Bangkok has an estimated 500,000 street vendors, and it’s incredibly tempting to try them all out. But to save your time, wallet and waistline, Thai food expert and travel presenter Daniel Fraser has chosen the best street food in the capital you have to try.
Most street carts in Bangkok specialise in cooking one thing – and so they usually do that one thing really well. However, there are a few vendors that have become a master at their trade, who have spent a lifetime honing generations-old recipes to perfection. Few people know these places better than Daniel Fraser, who has made it his mission to find the best street food in Thailand’s capital. Having eaten his way through the kingdom on Thai travel TV show Farang Song Thai, he now runs tours via his luxury adventure tour company Smiling Albino, helping hungry travellers find and devour the best plates of food across Southeast Asia. He shared his 13 favourite street food stalls in Bangkok with Culture Trip – here are his top picks.
This humble street food stall is famous for its bowls of noodle soup, generous hunks of fish and hearty fish balls. Run by a brother and sister team (and their father before them), Lim Lao San is a 50-year-old operation that has perfected every element of their bowls, from the chewiness of the egg hor fan to the stickiness of the rice noodles that, Fraser points out, are freshly handmade every day. He also loves the rustic ambiance: “The eating area is tucked down a tiny alley with tables set against exposed brick walls and old wooden door frames that makes dining here feel like you’re in an outdoor movie set.”
Kway Tiew Heavy for pork noodles with a rock'n'roll twist
Food Stall, Thai
You’ll probably recognise Kway Tiew Heavy by the chef who runs it, Ekkarin “Ek” Sae-Guay, otherwise known as “the Carabao Noodle Guy in Thonburi.” He has earned a reputation for belting out tunes by the Thai rock band, Carabao, and serving up the best pork noodles in the city while he does so. His stew is infused in a secret blend of spices for hours before the stall opens for dinner, when it is then topped with milk to help create a heavier texture. There’s usually a long queue of locals at his stall, but Ek whips up the bowls in no time, entertaining the waiting crowd with a side of dance moves.
Singapore boiled rice is a type of khao tom that translates literally to ‘boiled rice’ and is the name given for a specific type of late-night roadside restaurant that serves home-style cooking. Fraser points out that, “Oddly, this restaurant doesn’t actually serve khao tom!” However, this hasn’t affected the venue’s popularity – located on the busy Phetchaburi Road, this humble shophouse is packed from open to close, with diners spilling out onto the pavements eating from makeshift tables and stools. Singapore Boiled Rice is best known for its Hainanese chicken, but the menu offers many other deceptively simple dishes. Steamed fish, fried pork and a coconut-based spicy prawn soup (tom yum goong) are just some of the delicacies on offer.
Mit Ko Yuan is the oldest diner on Dinso Road, a culinary institution that stands out even on a street famous for its food. “Mit Ko Yuan makes an outstanding naam liap moo (fried rice and Chinese olives) using old family recipes,” says Fraser. People also come here for its signature tom yum soup, which the shop owners have been perfecting for 80 years across two generations. The small dining area, complete with wooden stools and teal-blue tabletops, is a time capsule of a bygone era of Bangkok – unique in the Old City area near the giant swing, which is fending off the threat of gentrification.
“I have to pay tribute to the grand dame of Bangkok street food, my dear friend Jay Fai,” says Fraser. “I’ve been a fan for a decade and had her on my TV show back in 2011 before the frenzy started.” Renowned for her legendary crab omelette, Jay Fai was the first street food vendor to be awarded a Michelin star. Her simple street stall has since ballooned into an operation with a months-long waiting list. While her simple-yet-flavourful crab omelette steals most of the limelight, her guay tiew pad kee mow (drunken noodles) is another highlight. It’s best to book in advance, but if you’re willing to wing it on the day, add your name to the waiting list written on a paper sheet outside the diner before doors open at 2pm. Fraser warns, “Expect to pay restaurant prices even though you’re eating shophouse style.”
