

Both articles come with a disclaimer: I am NOT dismissing the two countries’ shared culinary heritages, nor am I weighing in on the ‘Who Came First and Who Owns This Food’ debate. I am merely pointing out places that predominantly cook Malaysian-style or Singaporean-style dishes. So, no need to get riled up and march across the Causeway, folks (because you can’t anyway).

Given population size and whatnot, it should come as no surprise that there are way more Malaysian restaurants in NYC than Singaporean ones. So, the savvy Singaporean should definitely keep reading.

Because, to be honest, regardless of which side of the Johor Straits you’re from, if you’re actually in New York City, chances are you will be pretty darned happy to find anything remotely Malaysian or Singaporean after weeks of feeding on greasy burgers, Popeyes and Chik-Fil-A. (No offense to American chain restaurants…).

Nothing like nostalgia and desperation to make you appreciate your closest neighbor, am I right?

Without further ado, here’s our very own Coconuts Guide to the Best Malaysian food in NYC!

Asian Spicy Curry Pop Up (Chinatown)

The pop up inside Mama Eatery has been one of my most exciting discoveries this month! Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray
The pop up inside Mama Eatery has been one of my most exciting discoveries this month! Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray
Say hi to Casey, folks! She moved to NYC from Kuala Lumpur and gives great tips about what to order. Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray
Say hi to Casey, folks! She moved to NYC from Kuala Lumpur and gives great tips about what to order. Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray

Inside Mama Eatery is a parallel universe of spicy curry deliciousness. It’s kind of a unicorn in that you can’t see any sign proclaiming the presence of Asian curries. I double-checked the address and popped my head in to ask if I was at the right place. Casey (photo above) promptly nodded, seated me and handed over their special menu. I glanced over at the table next door – a group of New Yorkers were eating wraps and sandwiches, seemingly unaware of the Asiatic delights that lay within reach. I congratulated myself on my street cred, privy as I was to this secret underbelly of New York curries unraveling before me.

Mama Eatery opened over 10 years ago by Malaysian entrepreneur David Ma. According to his daughter Michelle, who manages the restaurant, the family moved to NYC from Malaysia to have a better life. When Mr. Ma first opened the restaurant, it served only Western food because it targeted New Yorkers who work nearby (including at the municipal Manhattan Detention Complex one block away).

But in 2015, after hiring chef Khuan Yip, a native of Ipoh, Malaysia, who has many years of experience cooking Southeast Asian food, they decided to offer a special dinnertime menu for local Chinatown residents. The rest is Asian Spicy Curry history.

Michelle recalls: “We were so surprised that it was such a big hit – the first night we sold out in two hours!” Finally, earlier this year, after endless requests from customers, they gave in to popular demand and began serving their Asian menu all day long.

Recommended dishes:

Combo Curry Clay Pot

Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray
Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray

I’ve always thought of the adjective “foodgasmic” as tacky. But somehow, the word popped into my mind, right as I reached the climactic act of swallowing a huge spoonful of char siu, lubricated with a slithery okra amidst a warm explosion of red coconut curry broth.

This orgiastic clay pot is also stuffed full with tomato, eggplant, green beans, fish cake, fried wonton, and tofu and is guaranteed to make even the most frigid foodie get their jollies.

Special Stuffed Combo

Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray
Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray

A divinely pimped-out version of Yong Tau Foo filled with stuffed eggplants, jalapeño, tofu, and fish cake, served over noodles and topped with bean curd skin made crispy in the frying pans of badass angels. This would be on the menu in heaven.

Curry Spare Ribs

Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray
Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray

For all you texture-lovers out there, this is your El Dorado in a bowl. It has crispy (sliced fried potatoes), it has tender (drop-off the bone ribs), it has soupy (special curry sauce), and it has dry and bouncy (rice on the side). The whole range of textures.

Curry Seafood Noodle Soup

Photo: Asian Spicy Curry Pop Up.
Photo: Asian Spicy Curry Pop Up.

Served with your choice of lo mein, mei fun, or ho fun noodles (fun is guaranteed to be had either way), this baby features a marine-themed cast of shrimp, squid, fishcake, and guest stars some mushrooms in supporting roles.

