The 10 Best Thai Restaurants to eat like a local in Bangkok

Bangkok Travel Guides / August 23, 2016
The 10 Best Thai Restaurants to eat like a local in Bangkok Image credit: Christopher Rose/Flickr

Every seasoned traveler has this question when visiting a foreign place, “Where can I eat like a local?” This is the kind of question that makes a Bangkok local’s eyes twinkle with excitement simply because of the wealth of choices in the city. In this Southeast Asian city, it is easy to eat like a local, and to sample the best Thai dishes at affordable prices.

One indication that you’re in a good local restaurant in Bangkok is that the meals aren’t dumbed down to suit foreign tongues. Want authentic tom yum, khao phat nam prik narok, and green curry? Expect fire! These three dishes are some of Thailand’s spiciest dishes, and the only way to enjoy them authentic is when they’re “Thai spicy”.

If you’re not a big fan of heat, it’s still very possible to take delight in non-spicy, authentic Thai food such as their fresh seafood dishes and delectable desserts.

Here’s your guide to the best local restaurants in Bangkok to help you on your next trip.

1. Somtum Der

For the best som tum in Bangkok

Somtum Der Image credit: Somtum Der

Somtum Der may have gone international, with branches in Tokyo, Beiijing, Ho Chi Minh, and New York, but it is still as local as it can get.

The restaurant is headed by Chef Korn, a native of Sakhon Nakhon, a province of northern Thailand. He is responsible for keeping the roots of their Isan menu as intact as possible, even to the point of fermenting fish himself for one of their specialties, “pla ra”.

This cozy air-conditioned restaurant on Silom Road takes pride in its long list – more than 20 – of som tum varieties, each of which is prepared right before you as you order. Don’t miss out by ordering just one kind; try these top picks: Tum pla tu khao mun, Tum Suo Sakhonnakorn, and Tum Muo.

Somtum Der’s authentic Isan recipes are well-complemented by the Isan craftsmanship beautifully showcased in the restaurant’s interiors. The walls are adorned with photographs of Isan’s day-to-day life – real conversation pieces! A Somtum Der experience is akin to going back in time via their traditional Thai dishes while lounging in a modern red-orange time machine.

What to order: Tum pla tu khao mun, Marinated raw pork sausages, Spicy Isan pork cartilage soup

Price range: 50 to 120 baht ($1.45 to $3.47)

When: 11:00 – 14:30 (Lunch); 16:30 – 22:30 (Dinner)

Where: 5/5 Sala Daeng Road, Silom, Bang Rak, Bangkok

How to get there: Somtum Der is located right at the beginning of Silom Road. It is accessible by BTS Silom Line or MRT Blue Line, alight at Sala Daeng station.

2. Thip Samai

For the best pad Thai in Bangkok

Thip Samai Image credit: Katsuya Shimbata/Flickr

If you’re in Bangkok in quest for the best pad Thai, you better not miss Thip Samai on Maha Chai Road. It began its operations in 1965, around the time the dish itself was born.

This local restaurant has a frenetic ambience to it – pedestrians wheezing by, cooks frantically working the wok, dozens of egg trays on display while the glorious smell of pad Thai wafts in the air.

Thip Samai has a simple menu, basically consisting of different kinds of pad Thai and their famous bottled orange juice – delivered fresh from the countryside. Must-tries include the Original pad Thai, Pad Thai sen jan man goong, and Superb pad Thai.

What makes Thip Samai different from the myriad pad Thai restaurants in Bangkok is their choice of sun-dried Chanthaburi rice noodles, which soak up all the flavors of the shrimp and sauces without being too soggy. Their pad Thais have a distinct smoky flavor due to the burning hot charcoals on which they are cooked.

Thip Samai is a great place to have dinner in when you want to have something filling fast and without the frills.

What to order: Original pad Thai, Pad Thai sen jan man goong, Super pad Thai

Price range: 50 to 70 baht ($1.45 to $2.02)

When: 17:00 – 01:00 (Daily)

Where: 313 Maha Chai Road, Samran Rat, Khet Phra Nakhon, Bangkok

How to get there: Take the Khlong Saen Saep canal boat to Phanfa Lilat station. Exit towards Ratchadamnoen and make a left on Maha Chai Road.

