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Neighbourhood guide: Where to eat, drink and hang out in KL’s Chinatown

Rapid gentrification has contributed to the ‘rise’ of Chinatown (or locally known as Petaling Street or ‘Chee Cheong Kai’) in recent months. Hidden bars and hipster cafes are finding homes in old shophouses and back lanes, repurposed and readapted into quaint Instagrammable spaces befitting of social media junkies who are constantly looking for picture-perfect moments.

The latest hidden gem to open in the area is Kwai Chai Hong, a Hutong-style back alley that now plays host to a hidden bar, cafes and lifestyle shops (as well as a bubble tea shop). Its name that translates to ‘Little Demon Lane’ in Cantonese, is given by locals because of its dark and narrow nature, tucked in a quieter side of Chinatown between Jalan Petaling and Lorong Panggung (behind Ali, Muthu and Ah Hock). The rejuvenation project sees 10 shophouses restored, with six nostalgic murals by five local artists around the area depicting the vibrant lifestyle of the Chinese settlers in the sixties. 

Kwai Chai Hong has also collaborated with local artists including LSA100 Class of 2022 Jaemy Choong to hold unique installations to add visual interests to the already bustling part of town.

Hipster additions aside, Chinatown is a great place to visit for true cultural immersion, especially for its old school narrative with many antique shops, multi-generational food vendors, prewar architecture as well as the hidden flea market known as Pasar Karat that opens daily from 6.00am to 10.00am. Follow our neighbourhood guide to experience something new the next time you pay a visit to KL’s Chinatown.

A typical day at Chinatown, which is locally known as Petaling Street or Chee Cheong Kai. (Credit: Shutterstock)

Where to eat

We’ve previously listed Madras Lane as a food haven, especially for the irresistible curry laksa, but tucked deep inside Chinatown’s wet market is a row of hawker stalls selling other local street food like yong tau foo, chee cheong fun as well as shaved ice desserts like ABC and homemade cendol. Madras Lane got its name from the old Madras Cinema that was burnt down in 1979. But be prepared to walk through the wet market, and dress lightly — no expensive shoes please. You’ll be experiencing something different with live chickens and animated chitter-chatters of locals haggling for prices and more.

There are also other breakfast and lunch options including the beef noodles and lala bihun (vermicelli in clam broth) at Kedai Kopi Lai Foong, and a satisfyingly rich bowl of Nyonya laksa at Precious Old China in Central Market.

If you’re thinking of some hipster cafes to bring visiting friends, hop over to Lim Kee Cafe located on the lobby level of Tian Jing Hotel. The entrance itself is a hotspot for ardent Instagrammers, while the interior is decked in charming kopitiam-style decor in shades of ivory and teal. The menu here comprises just coffee, tea, toasts and eggs — best for the fickle-minded. Otherwise, you have the options of Mingle, Jao Tim and Merchant’s Lane for brunch staples like toasties, pasta dishes, cakes and more.

We also would love to bring your attention to Flaaah The Bakery and LaGula, located on the ground floor of Four Points by Sheraton Kuala Lumpur, Chinatown. The new kids on the block, these are go-tos on your list of cafes to hop. Also at the swanky hotel is Jann, a beautiful bar that offers great drinks as well as a view to boot.

You may also want to walk over to Chocha Foodstore that is famously known for its C.F.C or Cencalok Fried Chicken and a selection of artisanal teas. A hotel in its past life (the entrance still reads Mah Lian Hotel), the owners who are both architects have turned the dilapidated space into a rustic yet quaint teahouse with a bar — Botakliquor Bar — located on its first floor. Alternatively, head across the street to Wildflowers for delicious east-meets-west dishes as well as refreshing cocktails to pair. 

Where to drink

If you’ve not been to Kwai Chai Hong, here’s a reason to go over on weekend nights — there’s a brand new swanky drinking place in town and it’s called Concubine. Come here to experience the nightlife (open air) in the middle of Chinatown or walk into the hidden bar for a drink or two. There are DJs spinning on the deck as well on selected nights, and a pretty cool crowd flocking the place since its opening.

During the day, Kwai Chai Hong will leave you snapping away with your best #OOTDs especially with interactive murals that reminisce childhood memories. By night, the street comes to life with buzzing beats from all four corners including Concubine itself, as well as other bars like Baijiu, G-String and XO-KL. 

Petaling Street is also home to many hidden bars that are either masked by unassuming stairways or perched on the rooftop of old shophouses. Besides PS150 which pretty much launched the bar scene in the area, there are horror-themed speakeasy-style pubs and oriental cocktail dens to keep you coming back.

The Berlin KL can be quite tricky to find but a sign that reads ‘Ich bin eine Berliner’ leaves you a clue. The glowing red neon lights lead you to the bar that is known for its thematic nights, as well as the popular costume-party. If you like themed bars, you can also check out The Deceased for its interiors that remind you of a horror house.

Another bar that brings you back to Chinatown’s glorious heyday is Shuang Xi. Come and try specialty cocktails that blend ingredients like plum wine and ginger, as well as vodka with banana milk and salted caramel. Shuang Xi recently opens its doors during the day as a cafe, serving your usual coffee and cakes.

Bars KL Penrose Cocktail Image
Get yourself a classic cocktail at Penrose KL. (Image: Penrose KL)

Of course, the new kid in town that is now ranked 50th on the Asia’s 50 Best Bars 2023 list — Penrose. Led by Jon Lee, Penrose is definitely the place to be for great classic cocktails; delicious and unpretentious.

Where to vibe

We also like to draw your attention to Moutou at Lorong Panggung, which is an artist-run community space that is recently converted into a distinctive rooftop bar for drinks, live music and social events. Moutou supports young artists and budding talents, so you’ll be able to witness some talented live acts happening every now and then. Don’t find it surprising to see how rustic and unpolished the space is — plastic chairs and plank facades reminiscence of kampung houses but on a rooftop.

And last but not least, the newest boutique hotel to shake things up at Chinatown — Else Hotel. This absolutely stunning hotel is definitely the place to check in to not just for its amazing architecture and Instagrammable spots, but for its new restaurants — Raw Kitchen Hall and Yellow Fin Horse (helmed by Chef Jun Wong). If you’re thinking of something to do this weekend, check out the five things you can do when you stay at the Else Hotel, Chinatown — and then explore everything else!

Neighbourhood guide: Where to eat, drink and hang out in KL’s Chinatown

Martin Teo


Martin has a bent for history and food culture, especially of the Peranakan heritage. Since the pandemic, he finds joy in plant parenting and continues to expand his collection of Philodendrons, Anthuriums, and Syngoniums. On his free time, he finds time scouring through the latest cafes in search for the best croissants in the city.


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