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In the late 1980s, a dashing young man went to Hong Kong for the first time.
He was ravenous by the time that mealtime had arrived and was positively ready for a large wholesome meal. As the dim sum started arriving at the table, he picked at the dainty delights to whet his appetite.
He was getting a little impatient, a little hangry if 21st-century American slang was part of his lexicon. He ate a few more pieces of dim sum and was unpleasantly surprised when the check arrived and his fellow diners got ready to leave.
He was still hungry.
That man is my father, and he had never had dim sum before nor realized that the dim sum was the main course. My dad went back to his lodging still hungry that day.
Table of Contents
My dim sum redemption
I was raised on the same hearty stews and big clay pots that so define the cuisine of northern China, with a healthy (or unhealthy) amount of hamburgers, pizza, and ice cream strewn in.
And as I embarked on my funemployment tour of Asia, I was determined to not make the same mistakes as my father. Hong Kong didn’t really have that much of a draw for me, but I was determined to go and eat my way to my family’s dim sum redemption.
In the years since I moved to San Francisco, I’ve gone to get dim sum with friends every so often. Friends not of Chinese descent will ask me to take them. But the truth is, I’m no expert. In fact, I don’t remember ever actually having dim sum until I was in college.
So while I was more experienced than my father had been, I was still somewhat of a rookie as I embarked on my dim sum eating mission through Hong Kong. I spent five days stuffing myself full of the best that Hong Kong has to offer, legitimately looking up directions to the next restaurant while I was still eating at another spot.
And now I present you a guide on what and where to eat in Hong Kong. All on a budget.
The best dim sum in Hong Kong on a budget
Dim Dim Sum
For my first meal in Hong Kong, I headed to the closest dim sum spot I’d heard of near my accommodations in the Jordan district of the city. Listed as one of the 101 best places to eat (as chosen by chefs), Dim Dim Sum is actually a chain with multiple branches.
I sat down in the Jordan branch, stared at the menu in traditional Chinese, and had to embarrassingly ask for an English menu.
Due to Hong Kong’s unique history and blend of cultures, there are a number of terms and slang native to this area. So it can be difficult to understand written Chinese in Hong Kong unless you know the local terms. This continued to happen basically everywhere I went.
Hangry from a very long day of traveling from Vietnam, I ordered way too much food and spent a solid two hours trying to stuff it all down. It was absolutely worth it.
Dim Dim Sum has a 20% off happy hour from 2:30-6:30 p.m., so all that food was only 77 Hong Kong Dollars, or just under $10 USD.
Dim Sum Icon
While not the best dim sum I had in Hong Kong, this spot deserves a callout for all those traveling with children. This chain has a number of themed restaurants that makes dim sum into all sorts of playful food that’s sure to engage kids and the young at heart.
At 151 HKD, Dim Sum Icon was definitely the most expensive meal I had in Hong Kong (yet still under $20 USD). The price included a pot of rose puer tea (one of two options) as well as a 10% service charge.
The one I went to was Garfield-themed, while the one across the hall was Odie-themed. There are also Sailor Moon, Kanahei’s small animals, Spongebob, emoji, and other cutesy themes, as well as a few that border on the bizarre.
It’s a food Instagram heaven for sure, but just make sure to go with other people because the more people you have, the more food you can order — and photograph!
One Dim Sum
While it may have lost its Michelin star, One Dim Sum is still one dim sum spot in Hong Kong that you must visit. In fact, it might have been my favorite dim sum spot in Hong Kong.
It was also quite affordable at 90 HKD (~$11.50 USD) for my meal. The highlight of my order here was the chicken rice. It can take some time to come out, but the steaming hot bowl of rice, chicken, and mushrooms is probably the best rendition I’ve ever had of this dish. Their shrimp dumplings were also of superior taste than ones I’d had before.
Tim Ho Wan
Hailed as the cheapest Michelin-starred meal there is to have, Tim Ho Wan was the first restaurant to make my “must-eat in Hong Kong” list. There are several locations, but I made sure to go to the Sham Shui Po location, aka the one with the Michelin star.
The portion sizes here were much more in line with what I’d expected from Hong Kong, much smaller than they had been at Dim Dim Sum. But still, once again, I over ate.
