Header image courtesy of @jimmy_woow (via Instagram)
Born of a desire for affordable Western fare that the wider Hong Kong society could enjoy, cha chaan tengs (茶餐廳) trickled into mainstream ubiquity in the mid-twentieth century, serving up a broad range of Western-inspired dishes with a distinctly Cantonese twist.
Known for their brusque service and bustling atmosphere, these local “teahouse” restaurants may be somewhat intimidating to the inexperienced diner, but there is a good reason why they are a beloved part of Hong Kong’s culinary canon. The cuisine is purposely evolved to suit local palates to a tee, an international mishmash of our favourite flavours! Be it breakfast, lunch, or afternoon tea—when a hearty, fuss-free affair is in order, these are the best cha chaan tengs in the city to answer your calling!
In spite of its misleading name, Australia Dairy Company is not an international dairy corporation, nor does it have anything to do with the land Down Under—apart from the fact that the founder worked on an Australian farm in the 1940s. Perennially buzzing with diners from all walks of life, this no-frills, lightening-speed service cha chaan teng has made a city-wide name for itself thanks to its superb scrambled egg toast ($24) and steamed milk pudding ($30), though other breakfast favourites like the char siu macaroni ($32) and iced milk tea ($24) are also in high demand.
No hemming and hawing over your food decisions here—expect to order within minutes of being seated and don‘t even think about lingering around, as you’ll be ushered out the door as soon and you’re finished eating!
Australia Dairy Company, 47 Parkes Street, Jordan | (+852) 2730 1356
This scruffy 70-year-old diner looks as barebones as they come, but it hardly needs eye-catching décor to advertise its business—the queue outside the storefront is enough indication of the tasty goodness that awaits inside. Originally located by the waterfront in Sheung Wan, Hoi On Café now sits snugly inland as a result of land reclamation. Despite the drastic changes of its surroundings, the restaurant itself has not yielded to the workings of modernisation, offering diners a nostalgic blast from the past.
Slide into an old-school red booth and dive into the comforting embrace of elevated cha chaan teng classics like Hong Kong-style French toast cubes ($40), thick-cut scrambled egg toast with minced beef and spring onions ($35), and claypot instant noodles ($45) with a fried egg and assorted cured meats. And of course, no visit here is complete without their famed milk tea red bean ice drink ($35)!
Hoi On Café, 17 Connaught Road West, Sheung Wan | (+852) 2540 6340
Hong Kong’s cha chaan teng scene has hardly seen portions as big and bold as those in Gala Café. That’s why you’ll almost always find regulars lining up at this Tsuen Wan neighbourhood stalwart for their five-inch-thick corned beef egg sandwich ($29), the unequivocal crowning glory of the restaurant. You heard right—the mega-sized sandwich is made with six or seven eggs scrambled to peak creamy perfection, and is barely held together by two slices of toasted white bread.
Even the most ravenous appetites are guaranteed to leave feeling full to the neck. If sandwiches are not your thing, their deep-fried shrimp wontons ($20) and swiss chicken wings ($26) are also pilgrimage-worthy!
Gala Café, 40B San Chuen Street, Tsuen Wan | (+852) 2493 7308
The freshly-made, butter-laden pastries at Kam Wah Café have enjoyed wildfire popularity for over four decades, their far-reaching aroma enough to make you drool even before stepping foot into the bustling premise. Among them, the pineapple bun is the star of the show, boasting a generous crust that unfurls with a satisfying crunch and a soft, pillowy interior that still holds well to fillings. That means you can easily turn this popular breakfast bun into lunch by having it stuffed with a hefty slice of pork chop ($23) or grilled chicken ($23)! Apart from their baked goods, they also fire up a mean plate of beef fried noodles ($46) and Yangzhou fried rice ($46).
Kam Wah Café, 47 Bute Street, Prince Edward | (+852) 2392 6830
If you’re on the hunt for the perfect cup of Hong Kong-style stocking milk tea or yuenyeung (鴛鴦; a milk tea and coffee concoction) to get your caffeine fix, you could well end your search at Lan Fong Yuen. The charming shack-like restaurant along Gage Street is allegedly the birthplace of the two iconic local drinks—but whether or not the claims are true has no bearing on their rich flavour and silky-smooth mouthfeel. Beverages aside, locals also flock to Lan Fong Yuen bright and early for their crispy piggy bun ($19), grilled chicken & scallion dry-stirred noodles ($57), and pork chop sandwich ($24).
First opened in 2010, Chrisly Café may have arrived later to the game than many of the other restaurants on the list, but it has already amassed a fervent fanbase and settled nicely into eight different locations across the city.
Aptly reflecting its youth, Chrisly Café knows how to keep up with the times, pedalling the usual suspects of satay beef noodles ($39), macaroni soup with ham ($40), and Swiss sauce chicken wings ($32), alongside some less common options like black truffle scrambled egg toast ($50) and French toast with kaya jam ($30). There’s even a dedicated plant-based menu featuring the likes of vegetarian pork chop rice vermicelli ($45) and vegetarian chicken nuggets ($40)!
Tuen Wan is a mecca of budget dining spots. Despite more gentrified restaurants popping up in the neighbourhood by the week, locals always turn back to the history-rich Hong Lok Cha Bing Teng for a promising cha chaan teng feast with a touch of hospitality rarely found in its more tourist-driven brethren.
Like the atmosphere, the food here is unpretentious and without frills, but all your essentials are covered, from traditional pastries and breakfast buns to rice and noodles dishes. Chow down on the satay beef noodles or char siu macaroni, which, if you order in a lunch set ($39), comes with a ham & egg omelette and a buttered bread roll—a simple yet classic combo!
Hong Lok Cha Bing Teng (康樂茶冰廳), Block D, Tsuen Fat Building, 21 Tuen Hing Path, Tsuen Wan | (+852) 2490 1722
For all the raucous charms and thrills of the classic cha chaan teng experience, sometimes you just yearn for a comfier, swankier affair, and that’s when Sei Bo Sik Tong comes into the picture. Decked out in Tiffany blue and pink colours and floral décor, this decidedly hip, new-age spot provides a modern take on cha chaan teng fare, with amped-up renditions of your favourite comfort foods.
Think thick-cut buttered Danish toast instead of the usual sandwich bread, and baked ox-tongue rice ($88) served in a box-like vessel made of toast! If you’re a traditionalist, the BBQ pork omelette with rice ($58) and scallion oil-seared pork chop rice with fried eggs ($60) won’t disappoint, either.