First things first. The huge, hulking Thai elephant in the room. Bangkok can give you the meal of your life on almost any street corner. Where to eat Thai food in Bangkok? Well, everywhere, of course. But with a metropolis of this size, pace and pollution, eating that meal on that street corner may not result in the most laid back of dining experiences.
Though the idea of going to restaurants and spending relative big baht on Thai food seems frivolous to some locals – and travellers too for that matter – from time to time, it’s nice to take that little big longer luxuriating in this glorious cuisine. In an air conditioned room, back supported and upright in a chair, with a glass provided for your beer, or even, heaven forbid, a glass of wine. To take stock of the country, the city and its alluring cuisine. For that, we won’t judge you.
So, with all that in mind, we’ve taken on the enviable task of eating through Bangkok to give you, in our view, the best ten restaurants doing Thai food – some cheap, some expensive – for those times when you want a bit more of an occasion. We’ve left out the more experimental places, and tried to keep our focus on the (fairly) traditional. So, here is our IDEAL restaurant guide on where to eat Thai food in Bangkok.
Khua Kling Pak Sod
‘Do you like spicy?’. The familiar question fired at a farang upon ordering. Sometimes it’s more of a warning: ’very spicy’, or words to that effect. Here the waiter’s words of caution were conspicuous in their absence; when you come to Khua Kling Pak Sod, you know what you’re letting yourself in for. This is Southern Thai food and as such, unashamedly pungent, ferocious and, best of all, delicious.
The Khua Kling – a dry pork curry – is unreal. And hot. Abundant ‘rat shit’ chillies are used as garnish and are as forthright as their nickname. All this bravado shouldn’t detract from how good the food is though – it’s brilliant. The blue swimmer crab yellow curry is just masterful. Make sure to order lots of rice to smooth out those rough edges, and you’re set.
Address: 98/1 Soi Thonglor 5, Sukhumvit 55 Rd, Bangkok
When world renowned Chef and Thai food expert David Thompson recommends a ‘local’ Thai joint in the heart of Bangkok’s old town, it would be rude not to check it out. It’s brightly lit – functional even – and only cursory English is spoken, but there’s a translated menu with pictures and smiles all round from the staff. They’re particularly famous for their pillowy crab omelette. A word of warning; if you’re going there between 2 and 5, they won’t be serving alcohol, due to the restaurant’s proximity to Wat Pho – the city’s most cherished temple.
- Samsen Road, Samsen 1 Alley, Wat Sam Phraya Phra Nakhon
- 169 Dinsor Bawornniwes Pranakron
Baan is housed just off Lumphini Park, in a square mile radius of restaurants not bettered anywhere in the world, we think. It’s the younger, more informal sibling to the brilliant Le Du, and the emphasis here is less on fine dining and more on ‘family-style’ cooking. That is, loosely translated as the ordering of a curry or soup or both, a salad, a nam phrik (a spicy dip), some vegetables and the most essential element, sticky rice; all placed in the middle of the table to take your time over. The lamb belly massaman has quite rightly gained something of a cult following – in fact, anything from the curry and soup section is superb. There’s also keen attention to ethical, local sourcing; another plus in the burgeoning book of reasons to go there.
Thai Lao Yeh
Thai Lao Yeh’s cuisine purports to be primarily of an Isaan bent, but in all honestly, the menu stretches, and in fact crosses, Thai borders. The food of the North-East is represented well, but offerings from Laos, Chiang Mai and plenty of hot, vibrant Southern dishes also make an appearance. Authenticity (a dirty word when liberally used) issues abound, the food is uniformly delicious, and the opportunity to sample such a broad range extremely welcome.
The decor is reminiscent of what you’d imagine a wealthy household in Ancient Siam to be like. Restored wooden wall panels are crafted from 100-year old timber salvaged from a remote Thai Village and deep, dark wood furnishings create an ambience suggestive of low, gentle voices. It feels miles away from the bluster of the main road nearby; so smooth, calm and relaxed that we grazed for hours here. The oxtail soup is ethereal.
