Header image courtesy of @sylvaino01 (via Instagram)
When we think of alfresco dining in Hong Kong, the images that usually come to mind are those of ravishing rooftop bars, sun-dappled terraces, and breezy garden patios. However, if you turn the clocks back a few decades, you’ll likely get a very different picture: foldable tables and plastic stools on the roadside, low-hanging green tarpaulins, and rowdy, ever-bustling crowds—all the things that point to the classic dai pai dong (大排檔; open-air food stall), the OG of Hong Kong’s “alfresco dining” scene.
Back in their heyday in the 1950s and 1960s, these open-air food stalls were an affordable, no-frills dining option that fuelled the mass working population. Due to concerns of hygiene and traffic congestion issues, the government started restricted the licensing of these outdoor eateries in the late twentieth century, prompting their gradual decline. Compounded by the ever-expanding and constantly evolving local dining scene, the iconic dai pai dong has been driven to the edge of existence. Yet, if the principle of “survival of the fittest” tells us anything, it’s that those that live on are the best of its kind—so here’s to the top dai pai dongs in Hong Kong that have withstood the test of time and are plating up some seriously nostalgic eats!
Having held its ground in Sham Shui Po since 1956, Oi Man Sang lays claim as one of the oldest dai pai dongs in Hong Kong; and although the menu has changed slightly over the years, the restaurant remains true to tradition. You’ll see a sprawl of tightly spaced tables on the kerbside and red-hot flames flaring from beneath the woks in the open kitchen, where the chefs work at a breakneck speed to meet the constant stream of incoming orders.
Despite its buzzing popularity, this neighbourhood joint is always consistent on quality or portion, serving up heaping platters of seafood and meaty stir-fries, casseroles, and deep-fried goodies. If you’re lost for choices, start with the black pepper pork hock ($168), stir-fried clams with black bean & chilli sauce ($98), and stir-fried beef fillet & potatoes with black pepper ($98)—they are the compulsory orders at every table.
Oi Man Sang (愛文生), Shop B & C, 1 Shek Kip Mei Street, Sham Shui Po | (+852) 2393 9315
Can you truly call yourself a local epicurean expert if you have not made a pilgrimage to the legendary Sing Heung Yuen in Central? Steeped in history, this dai pai dong opens its doors (or, er... tables) early in the morning and retires for the day by 5 pm, catering mostly to the breakfast and lunch crowds. Its menu reflects such with its unmistakable imprint of Hong Kong breakfast classics like toasted buttered buns, tomato-based macaroni soups, and meat-laden bowls of instant noodles. Breakfast, lunch, or afternoon tea, you will almost always find people queuing up for the gorgeously golden crispy bun with butter, lemon & honey ($20) and the richly flavoured tomato & beef noodles ($31).
Sing Heung Yuen (勝香園), 2 Mei Lun Street, Central | (+852) 2544 8368
Tucked away among the cluster of residential properties in Kai Yip Estate, this neighbourhood dai pai dong is one of Kowloon Bay’s best-guarded secrets, but once discovered, you will be coming back again and again. Everything about Sing Lei Choi Gun is down-to-earth: its food, the atmosphere, and even its hospitality. You’ll see the staff engaging in casual chats with customers and offering friendly smiles, a refreshing change of pace from the rather militant attitude of many local, no-frills eateries.
The carnivorous dishes are the stars of the show here, so you’ll want to gather a few friends to share in the guilt and calories. Feast on devilishly indulgent meaty dishes like deep-fried whole chicken with fermented soya bean curd sauce ($328), sliced cold beef with jellyfish with Sichuan chilli oil ($68), and deep-fried squid with chilli, salt & garlic ($88).
Sing Lei Choi Gun (勝利菜館), Cooked Food Plaza, Kai Yip Estate, Kai Yip Road, Kowloon Bay
Fo Tan is not exactly the epicentre of Hong Kong’s culinary action, but there is a spatter of surprisingly good restaurants out here that saves the area from being a complete food desert, and among them, Taiyuan Street Restaurant is definitely one to bookmark. This buzzy dai pai dong has been a long-standing neighbourhood favourite for over three decades, and for good reason. Besides peddling tasty Cantonese dishes at affordable prices, it also boasts an air-conditioned, semi-outdoor environment that manages to be comfortable while still retaining the quintessential look and feel of a classic dai pai dong.
It‘s hard to pick a favourite between the salt-and-pepper squid ($98), roasted pigeon ($68), and sweet & sour pork ribs ($85), so we would recommend ordering all three! If you need a palate cleanser in-between the heavy bites, let their famous chicken congee ($40) rise to the occasion.
Taiyuan Street Restaurant (泰源大排檔), Fo Tan Cooked Food Market (East), Shan Mei Street, Fo Tan | (+852) 2697 3656
Toeing the line between dai pai dong and cha chaan teng (茶餐廳; Cantonese tea house), Bing Kee Cha Dong gives you the best of both classic local dining experiences. Think Hong Kong-style fast food favourites like thick-cut toast with peanut butter & condensed milk ($11), pork chop noodles ($25), and corned beef & egg sandwich ($16), all served in an open-air dai pai dong set-up, complete with the characteristic green awning! Although the menu is simple, covering little more than the most familiar dishes, everything hits the mark. Don‘t leave without trying their famous “cha zau” ($16), a silky Hong Kong-style milk tea made extra decadent by swapping out the sugar for sweetened condensed milk!
Bing Kee Cha Dong (炳記茶檔), 5 Shepherd Street, Tai Hang | (+852) 2577 3117
When the sun goes down, this corner eatery in the heart of Sham Shui Po comes to life. Siu Choi Wong’s fluorescent green neon sign and intoxicating wok hei (鑊氣; “breath of the wok”) aroma draw lively crowds of locals and tourists alike for a meal of Cantonese stir-fries and homestyle comfort food. With both indoor and alfresco seat available, you can bask in the sun on a beautiful day or seek refuge from the rain or scorching heat.
As far as the menu goes, there are around 80 different small plates to choose from, ranging from your classic beef ribs in spicy black bean sauce ($123) and clams with black pepper & butter ($118) to the less-common stir-fried goose intestine with soy sauce ($88) and sautéed frogs ($95). If you’re looking to indulge in some deep-fried delicacies, they do great crispy pork intestines and deep-fried noodlefish with cheese & butter ($118) as well.
Siu Choi Wong (小菜王), 43 Fuk Wing Street, Sham Shui Po | (+852) 2776 8380
Looking for a budget-friendly, fuss-free lunch in Central? Renowned for their lightning-speed service and satisfying portions, Ball Kee will tend perfectly to your needs. You’ll find this humble food stall tucked away in the sloped, narrow alleyway of Staveley Street, slinging a wide variety of stir-fried noodles and “topped rice dishes” (碟頭飯; dip6 tau4 faan6)—nothing fancy or complicated, but simply good wok hei food. The signatures here are the beef stir-fry with rice noodles ($40), the salt & pepper pork chop rice ($46), and the braised tofu & roasted pork belly rice ($40). If you go for the rice dishes, we’d highly recommend adding on a yolky fried egg ($5) and a fried rice base ($12) for next-level decadence!
Ball Kee (波記), Staveley Street, Central | (+852) 2544 5923