Like Las Vegas, Macau dazzles you with outrageous architecture and design (see the dizzying figure-eight Ferris wheel connecting two structures at Star Tower at Studio City Macau and the sleek, otherworldly interiors of the Zaha Hadid-envisioned Morpheus), sprawling casino resorts (try your luck at Galaxy Macau and MGM Macau) and knockout shows (marvel at the acrobatic, aquatic feats at City of Dreams’ The House of Dancing Water).
But unlike Vegas, Macau offers a one-of-a-kind local dining scene that’s even a departure from the rest of China. A Special Administrative Region on the country’s southeastern coast, Macau was a Portuguese colony for more than 400 years before being returned to China in 1999. When the Portuguese came to the city, they brought their food traditions along with those adopted from their settlements in Africa, India and South America. All of these global influences played a part in forming the distinctive Macanese cuisine.
We scoured everywhere from fine-dining restaurants to casual local favorites to sample the destination’s unique mix of Macanese, Chinese and other international fare. Offering everything from wagyu to worms, these places will give you a taste of Macau:
At this Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star Japanese restaurant, leave your meal to the chef. You’ll be rewarded with a parade of plates showcasing precision, supremely fresh ingredients and artful presentation.
Prizes can include Hokkaido hairy crab in a half-shell on a bed of ice; pristine jewel-like sashimi; a cut of charcoal-grilled A5 wagyu beef with carefully piled vegetables; and a seasonal platter (monkfish liver with ponzu, beef tongue, a caviar-topped prawn and chilled beef with sesame cream) gets an injection of vibrant color with Japanese maple and ginkgo leaves and an orange Chinese lantern flower.
Tip: ask head sommelier Joey Tsang for sake pairings. She devises pitch-perfect matches from the restaurant’s top-notch collection.
Perched on the 11th floor of Five-Star Altira Macau, Ying’s floor-to-ceiling windows capture your attention with vistas across the peninsula to Macau Tower. But once the sophisticated Four-Star Cantonese restaurant brings out the dim sum, your gaze will be fixed on the exquisite black swan, a goose-stuffed yam dumpling with bamboo (which aids digestion).
Another sight to behold: order the char siu and the chef will roll out a wooden cart to flambé the Iberico pork, coat it with fresh honey and slice it up tableside.
The mosaic-stone roads and European-style buildings of the St. Lazarus Quarter transport you to Portugal (only the whimsical rabbit lanterns hanging above hint that you’re still in Asia). Set in the quarter, this restaurant does the same with dishes like caldo verde, a filling potato soup with Portuguese sausage rounds, and bacalhau à bras, a comforting mixture of cod and egg topped with matchstick potatoes.
The excellent desserts also hail from Portugal: a port-soaked pear and serradura, or sawdust pudding — it’s basically a trifle with layers of cream and “sawdust” (crumbled graham-cracker-like Maria cookies), but Albergue adds ice cream for a satisfying finish.
A series of rooms with white stucco walls and blue and white tile gives this Macanese restaurant a more intimate feel. Join the locals in ordering breaded baked crab in the half-shell (with garnish eyes); spicy, creamy African chicken (the secret sauce has everything from peanut butter to peri-peri); minchi, fried rice with diced potatoes, minced pork, onions and soy sauce crowned with a sunny-side-up egg; and plenty of sangria.
Escape the flashy Cotai Strip and visit charming Coloane Village for the chance to have Lord Stow’s addictive egg tarts piping-hot from the oven at this original town square shop. Churning out the iconic Macau delicacies since 1989, the family-owned business lays claim to opening the first egg tart bakery in Asia. Modeled off of Portugal’s famous pastéis de nata, these tarts are less sweet than their European counterparts — they use a British-style custard set in a flaky base.
While egg tarts are the bakery’s bread and butter, it does make a few other items worthy of sampling. Try the indulgent egg tart/brownie hybrid, one of owner Audrey Stow’s favorite pastries.
Nga Tim Café
A short stroll from Lord Stow’s and across from the Chapel of St. Francis Xavier, this no-frills open-air spot is the place to kick back with frosty mugs of Macau Beer and heaping shareable plates of Macanese and Chinese food, such as Portuguese-style barbecue suckling pig with skin so crispy that it almost shatters in your mouth; beef doused in pepper sauce atop crunchy noodles; and enormous butterflied prawns laden with garlic.
Adventurous eaters can try the baked cereal worms. The critters taste like mushrooms in the frittata-like dish.
Breeze past the guests inside The Parisian Macao’s restaurant to reach the private dining room outfitted with its own hot pot table. Next, choose from an array of broths, ranging from spicy Sichuan to white pepper and pork bone with sweet corn. Then walk over to the cart loaded with ingredients to customize your own dipping sauce. Your server will provide elegant presentations of meat (possibilities include M5 Australian wagyu and A5 Kagoshima Kobe), seafood (lobster, geoduck and grouper), vegetables and noodles for you to cook in your bubbling broth while you chat with your companions.
Aside from the communal dining fun, it’s easy to linger here — the room comes with a sitting area, television and its own bathroom.
Yi Yan Tang Dessert
While the yin-and-yang bowl (made of sesame and almond soups) is eminently Instagrammable, we favored the fresh mango rice rolls drizzled with mango sauce, and the bird’s nest soup, a delicacy made from nests crafted with hardened swiftlet saliva. The latter bears a jelly consistency that’s folded into a delicious, creamy pudding that arrives in a coconut shell.
Despite the casual corner spot’s name, Yi Yan Tang Dessert also serves savory food, such as ginger-vinegar-flavored pork knuckle, chicken wings dusted with salted egg, and noodles with abalone. Whichever you choose, wash it all down with a refreshingly tart yuzu-lime soda.
The Ritz-Carlton Bar & Lounge
Seek out the 51st-floor bar at Five-Star The Ritz-Carlton, Macau for a luxurious nightcap. The wood-filled, dimly lit drinking destination in the Galaxy Macau complex made our list of the World’s Best Hotel Bars for having an exceptional beverage program, impressive presentations and attentive, anticipatory service.
Request that the gin and tonic trolley visit your table so that a mixologist can personalize your G&T with your preferred spirit brand, botanticals, spices and tonic water or introduce you to something new and unexpected.
Ignore the Italian offerings at this industrial dining room in Old Taipa and ask to see the Portuguese menu instead. Opt for fried codfish cakes with a black-eyed pea salad, sautéed clams in a savory white wine sauce and grilled black pork with creamed spinach. Accompany the dishes with selections from the restaurant’s list of Portuguese wines.