Fresh Juices

Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray.
Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray

After eating so much, I needed a bit of apple, orange, and carrot. Concentrated freshly pressed juice (sans added sugar) way cheaper than at any hipster smoothie joint in the city? Win.

Atmosphere: A hidden gem that reminded me of a retro bomb shelter straight out of the video game Fallout, with its quirky curves and its dome pendant lamps. Everyone was nice and welcoming. The talented Chef Khuan Yip even came out to have a chat (I got my chance to tell her how delicious everything was).

Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray
Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray

Price: $

FIND IT: Asian Spicy Curry Pop Up is at 46 Mulberry St, New York, NY 10013 | Insta

Wok Wok (Chinatown)

Mott Street is a treasure trove of food delights, and Wok Wok is its crown jewel. Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray
Mott Street is a treasure trove of food delights, and Wok Wok is its crown jewel. Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray
Talented chef and co-owner Erik Cheah from Penang, Malaysia. Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray
Talented chef and co-owner Erik Cheah from Penang, Malaysia. Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray

Opened in 2016 by two siblings who are both chefs – Erik and James Cheah – Wok Wok is a gem of NYC’s Malaysian food scene. I had a chance to meet Erik, who was born in Penang and moved 13 years ago to NYC, earned himself a culinary arts degree, and has experience working at the uber-exclusive Per Se, which is often ranked as one of the top restaurants in the world.

Erik and I chatted about recipes, living in Chinatown and his work-life balance: “All I do is wake up, cook, sleep, and start over!” he laughs. Erik has a soft-spoken demeanor, but behind his shy and humble exterior lies an extremely hard-working, spirited entrepreneur. He once ran a successful Malaysian food cart called Love Mamak (motto: “Spice Is Our Vice”), tirelessly cooking for hordes of hungry workers in the financial district. It was even nominated for a 2013 Vendy award, the most highly regarded street food competition in NYC!

Recommended dishes:

Chicken Satay

Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray
Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray

So good I raved about these to all my friends for weeks on end until they themselves started having cravings. Satay-Inception…

Penang White Curry Laksa

Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray
Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray

I adored this one. The spicy and slightly tart shrimp-broth works wonders with the bouncy noodles, pork, bean sprouts, shrimp paste, and crispy bean curd skin. I highly recommend squeezing in some lime to unite with the coconut milk for a marriage made in Penang-style heaven.

Penang Har Mee

Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray
Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray

Yas, kween! I can’t believe I managed to eat this whole bowl even after gulping down five satay sticks and an entire laksa. It was a gloriously spicy extravaganza of yellow egg noodles and vermicelli topped with pork and shrimp, water spinach, egg, and bean sprouts.

Charsiew Wonton Noodle

Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray
Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray

This was a huge serving of noodles, charsiew, shrimp, pork wontons, and choy sum served with chicken broth. And I am not saying this because I just ate enough for three grown men. Even though by now I was a hard woman to impress (given I felt like a boa constrictor digesting a small calf), I still quite enjoyed the dish!

Wok Wok Curry Beef Stew (over Rice or Laksa)

The lovely Weina Ung, who grew up in Penang, bringing out some Curry Beef Stew Over Rice (left) and the same beef curry in Laksa form. Photos: Wok Wok.
The lovely Weina Ung, who grew up in Penang, bringing out some Curry Beef Stew Over Rice (left) and the same beef curry in Laksa form. Photos: Wok Wok.

Not to be confused with rendang, this curry is more coconut-y with a strong hint of lemongrass. You can choose it with rice (white or coconut-flavored) with cucumber and belacan (shrimp paste), or in laksa soup form, with egg noodle or hor fun (or a mix of the two). The laksa is topped with crispy bean curd skin, scallion and lime.

Atmosphere:

Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray.
Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray

At the bottom of a narrow flight of stairs leading down from Chinatown’s Mott Street, the hidden wonderland of Wok Wok awaits you. And it will change you forever. Like me, you will not return the same, but bearing a full and happy belly.

The wonderland quality of the place comes not just from the delicious food, but the décor. It’s modern, creatively designed with lots of cute and playful touches, like the chalk drawing of ice kacang (see above) and the cool supermarket-inspired shelf filled with neatly stacked Malaysian canned goods and cup noodles serving as a wall.

