A few of my own favorites are below, all of which are basic restaurants with hearty and spicy foods, brisk service and cheap prices. Places where locals go for a hearty meal, and which I’ve personally frequented for more than 15 years. But if you are new to Indonesia, best to visit these places after a few days when your stomach have adjusted to the spicy. And by ‘spices’, I mean not only chilis, but various spices as even the basic Indonesian food can use many types of spices in addition to your basic shallot, garlic and chili. But if you’ve been on the road in Southeast Asia for a while, go forth and conquer!
I’m too lazy to complete the list with addresses and phone numbers; these should be online if you do a bit of googling.
1. Beautika, Hang Lekir (Kebayoran Baru) and Abdul Muis. a Manadonese restaurant serving hot and spicy fares. If you have a strong stomach and tongue, just run with it. With everything. Everything is good and authentic. The Hang Lekir branch has the better selection of deserts and sweets. A place where locals go for a rewarding meal.
2. Tinoor, Jl Cik Di Tiro, Menteng. Manadonese with no reserves (pork, dog, bats galore). Very good pork dishes. Where I go for a rewarding meal. Their food are ready cooked, and served buffet style where you line up to choose what you want, so go a bit early before they run out. Best to go for lunch, as their dinner offerings are pared down.
3. Seulawah, Jl. Bendungan Hilir. Aceh food, almost like a hole in the wall and somewhat suspect from the outside, until the foods start showing up and you wonder why the place hasn’t moved up in the world. Avoid ordering from the ready stock meals in the window, but opt for freshly cooked items from the menu (‘mie aceh’, or the fried birds with lemon leaves (‘burung puyuh’), or if you have the time and energy for it, the noodle with crabs (‘mie kepiting’).
4. Medan Baru, Pasar Baru. Aceh food, again. Very busy, best to avoid lunch hours (come a bit earlier rather than later as things may run out). Basic fare but good, though not something I seek out specifically since it is out of the way of most business travelers. If you’re a fan of picking through a gigantic head of a snapper, this is your place.
5. Daeng Tata, Casablanca road around its Tebet portion. South Sulawesi cuisine. Spacious but basic space, right by a very busy road. They’ve got two locations on either side of the street, almost facing each other, so whichever way you’re going, they’ve got you covered. The barbecued ribs are what it’s about. But the soups are also good, as well as the interesting drink of caramelized Pepsi colas.
6. Lapo ni Tondongta. Senayan or Pramuka branches. North Sumatra Batak food. The barbecued pork is delish. Two servings of that and a bowl food of pork soup will fill you up for a couple of days. A carnivore’s playing ground, though the chopped cassava leaves in coconut milk (‘daun singkong‘) is also a hit with my foreign friends
7. Ikan Tude Manado, Kelapa Gading and Blora. Simply the best Manado seafood in Jakarta (though they also have meat dishes). The corn fritters (‘perkedel jagung’) is a meal unto itself; ask for a freshly fried batch, and you’ll earn respect. Their hot sauces can be very hot (this is one place which can actually make my ears ring), but over the years I think they’ve down-graded their hot-ness (or else, I’ve up-graded mine, ha!). Ask for the ‘rica’ to be served on the side (rather than sloshed on top of the dish) if you’re not sure of your threshold. Otherwise, go wild! Everything is good and they all go well together.
8. Kubang. You will notice there’s a few Kubangs around town; this place originated in South Sumatra and have branched out nationwide though by no means are they all related or within one franchise, and indicate more a type of cooking. They use ‘rendang’, meat cooked in coconut milk and a bucket of spices, for their signature dishes (‘martabak’, fried rice or ‘nasi goreng’, etc). They’re all pretty good, but the place I like is on Saharjo, Tebet.
9. Gado-gado Cemara. Tanah Abang V. Probably the only one on the list that is Javanese in origin. I don’t generally like Javanese food as they are generally too sweet for my taste buds. But this is one is not bad, though I have not been to their new location in Tanah Abang (it’s a bit out of the way compared to their old locations of Cemara and Wahid Hasyim, near Menteng). The signature ‘gado-gado’ is of course worth trying (steamed vegetables in peanut and cashew nut sauce) but my favorite is their Jakartan style lontong (‘lontong cap go meh’), a soupy dish with steamed rice cakes, some veggies, egg, shrimp crackers small and large, etc. Which reminds me I have to visit the new location soon.
10. Bakmi Gajah Mada (Bakmi GM). Many branches in Jakarta. Their signature dish is the bakmi, a noodle dish. They indeed have very good noodles, but their best dish is the ‘pangsit goreng’, fried wonton that is thick, soft and crumbly with no sign of grease at all. It comes with a sweet and slightly sour red sauce, and together they are a match like Ricky and Lucy. Their other dishes are basic but everyone, from toddler to your 90-year old grandma, can find something they like, which is why this is a very popular family restaurant in Indonesia.
Let’s go go go!