Old-school cafes that serve traditional food with a twist
While a good ol’ plate of chicken rice is something we won’t say no to, it’s nice to try something different at times. These old-school cafes serve hawker classics such as chicken rice and char kway teow with a twist, in settings worthy of your Instagram feed. Whether you’re a hipster looking for retro backgrounds for your IG photos, or a foodie craving for a bowl of exceptional bak chor mee, here are some old-school cafes that are whipping up traditional fare with modern twists.
1. Xiao Ya Tou
Mantou is an all-time favourite among both the young and old. Pairing the fluffy pillow with unagi, however, is something many have not heard of. At Xiao Ya Tou, Unagi Benedict ($23++) is one of their signature dishes that is made of two fried mantou topped with soft-boiled egg, hollandaise sauce, and grilled unagi – talk about East meets West.
Image credit: Xiao Ya Tou’s Facebook page
Besides being wowed by the creativity of interesting dishes such as Crispy Otak-Otak Rolls ($12++) and Mentaiko Mac and Cheese ($16++), you can also expect the decor of this cafe to be more interesting than most. From traditional Chinese lanterns to neon lights that will remind you of the busy streets of Hong Kong, Xiao Ya Tou’s nostalgic decor will surely make an impression.
Address: 6 Duxton Hill, #01-01, Singapore 089592
Opening hours: Mon-Thur 10:30am to 11pm, Fri-Sat 10:30am to 12am, Sun 10:30am to 5pm
Tel: 6226 1965
2. Sin Hoe Huat Cafe
Image credit: @sinhoehuatcafe
Starting out as a hawker stall at Thomson Road, Sin Hoe Huat Cafe rebranded themselves a few months ago, and opened a cafe at Jalan Besar. On top of the usual such as their Toast Set Meal ($6) that comes with two soft-boiled eggs and coffee, some zhng-ed up dishes you can find include Otak Toast with Egg ($4.50) and Ice Cream Bread ($4.50), which is rainbow bread with two scoops of ice-cream sitting on top.
Image credit: @x_clarie_x
With vintage photographs and tingkat tins hanging on the walls, and Cantonese songs playing in the background, a visit here will feel like you’re embarking on a trip back to the kopitiams of the 1960s. At night, the cafe transforms into a bar serving beer and bar grub such as Spam Fries ($8.90) and Sotong Balls ($6.90)!
Address: 383 Jalan Besar, Singapore 209001
Opening hours: Daily 8am to 3pm, 5pm to 12am
Tel: 8188 2408
Image credit: Sinpopo Brand’s Facebook page
Unless I’m the only greedy one here, we will all understand the pain of having to choose the sides for our nasi lemak – we want everything, but that is not possible. Sinpopo Brand, however, changes things up a little. Their Nasi Lemak Set For 2 ($28+), also a signature dish, comprises Har Jeong Kai, Wedges Curry, Sambal Fishballs, Pork Chop, Rojak Slaw, and two bowls of fragrant coconut rice. While this was more than enough to fill my friend and I up when we were there, those with bigger appetites would be glad to know that their rice comes with unlimited refills!
Image credit: Sinpopo Brand’s Facebook page
Besides their menu that offers many other quirky items such as Crab Wantons ($8+) and Frisee Salad with Crispy Muah Chee ($10+), their minimalist interior design and mosaic tiles would also give you a throwback to the restaurants of the late 1990s. Even if you are not an Eastie, this retro cafe with good and interesting food options is worth the travel to Joo Chiat.
Address: 458 Joo Chiat Road, Singapore 427671
Opening hours: Tue-Sun 12pm to 10pm
Tel: 6345 5034
4. I Want My Noodle
This is a hidden gem found on the third level of Shaw Centre at Orchard Road. Specialising in noodles, I Want My Noodle brings your typical bak chor mee up a notch in terms of both taste and aesthetics. At $6.50, their Bak Chor Mee stands out from the typical ones not just with their especially springy noodles, but also the additional soft-boiled egg. When you’re there, also look out for My Lor Bah Noodle ($12.90) and My Truffle Oil Noodle ($9.90)!
Unlike most fancy places in town, I Want My Noodle is a quaint cafe with just a few long wooden tables, hanging light bulbs, and shelves full of trinkets. If you are one of those people who are always looking for places to seek respite from the busy Orchard road, get here before the rest gets wind of this cafe!
Check out our full review of I Want My Noodle!