Price: $

FIND It: Wok Wok is at 11 Mott Street, New York, NY 10013

Taste Good (Elmhurst)

Taste Good, a pioneer of Malaysian food in Elmhurst, Queens. Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray
Taste Good, a pioneer of Malaysian food in Elmhurst, Queens. Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray

 

Taste Good has its very own chef (right) dedicated to making Chicken Rice. He came all the way from Riau, Indonesia. Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray
Taste Good has its very own chef (right) dedicated to making Chicken Rice. He came all the way from Riau, Indonesia. Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray

A mainstay since 1989, it is the first Malaysian restaurant to have opened in the Elmhurst neighborhood of NYC. Since then, it has been passed on to three different owners, all Malaysian. Sam, the current owner hails from the beautiful state of Pahang.

Awas (beware): The Taste Good we’re talking about here is not to be confused with Taste Good Restaurant (in the Flatiron district), or Good Taste (in Dutch Kills), or New Good Taste (in Upper Manhattan), or even Good Good Taste (in Brooklyn) and definitely not to be mistaken for Taste So Good Make You Wanna Smack Yo Mama (yes, this is an actual restaurant in the Bronx).

They have a wide selection of dishes, which you can view on the photo-menu on the wall. The Malaysian waitstaff told me “orang putih” (AKA Westerners) order the Singapore Kari Laksa a lot because they like the sweeter coconut milk, but the most popular dishes among Malaysians are the ones highlighted below. I asked the manager David why they don’t have Instagram or Facebook to promote their deliciousness on the world wide web and he gave a raucous belly laugh: “People know us through word of mouth already! No need for that!” Spoken like a true OG.

Recommended dishes:

Hainanese Chicken Rice

Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray
Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray

This might be my favorite chicken rice in NYC. The chicken was really moist and tender, even though I asked for white meat (and for it not to be pink). We got the 1/4 chicken, which serves two.

Hokkien Char Mee (KL Style)

Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray.
Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray

My favorite out of the dishes we ordered. It was just so full of flavors bursting in my mouth like my taste-buds had just turned 16 and were throwing a party where there was some slow-dancing with boys. Ok, not really like that, but it was a good time.

Char Kway Teow

Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray
Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray

This is Ronny Chieng’s favorite dish. Ronny Chieng, as y’all know, is Malaysian so he knows what’s up. Ronny, if you are reading this, a) I like you, do you wanna be friends? And b) this one is legit, come try it!

Sizzling Bean Curd

Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray
Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray

This was sizzlingly sizzlesome. Yes, I just made that word up. But it perfectly describes the sound, smell, and taste of this wondrous dish-experience.

Ipoh Hor Fun

Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray
Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray

Ipoh Hor fun is generally what comes to my mind when I think “hangover cure” or “mom-I’m-sick-in-bed-please-feed-me”. It’s a yummy clear broth with flat noodles, chicken strips, prawns, scallions, and fried garlic floating about demurely.

Pulut Hitam

Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray
Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray

After eating this treacherously delicious dessert made with red beans and coconut milk, I went about my day smiling and chatting blithely with people. Little did I know I had a big old red bean lodged between my two front teeth. So, it’s with mixed feelings that I recommend it, and only because it was so good. But it’s not the best move if you are on a romantic Tinder date looking for some canoodling.

Atmosphere:

Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray
Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray

They have such friendly waitstaff (practically all of whom hail from Malaysia) who make eating there so much fun. Our waiter cheerfully proclaimed, “I am fresh of the boat!” (though he’s already been here a year). Languages spoken are English, Bahasa Melayu, Bahasa Indonesia and Hokkien. A wall menu with pics of dishes is great for those who like to see what they order. While the food’s not halal, they happily modify dishes to remove pork and let you know if the broth contains any. Last thing to remember before you go: it’s cash only!

Price: $

FIND IT: Taste Good is at 82-18 45th Ave, Elmhurst, NY 11373.

Nyonya (Chinatown/Little Italy)

Some temporary renovations happening outside Nyonya. Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray
Some temporary renovations happening outside Nyonya. Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray
Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray
Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray

Established 25 years ago by Mr. Cheah, a Penang native who immigrated to NYC just a year before, Nyonya is the first Malaysian restaurant to open in the Chinatown/Little Italy area. The food spot is Mr Cheah’s first restaurant and it has, over the years, become somewhat of a gastronomic landmark. Now enjoying a loyal following among Southeast Asians and Americans alike, the place opened a second restaurant in Brooklyn a few years ago.

