I have steadily Instagrammed (and consumed coffee and cake) from coffee shop benches in Dili for almost a year and still haven’t put together a go-to list of my favourite places. What am I waiting for?! Here are 19 of my favourites.
If you just want coffee:
1. Letefoho Specialty Coffee
Timor-Leste’s only dedicated specialty coffee shop, and home to some of the country’s best brews, kindest baristas, and most epic oceanside views. Order a $3 pour-over, practise Tetun over the counter, and take a bag of award-winning beans home to try it all yourself.
Find it: in Kampung Alor, next door to Centro Supermercado on the beach road
2. The Spa Cafe
A sunny new bistro serving salad bowls and Letefoho flat whites, this place will instantly soothe any expat blues (and the neighbouring Spa massage clinic will sort out any remaining tension). But with prices pushing $7 for a light-lunch wrap, my preference is to eat cheap at Lili’s and walk over later for a post-lunch coffee.
Find it: in Lecidere, opposite Kmanek Supermarket
3. Grandace Kafe
An honorary mention: we will never forget. A long black in the garden and a chat with smiling barista Maria was the highlight of many a dreary workday for me, and with the cafe’s sad closure this month and her move to Perth I can only hope we’ll drink coffee together when I next return home.
Remember it: in the courtyard of Quilina International Supermarket
If you want coffee and breakfast or lunch:
4. Cafe Wesae
A laidback cafe brewing its own kefir and kombucha, serving wholesome vegetarian soups and wraps, and hosting yoga classes in the studio upstairs. If it wasn’t up the other end of town I’d be there every day.
Find it: through the unassuming brown door in the block of shops opposite Leader Supermarket in Comoro
5. Agora Food Studio
An experimental food incubator and a Dili gastronomic delight. Agora serves Dili’s best lunches, tastiest coffee, and most of its expat crowd: its $10 lunch plates, Melbourne-esque interior and Tetun-language school location has it primed for foreigners. But the city’s best service, its tireless championing of food innovation, and focus on local flavours has Agora totally worth the price tag.
Find it: in Kampung Alor, upstairs at LELI language school
6. Kaffe Uut
A crunchy Continental panini and a strong espresso for less than $5: Kaffe Uut is Dili’s go at a trendy inner-city bistro, and it works. The Pateo location is breezy and chill; Farol plays lounge music and blazes dark downlights, and both serve delicious juices and sandwiches out of environmentally friendly packaging.
Find it: in the Pateo Supermarket complex, or in Farol, on the street that leads from the lighthouse inland
Another expat favourite; for good reason: homemade feta in scrambled eggs, fresh-made orange juice and a Maubere Mountain coffee drunk with feet in the sand at this seaside cafe is a weekend tonic. On weekend evenings, they serve cocktails and homemade dips with toasted Turkish bread.
Find it: at Areia Branca, on the way to Cristo Rei
If you want a fuss-free lunch:
8. Haburas Foundation
A laidback, open-air resto serving MSG-free Timorese food to a good chunk of Dili’s local NGO crowd. Everyone knows everyone else and cats wander freely around your ankles.
Find it: in Farol, behind the green gate on the street that leads from the lighthouse inland
A breezy hostel with tables set out in the garden and the most refreshing passionfruit-mint juice. Order the ever-changing Portuguese-y plate of the day, or stick to the reliable old gado gado for something meat-free. On Thursday evenings, they screen free films.
Find it: in Farol, next to NGO Empreza Di’ak
10. Lili’s New Restaurant
Perhaps Dili’s best-known warung, and for good reason: it boasts the plastic tablecloths, whirring fans and sugary iced tea of every rural Timorese restaurant, but has the range of food options and fridge full of cold soda water required by every sweaty, picky malae seeking a sub-$5 lunch. Beware MSG dreams.
Find it: in Lecidere, diagonally opposite Burger King
11. Agua de Coco
An unassuming Portuguese cafe serving fresh-bread salady sandwiches, homemade granola, and delicious chilled coconuts. You can pay $1 for a coffee.
Find it: in Lecidere, opposite the Plaza Hotel and Gloria Jean’s
If you want dinner:
12. Turkish Ottoman Restaurant
A stunning seaside dining room and tasty, authentic Turkish food cooked by Dili’s hardest-working restaurateur. Watch the sunset, browse the Turkish lamps and chinaware, and take a pot of homemade hummus and a loaf of fresh-baked bread on your way out.
Find it: in Metiaut, on the way to Cristo Rei
13. Little Pattaya
A disorienting Thai-Lebanese hybrid with a laidback air and a soundtrack of ocean waves. Take your shoes off, sit on the cushions, order papaya salad and a gin and tonic, and relax, to the sound of tinny pop music and the nighttime waves.
Find it: in Metiaut, on the way to Cristo Rei
14. Castaway Bar
A boisterous, Australian-run beachside pub serving up epic burgers, cheap beer and live music. The fries are always under-salted but the service is cheery, and it’s a parochial slice of home for hundreds of Aussies abroad.
Find it: on the beach road; it’s a landmark of its own
15. Queen Tundriee
Uninspiring ambience and delicious, cut-price Bangladeshi food: this is a perfect setting for a raucous group dinner, or to duck in for takeaway to take back home. Order paratha and chana masala and expect to pay no more than $4 per dish.
Find it: in Marconi, opposite Tiger Fuel
16. Bayleaf Hotel
Fingers crossed the old Royal Beach Hotel still serves its legendary masala dosa in its new guise as the Bayleaf Hotel: a sunset sitting upstairs without a dosa wouldn’t be the same. A casual beachside restaurant blaring unfavourably loud karaoke tunes during the day.
Find it: in Kampung Alor, upstairs above Letefoho Specialty Coffee
Just as soon as I’m able to eat dairy again I’ll be hoeing into a quattro formaggi at Mario’s place – a deceptively unassuming trattoria serving hot chewy pizza that’s good good, not just Dili good. A little pricey for a mid-week meal but authentic Italian and friendly service is worth every penny.
Find it: in Farol, next door to the Indonesian Embassy
If you want to impress someone:
For me, only for a drink, but it can’t be beat: the delicious passionfruit mojitos (and their free olives and peanuts) make up for out-of-reach food prices. If you eat, order steak or octopus, and lean into the sound of ocean waves, the cool evening air – and the arms of the person you’ve totally just impressed, no?
Find it: Metiaut, on the way to Cristo Rei
Korean! In Dili! In a sleek monochrome setting with shining glassware and thoughtfully discrete waitstaff! Meals are upwards of $10 for modest portions: I always say it’d be where I’d take a first date when my boyfriend eventually dumps me.
Find it: in Kampung Alor, a short way down the side street signposted by the green 333 Clinic sign on the beach road
A Portuguese restaurant whacked in the kneecaps by its sad relocation from Metiaut to the Pateo carpark: low ceilings, uninspired decor and the fact that it’s in a carpark cuffs what could have been Dili’s best restaurant. The food is superb and the wine delicious – take a Portuguese-speaker to help you read the menu, and go at normal dinner-time only if you want to be the only person in the restaurant. Portuguese dinner starts at 10pm.
Find it: in the Pateo Supermarket complex, next to the Harmony gym (seriously, this isn’t doing it any favours)
They’re my favourites, but what do you think? Let me know if you try one of these places, or if you’ve got a favourite I’m yet to try: there are few things I love as much as iPhone-photographing my Dili meals.