Address: 1 Scotts Road, 03-14/15, Shaw Centre, Singapore 228208
Opening hours: Daily 11am to 9pm
Tel: 6235 2331
5. Stateland Asian-Fusion Cafe
Image credit: @statelandcafe
Sandwiched between the many hipster cafes along Bali Lane is Stateland Asian-Fusion Cafe, famous for their Hainanese Chicken Risotto ($20). This is your classic hawker dish that comes with an Italian twist! If you have already tried this, other East-West fusion dishes that you can get your hands on would be their Herbal Duck Confit Risotto ($25) and Sambal Unagi Bowl ($24).
Image credit: Stateland Asian-Fusion Cafe’s Facebook page
Adopting an overall industrial theme, the concrete walls and wooden furniture not only give an old-school cafe vibe but also make this place a good IG spot! Before you make your way down, drop them a call to make a reservation as the cafe is often packed even on weekdays.
Address: 32 Bali Lane, Singapore 189866
Opening hours: Wed-Sun 12pm to 10pm
Tel: 9296 4997
6. The Tiong Bahru Club
Image credit: @thesingapuraclub
With another outlet at Haji Lane called The Singapura Club, The Tiong Bahru Club is the one stop to satisfy your cravings for Chinese, Indian, Eurasian, and Western food. One of their recommended dishes, the Club ‘88’ Satay ($11.80++) comes served in a ceramic grill with burning charcoal! Their Hainanese Chicken Rice Balls ($14.80++) and Devil’s Curry ($16.80++), which is a Eurasian dish comprising chicken curry, sausages, potato, and vegetables, are two other dishes you should look out for when you’re here.
Image source: @thesingapuraclub
Besides the fact that the cafe is found in Tiong Bahru, its tiled flooring and colourful frosted glass windows also create nostalgic vibes. Whether you’re looking for a place for lunch with your friends or somewhere to chill at, The Tiong Bahru Club is good for both as it opens till 11:30pm throughout the week. On certain days, you can even find live bands there!
Address: 57 Eng Hoon Street, #01-88, Singapore 160057
Opening hours: Mon-Fri 9am to 11:30pm, Sat-Sun 8:30am to 11:30pm
Tel: 6438 0168
7. Jubilee Coffee House & Bar
Image credit: @kentuary
Take a trip to the East and you can find an old bungalow occupied by Jubilee Coffee House And Bar. This cafe serves a wide variety of both hawker classics and Western cuisine. Think familiar dishes such as Vegetable Aglio Olio ($14++) and Laksa ($14++), as well as more interesting names such as Carpet Bag Steak ($38), which is an Angus sirloin steak stuffed with oysters, broccoli, carrot, and mashed potato.
Image credit: @zeee36
While you can find some creative fusion dishes on their menu such as Chicken Satay Pizza ($11++) and Otah Pizza ($13++), you can expect the decor of the cafe to be kept frills-free. Step into the minimally decorated bungalow and have a glimpse into how the atas crowd of old Singapore lived.
Address: 580 Netheravon Road, Singapore 508516
Opening hours: Mon-Fri 10:30am to 12am, Sat 9:20am to 1am, Sun 9:30am to 10:30pm
Tel: 6543 0060
8. Penang Bagus
For char kway teow lovers who also have a weakness for Korean desserts, Penang Bagus is the cafe to check out. While their signature Penang Char Kway Teow ($6) will not disappoint, those looking for a unique version can try their Special Char Kway Teow ($12) that is fried with salted egg yolk, crab meat, and prawns. For other mains, the cafe also offers dishes including Penang Assam Laksa ($6) and Herbal Bak Kut Teh ($9). In the same menu, you can find Korean desserts, and of all the things listed, I recommend giving their Choco Banana Bingsu ($12.90) a shot!
The decor of the cafe also stands out. With a mural showing famous street art from Penang, satisfying that char kway teow craving in Penang Bagus will remind you of the street-side stalls in Malaysia, just without the heat!
Find out more about the food at Penang Bagus!
Address: 232 Tanjong Katong Road, Singapore 437020
Opening hours: Sun-Mon 11:30am to 10pm, Wed-Thur 11:30am to 10pm, Fri-Sat 11:30am to 11pm
Old-school cafes everywhere
Whether it’s char kway teow with salted egg yolk or Hainanese Chicken Rice in risotto form, kudos to the creative brains behind these dishes! However, if you are those who still prefer to have your traditional food frills-free, check out these old-school hawkers that are still selling cheap and good sedap food!