We recently returned from six epic weeks of traveling Thailand, where Thai Hubby and I took our four half-Thai kids on a Thailand Heritage Tour from the northern mountains of Chiang Rai to the pristine beaches of the Similian Islands in the south!
As we traveled and devoured Thai meals all over Thailand with local Thai friends and Thai family, I can’t count the times I said, “Oh my goodness, this is soooo good!” as I closed my eyes in complete ecstasy over the intense Thai flavors I got to indulge in everyday.
As we did our tour of Thailand, I was reminded from my years of living and traveling in Thailand with local Thai family and Thai friends that if you really want to get good Thai food in Thailand that local Thais love, there are five best places you have to eat Thai food at while traveling in Thailand:
1. Thailand Mall Food Courts, especially in Bangkok
We were in the luxurious Emporium mall in Bangkok riding down the long escalators from the 8th floor to the mall food court on the ground floor with mouths agape at how elegant this mall was compared to our dinky one-story mall back home where half of the 10 stores are closed since no one goes to malls in America anymore.
We were sooo hangry after our 24 hour flight that we were like starved people walking a desert, searching frantically for a Thai food oasis. So when my Thai mom-n-law told me a restaurant we were walking by at the Emporium mall food court had Issan food I immediately said, “Let’s eat there!!”
If you are American, you might be thinking, “Eww! You wanted your first meal back to Thailand after 6 years to be at a restaurant in a Bangkok mall food court?!”
But in Thailand we think, “Yay! A Bangkok Mall food court! Air conditioning to escape the 110 degree heat and 100 percent humidity! Clean tables and chairs! Endless variety of Thai food, so if you want to get Pad Thai you can, and if your Thai Hubby wants Khao Soi, he can find it too! And it all tastes amazing!”
Spread before us on the mall food court table were all my Issan favs (Issan food is spicy, intensely flavored Thai food from the Northeast):
Thai fried chicken, Laarb, Tom Yum, Thai Sticky Rice, Sun dried pork jerky, three different kinds of Som Tum, and all the spicy sauces and dips and Thai herbal teas you can imagine! Perfect first meal in Thailand!
And it was at a Bangkok mall food court! In every city in Thailand there is at least one mall to escape the heat, so head there, especially if you all want something different to eat, you are having a heat stroke and need some A/C, and need some quick and easy to find Thai food.
Pro Tip for Thailand Mall Food Courts:
Usually you can’t just pay each vendor, instead there is a central area where you get a Food Court card. Wait in line there, hand over some baht to load it, and use that to pay each vendor for your Thai food. Don’t forget to take the card back to get your change back at the end!
2. Beach-side Restaurants in Thailand
Wanna know one of my favorite meals I flashback to when I’m having a bad day and missing Thailand (you ever flashback to epic foodie memories too to make you smile?)?
We were in Pattaya eating at a beach-side restaurant with my Thai-mom-n-law and Thai-sis-n-law in January in 75-degree weather at a table laden with fresh Thai seafood. The sun was setting in vibrant pink and gold over the gentle Gulf of Thailand as the smell of fried garlic, lemongrass and kaffir lime floated around us.
Our table was packed with all the Thai seafood I dream of when I’m in America and missing Thailand:
Thai crab curry! Steamed whole fish with ginger and soy sauce! Fresh oysters with tons of Thai toppings like fresh garlic, crispy shallots and Thai chilies! Thai seafood Tom Yum soup!
There were even fireworks randomly going off over the beach after?! Which was exactly how my body and soul felt after eating such amazing Thai food next to the beach, while laughing and chatting with my Thai family.
And our kids found some Thai kids on the beach next to our tables who were playing tag and they all played together while we kept feasting!
Most of my happiest Thai food memories take place on beaches in Thailand, eating freshly caught seafood with my Thai family. And the beachside restaurants in Thailand are wayyy more affordable than any beachside American restaurant would be.
In America rarely can you sit on the sand when eating at the beach, you are usually on a wooden deck, overlooking the beach, but in Thailand, they put out tables on the sand, and take them in at night.
I love curling my toes up in the soft sand while my kids giggled and chased crabs on the beach, coming back every now and then to take a bite of the Thai feast before playing more.
Pro Tip for Beachside Thai Restaurants in Thailand:
Many times pizza is sold at touristy beachside places in Thailand. If you are looking for big pizzas like we have in America, you’ll be disappointed. Usually the pizzas in Thailand at the beach are Italian style, thin crust, and delicious, but don’t feed many. So make sure you order more than one if there is a group of you, or just stick to amazing Thai seafood!
3. Thailand Street Food
We drove and walked all over Thailand on our last trip, and some of our favorite places we ate at in Thailand during our trip were at street food Thai restaurants.
In America when you road trip, you see big signs that say where to stop and eat off the exits, but usually it’s just a fast food chain you drop in and out.
But in Thailand, as you road trip you’ll see street food stands sprinkled along the roads and in the cities that you can easily pull off and eat at, or walk up to everywhere.
Traveling with a family of 6, we ate street food in Thailand the most since out of all the places on this list, street food restaurants in Thailand are the cheapest places to eat at, plus the Thai food is made by hard working entrepreneurs, the type of people we love to support.
