On tasting Thai food for the first time, the late great Anthony Bourdain said that it was like “discovering a colour I never knew existed before. A whole new crayon box full of colours.”
Touring Bangkok’s best Thai restaurants is a veritable epicurean adventure. There’s the knock-your-socks-off southern spice; the dry, bitter dishes of the cooler north; and the herbal, tongue-tingling recipes of the northeast.
Last but not least, in the central region – where Bangkok is based – you’ll find Thai chefs are putting some magical little twists on a range of regional dishes, creating fresh, modern culinary experiences that have caught the attention of even the most exacting diners.
From family-run spots to restaurants with pristine white tablecloths, the eating options are as many-layered as the flavours in tom yum kung (hot and sour soup). Here’s where to eat in Bangkok.
Crispy pork belly is livened up with sprigs of mint, coriander and spring onion at Namsaah Bottling Trust | Courtesy of Namsaah Bottling Trust
The best new Thai cuisine in Bangkok
TAAN for farm-to-table fare
On the 25th floor of the Siam@Siam Hotel, TAAN repackages the flavours of Thai cuisine in new and inventive ways. Chef Monthep Kamolsilp sources ingredients from independent farmers across the country, paying respects to each supplier, from the intimate portraits that line the walls to the names of each dish on the menu. Finances permitting, the nine-course tasting menu will take you on a journey, from the spiny lobsters fished from the southern province of Ranong to the crispy pork belly farmed from Khon Kaen in the northeast of Thailand. The crowning glory of TAAN’s menu is the sublime lop buri kanom taan (steamed toddy palm cake dessert) served with creamy, burned pumpkin ice cream, shredded coconut mousse and a sweet and savoury shrimp garnish – it’s simply divine.
Saawaan, a Michelin-star restaurant that highlights Thai cooking techniques
Set inside a converted shophouse on Suanplu Road, Saawaan is a one-Michelin-star restaurant that highlights Thai cooking techniques, with a focus on raw, fermented, steamed, stir-fried, dipped and charcoaled dishes. The chef de cuisine, Sujira ‘Aom’ Pongmorn, was born and raised on Charoen Krung Road, a childhood that has shaped her food philosophy. She describes the food at Saawaan as “street food flavours, traditional ingredients and techniques served with contemporary style”. The dining room is decorated with magnolia blossoms, which climb down the walls from the silver clouds to the dark wooden floors, conveying the meaning of Saawaan itself, which means ‘heaven’ in Thai. Choose the 14-course degustation menu, which can be paired with a flight of tea or wine.
Paii, a seafood restaurant in the former Russian Embassy
The former Russian Embassy now serves as the outpost of W Hotels and of Paii, a seafood restaurant that marries Thai flavours with the most luxurious ingredients, manned by executive chef Joe Weeraket. Start with the French razor clams, which are flambéed tableside with a home-made sauce. Then move on to the giant river prawn served with choo chee (Thai red curry with creamy coconut and fragrant kaffir lime), the chargrilled ‘crying tiger’ steak and the fat scallops stir-fried with a yellow curry. Special mentions go to the Thai tea tiramisu and lemongrass panna cotta.
Issaya Siamese Club for nouveau Thai cuisine in a tropical mansion garden
Restaurant, Thai, $$$$
Issaya Siamese Club, Bangkok | Courtesy of Issaya Siamese Club
Sitting in a luscious tropical garden in a glamorous mansion doused in colour, Issaya Siamese Club is a dining concept that has stood the test of time. The restaurant opened back in 2011 and has been blazing a trail for modern Thai cuisine ever since. Celebrity chef Ian Kittichai is the mastermind of the operation, but the kitchens have recently been taken over by chef Andrew Martin, formerly of 80/20 fame. He says, “Our signature dishes, innovative cooking, mix with fresh produce and traditional flavors to create a delectable dining experience.” The à la carte, set and tasting menus are served Thai-style (with sharing plates), and portion sizes are adjusted according to the number of diners.
Chef Thitid ‘Ton’ Tassanakajohn reinterprets the Thai classics, mixing modern techniques with bold Asian flavours and excellent wine pairings on tasting menus created from premium seasonal local produce. There is something of a Zen brasserie feeling about the decor, and there are no gimmicks; it’s all about the food and the exquisite presentation. The menu changes every couple of months to reflect the season.
Namsaah Bottling Trust for Thai fusion food, tapas-style
Bar, Restaurant, Nightclub, Asian, $$$$$
Namsaah Bottling Trust is the place to go for Thai tapas | Courtesy of Namsaah Bottling Trust
In a gloriously pink manor, similar in wow factor to chef Kittichai’s aforementioned restaurant, this eatery had a past life as a soda bottling factory. Here, Thai fusion tapas abounds; try the Namsaah vegetable ‘tacos’ made from crunchy gyoza skin with spicy tomato salsa, coriander and home-made smoked chipotle, or the Surat Thani soft-shell crab.