© Author’s Own
Steve Cafe and Cuisine
Steve Cafe sits on the edge of Bangkok’s central Chaopraya river, on a boat, on the outskirts of the Wat complex and Grand Palace which bring in so many tourists each year. You can imagine then, that it’s a pretty atmospheric spot for dinner. You’d be right, the water laps gently, boats of all sizes pass and light shimmers off the river. It’d be dead romantic if the atmosphere inside wasn’t so rambunctious; popular every night of the week and often rammed to the rafters. You slip off your shoes at the door and the owner Steve invites you in; damn, he’s charming. On the expansive menu, deep-fried soft shell crab is a highlight, as well as great larb.
Address: 68 Sri Ayuthaya road, Soi Sri Ayuthaya 21 (Devet), Vachiraphayabaan, Dusit, Bangkok 10300
Somtum Der’s New York sister restaurant made big news in 2016 by winning a Michelin star, then losing it (reduced to a Bib Gourmand) the following year. The original is in Silom, and one wonders if the inaugural Bangkok Michelin Guide, at the end of this year, may offer similar recognition (*since this was first published, Somtum Der was awarded a Michelin plate). The focus here is on Isaan fare, particularly the world famous papaya salad from which the restaurant takes its name. There are multiple variations of som tam and lots of the usual suspects; larb, chicken wings and more. The room is bright and airy, with an always occupied mezzanine and youthful vibe perfect for sinking a few singhas and enjoying the Northern Eastern hospitality.
Address: 5/5 Saladaeng Rd, Khwaeng Silom
Consistently voted amongst the best Thai restaurants in the world, Bo.Lan isn’t cheap. What it is, though, is a thoughtful, respectful, classy experience. The building is off the main Sukhumvit Road, down an unassuming lane and housed in peaceful, flora-filled grounds you’d thought not possible in central Bangkok. It’s dimly lit and the vibe laid back yet elegant. The pandan welcome drink gives a hint that there’s complexity of flavour compositions on the tasting menu to come; one which begins with a series of modern, playful snacks and ends in family style, sharing affair of curries, soups, grilled stuff, salads and rice – the best of both world’s then. A commitment to reducing waste and supporting local farmers makes it an ever better proposition. Not an everyday place, but a great choice for special occasion or blowout.
Address: 24 Sukhumvit 53 Alley
From the same team as Bo.Lan comes this new addition to Bangkok’s dining and drinking scene. Err is close to Wat Pho and the Chaopraya river, and serves food designed to be eaten with drink. The beverages here, then, are given great respect and composed thoughtfully – think alcoholic infusions involving passion fruit, thai basil and more. Anything from the charcoal grill section of the menu fits the style of the place perfectly; the grilled pork neck is a particular knockout. Their Isaan fermented pork sausage is a bit special, too.
Address: 394/35 Maha Rat Rd
Issaya Siamese Club
Ian Kittichai is Thailand’s favourite celebrity chef. Issaya Siamese Club is his original outpost and combines a deep respect for Thailand’s culinary tradition with a fun, flirtatious sensibility. The building is stunning, with grounds of flora providing relative cool and calm in central Bangkok; something to cherish, surely. It’s complete with terrace dining and regal, colonial furniture. Food-wise, there’s much to be enjoyed here; the soft-shell crab and banana blossom with heart of palm salad, in particular. The set-menu at lunch is great value.
Soi Polo Chicken
You can’t come to Bangkok and not eat the classic chicken and green papaya salad combo. Soi Polo Chicken is reputedly the city’s finest, and we think we agree. Their birds are fried to a crispy skinned finish, seasoned generously and served with three dipping sauces to complement. The best of their papaya salads comes with salted, dried baby shrimps and crabs given a similar treatment. The meal-deal is completed with a much needed ice-cold and light lager. It’s a cracking option if you’re on budget, and one we went back to more times than we’re proud to mention.
Address: 139 Witthayu Rd, Khwaeng Lumphini