Jok Kitchen, no-frills Thai-Chinese cuisine in a secret locale
Food Stall, Thai, Chinese
This Thai-Chinese restaurant has a rotating menu that changes daily, depending on what’s available at the market. The space is a no-frills shophouse that has only four tables in the front room and a one- to two-month waiting list; to say that this place is exclusive is an understatement. But for travellers without a reservation, there is still hope. “During the daytime, chef Jok sets up a table in front of his restaurant in the alley and sells his Michelin Plate shrimp dumplings to passersby,” Fraser says. “They are outstanding and worth a visit just for them.” Just make sure you get there early, he says; “Chef usually runs out by early afternoon.”
Kui Chai, or chive dumplings, were brought to Thailand by Teochew Chinese immigrants, and were originally made as an offering to the gods during religious ceremonies. Over time though this cheap yet delicious dumpling has become a popular vegetarian appetiser, and can be enjoyed both steamed and fried. “Bangkok’s best can be found from Jay Noi’s food stall,” Fraser says. “They also sell fried taro and jicama, all served with a spicy black soy sauce.”
Satay sticks are a popular street snack for those on the go. Pieces of chicken, beef or pork are marinated in a turmeric-based spice mix and then skewered before cooking over a hot grill. The best place to get them in Bangkok is from Hea’ Sa street cart, which is positioned in Chinatown’s bustling market precinct. Choose between an array of 10 to 50 sticks, which all come with a peanut dipping sauce and ajad salad of pickled cucumber, shallots and chillies. Don’t forget to order a side of grilled white bread to mop up leftover sauce and satay juices.
Pa Tong Go Savoey for Thai-style deep-fried doughnuts
Food Stall, Thai
Patongko (deep-fried doughnuts) are an indulgent treat best served with coffee sweetened with condensed milk. “The vote for Bangkok’s best goes to the stall set up on the Yaowarat Road and Song Sawat intersection,” says Fraser. “Pa Tong Go Savoey was awarded a Michelin Plate in 2019. They are freshly made and fried in clean oil, making them super crisp on the outside with a soft fluffy inside served with a condensed milk or pandan custard dip. There’s usually a line-up of customers, but it’s worth the wait.”
Nai Ek Roll Noodles for peppery bowls of pork soup
Restaurant, Food Stall, Thai
Nai Ek has been serving up giew jab (sometimes spelled guay chub) rolled rice noodle soup in Bangkok’s Chinatown for almost 60 years, and has built a reputation for lightning-speed service. What started as a street cart is now a simple shophouse. Fraser’s a fan of their lovingly cooked meat dishes. “I come here for the amazing crispy pork and braised duck. However, the shop has veggie options, like their herb broth, for those craving a non-meat fix.” Their signature dish is the noodle soup filled with minced pork balls, crispy pork and pork offal in a pepper broth.
Gu Long Bao Salabow for pillowy pork-filled steamed buns
Food Stall, Thai
Tucked down a narrow alley in Chinatown, this 90-year-old shophouse makes pillowy pork-filled steamed buns. “This artisan-style bun-maker caters to locals and restaurants in the area, so it’s best to place your order a few days before visiting,” says Fraser. “But if you don’t have time to pre-order, swing by and see if you can charm the owners to sell you one fresh off the cooling racks.”
Pad Thai Nana is run by two sisters, who make the eponymous dish by mixing fresh rice with dried sticky noodles, before wok-frying it with a healthy dose of tamarind paste and a handful of large prawns. “It is a small hole-in-the-wall place that claims to have been around since pad thai was first invented some 80 years ago,” says Fraser, adding it’s “great value for 40 Thai baht (£1) a plate!” It’s walking distance from the legendary Khao San Road, party central for backpackers, making it an ideal spot to line your stomach before boozing.
Mae Varee for mango sticky rice with a creative twist
Food Stall, Restaurant, Thai
“Mango and sticky rice is always a hit,” says Fraser. “The famous Mae Varee shop in Thonglor has been selling this delicacy to the upscale residents of Sukhumvit for decades.” They serve slices of sweet, ripe mango and sticky rice that comes in multiple flavours, including butterfly pea, turmeric, pandan and green tea. It’s a take-away only venue, but more than worth the visit to taste Thailand’s unofficial national dessert at its best.