Whether it’s your old boarding school friend from England coming to visit Bangkok, or a chummy business partner from Hong Kong, you’re inevitably going to be searching for a restaurant to meet. Being responsible for introducing these visitors to real Thai cuisine or quintessential Bangkok restaurants can be a truly daunting task. Not least because those two things aren’t necessarily the same thing. To help you out, here are a few guidelines to consider.
First of all, don’t go somewhere with Pad Thai. If there’s one Thai dish they’ve already tried, that would be it. And if there’s Pad Thai on the menu, then you’ll tempt them into ordering the dish they already know. There’s so much more to Thai food, and your aim should be to show them that. Which takes us to the second rule: don’t go overboard with finding the “classic” dishes. Bangkok is a place of innovation, edginess, and creativity. Long gone are the days when authentic Bangkok restaurants meant simply Thai street food. It’s just as important to show off what’s really trending in the city’s food scene, which now includes all kinds of strange fusions and experimental experiences.
Finally, just be yourself. If you’re a true Bangkokian, any restaurant you would genuinely go to in the city automatically becomes an authentic Bangkok restaurant. So, just think about where you would actually go, not where you think your visitor would want to go. Trust us, you’ll both be the better for it.
Now if you’re in need of some inspiration on where might be your go-to Bangkok restaurants, here are some of ours to help you out.
[Hero image: Somtam Nua. Feature image: KIN+HEY.]
For a Bangkok classic:
As Bangkok restaurants go, this favourite Isaan eatery has a bit of a cult following. Specialising in possibly Thailand’s most iconic dish (well, apart from Pad Thai), Somtam Nua is a fantastic place to try a little bit of everything that us Thais truly love. The plates come small and fast, and it’s easy to keep ordering as you go along. Their classic dishes, whilst truly authentic in recipe, are given an urban uplift with their casual, modern, lively setting. Order the Kor Moo Yang with the “Nam Jim Jaew” which has the most fantastic kick, as well as their signature “Tum Nua” — their own Somtam that’s a delectable mix of crispy pork crackling, Kanom Jeen, Moo Yor, and shredded papaya. For something specially unique, try the “Pad Kanom Jeen”, the restaurant’s own original dish. Soft, fresh rice noodles are stir-fried with Chinese sausage, Moo Yor, carrots, and sweet pork floss. It’s so good we thought it should become a real national dish.
Locations: 5/F Central Embassy, Ploen Chit Road, Bangkok, 10330 (10am-10pm), Tel: 02-160-5909. 2/F Siam Center, Rama I Road, Bangkok (10am-10pm), Tel: 02-658-1571. Siam Square Soi 5, Rama I Road, Bangkok, 10330 (10am-9.30pm), Tel: 02-251-4880. 3/F Central World (Beacon Zone), Rama I Road, Bangkok 10330 (10am-10pm), Tel: 02-044-7675. 1/F Mega Bangna (Foodwalk), Bangna Trad Road, Bangkok 10540 (10am-10pm), Tel: 02-105-1467.
For some modern twists:
Charm is an appropriate name for this breezy, homey, and atmospheric eatery in Sathorn. The place looks like a house (as all trendy Bangkok restaurants do), and has a terrace and patio that hosts live music during the evenings. But it’s the broad and pleasantly interesting menu that captures the hearts of both Bangkokians and Bangkok’s visitors. Pairing Thai flavours with pasta dishes is nothing new, but Charm has a particularly extensive list of options in this new sector of our national cuisine. There are still some of your more familiar Thai dishes (yes, Pad Thai does feature here), but all is served with a more modern, artsy flourish. The cubed servings of various types of Khao Pad (fried rice) makes a prime example. However, the edgy geometrics don’t at all take away from the genuinely flavoursome food served in a comforting setting.
Locations: Sathorn Soi 12, Bangkok, 10500 (Mon-Fri: 12pm-2pm, 5pm-12am. Sat-Sun: 12pm-12am). Tel: 081 357 9602
For elevated casual:
What’s great about a dinner at Plu is that the occasion is what you make it. Nestled in the hipster-residential area of Suan Plu, the house-like setting of the restaurant works well as a casual dinner for families and couples alike. On the other hand, its vibrant tropical-themed wallpaper, excellent private dining rooms, and deep wine cellar also accommodate for more exciting occasions. Not to mention also that there’s a fully stocked bar, with a fabulous cocktail menu created by the renowned mixologists from Water Library. The dishes are all based on Thai flavours, but with an added kick of gourmet that makes them sparkle a little more brightly. The tea leaf salad, for example, is refreshingly light and cool while surprisingly full in flavour. Their gorgeous desserts are also based on traditional Thai flavours; you’ve got to try their pumpkin and coconut creme brulee.
