Gourmet Bangkok: 10 of the City's Best Eating Options
By Dave Stamboulis
Bangkok Local Expert
Eating out in Bangkok is an experience that can go on eternally. Not only are there great international restaurants, but there is a mindboggling array of Thai spots to eat, ranging from expensive 5 star haute cuisine locales in beautiful gardens and homes all the way down to street vendors dishing out some of the world’s most delectable food. If you are here for Thai, make sure to visit renowned Nahm, the only Thai entry to the Top 50 Restaurants in the World list. You can also enjoy knockout traditional favorites at foodie hotspots like Soul Food Mahanakorn or The Local. For something different, there is Indian molecular gastronomy wonder at Gaggan, or innovative sushi creations at Isao. If you get the craving for Italian, Jo Jo at the elegant St. Regis is one of Bangkok's most intimate and gourmet dining experiences. And while the setting might be world's away, the simple Baan Som Tam is a must for sampling some of Thailand's tastiest Isaan cuisine, which features lots of grilled meats and spicy salads eaten together with sticky rice. The hardest thing about eating in Bangkok will be finding enough time to sample all of the gourmet paradises that exist in this wonderful food city.
10 Issaya Siamese Club
If you are looking for a special evening with gorgeous surroundings, great food, and plenty of romance, Issaya Siamese Club completely fits the bill. This is the flagship restaurant for renowned Thai chef Ian Kittichai, and has received accolades not only for its use of organic and farm fresh ingredients but also for original and delicious food that has not been toned down for the tourist crowd. Most menu items are winners, but the real standouts include the massaman lamb curry, along with the kradook moo aok glazed baby back ribs. Not only is the food good, but the atmosphere is a combination of elegance and garden party, as Issaya is housed in a century old Thai mansion, and the lawn and garden area is set with beanbag cushions for relaxing on, In the evening, the house is lit up in a golden light, making it the perfect city escape. (02-672-9040-1)
9 Baan Som Tam
Isaan, or northeastern cuisine, is probably the most common food eaten in Thailand, by both visitors and locals alike. Some of the best Isaan food is found at corner street stalls, which most tourists find too hot and uncomfortable to sit at, whereas the food in fancier digs often leaves a lot to be desired. Baan Som Tam creates a very happy medium with fantastic fresh northeastern cuisine in a homey air-conditioned environment. The sai krok spiced sausages made with sticky rice are superb here, as is the namesake papaya salad (som tam), with all of the ingredients tasting so fresh and flavor packed you will think they are organic. (02 630 3486)
8 Le Normandie
Yes it is expensive, but you wont complain if you are expecting top notch haute cuisine.This classy French restaurant on the top floor of The Oriental Hotel is a Bangkok institution. Fois gras and roasted Sisteron rack of lamb are just some of the menu highlights prepared by the visiting French master chefs in residence here, all taken in amidst elegance with views of the Chao Phraya River to boot. The wine cellar is extremely well stocked, and you will dine in the company of celebrities, politicians, and even the Thai royal family in one of Bangkok's classiest establishments. Dinner jackets are a requirement for gentlemen here. (02 659-9000)
While this small eatery just off of Sukhumvit is always packed with discerning diners coming to try out creations that just aren't available elsewhere in Bangkok, so much that it is next to impossible to get a seat, lunch offers better prospects, and Isao is well worth a visit. The owner at Isao studied under the chef at Green Tea in Chicago, and obviously brought back some creative expertise. Try out some of the signature fusion specialties here such as the Volcano, a baked scallop in cream sauce served in its shell resembling orange molten lava, spicy and taste tingling. Or how about the Jackie, a caterpillar shaped sushi roll with egg, boiled shrimp, roe, and tempura, or the Chicago Spicy Crazy, which features salmon, tuna, white fish and vegetables. (02 258 0645)
6 The Local