3. Soei Restaurant

For delicious mackerel cheeks, seafood and tom yum dishes

Soei Restaurant

Here’s a useful tip if you’re planning to eat at Soei: be prepared. Do not go famished and expect to be served a hot meal right away. The wait for a table or for food could take up to 2 hours.

It has an extensive 10-page Thai menu and a limited English menu, so you better bring a Thai-speaking guide. The open-air restaurant can get noisy, with throngs of customers, the ins and outs of passengers, and the rumbling of the train every now and then.

Be prepared to have the highlight meal of your trip – or even your life. Delight in rare Thai dishes such as fried mackerel faces, Thai shrimp ceviche, and mackerel curry.

The reason behind the slow service at Soei is that it has been a hit with both locals and foreigners through all these years: it has only one chef. The owner-chef cooks each of the orders himself to ensure that every dish that goes out of the kitchen is of highest quality. He prepares extremely flavorful Thai recipes that would make every minute of waiting well worth it. Finish your meal with a dessert of Ow-tung – seriously.

What to order: Chu chee pla to (Mackerel curry), Pla goong pao (Thai shrimp salad), Kaem pla too tod (Fried mackerel faces), Tom yum pla too (Mackerel tom yum soup)

Price range: 90 to 450 baht ($2.60 to $12.99)

When: 11:30 – 22:00 (Sunday to Friday)

Where: Kamphaeng Phet 5, Samsen Nai, Phaya Thai, Bangkok

How to get there: Take BTS Sukhumvit Line to Victory Monument station and then take a taxi to Samsen railway station.

4. P’Aor Restaurant

For the best bowl of tom yum goong noodles in Bangkok

P’Aor Restaurant

P’Aor is the kind of restaurant you should visit if you want your expectations met – correction: exceeded. This multi-awarded no-frills restaurant is where your 100 baht ($2.89) will get you a steaming large bowl of rich, creamy Tom yum noodles that are perfectly punctuated with pieces of big, fat shrimp. And, oh, 100 baht ($2.89) is already one of the more expensive dishes at P’Aor.

Prepare to eat like a local because at P’Aor, there’s no watering down of soups, no dumbing down of Thai classics. Add to that, there are no English translations on the menu – so be prepared. Practice the pronunciation of these dishes: Kuay teow tom yum goong nam khon, Ba mee yok gai ob, and Khao goong rad sauce man boo – these are all must-tries.

Despite all the awards and accolades on display, P’Aor doesn’t aim to impress its customers, only to keep dishing out plates and bowls of well-loved P’Aor recipes which launched them onto the culinary map. Do not miss the tom yum noodles!

What to order: Lobster tom yum, Crab sauce rice, Shrimp popia, Kuay teow tom yum goong nam khon

Price range: 50 to 699 baht ($1.44 to $20.19)

When: 10:00 – 22:00 (Daily except Monday)

Where: 68/51 Soi Phetchaburi 5, Phetchaburi Road, Bangkok

How to get there: Take the BTS Sukhumvit Line to Ratchathewi station. From there, walk towards Phetchaburi Soi 5, make a right at Phetchaburi Alley and walk for about 250 meters. Turn left to a small, narrow alley and walk for another 80 meters; you will then find P’Aor to your right.

5. Wattana Panich Restaurant

For the best beef noodles in Bangkok

Wattana Panich Restaurant

Throughout its 60+ years of operations, Wattana Panich Restaurant has become synonymous to this mouthwatering phrase: Thai beef noodles.

There are only two main dishes at Wattana Panich: beef stew and goat stew. Both of these dishes are boiled for extremely long periods of time, resulting in exceptionally tender meat and thick brown soup. A slurp of the soup will offer you distinct flavors of star anise and cinnamon.

Each dish can be ordered with your choice of noodles: sen yai (flat), sen lek (medium sized) or sen mee (hair-thin), or if extra hungry, with a side of steamed rice. For good measure, order their refreshing coconut ice cream for dessert – always a smart decision.