Location: Soi Phra Phinit, Bangkok 10120 (11.30am-10.30pm). Tel: 062 642 2222.
For a loud night:
By the creators of the iconic Bangkok restaurants, Greyhound Cafe, KIN+HEY is like its predecessor’s louder, more rebellious little sister. With an endless drinks lists from ice cold beer jelly to house-made plum sodas, KIN+HEY’s buzzing atmosphere is a great option for more dynamic meet-ups. It’s not just the alcohol though; the food here is well designed for communal eating. Delectable dishes like grilled pork knuckle with sticky rice and squid kebabs are sized to be shareable. There are also various sharing hot pots you can choose for the table, from Tom-Yum to Yen-Ta-Fo. Even dessert includes a huge portion of shaved ice that comes with 6 flavours of sauces, which is a fun way to introduce foreign friends to Bangkok’s staple flavours like Thai tea, Longan, and “Nom Yen”. A word of caution though: you will make a mess.
Location: Groove Central World, Rama I Road, Bangkok 10300 (11am-12am). Tel: 02 102 7678.
For a bit of privacy:
Despite its bright orange and, frankly, quite garish exterior, Eats Payao is easily missed. Found only when driving slowly down Yen Akat Road, Eats Payao is an endearingly eccentric little restaurant serving incredible Northern Thai food. Dimly lit, eclectically decorated, and even more eclectically staffed (one waiter’s a non-Thai speaking Columbian), the eatery is a great place for an overdue catch up — with all the necessary ice-breakers if necessary. We can’t be sure about the set-up at Eats Payao, but what we can be sure of is that its food is unbelievably good. Try the Tamarind Prawns and lick up every bit of the rich, salty-sweet sauce, or get the spaghetti with Sai Oua (Chiang Mai sausage) which is topped with a great crispy fried egg that oozes upon piercing. The true highlight though is the essential Northern Khao Soi; this place does the creamy noodle dish right in every way.
Location: Yen Akat Road, Bangkok 10120 (11.30am-12am. Closed Wednesdays). Special note: 20% discount on weekdays. Tel: 084 282 2636.
For a beautiful setting:
Although the newest joint on the list, Rongros takes on the oldest traditions in both cuisine and decor. Suitably located in Bangkok’s Old Town, the “house of flavours” (as the restaurant name would literally translate to) sets your sense of nostalgia alight with their dark-vintage chandeliers and wallpapers. It’s not surprising that this is one of the most beautiful Bangkok restaurants; Rongros is the brainchild of Ou Baholyodhin, the creative director of Sansiri PLC. But in contrast to the contemporary, urban designs for Sansiri’s luxury condominiums, Rongros is a celebration of all things old but gold. The menu takes you on a journey through Bangkok of all ages, from traditional watermelon with dried fish salad to decadently dark iced mochas. Be sure to request a table by the window (or on the terrace if you’re brave enough), to dine with a remarkable view of the Chaopraya River and Wat Arun, the iconic and beautiful Temple of Dawn.
Location: Maha Rat Road, Bangkok 10200 (11am-3pm, 5pm-10pm. Closed Tuesdays). Tel: 096 946 1785.
For showing off:
How do we even begin to introduce Sorn? Rated one of the best restaurants in the world, this Southern Thai fine dining experience is definitely one of a kind. Even as a born-and-bred Thai, you’ll still find yourself surprised, confused, and bewildered by this gastronomical journey. Just imagine a foreign visitor’s reaction. Starting with a flurry of bite-sized dishes with obscure names on the menu like ‘Gems on crab stick’ and ‘Tu-pa-su-tong’, you then move on to larger sharing dishes to keep that authentic Thai way of communal eating. This is the place to go if you want a truly unique experience with what has been officially ranked as the best Thai food in the world. Yet none of your friends from abroad will have even heard of the dishes on this menu. The only drawback is the difficulty in getting a table here. All we can say is plan in advance, prepare to be flexible, and rub the right elbows.
Location: Sukhumvit 26, Bangkok 10110 (Tues-Fri: 6pm-11pm. Sat-Sun: 12pm-2pm, 6pm-11pm. Closed Mondays). Tel: 099 081 1119.