In a converted blue shophouse on the rapidly gentrifying Charoenkrung Soi 44 is a quintessentially quirky little Thai restaurant specialising in, as the name would suggest, phad thai. Whether the secret is in the 18-ingredient special sauce, the rice noodles, the home-dried shrimps or all of the above, this phad thai is smoky and scrumptious. The mieng kana (kale wrap) is also divine.
Somtum Der is bringing the flavours of Isaan to Bangkok | Courtesy of Somtum Der
Restaurateur Thanaruek Laoraowirodge and chef Kornthanut Thongnum are bringing the flavours of Isan from Khon Kaen to Bangkok. Every branch of Somtum Der is slightly different, but the recently opened Thonglor branch is decorated with pale wood, bamboo and bottles of colourful ingredients. With more varieties of papaya salad than you can shake a chilli pepper at, it’s impossible to make bad choices on this menu. The tum pla dook foo with its crispy catfish is our favourite, and the herbal soup and fried chicken is also worth sampling.
The Market Café for a decadent, late-night buffet spread
The Hyatt Regency puts on a positively voluminous buffet lunch and dinner. All the greatest hits of Thai cuisine are represented here, including an excellent phad kra pao (meat stir-fried with basil) and local dishes such as som pla kapong (sour sea bass soup). Better still, it’s open til 3am, so you can finish the night with alcohol-absorbing bowls of noodles after partying on the nearby Soi 11 Road.
Supanniga Eating Room cooks up food the way grandma would do it | Courtesy of Supanniga
Supanniga Eating Room sits on the edge of the Chao Phraya River, on the deck of the Hotel Riva Arun. Dishes are cooked by the owner’s grandma and are inspired by flavours from the northeast of Thailand. Order the nam prik khai pu crabmeat with chilli paste to start, before moving on to the moo cha muang pork with guttiferae tree leaves and Chinese cabbage – while the last dish may not seem like much, it’s definitely worth trying. Complete the meal with the kanom krok coconut pancake balls, which are crunchy, rich and not too sweet.
Bang Nam Phueng for interesting bites from a floating food market
It’s not exactly a restaurant and it’s definitely not a street; set in a lush coconut jungle, with wild mangrove trees and stilt houses, Bang Nam Phueng is located across the Chao Phraya River from Klong Toei Pier. But that’s not the end of the journey – to get here, you’ll also have to jump on a rental bike or motorbike taxi and ride through Bangkok’s ‘green lung’ until you find the floating market. Here, you will find every food you can imagine, from grilled crocodile to multicoloured fruits and all manner of sliced, diced, grilled and spiced treats from all over Thailand, which you can order straight off the boats. There are also little wooden house restaurants along the banks that offer a slightly more traditional experience.
Ghedhawa is a small, family-run restaurant specialising in Northern Thai dishes such as creamy coconut khao soi, refreshing pomelo salads and home-cooked stir-fries. It has recently expanded the menu to include Southern Thai dishes with a good selection of vegetarian options. The food is delicious and generous. Remember to book ahead, as it is very popular, for good reason.
Sit and Wonder for the greatest hits of Thai cuisine
Cafe, Restaurant, European, Tea , Thai$$$
Sit and Wonder serves all the classics you know and love, from phad thai to Thai green curry, with lots of veggie options. The service is very efficient, the waiting staff all speak English and the photo menu is easy to understand for those not overly familiar with Thai cuisine. This is a great place to eat if you’re after street food in a restaurant that has the much appreciated benefit of air conditioning.
Klangsuan for a range of flavourful homestyle dishes
Chef Nuttavut ‘Tum’ Mandrananda’s restaurant is a well-kept secret. The food here is inspired by the cuisine of Chumphon, a city that has mastered the balance between spicy, salty, sour and fermented flavour profiles. All the items on Klangsuan’s menu are the kind of food you’d find in people’s homes. It also has Thai craft beer at a very affordable price. If you’re not sure what to go for, the friendly, knowledgeable staff are eager to give recommendations.
Kiew Kai Ka and Artisan (Asoke) for Thai cuisine with a creative twist
Kiew Kai Ka and Artisan is hidden away in a small alley off Asok Road. Branching off from its sister restaurant in Lard Prao, this establishment serves home-made Thai cuisine with a creative twist. Make sure to leave room for one (or more) of the light and refreshing desserts. The impressive greenhouse decor is replete with hanging ferns, banana-leaf wallpaper and green sofas.
Located in the laid-back old town of Charoen Krung, this Japanese izakaya-style restaurant serves unpretentious drinking food in an intimate, immaculately designed space. The menu, which is split between small plates and skewers, is meant to be eaten alongside the JUA’s range of fine sakes, handcrafted cocktails and small-batch spirits, and shared with friends or family.