What to order: Kuay teow neua, Kuay teow pae sen lek, Coconut ice cream

Price range: 80 to 200 baht ($2.31 to $5.77)

When: 10:00 – 21:00 (Daily)

Where: 336 Ekkamai Alley 18, Thanon Sukhumvit, Watthana, Bangkok

How to get there: Take the BTS Sukhumvit Line to Ekkamai station. From there, you can take a cab, bus (23 or 545), or tuktuk to Ekkamai Alley 18 and look for the restaurant with a big vat of boiling meat.

6. Jay Fai Restaurant

For the best Phad kee mao (Drunken noodles) in Bangkok

Jay Fai Restaurant

Jay Fai Restaurant is one of those restaurants whose massive success lies on the person behind the stove. Owner/chef Jay Fai learned to cook when she was 8 years old, and has been cooking literally every dish at the eatery since it opened 50+ years ago.

Her masterpiece, Phad kee mao is known throughout the city and revered by personalities such as Martha Stewart, who touted Jay Fai “the best cook in Thailand”. This open-air Maha Chai restaurant sells their specialties such as drunken noodles, crab omelet, and stir-fried noodles at prices 3 times more expensive than the rest of Bangkok but that doesn’t stop people from packing the place.

Waiting for your orders at Jay Fai is not an agony because you get to see “The Mozart of the Wok” in action, deftly handling two pairs of spatulas and woks at the same time. Her accomplice in cooking her famous dishes is the hot fire spewed out by live coals. It renders thick, toasted noodles with a smoky flavor that complements the flavors of the succulent jumbo prawns and crisp vegetables.

What to order: Fried drunken noodles, Crab omelet, Stir-fried noodles

Price range: 200 to 800 baht ($5.77 to $23.07)

When: 16:00 – 01:00 (Daily except Sunday)

Where: 327 Maha Chai Road, Samran Rat, Khet Phra Nakhon, Bangkok

How to get there: Take the Khlong Saen Saep canal boat to Phanfa Lilat station, exit towards Ratchadamnoen and make a left on Maha Chai Road. Or take a cab or tuktuk to the restaurant.

7. Rot Dee Det

For tasty bowls of noodle soups

Rot Dee Det

Rot Dee Det’s location – in the tourist-famous shopping district of Pathum Wan – might make you dismiss the restaurant as one of those designed to cater to tourists, but it is not. It is popular among Bangkok locals who want fresh, fast and flavorful meals in between snagging great deals.

This open-air roadside eatery at Siam Square specializes in noodle soups whose rich broth is like the Pied Piper of Hamelin – its smell magically hypnotizing you to get a table and order a bowl or two.

Travelers would appreciate that Rot Dee Det’s menu is printed in English, and that most dishes cost only 40 baht ($1.16). Servings are rather small, probably so you can try a few dishes without bursting your belly.

Sweating is inevitable due to the combination of hot soup and no air-conditioning, but each umami-packed slurp is worth every bead of perspiration. If you hate crowds, avoid lunch and dinner time as the place always gets packed.

Should you order just one dish, go for everyone local’s favorite: Guay teow neu (beef noodle soup).

What to order: Guay teow neu, Kao nar kai, Kao moo wahn

Price range: 35 to 60 baht ($1.01 to $1.73)

When: 11:00 – 21:00 (Daily)

Where: 420-420/1 Rama 1 Soi 7, Siam Square, Pathum Wan, Bangkok

How to get there: Take the BTS and get off at National Stadium; then walk for about 3 minutes to Siam Square Soi 7.

8. Krua OV

For the Royal Thai dish Khao chae and curry

Krua OV

It is a common belief that the best places to eat like a local in Bangkok are roadside eateries. That is not entirely false, but it’s not completely true either. Located in Kate Dusit, Krua OV has better ambience than other restaurants and serves some of the best Thai dishes you’ll ever have – at really affordable prices.

It is best known for their Royal Thai dishes such as Khao chae, an assortment of side dishes paired with icy jasmine rice and jasmine water. Other not-to-miss dishes are Gaeng garee gai, Kai Paloe, and Pla duk foo pad prik king.

