With Michelin launching its first-ever guide to the city, the food scene in Bangkok is (literally) on everybody’s lips right now. But with an estimated ten thousand new restaurants opening every year in Thailand's capital, choosing where to eat can be a minefield. Here’s our guide to five places that you simply can’t afford to miss.
If there’s one dish you just have to eat while you’re in Bangkok, it’s pad thai. Sure, you’ve probably tried this thrown-together meal of noodles, shrimp, bean sprouts, tofu and egg, dozens of times at home. But the Bangkok version is so much better.
And Thip Samai’s is the best of the lot. Cooked over a charcoal fire, sprinkled with crushed peanuts and served with a wedge of lime, the pad thais at this unpretentious little place on Maha Chai Road have been keeping the hungry residents of Bangkok’s Old City satisfied for over half a century.
Get here early (it opens at 5 pm) and order their egg pad thai – sweet and sour, bitter and salty, it ticks all the boxes needed to tantalise your taste buds and comes encased in a protective (and delicious) omelette wrap.
Pad Thai polished off, you don’t have too far to go to find Bangkok’s next culinary must-do. Right next door to Thip Samai, the queue that permanently snakes out of the door at number 327 is a good indication that you’ve found Raan Jay Fai. Then there’s the unmistakable form of Jay Fai herself, the seventy-year-old so-called 'Queen of Thai Street Food', who mans her flaming pans in a ski hat and goggles.
'Aunty Fai' is the only street-food vendor in Bangkok to have been awarded a Michelin star. Her signature dish is khai jeaw poo, a (very expensive) rolled omelette stuffed with chunks of white crabmeat so big you could easily mistake them for chicken, but you might prefer the poo pad pong karee, a mild curry that also uses crab as its feature ingredient.
Don’t worry about that queue, though – it just gives you more time to enjoy the elaborate cooking demonstration, as Aunty Fai weaves between the woks.
You’ll feel good eating at Bo.lan. Not only is the food unlike anything else you’ll probably try in Thailand but the whole restaurant is run with the aim of reducing its environmental impact at every turn.
The name comes from the celebrity chef couple behind the concept – Duangporn 'Bo' Songvisava and Dylan Jones – who have turned their farmhouse-style restaurant on a narrow alleyway off Sukhumvit Road into a fine-dining phenomenon.
Treat yourself to the Bo Lan Balance, a mouth-watering journey through Thailand’s culinary heritage that mixes long-forgotten recipes with refined home-cooking classics. Like everything else on the menu, it’s all organic and seasonal, meticulously sourced from local producers and independent farmers or handpicked from their own garden.
What’s more, water is filtered in-house, they generate a lot of their own energy, and any organic waste goes back into the food chain as fertilizer for their herb garden – simple steps but still fairly revolutionary in a city like Bangkok.
The food from Northeast Thailand, a region known as Isaan, is spicier and stronger than the rest of the country’s cuisine, with a reputation for featuring copious amounts of chillies and punchy fish sauce. There are several Isaan restaurants in Bangkok, but for really authentic flavours, head to Somtum Der, a trendy place on Sala Daeng Road.
The focus here is som tum, the northeastern staple of spicy green papaya salad, which is served in over twenty different varieties, from salted egg to freshwater crab. Other regional specialities to share include pork skewers marinated in coconut milk, nam prik pla ra (chilli paste with fermented fish), Isaan sausages and larb, a spicy salad best eaten with little balls of sticky rice.
It’s great fun watching the comings and goings on the Chao Phraya River from any one of the restaurants that line the banks of the capital’s main thoroughfare. But for knockout views, you need to head up high, and nowhere does higher better than the aptly named Vertigo restaurant at the Banyan Tree.
Projecting out over Downtown Bangkok, this 61st-floor place serves steaks, baby chicken and other grilled goodies against a backdrop of spikey skyscrapers. Despite the cost (the food is pricey), it’s always busy, so you’ll need to reserve in advance – book the first slot of the evening’s service and you’ll be able to catch the sunset and that magical moment when the lights start twinkling into life below.
Discover more of Bangkok with The Rough Guide to Bangkok. Compare flights, find tours, book hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. Top image: Bangkok street food © Anansing/Shutterstock.
A former Rough Guides Managing Editor, Keith Drew has written or updated over a dozen Rough Guides, including Costa Rica, Japan and Morocco. As well as writing for The Telegraph, The Guardian and BRITAIN Magazine, among others, he also runs family-travel website Lijoma.com. Follow him @keithdrewtravel on Twitter and @BigTrips4LittleTravellers on Instagram.