Only after my initial order came did I realize that I had to get the baked BBQ pork buns that they’re famous for. I’m typically not a BBQ pork bun person, but these were heavenly thanks to the slightly sweet, crumbled top on the bun. It was like stuffing BBQ pork into a pineapple bun.
One thing I also learned while in Hong Kong is that dim sum always comes with tea, and that it’s customary to have a per person tea fee added to your bill.
While tea is something we sometimes have with dim sum here in the States, I never knew that it was basically a must-have component of eating dim sum, the liquid you’re supposed to wash down your dim sum with. (I admit, I still haven’t quite incorporated that part into my dim sum routine yet.)
At Tim Ho Wan, the tea fee is 2 HKD, and my total came out to 75 HKD, so again, under $10 for a one-Michelin star meal. Beat that.
Other must-eat foods in Hong Kong (also on a budget!)
There is, of course, more than just dim sum in Hong Kong.
Once I arrived in Hong Kong, I realized just how amiss it would be if I only ate dim sum there and skipped all the other fantastic offerings it had.
For these, I found the most inspiration in Anthony Bourdain’s suggestions. The late food and travel icon, who had actually just wrapped up shooting an episode of Parts Unknown in Hong Kong when I got there, sent me across the city’s many districts in search of orgasmic delights.
Australia Dairy Company
Before going to Hong Kong, I’d never heard of a cha chaan teng.
Literally “tea restaurant,” these traditional Hong Kong-style restaurants are known for their wide-ranging menus that serve both Hong Kong and Western cuisine, their quick turnaround, and their affordable options.
Had I known that, I might have been slightly more prepared for my experience at Australia Dairy Company.
It was rainy the day that I walked by Australia Dairy Company. I recognized its name from some research I’d done prior to going to Hong Kong, and having an empty stomach and no breakfast plans, I decided to get in line behind approximately 20 people. To my surprise, it moved incredibly fast.
As a solo diner, I was ushered into the dining room within five minutes. Space is a premium in Hong Kong, so shared tables are absolutely a norm. I was seated with three other solo diners, locals on their way to work.
I knew I wanted to try the steamed milk pudding that put them on the culinary map, so I quickly scanned the Chinese menus on the walls and decided that I’d get their breakfast set of buttered toast, scrambled eggs (they’re also famous for those), and steamed milk pudding for 36 HKD.
Within 20 seconds of me sitting down, one of the restaurant’s harried servers came to ask me what I wanted.
But in Cantonese.
Thinking the menus on the table were the same as the ones on the wall, I quickly pointed to the one that I thought was the breakfast set I wanted.
The food here is seriously served quicker than you can say “what’s happening?” Because as my food arrived, I realized that I’d ordered the wrong thing.
So I ate my food. The buttered toast had a nice texture, the scrambled eggs were fluffy as advertised but a bit too salty for my taste, and the macaroni and ham soup was a weird but surprisingly delicious combo.
But I had come for the steamed milk pudding, so I had to get that as well. You can choose either plain or almond-flavored pudding and have it hot or cold. I asked one of the locals which he liked best, and he suggested the cold white one.
The steamed milk pudding was slightly sweet and so smooth and creamy it was like a custard. At an extra 28 HKD (on top of the 36 HKD for my mistakenly ordered breakfast), this was more than I wanted to spend for breakfast. I also ate way more food than was comfortable, but it was worth it.
In addition to the food, the whole experience at Australia Dairy Company is worth a visit.
It was frenzied yet fantastic, a true Hong Kong experience. Some people have said that the staff is super rude, though I found it as a cold efficiency. (For example, when the server asked whether I wanted coffee or tea in Cantonese and I didn’t respond because I didn’t understand, he just left. I did eventually get my coffee when I asked for it in English.)
I hear there is an English menu, by the way, but that they only offer it to folks who don’t look Chinese and those who specifically ask for it.
Four Seasons Claypot Rice
A Bourdain pick, this restaurant was my first experience of a traditional southern Chinese-style claypot rice.
Most of my time in Hong Kong was during the week, so I rarely waited very long even at the most popular restaurants. But I went to Four Seasons Claypot Rice on a Saturday, and by 5:45 p.m., the place was already packed, and there were at least 40 people in front of me in the line. Within 15 minutes, the line had doubled and snaked around the corner.
