UNTIL RECENTLY, there seemed little reason for locals to set foot in the eastern part of Mody Road in Tsim Sha Tsui. Unless you worked in the area or needed to renew your identity card at the immigration office, Mody Road was a territory more for the tourists and foreign business people staying at the nearby hotels. As for dining, there weren't many restaurants as it was a bit of a hike from the MTR station. However, the eastern part of Mody Road has metamorphosed into a vibrant dining destination, spurred on two years ago by the building of a subway connecting Mody Road to the Tsim Sha Tsui MTR station, and the opening of the KCRC East Tsim Sha Tsui Station. The development has made it much easier to commute to Tsim Sha Tsui East. Now it takes less than 10 minutes of smooth walking underground to reach the area, with no more busy roads to cross or crowds to battle through. Over the past two years, about 20 new restaurants have opened in Tsim Sha Tsui East, offering diverse cuisines including Chinese, Japanese, Italian, American, Indian and Mexican. 'In the past, the area was quiet compared to other parts of Tsim Sha Tsui,' says Edward Tang, manager of La Villa. The French restaurant opened three years ago, and has grown steadily busier since the traffic improvements. 'The MTR subway and the current economic growth have made a big difference and the dining scene has changed for the better.' The majority of the new restaurants are at Tsim Sha Tsui Centre and Empire Centre on 66 and 68 Mody Road, due in part to their waterfront position. Sino Group, which owns the two buildings, launched a campaign last month to promote the restaurants at the two locations. It also shone the spotlight on the 80-metre walkway on the waterfront, dubbing it 'Alfresco Lane' to entice outdoors diners. Over the past six months, three restaurants have opened on the lane, including Don Juan Mexican Bar and Restaurant. Commanding uninterrupted harbour views, the restaurant is doing well. 'Few restaurants in Hong Kong afford a sea view and allow outdoor dining at the same time,' says Bonnie Chu, Don Juan's sales and marketing director. However, there's one hitch: the restaurant is still waiting for approval from the government to allow eating outside. The Sino Group spokeswoman says a few other restaurants on the Alfresco Lane are also waiting for the official green light, but that 'it won't be long' before the lane can live up to its name. And it's not just the harbourside restaurants that are enjoying a boom. Outback Steakhouse, an American restaurant chain at Tsim Sha Tsui Centre that overlooks the street, was showing a profit only a month after its launch in June. 'This was remarkable and unprecedented for us,' says Sinclair Yan So-wan, restaurant manager of Outback, which operates four other branches in Hong Kong. Outback's classics include sizzling sliced sirloin and seafood pasta, which are particularly popular among American customers. 'We have many American clients and also tourists who are retired couples travelling on cruise tours. They come in droves,' Yan says. Another eatery that's capitalised on the renewed identity of eastern Mody Road is Incontro Italian Restaurant at Empire Centre, which serves authentic Italian fare. 'We're in a good location with all the business people around. And we're getting more local people,' says owner Sergio Marini. Incontro's signature dishes include crispy baby pig with garlic rosemary sauce and roasted potatoes, and Italian pasta with sausage and fine aromatic sauce. Despite the restaurant's popularity among American business people, Marini insists on sticking to the traditional Italian decor without Americanising the premise. 'We want to be traditional,' he says. Foreign business people and tourists have always been the mainstay at restaurants and other entertainment establishments in Tsim Sha Tsui East. But its emergence as a dining haven has drawn a rising number of local customers. Ruth's Chris Steak House at Empire Centre, which opened in 1994 and targets upmarket customers, used to have 20 to 30 per cent of local diners. Today, the local to foreigner client ratio is 50 to 50, according to general manager Billy Ng Sze-tai. 'Our business is going very well. We're very optimistic about the future,' he says. Business certainly seems to be booming but it may be a while yet before locals automatically associate the eastern part of Mody Road with a dining destination. 'We still have some local people calling us and asking where we are. We tell them it's Tsim Sha Tsui Centre and they have no idea,' says Yan. 'But when we tell them it's 'the centre where you get your smart identity card', they immediately get it,' he says with a laugh.