Chef Leah Cohen's Guide to Kuala Lumpur
Where to eat and drink in Malaysia's capital.
Leah Cohen is the chef at NYC's Pig & Khao on the Lower East Side. After competing on Top Chef, she moved to Southeast Asia for a year before returning to New York to open her first restaurant.
Best Nasi Lemak: Village Park
If you ask anyone who knows anything about food in KL, they will tell you the best Nasi Lemak is at Village Park. Nasi Lemak is Malaysia’s national dish and typically consists of coconut rice, chicken, sambal ikan bilis (crispy anchovies), and a hard-boiled egg. It is supposed to be eaten for breakfast or lunch. Be sure to go early because Village Park gets super packed by 10:30 a.m. and closes at 7:30 p.m.
Awesome Chili Pan Mee Noodles: Kin Kin
Kin Kin restaurant claims to have created this dish, and whether or not this is true they make some of the best Chili Pan Mee noodles in town. You get a bowl of ground pork, noodles similar but thinner than udon, crispy anchovies, a poached egg and scallions. There's fiery chili paste in a jar at each table… add at your own risk. Anchovy broth is also served on the side; add it to your noodles if you prefer them a little wetter. 40, Jalan Dewan Sultan Sulaiman, Kampung Baru
Hawker Stall Central: Lot 10
With some of the best hawker stalls in KL—and air-conditioning—Lot 10 is a tourist’s dream come true. Trust me, when its 95+ degrees out there, eating a bowl of spicy hot laksa without AC can be brutal. Try to go with a large group; there's so much variety that you'll want to try as many dishes as possible. Jalan Bukit Bintang, Wilayah Persekutuan
Best Food Right Outside Kuala Lumpur: Aunty Aini
You may have seen her on an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown or on Gordan Ramsey’s Great Escape, or read about her on tons of different food blogs. Aunty Aini is the real deal when it comes to home cooking and her spot should not be missed. She serves the same Kampung Malay food that she grew up eating and, because of her deep connection to her food, you can truly taste the heart and soul that goes into every plate. She uses all local ingredients from her village and her own backyard. She is one of the most interesting people I have met along my travels and I had so much fun talking with her for hours in her living room. Batu 16, Kampung Chelet, 71800 Nilai, Negeri Sembilan
Best Late Night Eats: Wan Tan Mee Sg Besi
This spot can be a little challenging to find since it's only open at night, has no exact address and is tucked away off of the highway in the parking lot of an autobody shop. This hidden gem serves five dishes and they are all spot on! The wonton mee and young tao foo are the stars for me. 304, 302, Jalan Sungai Besi
Innovative Cocktails: Hyde 53M
This speakeasy is tucked away on the second floor of a small shopping center in Petaling Jaya, just outside of Kuala Lumpur. The staff at Hyde is doing some unique things, including drying their own fruit and using a coffee syphon to make pandan infusions. I saw one cocktail served with a smoking cinnamon stick clipped to the side. The drinks were delicious. 53M Petaling Jaya
Where to Stay: Majestic Hotel
The Majestic Hotel has old-school charm and luxe, modern amenities. Some highlights: the greenhouse dining room, where you can make a reservation to have tea surrounded by orchids and other beautiful flowers; the cigar lounge with a full whiskey bar; the colonial café, which serves classical Malaysian food in a colonial setting; and the largest and most tantalizing breakfast buffet I have ever seen. The buffet has all of the Malaysian favorites and breakfast food from all around the world done at the highest level I’ve ever seen in a hotel.