In Kanchanaburi, we’d drive 10 minutes from our hotel to to Thai Hubby’s grandma’s house, and almost every day for lunch we’d stop at a street food stand near her place. We’d order Thai Pork and Wonton Noodle Soup (probably all my kids favorite Thai meal), deep fried crispy bananas, and Drunken Noodles with seafood, and each dish was around $2!
Pro Tip for Eating Thailand Street Food:
At street food stands in Thailand, usually you’ll see a big cooler of water, a bucket of ice, colorful mini straws, and aluminum cups on a communal table. It’s free water for customers, and it’s clean, so you don’t need to be afraid to drink it.
All 6 of us drank it every day and were fine. Plus my kids adored how the ice is shaped like cylinders with a hole in the middle. They’d put the little straws in and slide the ice up and down the straw.
Great entertainment if you need something to keep your kids busy with while waiting for your meal! Lol!
4. Regional Thai food in Thailand
Thailand has regional food that you can find even when you aren’t in that region, but of course it is best to eat it in that area. For example, on our last trip, we made sure when in the northern towns of Chiang Rai and Sukhothai that we got Northern Thai food we love like:
Pad Thai in Sukhothai:
In Sukhothai, aka the old capital city of Thailand where there are beautiful ruins tourists often do bike tours through, (and most importantly where Thai Hubby is from), they make Sukhothai Pad Thai with a Thai green bean. I love how it gives it a great crunch. When I teach Pad Thai during my Thai cooking classes, lately I’ve loved teaching it this way and using green beans because they are easier to find than bean sprouts.
Khao Soi in Chiang Rai:
Many of y’all love Khao Soi, Thai Yellow Curry Chicken Noodle Soup, as much as me, and up north in Chiang Mai is where it is from. Thai Hubby got me Khao Soi at a local food court in Chiang Rai, and the vendor had a topping bar, so Thai Hubby loaded it up as tall as the mountains we saw out the window with fresh toppings like shallots, green onion, bean sprouts, pickled cabbage, lime and crispy fried noodles!
Nam Prik Ong in Chiang Rai:
In northern Thailand, Thai chill dips are popular and made with ground pork, Thai shrimp paste, fried shallots, garlic and dried Thai chilies, and then steamed veggies are dipped in it. Aka, crudites from heaven!
Thai Hubby’s grandma was a pro at making Nam Prik Ong, so it was so fun to eat it with our friends at a beautiful Thai restaurant in Chiang Rai, where we even got to sit on the floor around the table like we would have done with Thai Hubby’s Grandma, and think of her.
Check out my nam prik ong recipe to learn more! One of my fav weeknight meals!
Pro Tip when eating Regional Food in Thailand:
If there is a regional Thai food you love and are dying to eat in an area, make it your priority to eat it right when you arrive. We wanted to eat Sukhothai Noodle Soup when in Sukhothai on our last trip, but got so busy meeting up with old Thai friends, that we ran out of time and left without getting it. I wish we’d done it first thing, so we wouldn’t have kept saying we will do it tomorrow and never do it!
5. Fancy Restaurants in Thailand
There is so much good cheap Thai food, that sometimes you might wonder if it’s worth it to pay for Thai food that is more than $2?
Yes! Worth it!
One of my favorite restaurants we ate at in Thailand was when for my Valentine’s Day Thai Hubby took us to the first Michelin Star restaurant I’ve ever been to, Baan A-Jor in Phuket.
Baan Ar-Jor in English means great-grandparents home, so the restaurant is in a restored home from 1936.
There aren’t as many historic homes in Thailand like we have in America, so it felt so special to first take a tour to show the kids what Thailand was like in those days and then even better eat amazing food there:
•the Thai vintage decor
•how half the restaurant’s profits go to help children in need
• even though it was a Michelin star restaurant, the prices of what we ordered were only around $7 per dish
•all the ingredients are from Phuket and each dish was so thoughtfully prepared!
One of our favorite Thai dishes at Baan Ar-Jor was the deep fried Thai Omelet loaded with gigantic fresh local shrimp. Delightful guilty pleasure! And such a quick week night meal if you are looking for one, here is my Thai omelet recipe!
Another fav was the signature dish of Baan Ar-Jor, the 100 year old secret recipe, crispy noodles with a sweet and savory gravy, huge prawns and pickled garlic.
Plus the stir-fried Andaman veggie with dried shrimp and their specialty Thai Cashew chicken! So grateful to get to eat there!
Pro Tip when eating at Fancy Restaurants in Thailand:
When trying to choose what to order at a nice Thai restaurant, one of my favorite things to do is order something I’d usually get from the street, but the elevated version.
Like when we were at Din Cafe in Kanchanaburi, I ordered Squid Ink Noodles Rad Na, it was so fun how they used black pepper instead of white and squid ink noodles instead of rice noodles. I love the classic Rad Na version, but I also loved this version and how creative the chefs were!
Whether you are eating a Michelin star restaurant in Thailand or at a roadside stand in Thailand, you are going to eat food that blows your mind made with love. Let me know if you have any questions about where to eat in Thailand like a local! I’d love to help!