As one of the culinary epicenters of the world, Bangkok presents a confusion of choice for the hungry visitor. From upscale restaurants, casual diners and entire streets that transform into make-shift kitchens on a daily basis, knowing where to start is a trick. While excellent International fare can be eaten here, it’s arguably a crime against travel to opt for anything but Thai. Whether you want text-book pad thai, some old-world atmosphere, a touch of new wave chic or soothing river side environs, here’s a list of essential foodie experiences that will get your Bangkok culinary adventure started.
Soul Food Mahanakorn
Ex-pat Americans are behind this venture but don’t imagine that means watered-down food. Far from it. The Thais in the kitchen keep things real, turning out home-style dishes with plenty of punch. They’re hard-core about the quality of their produce and the resulting dishes (sticky tamarind ribs or fish grilled with lemongrass, dill and lime, anyone?) taste sublime as a result. The bar downstairs does excellent cocktails. The restaurant isn't big and is wildly popular so bookings are recommended; note they only do dinner.
56/10 Soi Thonglor, 55 Sukhimvit Road +66 2 714 7708
Supanniga Eating Room
About a 10 minute walk from the BTS stop in trendy Thong Lor, Supanniga is all about on-trend brushed concrete and woody decor. And superlative regional food from Trat, in eastern Thailand. Key ingredients include dried shrimp, fish sauce and shrimp paste, so expect pungent, umami rich flavours, plus plenty of unusual leafy vegetables and herbs. Dishes like nam prik ka pi (chilli and shrimp paste dip with vegetables), gaeng kua (pineapple and mussel curry) and the classic ‘son in law’ eggs are typical. They mix a mean martini here too- try the Isaan version, infused with lemongrass and kaffir lime.
160/11 Sukhumvit Soi 55, Thong Lor +66 2 714 7508
Thai royalty (there’s a branch at the Vimanmek Palace) and Thai food royalty (a.k.a. David Thompson) sing the praises of this casual, formica-tabled place, assuring its constant busyness. A menu of around 30 local dishes includes goodies like kana moo grob (stir fried cabbage with crisp pork), kai jeaw poo foo (crab meat omelette) and the signature sour yellow curry, geang luang lai bua, cooked with lotus stems and prawns.
196 Dinso Road, Phra Nakhon +66 2 685 4531
An oldie but a reliable goodie, T.P. has expanded into six branches, losing none of its home-style, family-run vibe along the way. The extensive, photo-illustrated menu mixes Thai favs with more adventurous offerings. Play it safe with text book fried fishcakes, red duck curry or tom yum goong. Alternatively, go completely rogue over tamarind dip with crisp salted fish and vegetables, or puff ball mushroom curry with acacia and wild betel leaves.
Baan Silom Arcade, Silom Soi 19, Silom Road +66 2 236 4829
Krua Aroy Aroy
Across the road from the Hindu temple Maha Uma Devi, this casual, atmospheric, family run place in an old shop house is a perfect lunch destination. (Come early though. Plenty of nearby office workers think so too). Massaman moo (thick peanut and pork curry) is popular, as is khao soi, a northern curried noodle dish associated with Chiang Mai. Also worth trying are khanom jeen, noodles made from fermented rice, with four topping options. Including a pungent blanket of naam yar kati, or minced fish curry.
3 Pan Road, Silom, Bang Rak +66 2 625 2365
Poj Spa Kar
Little gives this away as one of Bangkok's most venerable eateries. Certainly not the decor, which, with touches of crochet and a TV blaring, is reminiscent of nana’s living room. But the place has real pedigree; the founding owner was a retired royal cook and for over 80 years, P.S.K has earned a solid reputation. In earlier days they cooked elaborate dishes from the royal kitchens but the offerings nowadays are simpler. The star turn is a light, fluffy, greaseless lemongrass omelet, which sits perfectly alongside tom luuk rok, a clear soup with puffy chunks of pork sausage, and bass stir fried with black pepper, are popular menu items.
449 Tanao Road, Phra Nakhon +66 2 222 2686
This is Bangkok's most legendary pad thai purveyor and every day at 5pm, their fleet of chefs fire up woks right on the street, turning out crazy amounts of the stuff. They cook over charcoal to achieve that elusive “scorched” taste and offer several versions of this quintessentially Thai noodle dish. Including an omelette-wrapped one called pad thai haw kai goong sot and the sen jan man goong variant, where the noodles are fried with the juice from large prawns (way more delicious than it sounds). Their fresh orange juice is really, really good.
313 Mahachai Road, Phra Nakorn +66 2 744 4444
Soi Polo Fried Chicken
From a menu of Isaan (northeastern Thai) standards, it’s the succulent fried chicken that got this place noticed. According to the hype, theirs is the best fried chook in town and, while the interior won’t win style awards, the fried bird is pretty sensational. Redolent of black pepper and strewn heavily with fried garlic, it’s best teamed with sticky rice and a side of som tam (green papaya salad). For 30 Baht they’ll deliver to hotels near Lumphini Park.
139 Witthayu Road, Lumphini, Pathum Wan +66 2 251 2772
Old school Thai doesn't get more time warped than this, complete with O.T.T. floral decorative touches, plenty of doilies, carved vegetable garniture and live crooners singing jazz standards throughout lunch service. With a view toward the Democracy Monument, polished, formal service and a well-heeled (largely local) clientele, dining here is memorable. In business since 1957, they've got a 14 page menu that focusses on Central Thai fare. Salads, such as the spicy winged bean one, are particularly good and an extensive Thai dessert selection will please the sweet tooths.
78/2 Ratchadamneon Khlang Road +66 2 224 3088
Supatra River House
The former home of a successful Bangkok businesswoman, there’s been a restaurant here since 1998. Dine in the rambling two storied house or take a table on the riverside terrace, a particularly romantic option at night. Fresh seafood is their specialty (there are plenty of non fish options though) and they pride themselves on using quality, locally-sourced ingredients. The restaurant runs both a free ferry service from Maharaj Pier and dinner cruises on one of their boats.
266 Soi Wat Rakhang, Arunamarin Road, Siriraj +66 2 411 0305
Ice Cream People cross town for the light, Thai-style icy goodness served from this weathered old shop house in Banglamphu. The same family have been making it for 60 years, using coconut milk they extract themselves. Mango, chocolate, coffee, Thai tea and durian (in season) are their other flavours and you can add toppings (red beans, sweetened pumpkin, corn kernels and the like) to order. It’s handy to the Grand Palace, Wat Pho and a number of other major sights.
94 Phraeng Phuthon Square (Off Tanao Road), Banglamphu, Bangkok +66 2 222 2686