With people pouring in from every region to live, study, and work, Bangkok has the best variety of Thai food you’ll find anywhere in the country. And with tens of thousands of restaurants, food stalls, and street vendors, there is plenty of it to be had in the city whether you are looking to spend 30 or 3,000 baht on a meal.
In addition to preparing regional cuisines such as coconut-scented southern curries and spicy Isan salads, more and more, Bangkok chefs are getting creative with traditional recipes and flavors, putting new twists on some of the old standards and challenging diners’ conceptions of what defines “Thai” food. All in all, the city is a foodie’s dream come true.
Street food in Bangkok is like no other in the world. It’s not about greasy hot dogs or over-processed fast food, despite the fact that it’s made quickly out on the street and often consumed there, too. Some of the best food in Bangkok is found in places without addresses or names. Bangkok residents, from construction workers to multimillionaires, eat many of their meals at these casual places.
If you’re hungry and you come upon a crowded street stall with an empty seat, don’t be intimidated by your lack of language skills or confusion about the menu (if there is one at all). No one will be offended if you discreetly point to whatever neighboring customers are eating. Then sit down and enjoy your food as you observe Bangkok life surrounding you.
Shophouse restaurants, especially in the Old City, though you’ll find them everywhere, are another place to find great food. Most are really just a step above street food since you’ll have a roof over your head while you eat and access to a rudimentary bathroom, but there won’t be air-conditioning and you’ll still be sitting on plastic stools and putting up with the occasional bug at your feet.
These shops, which probably make up the majority of food places in the country (including in major cities and many tourist areas), aren’t always spotlessly clean by Western standards, and some visitors may be put off by the way they look. Many of the suggestions in this travel guide are just those types of local restaurants, but we’ve tried our best to adjust expectations by indicating what you’ll find inside.
If you come across a restaurant falling into this category, don’t dismiss it. Prices are always reasonable and the food is reliable and fresh. Some of the city’s oldest and most respected restaurants are in simple shophouses. Two great streets for exploring old-fashioned shophouse eateries are Tanao Road in the Old City and Nakhon Chai Si Road in Dusit just north of the Old City.
Whatever the hour, you will be able to find something good to eat in Bangkok. Few casual restaurants and even fewer street stalls have posted hours, and closing times will vary depending on the area and the day of the week. In nightlife areas, some vendors will stay open ’til the last revelers have gone home. On Mondays many street food vendors will be closed, as will smaller restaurants, but larger restaurants will remain open. And there are plenty of late-night and all-night places to eat in the city.
If you’re looking for something other than Thai food, the city has some excellent international restaurants, too. Thanks to thriving expat and immigrant communities, Italian, Indian, and Japanese restaurants are as good as what you’ll find at home (wherever that may be), although you’ll pay a premium compared to the cost of dining on Thai food.
How to Eat in Bangkok
Bangkok is a city that loves to eat. From morning ’til night there’s food everywhere, from street vendors selling fresh fruit for 10 baht to hole-in-the-wall noodle shops selling guay teow noodle soup for 30 baht to uber-fancy international restaurants offering up fusion food; you can’t walk 10 meters in Bangkok without seeing something to snack on. In fact, many people in Bangkok don’t even have full kitchens, as the food is so good and the prices so reasonable out on the street. Why bother spending the time to cook when there’s someone a block from your apartment who can make whatever you want better than you can—and probably cheaper, too?
Chances are your hotel will have more-than-adequate dining options, and there are plenty of wonderful, accessible sit-down restaurants in the city. But in order to really experience dining in Bangkok, you have to go out to the streets and the food courts. For experimenting and just looking around, the lunch markets in the city center during the week and the crowded dinner markets are perfect. Not only do you get to see the hustle and bustle of urban life, but you can also wander around looking at the different dishes people are eating and take a few chances. Most everything “on the menu” will be 50 baht or less, so even if you don’t like what you get, you haven’t blown your budget, and there’s always something else to try.
During the day, the Lang Suan market and Soi La Le Sap are favorites in central Bangkok. At night, try the Thong Lo market, the area around Soi Convent, or Sala Daeng Soi 4 in Silom. In Dusit, the Si Yan market has great food stalls open all day.
Another great place to see and try lots of different things is a mall food court. You won’t find any of the tired brands serving up greasy fare in Bangkok. Even at the most expensive malls, food courts are like mini street markets, with an astounding variety of freshly prepared, inexpensive food. Any mall will have good food, but some of the best are MBK for cheap, hectic eats and Siam Paragon for a more refined food-court experience.
Whatever you eat, remember that Thais generally like their food spicy, and many otherwise fantastic dishes can be downright unpleasant if they’re too hot for your palate. Som tam (spicy papaya salad), nam tok (spicy sliced meat), tom yam kung (aromatic, spicy soup with shrimp), and tom kar gai (chicken in spiced coconut soup) are all traditionally spicy. If you learn no other phrase in Thai, remember this one—mai coy phet, meaning not very hot. If you can’t tolerate chilies at all, say mai phet (not spicy).
- Most Old-School Bangkok Eatery: Chote Chit
- Best Pad Thai: Pad Thai Loong Pha and Thip Samai
- Best Street Food: Wat Kanikapol and Trok Isara Nuphap
- Best Thai Restaurant for Splurging: Blue Elephant
- Best Late-Night Eats: Khao Mun Gai Pratunam
- Most Indulgent Brunch: Spice Market at the Four Seasons
- Best Nouveau Thai: Bo.Lan
© Suzanne Nam from Moon Bangkok, 5th Edition