Bangkok revels in its status as a culinary mecca.
From wizened street vendors who perform alchemy with sizzling woks to whiz-kid chefs who are shaping the fine dining scene, the city lays claim to one of the world’s most multifaceted food scenes.
That’s why eating is a thread that runs through even a short stay in the Thai capital.
Chinatown and Rattanakosin
Bangkok’s oldest enclaves encompass visitor highlights such as the Grand Palace and the riverside temple of Wat Pho. Other draws include neighborhoods such as Chinatown and Banglamphu, both which abound with eating options.
For an old-school start to the day, visitors can fuel up with sweetened coffee, soft-boiled eggs and pillowy toast spread thick with butter and sangkaya (coconut custard made from a tropical plant called pandan) at On Luk Yun.
After perusing the royal sights, travelers can stop for lunch at Roti Mataba for pan-fried flatbread stuffed with spicy fillings.
Roti Mataba serves buttery, fried roti flatbread, which comes stuffed, served with curry or slathered with sweetened condensed milk and sugar.
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For a more upscale midday meal, there’s Nusara, where Michelin-starred chef Thitid “Ton” Tassanakajohn pays tribute to his late grandmother with his spin on traditional Thai recipes. He said it can be challenging to please both travelers and discerning local guests, who often want different things.
“Tourists want to taste what Thai food is all about — they want to try the traditional recipes,” he said. “On the other hand, local Thai guests like to eat something that tastes familiar, but … they want something new, so it’s forcing chefs to find new ways of working with Thai ingredients and flavors.”
Snacking is a huge part of Thai eating culture. For this, there’s Nai Mong, which serves hoi thod (oyster pancake), near the Wat Mangkon train station, or Lao Tang for tender, braised goose meat in the heart of Yaowarat Road, Chinatown’s main drag.
Lines form early in the evening outside Jay Fai where the Michelin-starred owner packs in visiting foodies with dishes such as pad kee mao (drunken noodles) and khai jiew poo (crab omelet).
Jay Fai is Thailand’s first street food venue to win a Michelin star. The chef and owner, Supinya Junsuta, who is in her 70s, covers her eyes with ski goggles to make her wok-fried dishes in Bangkok, Thailand.
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A more refined Michelin-garlanded alternative in the old city is 80/20, where Canadian chef Andrew Martin enhances the restaurant’s reputation for boundary-burning flair.
Highlights of his menu include the “Stormy Sea,” a dish of squid, mangosteen and chili, inspired by the chef’s fishing trips to southern Thailand, and “Isaan Market,” which focuses solely on seasonal mushrooms found in the mountainous areas of the country’s northeast region.
Silom and Sathorn
There’s nothing remotely buttoned up about the eating scene in the business districts of Silom and Sathorn.
Jok Prince, near the junction of Silom Road and Charoenkrung Road, is a stall famous for its smooth, smoky jok (Thai-style rice congee). From there, it’s a short walk to Tuang by Chef Yip, which serves some of the city’s best — and cheapest — dim sum.
Visitors can weave eastward between Sathorn Road and Silom Road, stopping at the century-old Hindu shrine Sri Mariamman Temple and some of the area’s best-known street vendors, along the way.
Two of these have their specialties right in their names. Som Tam Jay So, on Soi Phiphat 2 between Convent Road and Chong Nonsi Skytrain station, serves must-try “som tam,” or spicy papaya salad. Close to the Shangri-La Bangkok, Baan Phadthai, which means “House of Pad Thai,” is well known for what is perhaps the country’s most famous dish of all.
Som tam is a sweet Thai salad made with upripe papaya, long beans, lime, garlic, peanuts and sugar.
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For a memorable fine dining dinner, there’s Saawaan, where Sujira “Aom” Pongmorn serves up beef salads, crab fat dips, grilled pork neck and spicy-sour soups in delicate tasting portions.
For a break from Thai food, travelers can head to Yen Akat Road — one of the area’s most happening thoroughfares — for beef tartare and truffle risotto at Cagette Canteen & Deli. For a different side of Europe, there’s the double-Michelin-starred Suhring, a German fine dining restaurant run by twin brothers that was voted No. 6 on “Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants” in 2021.
Siam and Sukhumvit
The hyper-commercial heart of Bangkok is more than just a shopper’s paradise. Breakfast here can be a healthy acai bowl or breakfast burrito from Luka at Siri House, a plush haven with beautiful, leafy grounds near the Chidlom Skytrain station.
For a more formal Thai lunch, there’s Paste — voted No. 38 on “Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants” list in 2020 — where traditional cuisine is served with creative twists.
Travelers can follow the office crowds to Sanguan Sri on Witthayu Road to sample fragrant curries such as gaeng kiew wan nuea (beef green curry) in this expatriate-friendly part of Bangkok.
A spirit of culinary internationalism is alive and well at venues like Appia, a Roman-style trattoria, as well as El Mercado, where a hand-chalked menu features mains such as New Zealand mussels and Australian tenderloin.
Mango sticky rice is a simple but famous Thai dessert made with glutinous rice, coconut milk, ripe mangos and mung beans.
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Those who want to celebrate a trip to Bangkok in style can do so in the lively surroundings at Mia. It’s exquisite tasting menu highlights confit cod with gambas mousseline and mussels and Hokkaido scallop with apple and dill sorbet.
If there’s still space, a final touch of Thai food can be had at Mae Varee, at the junction of Sukhumvit Road and Sukhumvit 55. It’s a fruit shop that is famous for serving the classic Thai dessert, mango sticky rice. It’s currently ranked No. 10 out of 428 dessert venues in Bangkok.