It’s mandatory to order Khao chae at Krua OV, especially because chances are slim that other restaurants offer this royal dish. Side dishes such as deep-fried green chili stuffed with minced pork, shrimp kapi balls, and shredded pork are meant to be chased with a spoonful of icy jasmine rice and jasmine water. It’s an experience that is too good for words!

What to order: Khao chae, Gaeng garee gai, Pla duk foo pad prik king

Price range: 20 to 150 baht ($0.58 to $4.33)

When: 10:00 – 20:30 (Daily)

Where: 199 Thanon Pichai, Kwang, Nakhon Chaisi, Kate Dusit, Bangkok

How to get there: Take the BTS to Victory Monument. From there, take a cab or bus to Thanon Pichai. Enter the royal government area of Dusit, and you’ll see Krua OV’s Irish pub-like entrance.

9. Saeng Chai Pochana

For a beautiful selection of Chinese-Thai seafood dishes

Saeng Chai Pochana

Saeng Chai Pochana is one of those local restaurants that are tourist-friendly in such way that their menu has pictures and translation in English and Japanese. This is due to the big population of Japanese and English speaking expats in the area (in between Thong Lo and Phrom Phong).

The restaurant has an extensive, beat-up menu consisting mostly of Chinese-Thai seafood dishes. Servings are good for sharing and modestly priced so it’s a perfect place for friends and families.

Top picks include Pla gao tod gratiem prik Thai (deep fried grouper topped with garlic), Tom moo kiem chai (minced pork soup with pickled mustard greens) and Pad dok kajon (stir-fried Thai milkweed flowers with egg and mung beans).

It is tempting, but probably impossible, to order every mouthwatering dish on the menu especially because of the appetizing, realistic photos. You cannot go wrong with any of their seafood dishes, which are guaranteed fresh. You can even pick your “catch” before they cook it. They know their way around seafood, cooked just right and with lots of briny flavor.

Dinner time is packed with locals and expats so either prepare to wait or come early.

What to order: Pla gao tod gratiem prik Thai, Tom moo kiem chai, Pad dok kajon

Price range: 80 to 250 baht ($2.31 to $7.21)

When: 18:00 – 04:00 (Daily)

Where: 762/5-6 Sukhumvit Road, Soi 32, Bangkok

How to get there: Take BTS to either Thong Lo or Phrom Phong, and take a leisurely 3-minute walk on Sukhumvit Road to Saeng Chai Pochana.

10. Sabai Jai Gai Yang

For the famous grilled chicken dish

Sabai Jai Gai Yang

Sabai Jai Gai Yang is one of the few restaurants to survive the modernization of upscale Ekkamai Road. In fact, it grew along with the development of Ekkamai, which has seen the loss of a number of family-owned local restaurants.

A huge factor to the staying power of Sabai Jai Gai Yang is its remarkable rendition of Northern Isaan and traditional Thai favorites, with dishes such as Gai yang (grilled chicken), Moo yang (grilled pork), and Tom yum goong nam sai (Tom yum with clear soup) headlining their menu. Price is higher than most Bangkok eateries, but still among the most reasonable on Ekkamai.

The restaurant named itself after one of its bestsellers, Gai yang, but there are still so many dishes that are worth trying such as Mushroom salad, Roasted fish with lemon grass, and Snapper with black pepper.

Travelers do not have to play a guessing game at Sabai Jai Gai Yang as their menu has photos and English descriptions. The ambience is less fancy than other Ekkamai establishments so you wouldn’t feel underdressed if you pop in wearing comfy shorts and flip flops in between shopping or touring.

What to order: Gai yang, Moo yang, Crispy roti with condensed milk and chocolate ice cream

Price range: 60 to 200 baht ($1.73 to $5.77)

When: 10:00 – 00:00 (Daily)

Where: Sukhumvit 63 Road (Ekkamai), Bangkok

How to get there: Take the BTS Skytrain to Ekkamai station. From there, take about a 10-minute walk on Soi Sukhumvit 63, you will see Sabai Jai Gai Yang on your left.