There are a number of claypot rice restaurants in Hong Kong, including two adjacent to Four Seasons. But as Anthony Bourdain had picked it, there in line I had to stay.
The restaurant is incredibly efficient and has an assembly line setup to make sure that the claypots rices are perfectly cooked yet served at a relatively quick speed. I spent about 45 minutes in line before I was seated, again at a communal table that is so common in Hong Kong.
I got an order of their deep fried oyster pancakes (made with duck eggs) while I waited for my Chinese sausage and pork chop claypot rice. The pork chop was actually sparerib, but it was delicious anyhow. I’m not 100% sure that claypot rice is going to become my go-to craving, but I did enjoy what I had.
Kai Kai Dessert
This spot, dangerously close to my Airbnb hostel in Jordan, is a traditional Cantonese tong sui. Literally “sugar water,” this term refers to a wide-ranging variety of sweet soups and custards.
These nut and grain-based soups, glutinous rice balls, sago, puddings, and such had been sweets I’d grown up with, things I picked up at the Chinese supermarket, but I never realized they were Cantonese.
I chose a walnut and black sesame soup with black sesame rice balls at this Michelin-recommended restaurant, a warm end to a chilly Hong Kong day.
Kau Kee Restaurant
Who knew curry broth would go so well with noodles? The beef tendon with rice noodles in curry that I got at Kau Kee blew my mind.
Tender brisket, soft and chewy tendon, and slippery rice noodles all in a slightly spicy and steaming curry broth. Man, I could eat that 48 HKD ($6 USD) bowl of noodles any day.
Like many places in this cosmopolitan city, this Central district restaurant has long lines that move quickly thanks to the communal seating arrangements and efficient staff.
Lee Keung Kee North Point Eggette
Considering that they’re 100% available in the city I live in, it still sort of amazes me that I never had an egg waffle (or egg puffs, eggette, gai daan jai) until I got to Hong Kong.
A literal hole in the wall, this egg waffle spot (and specifically this location in North Point) is known to be one of the city’s best. This no-frills shop is equally no-frills with its eggettes. No toppings, no sauces, just egg puffs. (They do sell some savory items on the side though.)
The 17 HKD egg waffle is soft and almost egg tart-like on the inside with a light crunch on the outside. Most definitely better than any regular waffle.
Yat Lok Restaurant
Another Bourdain pick, this barbeque spot serves up roasted meats worth a visit.
While Bourdain went to the Tai Po location, I found myself near the Central location around lunchtime one day and walked in for an order of roasted goose drumstick with rice. The skin was perfectly crispy and the sauce was tasty without overwhelming the bird.
Prices at this one-Michelin star restaurant have apparently gone up quite a bit in recent years. My meal was 108 HKD, or just under $14 USD.
Over-rated places in Hong Kong
I’d set out to eat as much of Hong Kong’s best budget eats as possible, but that doesn’t mean I loved everything. Unfortunately, these are the places that are fine to eat at but don’t necessarily deserve their glowing reviews as one of Hong Kong’s best.
Kam Kee Cafe
A traditional cha chaan teng like Australia Dairy Company, this was named as one of the best spots to get a traditional Hong Kong-style breakfast.
I got one of their signature sets that included pickled snow baggage and pork vermicelli soup, buttered toast, fried egg, sausage, and coffee or milk tea. The food was fine but nothing to write home about, and I wished that I hadn’t gone all the way out to the Western district for this.
Ho Hung Kee
If you Google this wonton noodle and congee restaurant, you’d see that it has one Michelin star. And yes, despite that Michelin star, I found it unworthy of a special stop in Hong Kong.
I ordered a small bowl of their house specialty wonton noodles, which came with 4 wontons versus 6 in the large order. My first taste of the broth was delicious, perfectly seasoned, nice and hot. But then both the wontons and the noodles had an odd alkaline aftertaste. Nope, not for me.
The restaurant is also in an incredibly posh and upscale mall, and the mandatory 10% service charge was certainly a sign of it (versus most of the other places I visited). Perhaps they have better dishes, but for me, it was a 47.30 HKD ($6 USD) bowl of Michelin disappointment.
I’d like to think I ate my family’s way to dim sum redemption. Salivating yet? Pin it to share it!