For the star-gazers out there, I learnt through Vanessa, Mr Cheah’s representative, that Nyonya has been graced with the patronage of several Hong Kong celebrities, as well as the acclaimed Taiwanese film director Ang Lee. (They did not reveal what he ordered nor where he sat).

Recommended dishes:

Nyonya Young Tofu

Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray
Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray

One could be forgiven for believing this is a dish featuring a juvenile tofu, the tender, bouncy, gravity-defying kind, one that has not yet become sinewy and bitter with age and nostalgia. But I’m afraid it’s just an anglicized spelling of the dish usually known as Yong Tau Foo, or Yong Tao Foo, or Yong Tau Fu, or sometimes Yong Tau Hu (rarer) or even Yong Tofu (somewhat simplified).

Nomenclature aside, this has eggplant, bitter melon, green pepper and tofu all of which are stuffed with fish cake and come swimming in a spicy turmeric curry soup. It was literally the tastiest young (but not underage!) tofu I’ve eaten in a long time.

Prawn Mee

Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray
Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray

This Penang-style dish has egg noodles, shredded pork, shrimp, water shrimp, bean sprouts, kangkung, and dried onions in a spicy shrimp broth. Cindy, Nyonya’s manager, told me that they drop prawn shells into the broth as it’s being boiled to draw out the characteristic strong flavor.

Rojak

Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray
Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray

Nyonya’s famous salad is made with cucumber, jicama, pineapple, mango, squid, and shrimp cakes or tofu (we recommend shrimp cakes), slathered with sweet and spicy sauce made with shrimp paste, sesame seeds, and peanuts. Pretty authentic tasting, dare I say!

Coconut Pudding

Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray
Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray

This mind-blowing dessert was made by pouring out the water from a fresh coconut, mixing it with agar-agar (“China grass”) and sugar, and pouring it right back in. You eat the pudding and scrape at the coconut meat at the same time – a guilty pleasure. This is the only place we’ve found in NYC that serves this!

Pulut Hitam

Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray
Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray

This was by far the creamiest Pulut Hitam I’ve tried during the weeks of my obsessive feeding at all the Malaysian restaurants I could find in NYC. I loved the addition of sago and red rice to thicken it. 

Atmosphere:

Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray
Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray

Their Chinatown location is spacious with nice floor-to-ceiling windows facing the street. It’s generally rather empty and relaxed, but at peak dinner time, lines can get really long. In terms of service, the waitstaff, who mostly hail from Malaysia and Indonesia, are friendly and efficient and food is churned out faster than you can spell all the versions of “young tofu.”

Price: $

FIND IT: Nyonya is at 199 Grand St, New York, NY 10013

Rasa (East Village)

Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray
Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray

Opened 6 years ago by the force of nature that is Camie Lai, together with her younger brother chef Tommy Lai, the restaurant got its name from their hometown of Rasa, a village of about 2,000 inhabitants in the Malaysian state of Selangor. Coincidently, the word “Rasa” in the Malay language also means “Taste”. Importantly, it’s the only halal Malaysian restaurant in NYC.

Camie, who learnt to cook from watching her mother and grandmother, and who later taught her brother, migrated to NYC with her family at age 15. Since she couldn’t speak English at the time, she decided to quit school in order to work in a restaurant. The decision made sense to her because she wanted to support her parents who worked grueling 12-hour shifts at the textile factories that once dotted Chinatown’s Canal Street. Her brother followed suit and progressed to become a chef.

Fun fact: Rasa recently catered breakfast to Malaysian Prime Minister Mahatir and his entourage on his September 2019 United Nations General Assembly trip. In case you’re wondering, he ordered Roti Canai and loved it!

Recommended dishes:

Sarawak Laksa

Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray
Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray

Once described by the late Anthony Bourdain as the “breakfast for the Gods”, Sarawak Laksa is made with bee hoon (rice vermicelli) noodles and cooked in a shrimp-based broth thickened with coconut milk. This dish is pretty rare find in NYC and Rasa’s is my favorite.