Owner Kan Markawat and his sister Ploy come from a family of traditional foodies, and they have put their love of traditional and hard to find dishes from all over Thailand on display at the lovely new eatery, The Local, where one can dine in a 70 year old traditional teak home, outfitted with antiques, wooden bird cages, old paddles from the floating market, and bookcases full of Thai cookbooks from throughout the ages. The menu is large and varied and standouts include gaeng lun juan, which comes from the Rama V Royal Court and is made with beef or pork laced with aromatic Thai herbs and shrimp paste, highly aromatic and bursting with flavor. Another menu winner is the gaeng kua pla bai som pan kee maa, a spicy yellow curry fish with hard to find orange leaves from the south, and don't forget to save room for the homemade ice cream and perhaps one of the signature cocktails such as the Safflower, made with Mekong whiskey, safflower, and kumquat juice, and a perfect complement to the food. (02 664 0664)
Zuma, the posh Japanese eatery with branches in London, Hong Kong, Istanbul, Miami, and Dubai, has arrived in Bangkok. Based on a traditional Japanese izakaya, yet with a very sophisticated and elegant twist, and designed by Noriyoshi Muramatsu, the renowned architect and design head of Tokyo's Studio Glitt, Zuma features some of Bangkok's freshest and most innovative Japanese cuisine, in an immaculately planned urban setting. Signature dishes include the gyuhire sumibiyaki karami zuke- spicy beef tenderloin with sesame, red chili and sweet soy, as well as the gindara saikyo misoyaki, a fine black cod marinated for 3 days in miso and served wrapped in a hoba leaf (+66.2252 4707)
Gaggan is described as progressive Indian, but it might be better to say molecular gastronomy goes Indian and comes to Bangkok! This snazzy restaurant started by Gaggan Anand, the Kolkata native who interned with Michelin-starred molecular whiz Ferran Adrià; at his famed El Bulli restaurant in Spain, turns out wonderful creations such as chicken tikka topped with aromatic cilantro chutney foam or mutton bhuna ghosh pot roasted in a copper vessel then vacuum packed and simmered in a water bath for 24 hours, creating outrageous flavors. For fans of innovative and progressive cooking, Gaggan dazzles the senses, and the classy colonial home the eatery is housed in compliments the wonderful food. (02-652-1700)
Not only is JoJo sleek, sophisticated, and one of Bangkok's most elegant dining spots, it also happens to serve some of the city's most refined and delicious Italian food. You can sit in the stylish dining room or out on the romantic candlelit patio and indulge in offerings like squid ink tagliolini in Boston lobster sauce or a fettucine alfredo served on a Castelmagno cheese wheel. Absolutely don't miss trying the D.O.P Burrata cheese and rocket salad, which is a half kilo of creamy cheese that will leave you salivating with pleasure. Don't forget to save room for the tiramisu martini for dessert! (02 207 7815)
The only Thai restaurant to be included in prestigious Restaurant Magazine's Top 50 Restaurants in the World, Nahm lives up to its billing by serving some of the best food one can find in Bangkok. However, some folks just aren't ready to fork out for a fancy dinner, which is all the more reason to take advantage of the fact that Nahm is now open for lunch. You can try the set menu which features 3 mains and 3 canapes along with dessert for only 1100 baht. The kanom jeen rice noodles served with a choice of curries are fabulous, and the blue swimmer crab and pickled garlic on rice cakes is divine. Lunch is served from 12-2. (02 625 3388)
1 Soul Food Mahanakorn
Former Atlantic Monthly food critic Jarred Wrisley wanted a place where foodies could enjoy top notch Thai street food without having to sit on stools in the heat, and his converted Chinese shophouse restaurant is now the talk of the town, with divine northern haeng lay Burmese curry and roasted larb phet duck salad heading a menu full of Thai culinary delights. Wrisley's sleek eatery in fashionable Thong Lor is popular amongst both locals and expats, as the ingredients are fresh, spices not toned down, and yet the owner's unique twists and experimentations are what give the dishes that extra pizzazz and set Soul Food Mahanakorn a world apart from other dining options. (085-904-2691)
About Dave Stamboulis
Dave Stamboulis is a travel writer and photographer based in Bangkok, Thailand. Born in Athens, Greece and growing up in Berkeley, California, Dave first discovered Bangkok while on a 40,000-kilometer bicycle trip; he moved there for good in 2005. Dave's photos, represented by Alamy and Getty Images, have appeared in publications around the world. He is the author of Odysseus’ Last Stand, which received the Silver Medal for Travel Book of the Year in 2006 from the Society of American Travel Writers. In addition to working for Fodor’s Guidebook to Thailand and Laos, his travel stories appear in publications throughout SE Asia.
Read more about Dave Stamboulis here.