Chiang Mai is a food lover’s paradise. And not just Thai food or more specifically Northern Thai food, but all kinds of cuisines. I’ve been enjoying the Chiang Mai food scene for 20 years and here’s a short eclectic list of a few of my favorite places.
All the restaurants on this list are well-know by the Chiang Mai locals and to get to them, all you need to do is copy the name and address and give it to a taxi or tuk-tuk driver
1. Suan Pak
Suan Pak. 61 Moo 3, Sanambin Rd., Chiang Mai. Menu in English. If you want to try very good, traditional Northern Thai food in a relaxed atmosphere, then this restaurant is a must. It’s been around since the 1980’s, so any taxi, tuk-tuk or songtao will know its location. It’s located in central Chiang Mai, near the airport mall, so getting there won’t take long at all.
You eat at Suan Pak for their Northern Thai cuisine. Luckily, the menus are in English with photos, so you can order from their Northern Thai dishes. Most tourists will have never tried Northern Thai food. In fact, most tourists won’t even know that the Thai food served in Bangkok is totally different than the Thai food served in Chiang Mai.
If you go for lunch, order their Kao Soi! Kao Soi is a lunch dish that is exclusive to Chiang Mai province. Yellow egg noodles with crunchy noodles on top in a mild curry broth with a chicken drumstick, onions and pickled cabbage on the side-that’s Kao Soi. If you want to eat what the locals eat, then Kao Soi is your order.
Suan Pak is a perfect introduction to Northern Thai cooking for someone who’s unfamiliar with the cuisine. You will find far more Thais dining here than tourists. That’s proof that the food is not only authentic Northern cuisine, but well made and delightfully served also.
2. Giat-O-Cha Kao Mun Gai Eatery
Giat-O-Cha Kao Mun Gai Eatery. เกียรติโอชา 41-43 Intrawarorot Rd. Mueang Chiang Mai. (Beside the Old Town Hall/Behind 3 Kings Monument) Hours: 6 a.m. – 3 p.m. Tel. 053-327-262.
Sorry Pad Thai lovers, but if Thailand has a national dish it’s kao mun gai. (Translation: fat rice & chicken) This place is considered by local Thais to be one of the best kao mun gai places in Chiang Mai and has been around for decades.
This is a Thai restaurant, meaning that 99% of the customers are Thai. Chalkboard menu is only in Thai. Just say the words “kao mun gai” to your server and you’re on your way to a great meal. But don’t stop there…order some satay too.
You’ll find kao mun gai all across Thailand. Here’s a super quick tutorial as to what it is and how it’s eaten. You’ll be served boiled chicken on a plate, along with a bowl of rice made with chicken fat and another bowl of chicken consume. At this restaurant you’ll be given a small saucer of mung bean sauce and another of sliced mild chile and ginger. Mix some the chile and ginger into the bowl of mung bean sauce and put it on your chicken and/or fat rice. Watch my little video above for more info.
I wrote a pretentious blog essay about the deep, philosophical meanings of eating at this restaurant that you can read here.
Riverside. (www.theriversidechiangmai.com) 9-11 Charoenrat Rd., Chiang Mai 50,000. Tel. 66-5324-3239. Menu in English. Reservations recommended. The parking lot is across the street from the restaurant.
This restaurant is right on the Ping River in central Chiang Mai and serves good “beer drinking” Thai food. The atmosphere can get “party like” in the evening, especially when the live music starts. Riverside is often bustling at night and so a few years ago they built an “overflow” dining area next to the parking area, which unfortunately is across the street from the river. You definitely want to sit along the Ping River if at all possible.
Riverside also offers dinner cruises on their own boat at 8 p.m. The dining boat slowly trolls up and down the Ping River while you enjoy some very good Thai food. I’ve done the dinner cruise a couple times with the wife and friends and it’s quite enjoyable. The more the merrier. Reservations a must.
I highly recommend trying their chicken wrapped in Pandan leaves. (If you’re not familiar with pandan, I wrote a whole blog entry about it.) Their soft shell crab is another stellar dish, along with their fish cakes and river fish with mango sauce.
4. House of Yong. เฮืรอนใจ๋ยอง
House of Yong. เฮืรอนใจ๋ยอง. 65 Moo 4 Tamboon Buakan, Amphur Sam Kampang, Chiang Mai 50130. Open 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Closed Monday. Tel. 086-671-8710.
This lunch restaurant could easily serve the best Northern Thai Food in the Chiang Mai area. It’s located on the outskirts of Chiang Mai, (no more than a 1/2 hour drive from anywhere in central Chiang Mai) so you may need a Thai driver to find it. It’s absolutely worth the drive. You will not find many tourists, if any, at this restaurant.
The restaurant itself is on the ground floor an old traditional Thai house. Traditional Thai houses are built on large stilts so that the ground floor is the kitchen area and the living quarters are built on the floor above. So not only will the food be Northern Thai food, but both the presentation of the food and the ambiance will be Northern Thai.