Nasi Kerabu with Fried Chicken

Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray
Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray

Rasa is known for this specialty which is a bona fide banquet-in-a-plate: fried chicken, rice, green beans, beansprouts, half salted egg, homemade chili, and keropok (cracker). Fret not, health-conscious ones – the blue color of the rice is natural and comes from the butterfly blue pea flower.

Mee Hoon Goreng

Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray
Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray

Got this as part of their lunch special, which was served with a clear broth and a salad with peanut sauce. The dish is made with thin rice noodles fried with beansprouts, carrots, shallots, eggs, onions, and a choice of shrimp, chicken, beef, or tofu.

Baby Bak Choy

Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray
Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray

Crunchy and tender baby bak choy fried with minced garlic made a delicious accompaniment to our feast.

Butterfly Pea Flower Tea Lemonade

Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray
Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray

A caffeine-free herbal tea that has been brewed for centuries in Southeast Asia, butterfly pea flower tea has only recently been introduced to NYC and Rasa’s one of the few places where you can try it! Its vibrant blue color is natural and turns a hot pink when mixed with lemon juice and its pH changes. Now that’s a 2-in-1 deal: cool science lesson and tasty drink.

Atmosphere:

Camie Lai greets customers as they arrive at Rasa, named after her hometown. Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray.
Camie Lai greets customers as they arrive at Rasa, named after her hometown. Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray

The place has a great vibe. Staff is very friendly and welcoming. You will meet Malaysian and Singaporean waitstaff who are super eager to make recommendations. It is a real abode of polyglots: languages spoken including Hokkien, Bahasa Melayu, Hakka, Cantonese, and English. The space itself is nicely designed (by Camie herself), its walls are adorned with gorgeous Malaysian artisanal objects like Peranakan wood carvings, miniature gold brocade kebaya tunics, and a framed keris (a gift from a patron). At the start of the school term (August to September), Rasa is always brimming with NYU students and their families.

Price: $$

FIND IT: Rasa is at 28 West 8th Street, New York, NY 10011 | Insta

Malaysia Grill (Upper West Side)

Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray
Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray
Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray
Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray

Malaysia Grill is the only Malaysian restaurant on Manhattan’s upscale Upper West Side. It’s been serving a wide variety of dishes (including some Singaporean-style ones) for almost 20 years, mainly catering to local residents and Columbia University students.

Owner and chef Jimmy Yeo actually hails from Tanjong Pagar in Singapore. He came to NYC in 1979 right after his National Service, and lived in downtown Chinatown, working in a number of restaurants there. “I made more money as a dishwasher than with an entry-level job straight out of Poly,” he says. What at first was a short stint abroad to earn money then return to Singapore turned into a long-term residence after meeting the love of his life, getting married and starting a family in the US. Still, a part of him remains back home. “I miss my family in Singapore most of all,” says Jimmy, “My mother, who is 92, and my three brothers are all there.”

Recommended dishes:

Crispy Butter Shrimp

Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray
Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray

Closest thing to cereal prawns we’ve had in the city, the big shrimp are fried with whole wheat rice and egg yolk. On the sweeter side, but definitely quite addictive. As a veggie lover, I adored having the copious garnishing of tomatoes.

Mee Goreng

Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray
Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray

Jimmy’s take on this classic Southeast Asian dish shows the influence of Indian cuisine. The addition of turmeric and curry spices to the stir-fried egg noodle gives the dish a yellow hue and a delicious complexity. The peanuts, an unusual ingredient in mee goreng, added a great touch! It has shrimp, bean curd, bell peppers and beansprouts.

Malaysian Lobak

Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray
Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray

This dish includes two delicious Ngor Hiang (meaning ‘five-spice’ in the Chinese Hokkien dialect) which are deep-fried bean curd wrapped sausage. The lobak also comes with spring rolls, fish balls, tofu and shrimp puffs and is served with hoisin plum and sweet and sour sauces.

Sotong Goreng

Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray
Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray

The fried squid, served with a spicy-sweet dip, came out piping hot, juicy and crispy. It vanished in our bellies in under three minutes.

Bubur Cha Cha

Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray
Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray

We loved this one! Jam-packed with healthy goodness – yam, sweet potato and sago. A perfect way to end the meal.

