Tanjong Pagar food guide - cheap food guide for broke CBD workers

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Just started a new job in Tanjong Pagar and already counting down the days to your first paycheck? Hey, it’s normal. As if spending a bomb on your new office clothes wasn’t enough, there’s the whole problem of where to go for lunch.

You may have some inkling of what’s available – like that extremely fancy salad bar downstairs – but here’s a comprehensive guide to Tanjong Pagar food options for us peasants.

We’ll cover the basics – Maxwell Food Centre, Tanjong Pagar Plaza and Amoy Street – plus the more affordable restaurants and cafes in the CBD area when you really don’t feel like drenching your brand new G2000 shirt with sweat.

WHAT TO EAT AT TANJONG PAGAR

Where Food options Lunch budget
Tanjong Pagar Plaza Hawker food, cheap eateries $5 and up
Amoy Street Food Centre Hawker food, ramen, sandwiches, grain bowls $5 and up
Maxwell Food Centre Hawker food, ramen, pub grub $5 and up
100AM Koufu food court, Japanese eateries $5 to $15
Tanjong Pagar Centre The Daily Cut, soup & salad shops $10 to $15
Icon Village Steamboat, bagels $10 to $15
Downtown Gallery Pho, bibimbap, Japanese grain bowls $10 to $20
Orchid Hotel Japanese restaurants $15 and up
Essen At The Pinnacle French food, burgers, beer $20 or more

P.S. McDonald’s is not in this list. (But if you really have no money left, the Everyday Savers menu is here for you at McDonald’s Springleaf Tower.)

TANJONG PAGAR PLAZA ($5 AND UP)

As the most immediately visible hawker centre/neighbourhood hub from Tanjong Pagar MRT station, Tanjong Pagar Plaza is naturally crowded AF at lunchtime on weekdays.

Apart from the hawker centre, the HDB complex itself is definitely worth exploring. There’s a smattering of coffee shops, little eateries and restaurants, though obviously they’d cost more than the hawker centre.

Some highlights are:

AMOY STREET FOOD CENTRE ($5 AND UP)

After Tanjong Pagar Plaza, the next most convenient hawker centre is Amoy Street Food Centre. Unfortunately, it’s completely berserk during lunch hour too, since it’s within walking distance for those working at the Raffles Place side.

Following the super-successful A Noodle Story, there’s a number of “hipster” hawker stalls here selling pricier fare. They seem to be pretty legit, given the queues. Some highlights:

MAXWELL FOOD CENTRE ($5 AND UP) 

Rounding out the Tanjong Pagar hawker trinity is Maxwell Food Centre, which shouldn’t need any introduction. However, it’s the farthest from the MRT station and the most tourist-populated of the lot.

Stick to the traditional stalls like curry rice and spinach soup, and you can get a satisfying meal for $4 to $5 here. However, one of the big draws of Maxwell Market is that there are some food items that are pretty hard to find elsewhere:

100AM ($5 TO $15)

If you’re not earning enough to eat $20 bentos for lunch everyday, you can head up to level 4’s Koufu food court. Other affordable options at 100AM mall are:

TANJONG PAGAR CENTRE ($10 TO $15)

Newly built office tower + shopping mall Tanjong Pagar Centre, which is directly linked to Tanjong Pagar MRT, is impossible to miss. 

At first glance, it looks like yet another rubbish shopping mall screaming at me to part with my hard-earned cash. (Yes, I have a major problem with bread shops that call themselves “boulangeries”.)

However, a closer look at the mall directory reveals a few affordable lunch options that are probably healthier than another curry-soaked plate of cai peng.

  • Souperstar (soup or stew combo meals, $8.50 to $13.90)
  • Cedele Bakery Cafe (soup + bread or DIY salad from $8.80)
  • Chalong (roast meats bowl, $9 to $14)
  • Kipos (DIY salad bowl from $10)
  • Makai Poke (poke bowls, $10.95 regular / $13.50 large)
  • The Daily Cut (DIY salad bowls, $12 regular / $15 large (cheapo tip: the $15 bowl is good for 2 meals))

ICON VILLAGE ($10 TO $15)

Blink and you’ll miss the tiny Icon Village, actually a cluster of buildings near 100AM mall. If you’re the sad desk lunch type, there’s a small Cold Storage here where you can get takeaway sushi, salad, sandwiches and grilled meat for under $10.

Apart from Cold Storage, there are 2 other places at Icon Village where you can get a decent meal without going broke:

DOWNTOWN GALLERY ($10 TO $20)

OUE Downtown Gallery is one of the newest complexes in the Tanjong Pagar area. It’s definitely on the fancy side, with pricey boutique fitness studios and equally pricey cafes like the bicycle-themed Autobus and vegan restaurant HRVST.

On the positive side, the fact that this mall is new means there are fewer people crowding the place. Eateries here tend towards healthy salad bowl-type places. Here are the more value-for-money ones we found:

  • Dosirak (DIY bibimbap bowls, $7.90 to $12.90)
  • Express by Chatterbox (Mandarin Orchard’s famously expensive chicken rice at a lower price, $8)
  • Pho Stop (pho from $10.90 to $12.80)
  • Wafuken (pay-per-ingredient Japanese DIY bowls, generally $10 to $20)

ORCHID HOTEL JAPANESE RESTAURANTS ($15 AND UP)

There are uncountable Japanese restaurants all over Tanjong Pagar, but I’m 99 per cent certain that the best ones that have withstood the test of time are still the ones at Orchid Hotel.

The hotel is basically a whole string of little Japanese restaurants. At least 3 of them specialise in “affordable” omakase sets, so that aspiring food critics in Singapore can afford to eat there and bang on about how the uni here is inferior to “the one I ate in Tokyo”.

Here’s a roundup of the best Japanese restaurants in Orchid Hotel, ranked by price.

ESSEN @ THE PINNACLE ($20 OR MORE)

You’ve probably walked past The Pinnacle @ Duxton HDB flats a million times, but you might not have noticed Essen, an air conditioned food court tucked away in a leafy corner.

It’s way pricier than a typical food court and you won’t find chicken rice here, but it’s a nice spot for the occasional lunchtime splurge or after-work drink as you can get Western dishes under $20 and happy hour beers under $10 a pint.

These are generally regarded as the 2 best stalls at Essen:

OTHER NOTABLE MENTIONS IN TANJONG PAGAR

For brevity’s sake, I focused on the highest density Tanjong Pagar food clusters, but as any foodie would know, there are innumerable little restaurants lining the streets. So I’ll highlight a couple that didn’t fall in any other category.

Another one on Peck Seah Street to highlight is Hamburg Keisuke. Like the other Keisukes, this one serves just one type of dish: Japanese hamburg steak, and it comes with free flow of eggs and Japanese side dishes. This semi-buffet will set you back either $18.80 or $20.80 depending on how cheesy you like it – a pretty good deal if you ask me.

This article was first published in MoneySmart.