You’ve got to try the classic Northern dishes of Nam (pronounced with a hard “a”) which is a fermented sausage served with peanuts, ginger and chile. You’ll find the tenderest Gang Hung Lay Moo, which is cubes of pork, slow cooked, in a mild curry with ginger. Try the mashed eggplant which is a Northern Thai staple and the nam prik noom which is a mashed chile condiment that is ubiquitous with Northern Thai cuisine. And of course your rice must be sticky rice (kao neow), served in the traditional wicker basket. (Food tip: Put some nam prik noom on your sticky rice.)
This restaurant also makes their own fresh, tropical juices such as passion fruit (my favorite), tamarind, star fruit, lemon grass, and guava. Order one with lunch or take it to-go.
5. The Dukes
The Dukes (www.wherestheduke.com) Ping River Location: 49/4-5 Chiang Mai-Lamphun Rd. This restaurant has 4 locations scattered about the Chiang Mai area and you can visit their website for all the different locations. The Ping River location is in central Chiang Mai and is their original.
This is an American food restaurant that makes as good a hamburger as anywhere in the United States. It also has other great American cuisine such as baby-backed ribs, club sandwiches, pizzas, French fries, a good assortment of salads and a good selection of beers.
As an American white boy, I love my hamburgers and I know a good hamburger from myriads of bad burgers. The Dukes make a great burger, and their other farang food is good. Nice selection of salads. Sometimes a man needs a manly burger…if that’s you, then head out to The Dukes.
6. La Laterna di Genova
La Lanterna di Genoa. 31 Ratchadamnoen Rd., Tambon Prasingh, Amphor Muang Chiang Mai., 50200. Tel. 053-270076. (This little Italian restaurant is just a stone’s throw from Thapae Gate.) Open daily 10 a.m. – 10 p.m. Menu in English.
I’ve been coming to this restaurant for over 17 years, which is about when they first opened. This restaurant serves up excellent Italian food that in my experience is the best in Chiang Mai. (and there’s many Italian restaurants in this city!) The owner is Italian which helps explain why this little hole-in-the-wall eatery puts out such great Italian cuisine.
The restaurant ambiance is very quiet, which I love. Italian expats often come here during the day to get their fix of home country cooking. I love to come here for my needed fix of pasta and wine after shopping in the Garment District for fabrics. I recommend their pastas over their pizzas. The seafood is always fresh, never smelly. Good bruschetta. The pasta is freshly cooked per order, so it can take up 20 minutes for dinner to be served. I don’t care as I’m drinking Chianti and eating appetizers.
La Lanterna is unpretentious which is why I like it so much. Good Italian food with patrons chatting in Italian in the heart of Chiang Mai…that’s what makes the Chiang Mai food scene world class.
7. VT Namnueng Vietnamese Restaurant
VT Namnueng Vietnamese Restaurant. 49/9 Lamphun Rd. Wat Ket, Chiang Mai. This restaurant is located across the street from the Ping River in Central Chiang Mai.
Before discovering this restaurant a few years ago, I thought a Vietnamese restaurant only served pho and bahn mi sandwiches. Wrong! VT Namnueng has a variety of Viet food, ranging from skewers of ground pork wrapped around sugar cane to make-your-own spring rolls from a bevy of ingredients. The menu is quite extensive and filled with many Viet dishes you won’t find a most Vietnamese restaurants.
It can get very crowded at this restaurant with both Chiang Mai locals and tourists. If the downstairs is packed, then head upstairs for a table. This is the type of restaurant where the more people you’re dining with the more fun it is because you can cover your table with all kinds of Viet food you’ll seldom see offered at your run-of-the-mill pho house.
8. Smoothie Blues
Smoothie Blues. 32/8 Nimman Rd., Soi 6, Chiang Mai. This small restaurant is right on the corner of Nimman Rd. And Soi 6.
For years I would stay in the Nimman District when staying Chiang Mai and this “farang” restaurant was right around the corner from our condo, so I would come here often for lunch and breakfast.
The smoothies really are top-notch and made with fresh fruit; Sandwiches are American style, meaning that they really do put something between the slices of bread. Order a ham & cheese sandwich and you’ll get a real ham & cheeser like you’d get back in the States. Breakfasts are large and also American style with eggs, sausage, hash browns, toast, etc. The banana pancake and a passion fruit smoothie makes a great breakfast.
I included this restaurant, not only because it has good food, but also because it’s in the Nimman District of Chiang Mai. This is a very trendy area of Chiang Mai and it’s honeycombed with restaurants, cafes, bars and nightclubs. Just walk up and down the streets off Nimman (On the other side of Nimman from where you’ll find Smoothie Blues) and you’ll understand what I mean. Come to the Nimman District on a weekend evening and the streets will be crowded.
Unfortunately, the Nimman District fell victim to its own coolness. Now tour buses roll down Nimman Rd.; New condo buildings are going up everywhere; There are more Chinese tourist in Nimman than Thais; The District is choked in traffic and the cost of dinner can be the same you’d pay in the States.
But regardless of the current Nimman scene, Smoothie Blues is still serves a very good breakfast/lunch. It’s a good place to eat breakfast and plan your Thai adventure for the day.