Atmosphere:

NYC-based Singaporeans Kimberly and Joel having a feast at Malaysia Grill. Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray
NYC-based Singaporeans Kimberly and Joel having a feast at Malaysia Grill. Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray

Awesome and extremely speedy service in a cozy place that bustles with life at dinner time. Prices are cheaper than other Singaporean and Malaysian restaurants in less expensive parts of Manhattan. Jimmy’s always at work in the kitchen but happy to come out and mingle with customers.

The inside reminded me of an all-wooden ski lodge. It’s probably because the day we went, it was so cold out and Malaysia Grill appeared in view like an oasis of warmth, bathed in a warm glow.

Price: $

FIND IT: Malaysia Grill is at 224 W 104th St, New York, NY 10025

Kopitiam (Lower East Side)

Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray
Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray

Kopitiam’s chef Kyo Pang moved to NYC 10 years ago from Penang after receiving asylum for being LGBTQ. Kyo Pang learned how to cook from her family who own a few kopitiam, Malaysian coffeeshops, in Penang. 

The foodspot is great for teas and coffees, homemade desserts, and several savory dishes. Moonlynn Tsai, who heads up the business development side of Kopitiam says that the most rewarding aspect of their work is witnessing “the happiness when someone from Malaysia feels like they’re transported back home, or on the flip side, seeing people who’ve never experienced Malaysian cuisine being blown away.”

Recommended dishes:

Oh Chien

Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray
Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray

This oyster omelette is one of the best in town. It’s not that commonly served in Malaysian restaurants, so that made it a doubly-awesome find.

Pan Mee

Photo: Kopitiam
Photo: Kopitiam

Made with homemade flour flat noodles served in a delicious anchovy broth, topped with fried anchovies, wood ear mushroom, spinach, and minced pork, the dish takes some 20 minutes to come out, but is worth it!

Sambal Kangkong

Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray
Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray

This was some tasty, young water spinach. I’m the kind of person that loves my greens, so I was pretty happy to see this on their relatively small menu.

Kway Chap Pork Belly Noodles

Photo: Kopitiam
Photo: Kopitiam

Koay chap is a popular Teochew dish made with flat rice noodle, braised pork belly, tofu, and egg in a star anise broth. Beloved by many and now by me.

Nasi Lemak

Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray
Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray

A tasty and healthy snack rather than a full meal (because there was no side of meat). I liked ikan bilis (anchovies) a lot. Wish the egg yolk was a bit runny though!

Teh Tarik

Alamak, I was bewitched by the Teh Tarik and took a sip before the pic! Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray
Alamak (oh my!), I was bewitched by the Teh Tarik and took a sip before the pic! Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray

Kopitiam are mainly tea and coffee houses. The Teh Tarik (pulled tea) was so good – not too sweet but also not too strong like some Teh Tarik back home which will leave you strung out on caffeine. Though I miss seeing the teh physically being “pulled” in front of my eyes as it is done in Malaysian or Singaporean hawker stalls.

Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray.
Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray.

Kopitiam’s desserts are really impressive because Nyonya Kueh are tricky desserts to make and these are all homemade by Kyo Pang. This Kueh Lapis (layered cake) was absolutely perfect – firm, moist and not too sweet!

Their Ondeh Ondeh was also pretty good, but hati hati (be careful): it’s too huge to pop the whole thing in your mouth so when you bite into it, the gula melaka (palm sugar) squirts out the other side. A good way to start a conversation with your neighbor, I guess!

Kaya Toast

Photo: Kopitiam
Photo: Kopitiam

Last but not least, try their kaya. Homemade! Appropriately toasted bread! Melting butter! Enough said.

Atmosphere:

Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray
Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray

The place channels a street-side hawker vibe fused with the casual air of a student-friendly cafe where you can slow-sip kopi while working on your laptop. A word of advice though: make sure you receive all your food if you order a lot (they forgot my Chicken Rice, which I eventually had to cancel when I left).

Price: $$

FIND It: Kopitiam is at 151 East Broadway, New York, NY 10002 | Insta

Aux Épices (Tribeca)

Photo: Aux Épices
Photo: Aux Épices
Chef Mei and her husband Marc during break time. Photo: Aux Épices
Chef Mei and her husband Marc during break time. Photo: Aux Épices
Mei recruited only woman cooks for her kitchen. None of had fancy culinary degrees – they were housewives and/or home cooks. But Mei trained them all and is very proud of them. Photo: Aux Épices
Mei recruited only woman cooks for her kitchen. None had fancy culinary degrees – they were housewives and/or home cooks. But Mei trained them all and is very proud of them. Photo: Aux Épices

I can’t begin to say how excited I was to have found this place. To be fair, my husband took me there as a surprise because I am French and Malaysian just like this lovely restaurant. But enough about me!

