Eating is one of my favorite pastimes; trying new restaurants and going grocery shopping make me very happy. Therefore, finding good restaurants has been a fun and joyfully time-consuming activity. With the cost of living being so much lower here than back in the Bay Area, it doesn’t break the bank to eat out much more often. I was going to try to make this a Top 5 list, but Bangkok has a lot to offer….
#10 L’Opera: Italian food, here for us when we need it. The candlelight and stone walls make this place cozy, romantic, and a great escape from the tropics. (I realize that to most it might seems weird to want an escape from tropical weather, but trust me: It does get old!)
#9 Hola: Fantastic, fresh Spanish tapas like tortilla, gazpacho, olives, and grilled veggies with salsa brava. The sangria is pretty darn good, and the staff are really nice. I just found out that my Spanish tutor is amigos with the chef/owner of Hola, which is cool. Maybe next time we go I won’t be as shy to practice my español!
#8 Northern Fish Restaurant: We don’t actually know the name of this place, but they have really good fish cooked in the Northern Thai style (whole fish, fried, and served with this fantastic spicy, vinegary, garlicky sauce). I’m vegetarian 98% of the time, but sometimes I cheat with Northern fish. This place is down Thong Lo (our cross-street); I’ll get the name next time we go! The mango and sticky rice alone is worth the trip.
#7 Khrua Vientiane, more affectionately called “The Barn” by Sean and me: The Barn is directly behind our apartment building on Soi 36 Sukhumvit. They have live music by a really cool band. These guys play guitars, drums, a Thai flute of sorts, a lute-like instrument, and they sing too. The music is really fun. In addition to the band, there are often beautiful Thai dancers (check out this video). Beer is served by waitresses wearing beer-themed cheerleading outfits (which makes my feminist hairs stand on end), and the food is authentic Laotian and Thai (specifically from the province of Issan). We tried crocodile once, but we mainly stick to the bung fai daeng (super spicy greens in garlic sauce), ma prao yen (cold, fresh, young coconuts), sum tum (famous Thai papaya salad), and various curries.
#6 Greyhound Cafe: This is a chain restaurant often found in malls. It’s authentically Thai, and I mean that in a modern sense. They serve lots of Thai dishes (their pad thai is solid), but they also cater to Western palettes with spaghetti, caprese salad, and French baked chicken, and the decor is quintessentially Westernized Thai. Statements like, “We love to go shopping and people-watch while sipping espresso” line the walls. Thai style is fresh and sharp, but they like to label themselves like that; they must think the design can’t stand for itself. (Another example: Sean and I went to a food court in a mall, and while I might describe it as surprisingly trendy and upscale, their menus said, “A trendy and upscale dining experience.”)
#5 Kuppa: We absolutely LOVE Kuppa. Serving all-day breakfast, roasted veggie salads with whole onions and sweet potatoes, and coffees from all over the world, Kuppa is a favorite read-books-while-sipping-coffee-on-a-Sunday-morning place. I always get the lychee-mint juice, a veggie omelet, the roasted veggie salad, and a French press with Kenyan coffee. The assortment of homemade cakes, pies, and quiches is very impressive, and the atmosphere is crazy pleasant. Big windows, lots of plants, and even a swing! Our only complaint is that sometimes the service is downright terrible, but honestly, the food and the feel of the place more than make up for it.
#4 Cabbages & Condoms: This is simply a must-see for tourists. The motive behind the restaurant is very openly and unabashedly safe sex; they even give condoms instead of mints with the bill. The walls are lined with hilarious condom cartoons and other safe sex propaganda. As you exit, you can spin a big wheel and see what kind of STD you could end up without using a condom. This might sound inappropriate, but the openness of the whole thing makes it somehow tasteful…or at least delightfully tacky. The gift shop is fun to peruse — perhaps your loved ones might enjoy a condom flower? Besides the interesting decor, Cabbages & Condoms has really good Thai food. They have all the traditional favorites — sum tum, pad thai, curries, many fish dishes, great veggies, and a huge assortment of Thai desserts. A note about Thai desserts: some are simply strange (like green squiggly rice flour ‘worms’ in coconut milk), and others are fabulous (mango and sticky rice, taro in coconut milk). For more information about the restaurant owner and his public health mention, watch this TED Talk.
#3 Rasayana Retreat: I found out about this place on CNN Go’s Top 5 Vegetarian Restaurants in Bangkok list. It’s tucked away on a soi off Phrom Phong, which is just one BTS stop from where Sean and I live. The cafe is attached to a spa that also has yoga classes (though for some reason we’ve never practiced there…hmmm, we should look into this!). It’s outside, which sounds like it might be miserable, but it’s actually quite pleasant because there are lots of trees for shade and breeze, and the waitress will point a fan (or three) at you if you feel you need the extra air flow! Mosquito repellant is also provided, when needed; I’ve never been bitten there! The food is simply amazing — it’s raw; it’s vegan; it’s the most healthy thing you can imagine. AND, it’s cheap! A raw, vegan joint in California is likely to charge you $15.95 for a salad (seriously), but Sean and I can eat our fill and pay just a bit more than that for both of us combined. We can afford a fresh juice (coconut and celery is actually not that weird of a combo), an appetizer (spring rolls or “tacos”, an entree (we both like the lasagna and enchiladas), and a dessert (the banana toffee pie and chocolate coconut pie are to die for!). I know raw food isn’t up everyone’s alley, but at least at Rasayana you can try it without breaking the bank!
#2 Dosa King: Dosa King is a vegetarian restaurant in the Nana area of Bangkok that has been there for more than two decades. It’s a small place on the hustling and bustling Soi 11 and perpendicular to the infamous Nana street stalls (prescription meds, lighters, t-shirts, and DVDs of questionable content, alongside prostitutes and food stalls). Don’t let that deter you though. Soi 11 is swarming with tourists and a fun place for night life. Dosa King is sort of an escape from all that; it definitely feels more wholesome! The food is outstanding — giant dosas stuffed with deliciously seasoned veggies and potatoes, several types of dal, different varieties of naan, spicy soups and curries, and masala chai (which always makes Sean happy). The staff are Thai, but the owner is Indian; all are friendly and very attentive.
*This is on Soi 3, not Soi 13 — Google Maps messes this up! See the third entry on this website: CNN Go