Chiang Mai is a foodie’s paradise. The North’s unique take on the food of Thailand – bringing in influences from Laos and Myanmar along the way is, in our view, the best of a very delicious bunch of regional cuisines across the country. The city is great too, large enough to be thoroughly occupied and entertained, but small enough to be manageable. Were you to rent a scooter, you could plausibly eat at all of these places over one joyous, filling weekend. Here are our IDEAL places to eat in Chiang Mai.
SP Chicken is a marvellous little chicken-over-charcoal joint in the old town of Chiang Mai. The chickens are brined, marinated, stuffed with an aromatic filling of lemon grass and garlic and cooked over charcoal. You have the option of a half or a whole bird – though the idea of a half seems plenty, you’ll find yourself licking the plate and your fingers and considering ordering a second half. Cut your loses and go for the whole chicken first time round. Order it with papaya salad and sticky rice – the holy trinity of Issan cooking, add a couple of Singha beers, position yourself near the grill where the cook is happy to swap stories and cooking tips, and stay the afternoon there. Heaven.
Address: Samlan Rd Soi 1,
Google Maps: SP Chicken
It’s a pig’s ear to find and a pig’s ear to find open. Funnily enough, you can find pig’s ear on the menu here. That’s if you’re lucky enough to catch one of the sweet spots where their doors are flung wide and the sisters in-charge are at the stove. But man, it’s worth the effort. Their curried pork belly Hung Leh is sensational, their larb bitter and punchy and sour (and amazing) and the northern sausage is aromatic and oh so fragrant. So good, and so infuriating if it’s shut.
Address: Si Phum, Mueang Chiang Mai District,
Google Maps: Sorn Chai
Huen Phen is nestled in the old town, near the bars which sit on every corner providing respite for weary travellers from the hot sun. At this atmospheric indoor restaurant you’ll find some interesting Thai furniture and decor, replete with chunky wooden tables and the odd touches of opulence – a nod to the royals. You’ll also find a good chorus of Northern Thai dishes, with lots of the classics done very capably here. The Gaeng Hung Leh is a good version, and larbs of the Northern style. Huen Phen is a great choice if you fancy sampling a range of dishes – you certainly won’t leave hungry.
Address: 112 Ratchamanka Rd
Google Maps: Huen Phen
CHANG PUAK GATE NIGHT MARKET
This is a great little roadside market on the way into the old town. It’s easy enough to find and is a haven for freshly cooked, fiery food. The best dish is the pork knuckle over rice. Although an odd proposition at first, taking influences from German beer food, it works. So well. The knuckle is cooked for hours in a sweet, umami-rich sauce, until tender and tasty. It’s served over rice with plenty of cooking juices ladled over it, accompanied by a hard boiled egg, some whole chilis and raw cloves of garlic. These are inspired, adding a refreshing, piquant crunch against all the sweetness. Look out for the woman in the cowboy hat, she’s something of a legend around these parts and reputedly serves the best version.
Address: Chang Puak Gate
KHAO SOI LAM DUAN FAH HAM
Khao Soi Lam Duan Fah Ham is an institution, with the usual secret family recipes legend to go with it. It’s finest dish, the one which gives the place its name, is Khao Soi. With origins in Burma, this is one of Northern Thailand’s most iconic dishes. It’s a deep, sweet, salty and fragrant curried noodle soup that uses coconut milk and is topped with crispy noodles. It’s hard to describe the flavour of this, it’s familiar yet unlike anything we’ve ever tasted before. Once you’ve tried it, you’ll want to eat it again and again. The restaurant is the first place we ate in Chiang Mai, so will always have a special place in our hearts. It has a place in the heart of the locals too – certainly a more ringing endorsement than ours.
Address: 352/22 Charoen Rat Road
HUEN MUAN JAI
More restaurant than street food, if you fancy a bit more of a sit down vibe, without sacrificing flavour, then this could be the place for you. The menu is long and getting lost in it happens, but focus on the Northern classics and you can’t go wrong. There’s a page or two devoted to Nahm Phrik, the excellent Thai dip, so focus on that if the paradox of choice grips you. They also do some excellent fish wrapped in banana leaf and some sour curries from Central Thailand. The variety, and quality, is welcome.
Address: Chang Phueak, Mueang Chiang Mai District,
Google Maps: Huen Muan Jai
MIDNIGHT STICKY RICE
A great experience, and one made famous by Andy Ricker and Anthony Bourdain on the latter’s Parts Unknown T.V show, Midnight Sticky Rice is a great spot for post-booze feasting. It’s an order by pointing affair, but trust that everything will be spicy, friend and tasty. Perfect for soaking up, and continuing to drink, an evening’s beers.
Address: Kamphaeng Din Alley, Thesaban Nakhon Chiang Mai
Google Maps: Midnight Sticky Rice
LAAP KAO CHAM CHA
One for the purists. This roadside place a ten minute drive from Chiang Mai’s old town specialises in grilled food and minced salads. It’s best/most notorious dish is its raw pork larb. The meat is served minced and topped with crispy shallots and bitter greens. It’s a breakfast dish and bracing for the time of day, but darn delicious nonetheless. If you’re not feeling brave, there’s meat getting grilled and garlicky, lightly fermented sausage to send you on your way full if raw pork is a step too far. Staff are one big family and super-friendly; always willing to steer you in the direction of the best dishes of the day.
Address: Near intersection of Soi Bamrung Rat and Rattanakosin Road