This Malaysian-French bistro was opened by chef Mei Chau and her husband, Marc Kaczmarek, in 2013. It serves both Malaysian and French food – not a fusion of the two, which is quite rare given the proliferation of ‘fusion’ food nowadays. Aux Épices means ‘made with spices’ in French (Marc is French).

Mei Chau was born in Dungun, a small fishing village in the Western Malaysian state of Terengganu. Growing up, Mei learnt to cook from her mother and eventually, she graduated to cooking enormous lunches for all her family and friends while her mother was at work.

She came to the US in 1985 as a wide-eyed 21-year-old pursuing her dream of becoming an artist. But as she remembers it: “fast forward to 1993, I was one of many starving artists in New York City.” So she ended up taking a job in a restaurant.

She’s always been quite the pioneer. She was often the sole woman holding her own in Chinese restaurant kitchens in what continues, until today, to be an extremely male-dominated environment. Today, her trail-blazing can be seen in who she hires to work in the Aux Épices kitchen. She purposefully sought out women who had no professional training, and were housewives and/or home cooks. She trained them all and today says she could not be more proud of them.

Recommended dishes:

Udang Panggang

Photo: Aux Épices
Photo: Aux Épices

Grilled butterfly shelled jumbo prawn with turmeric ginger sauce had me daydreaming of it for days to come.

Seafood Laksa

Photo: Aux Épices
Photo: Aux Épices

This is one of Mei’s signature dishes and by far the most popular. It’s her own special creation and is made with shrimp, mussels, salmon, tofu, eggplant, and bean sprouts in a yummy homemade yellow coconut curry broth. It’s served with udon, but you can swap it for ramen, yellow noodle, or ho fun.

Chicken Satay

Photo: Aux Épices
Photo: Aux Épices

A light dish made of chicken skewers cooked with curry spices and served with rice, peanut dip, and cucumbers. Insta- and drool-worthy!

Johor Laksa

Photo: Aux Épices
Photo: Aux Épices

I had no idea Johor Laksa was a thing. But it is and it takes the form of a delicious bowl of yellow noodles topped with shrimp, long beans, cucumber, basil, preserved radish, and bean sprouts in a shrimp and fish coconut curry gravy. 

Kapitan Chicken

Photo: Aux Épices
Photo: Aux Épices

This is one juicy curry chicken that reveals hints of lemongrass, turmeric, tamarind, and belacan. Relatively milder than some other Malaysian curries, this dish is a crowd pleaser here: accessibly exotic, acceptably spicy.

Desserts

Photo: Aux Épices
Photos: Aux Épices

Mei bakes an excellent homemade Tart of the Day – varying the fruits and the kind of tart every day. I know, I know! They are not exactly Malaysian (except the green pandan one on the right). But in their defense, these femmes fatales in cake-form are drop-dead delicious.

Atmosphere:

Photo: Aux Épices
Photo: Aux Épices

Definitely rocking the chilled out French café-bistro vibe and we dig it. It’s lush and inviting in the summer, and cozy and warm in the winter. Service was extremely charming and friendly.

Price: $$

FIND IT: Aux Épices is at 121 Baxter Street, New York, NY 10013 | Insta

Perfect Taste (Lower East Side)

Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray
Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray

Perfect Taste was opened by married couple Jennifer Li and Lee Chong and, although it’s the tiniest restaurant reviewed here, it punches above its weight. Jennifer was born in Xian, China, but lived in Ipoh, Malaysia, for many years. There she developed a love for Southeast Asian food and learnt to cook many Malaysian specialties. Lee, who manages the restaurant, was born in Yongzhou, China and spent most of his youth in Hong Kong. The couple have been living in NYC for many years now, but it was only after Lee retired that they opened Perfect Taste. In business since 2018, the restaurant specializes in two savory dishes – Hainanese Chicken Rice and Singaporean Laksa, as well as a selection of Ipoh-style coffees and teas.

