Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand’s religious and cultural hub, is a very different proposition to the country’s heaving, hectic capital. It’s laid back, slow paced, with high rises at lower volume and, whisper it, a fair amount of green space and shade. The food of the city and surrounding region reflects this; herbs take centre stage, the immediacy of penetrating chilli is dialled down, umami rules.
The North’s national dish, though, diverges on this theme. Khao Soi sees coconut milk (not native to the region) take centre stage. A heady dry spice mix evokes the rustic red of the Silk Road well travelled by Yunnanese Muslim spice traders. And egg noodles, fresh and deep-fried, reflect the influence of both China and neighbouring Burma. All of this results in a rich, deep yet surprisingly mild curry broth with tender braised meat and noodles of contrasting texture and give. The ubiquitous accompaniments of pickled mustard greens, chilli oil and sliced shallots seal the deal, as if we needed any more convincing. So without further ado, here are 5 IDEAL places to eat Khao Soi in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
KHAO SOI LAM DUAN
Khao Soi Lam Duan is a hugely popular lunchtime spot just a 10 minute drive northeast of the old town, on Thanon Faham. This road is locally known as having a small collection of the best Khao Soi slingers in the city, but Lam Duan, still going strong after 70 years, stands head and shoulders above the rest.
Huge pots of broth bubble at the entrance and an assembly line construct bowl after bowl of the good stuff. On the richer, sweeter end of the spectrum, the ratio between tourist and local shifts as the day progresses; residents of Chiang Mai know to come later, when the broth has properly matured into the best version of itself. Other Lanna classics are available here, too; their gaeng hung lay (a sweet, sour and salty Northern curry of pork belly) is decent.
Address: 352/22 Charoen Rat Road, Chiang Mai, Thailand
KHAO SOI KHUN YAI
Grandma’s Khao Soi, as the name translates, is on the north edge of the old town, in a spot of barren space right next to Wat Khuan Khama. A queue generally forms at the gate well before the 10am opening, and it remains busy until they shut up shop for the day after lunch. Order at the counter, then await one of the best bowls in the city; a broth which isn’t overly rich, a deep rouge in complexion, and redolent of dried spices. It all adds up to a moreish, less cloying version of the Northern Thai classic. A must try.
Address: Sripoom Road, directly after Sripoom soi 8, Chiang Mai, Thailand
KHAO SOI ISLAM
Common sense dictates that a place filled with locals is where the best food is found. Common sense dictates, then, that Khao Soi Islam is up there with the best of them in Chiang Mai. Here, it arrives a little underseasoned and underwhelming; a blank canvas, if you will, which you can pimp to your own specifications with the array of seasonings on the table. Once you’ve given it a tickle with chilli jam, soy sauce and sugar, it really sings.
Alongside is a supporting cast of Southern Thai dishes which deserve their own listicle; think beef massaman curry, chicken satay and best of all, a rollickingly good byriani, Thai style. This joint closes at 5pm, so don’t have your heart set on here for dinner. Go early, go often, we say.
Address: Thanon Charoenprathet Soi 1, Chiang Mai, Thailand
KHAO SOI PRINCE
You’ll have to travel a little out of town for this one, but you’ll be truly rewarded. Following a tip from Austin Bush’s meticulously researched and lovingly crafted book, The Food of Northern Thailand, we headed half an hour north of the city centre to San Sai district in search of the good stuff. What lies in wait down a quiet side street is probably our favourite rendition of the dish, ever, the beef (neua) version in particular offering a savouriness sometimes found lacking elsewhere. As Bush puts succinctly, it’s ‘the best khao soi in Chiang Mai, and thus, by default, the world’. Quite right, too.
Address: 79 Moo 9, Ban Thung Min Noi, Chiang Mai, Thailand
KHAO SOI MAE MANEE
Next to a huge golf course, a good twenty minutes drive north of the old town, lies Khao Soi Mae Manee. It’s tough to find and a little rough around the edges, but (you know what’s coming right?) it’s well worth the effort seeking this place out. The curry noodle soup arrives in a uniquely shaped, elongated bowl, with the equally intriguing option for a pork rib or pig’s eat version a nice divergence from the standard menu. It’s a sublime bowl, whichever protein you’re in the mood for. Here they cook only over charcoal and that subtle smokiness is definitely there in the finished article. This one’s done, too. Happy hunting!
Address: 18 Soi Chotana 24, Tambon Chang Phueak, Chiang Mai, Thailand