Chiang Mai is practically overflowing with good food and beverages, from cheap local street stands to high-end cafés and everything in between. There was more than enough to keep us interested (and our stomachs pleasantly full) during our three week stay. We didn’t even come close to trying all that Chiang Mai has to offer in the culinary realm. Although we love trying new food, we also tend to hone in on a few favorite restaurants that we want to go to over and over. We tried to strike a balance between eating local food and Western-style food. Our typical routine was to have lunch at a slightly nicer café or non-Thai restaurant and then dinner someplace that served cheap local food. Below are some of our favorite spots in Chiang Mai.
Pad Thai at Anchan Vegetarian Restaurant
Pad Thai is probably the most well-known Thai dish, and it can be found in restaurants and street stalls all over Thailand. It’s typically served with shrimp, but funnily enough our favorite version came from a vegetarian restaurant. Anchan was basically right next door to our apartment building, which means we ate there quite a lot, and their mushroom pad thai was incredibly flavorful and delicious. Pad thai is a magnificent mix of textures from the chewy rice noodles to the crisp bean sprouts and the crunchy peanuts. It is flavored with a sweet but tangy combination of tamarind, fish sauce, palm sugar, and lime. After eating it so much in Thailand, I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to enjoy Pad Thai in the United States again!
Khao Soi at…lots of places
Oh how we loved khao soi! We ate it quite a few times while we were in Chiang Mai. Khao soi is a Northern Thai specialty that consists of a coconut/curry broth with meat and egg noodles. The dish contains both boiled egg noodles and crispy fried egg noodles. It is typically served with pickled mustard greens, shallots, lime, and chili on the side so that you can add them to your taste. I am in love with the complex flavor of the broth and the texture of both the chewy and the crispy noodles. Like pad thai, this dish is widely available in Chiang Mai. (You can even get a decent bowl of it in the food court of the Maya shopping mall for about $1.) Our favorite place for Khao Soi was Kao Soy Nimman. For us, the broth had just the right amount of spice without being overbearing. I am now on a personal mission to find a Thai place in Nashville that serves khao soi!
Kai Yang Nong Krob and Som Tam at Cherng Doi
Grilled chicken, or kai yang, and green papaya salad, or som tam, are typical Northern Thai dishes. We decided to try them at Cherng Doi after reading this online review. The chicken was delicious: moist meat, crispy skin, and a mouthwatering tamarind dipping sauce. Som tam is made with shredded, unripe papaya (meaning the flavor is not particularly sweet), along with some other raw veggies. It’s topped with peanuts and a dressing made of lime, chili, fish sauce, and palm sugar. (These four ingredients are supposed to provide a balance of sour, spicy, salty, and sweet.) I will say that every time I had som tam it was a bit too spicy for me. I would enjoy it at first, but my mouth would burn more and more as I continued to eat. As a result, I didn’t eat it as much as some of my other favorite Thai dishes.
Red Curry at Anchan
Anchan definitely doesn’t have a monopoly on good curry. It’s just a restaurant that was convenient and delicious, so we ate there a lot. Thai curries are essentially just meat and/or veggies in a sauce that’s made from curry paste and coconut milk. Curry paste is made from mashing a bunch of spices and aromatics, including chilis, garlic, shallots, lemongrass, lime, and more, with a mortar and pestle. Curry comes in several varieties, but red curry is my favorite. I liked that Anchan’s version was full of yummy vegetables. I also had a chance to learn to cook red curry at our Thai cooking class, and it turned out just as good as any restaurant version that I tried. Since curry paste is readily available in most grocery stores in the U.S. these days, I definitely plan to recreate this one at home!
Some other places that we enjoyed were Nong Bee’s Burmese Restaurant and Library (small portions but very cheap and tasty Thai and Burmese dishes) and Tong Tem Toh (a variety of different Northern Thai dishes).
Smoothie Bowls at Rustic & Blue
Rustic & Blue is a typical fancy hipster-y café that you find all over most large American cities these days. And of course, we are suckers for that kind of thing. We especially enjoyed it, though, after being on the road for several months. I would have happily eaten one of their smoothie bowls for breakfast every single morning, but that wasn’t really within our budget. I made do with going about once a week instead. Smoothie bowls make me feel refreshed and healthy, and Rustic & Blue’s were topped with lots of fresh fruit plus granola to make them more filling.
Eggs Benedict at Rustic & Blue
While I prefer a sweet breakfast, Matthew’s breakfast must contain eggs or else he will be hungry again 30 minutes later. This version of eggs benedict included poached eggs over a croissant, rather than the traditional English muffin, and bacon instead of ham. The hollandaise sauce is tinted pink using beet juice, which doesn’t seem entirely necessary, but look how pretty it is! I can’t be the only one who finds joy in pretty food. We tried another version of eggs benedict there where the hollandaise sauce was green thanks to the addition of avocado. It was also pretty and also tasty.
Burgers at Beast Burger
When you’ve been out of the USA for a while, sometimes you just start craving a good old-fashioned burger. Beast Burger actually does a good job of making yummy burgers. (And trust us, we have had some bad burgers in our time in Asia.) Their french fries are also delicious, and there are several dipping sauce options. My favorite was the homemade ranch dip. My only gripes would be that it’s on the expensive side for casual dining in Chiang Mai, and the french fry portions are surprisingly small.
Smoothies at Smoothie Blues
Okay full disclosure: the smoothie in this picture is from Fruiterday, and while the mustache straws are a lot of fun, we prefer the smoothies at Smoothie Blue. It was just up the road from us, and we grabbed smoothies there for breakfast a lot. When in Southeast Asia, you have to take advantage of all the fresh tropical fruit by drinking as many smoothies as possible, right? And at 70 baht (~$2) for a large smoothie with up to 3 different fruits of your choice and yogurt, we thought it was a pretty good deal. Smoothie Blues also has bagels and breakfast sandwiches, which we enjoyed on a number of occasions.
Coffee at Ristr8o
Ristr8o is probably the most famous coffee place in town, and they’ve actually won global awards for their latte art. The coffee is delicious, and they take it very seriously which is something my coffee-loving husband appreciates. However, they have a semi-joking but partially serious sign out front that asks you to please not order iced coffee too much because it makes the baristas sad. Iced coffee is what we wanted most afternoons because, news flash, Thailand is HOT. Of course you’re allowed to order iced coffee but the sign made us feel kind of bad. Also, Ristr8o is pretty much aways crowded and not a good spot for getting work done. So while Ristr8o was an occasional indulgence, we spent most of our time in Chiang Mai bouncing around trying iced coffee at the many many other options.
Other favorites included The Larder Café and Bar (for French toast, egg dishes, and fancy sandwiches), Musashi Contemporary Sushi Bar (for affordable sushi), and Goat Coffee (good iced coffee that only costs 50 baht or about $1.50).