Lee greets customers and takes order while Jennifer prepares the food behind the counter, popping her head out from time to time. Lee admits it’s a lot of work but they enjoy doing it. “If we were profit oriented, we wouldn’t find that here,” he says. “I do this because I love talking and meeting new people. My children live far away so I treat all my customers like my children.”

Recommended dishes:

Hainan Boneless Chicken and Herb Rice

Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray
Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray

The rice is cooked with chicken stock, as opposed to fat, which to some may be considered a heresy, but it sure makes the dish healthier. The homemade sauces are great, especially the scallion and garlic one.

Laksa

Real-life New Yorker Megan Rybecky (right) feasting on some Singapore Laksa! Photos: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray
Real-life New Yorker Megan Rybecky (right) feasting on some Singapore Laksa! Photos: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray

Yes, it is “Singapore-style”, but I am including it here because it comprises 50 percent of their menu! It’s also pretty tasty and eclectically packed with lots of veggies, fishcake, fried tofu, and soft-boiled egg. Ask for more chili if you need to.

Malaysia Ipoh Handmade Traditional White Coffee

Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray
Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray

Made with sweetened condensed milk and evaporated milk, their coffee is not too sweet and deliciously frothy.

Kaya Toast

Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray
Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray

The kaya is not homemade and definitely on the sweeter side, but it’s still a great snack to accompany a warm cuppa kopi or teh (coffee or tea).

Atmosphere:

Co-owners of Perfect Taste, Jennifer Li and Lee Chong. Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray
Co-owners of Perfect Taste, Jennifer Li and Lee Chong. Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray

The charming hole-in-the-wall restaurant has retro diner vibes with black and white counter tiles and stylish hanging lights. It seats about 10 people (eating elbow to elbow). Jennifer churns out the dishes really fast and Lee’s friendly manner makes you feel right at home. They are open from 11am to 8pm, but it’s best to go early in case they run out of food (it has happened!).

Price: $

FIND IT: Perfect Taste is at 51B Canal St, New York, NY 10002

West New Malaysia (Chinatown)

Photos: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray
Photos: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray

This is one of the oldest Malaysian restaurants in the whole of NYC. It’s been open for over 40 years, mainly catering to local residents. Google tells me there’s a West New Malaysia and a New Malaysia (both have separate listings and reviews), but it’s the same restaurant (and address).

Located in a narrow alley connecting Bowery and Elizabeth Street, the space is surprisingly ample and decked out in a kitsch color scheme reminiscent of old KTV bars in Singapore and Malaysia. I included it here because of it’s a historic establishment (you can’t tell because it’s been newly renovated) and the food is decent, but my friends and I agree it’s not the most memorable.

Recommended:

Choy Kway Teow

Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray
Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray

You can try this famous Malaysian dish composed of flat rice noodles stir-fried in soy sauce with eggs, fishcake, shrimp, and beansprouts. They let you choose how spicy you want it. We asked for fiery. It delivered.

String Bean in Belacan with Shrimp

Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray
Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray

I liked how crunchy and young these strings beans were and the belacan, but the shrimp were oddly crunchy, like they’d been artificially tenderized.

Bak Kuh Teh

West New Malaysia Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray
West New Malaysia Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray

This was a ginormous bowl filled to the brim with an aromatic herbal broth. It had a few pieces of pork, tofu and shiitake mushrooms floating inside. The meat/tofu/shroom to soup ratio was totally off though. I had to go fishing to scoop out the lonely sunken chunks.

Achar

Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray
Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray

T’was a refreshing starter, but again not the best I’ve ever had in my life and not what dreams are made of.

Atmosphere:

Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray
Photo: Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray

The most interesting part of the restaurant was its location down the narrow alley and the interior design, including a bright fuchsia wall and quirky Rubik’s Cube-inspired windows. The space itself is big enough to seat large parties. The service, though not overly warm and friendly, is extremely fast and efficient.

Price: $$

FIND IT: West New Malaysia is at 46-48 Bowery, New York City, NY 10013.

 

ALSO READ

The Coconuts Guide to the Best Singaporean Food in NYC: Where to find authentic chicken rice, chili crab, kaya toast and more

The Coconuts Guide to Indonesian food in NYC: Where to get the good goreng, the real sambal and the best rendang


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