Thai food is fresh, full of flavors, and delicious – but it also can be extremely spicy. Be prepared: some meals (like green papaya salad or green curry) will set your mouth on fire! I am glad we were thinking ahead and “trained” our kids before going to Southeast Asia by letting them use piri piri extract in their soups and sauces. They still prefer their food “mai phet” (that’s Thai for not spicy) but when no other option is available, they are able to eat meal with a bit of a kick to it.
When we realized that our apartment is not going to have a kitchen (after all, one can’t have everything and pool is way more important, right? 😀), we were even more appreciative of its location. Nimmanahaeminda Road aka Nimman is packed with cheap street food stands and little improvised restaurants where you can eat at any time of the day. And once we rented scooters and went fully mobile, there was nothing in our way of exploring what Chiang Mai has to offer.
Breakfast, lunch, or dinner?
Unlike in most parts of Europe, Thais don’t really differentiate between meals. Their breakfast could easily be our lunch or dinner. You can find many places here that serve western-style breakfasts but why would you want to eat those in Thailand? OK, we’ve done it, too (twice, I think), only to make the kiddos happy, but Kaja and I could definitely do without it. Also, if you opt for a western-style breakfast, don’t be surprised to find out that it just doesn’t taste the same and costs 3 times more than Thai meals. So for most of our days, we ate the “local” way – and we LOVED it.
Our favorite breakfast places
Fried Chicken Leaves Nimman
Corner of Nimmanahaeminda Road and Nimmanahaeminda Soi 8
This place with a quite weird name is open almost all the time but if you come in the morning, they serve Khao Rad Gaeng – white rice with different toppings of your choice (vegetables, meat, eggs, curry, spicy, non-spicy). It is super cheap (30–40 THB) and delicious! We ate there almost every single day.
Also make sure to try Patongo with Nam Tao Hoo which they sell right in front of this place from a small food stand (they are usually sold out by 8:30am). Patongo are X-shaped pieces of fried dough and the latter is sweet soy milk. We would dip the dough in the milk, let it soak and then eat it, yum! Patongo is 10 THB and Nam Tao Hoo is 5 THB. Oh, and if you need to have your scooter checked, there’s a garage right inside this restaurant 😀.
Blue Diamond Breakfast Club
Corner of Moon Muang Road Soi 9 and Moon Muang 7 A Alley
This is the western-style place I mentioned above. They have a huge selection of baked goods, including vegan ones. Their menu is pretty large, in English and with pictures (that makes it a lot easier for the kids to pick). Nomads and backpackers love it but you will hardly ever meet a local there, unless you count the staff. Unlike our kiddos, we chose fried whole-grain rice which was really tasty. For a family a five, the prices were a little to high to justify a nicer setting, though (we would end up paying around 500 THB for all of us).
Uncle’s Restaurant (ร้านลุงพันธ์)
Nimmanahaeminda Soi 8
Another nice Thai restaurant which is open 24/7. We went there many times for lunch but also once for breakfast as our favorite place was closed due to the death of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej. The menu doesn’t change and they have very good noodle soups. Prices range from 30 to 50 THB.
Our favorite places for lunch or dinner
Maya Lifestyle Shopping Center
The bottom food court is full of different food stands offering many kinds of Thai, Chinese and Japanese dishes. Prices are great and the quality is not bad, either. There is also a pretty decent vegetarian/vegan stand (try their spring rolls).
Khao Soi Khun Yai
Sri Poom 8 Alley (right next to the Wat Khuan Khama temple)
As the name suggests, they specialize in Khao Soi. This yellow curry soup with coconut milk, deep fried and boiled egg noodles, shallots, lime and pickled mustard green is a must! They are open only from 10am to 2pm but will close when sold out. You will pay 40 THB for a bowl of this goodness.
Food Market at the Chang Phuak Gate
This is a place you don’t want to miss! It opens at 5pm and there are way too many options! I’m sure you will soon find your favorite.
- The lady with the cowboy hat – chopped pork leg with rice, egg and pickled mustard green (30–50 THB). There is another stand selling pretty much the same thing (and just as tasty) right next to the suki place (see below). Recommended if the line at the cowgirl stand gets too long (she’s really popular)
- Suki Koka – delicious Thai-style Suki, dry or stir-fried (40–50 THB)
- Steamed buns with custard cream – right next to the cowgirl (10 THB each)
- Salad stand – the first one when you enter the market (vegetarian green papaya salad was 30 THB)
- The fruit stand also selling mango sticky rice – their fruit was always fresh and delicious and their mango sticky rice is really yummy. One really big serving costs 40 THB
Som Tam Udon
When we wanted a more restaurant-like setting, we would go here. It was always buzzing with locals and all the food we were served was really good. You will seat yourself and fill out the order paper (it’s also in English). You will then hand it to the “receptionist” taking orders and wait until they bring your plates. The portions are not too big so you can try out more meals. Apart from food they also have great smoothies. Since it’s a real restaurant, the meals are a bit pricier but it was always a nice treat for us.
Braised Beef in Chiang Mai (เนื้อตุ๋นรสเยี่ยม นิมมาน เชียงใหม่)
Although nobody spoke English here, they have picture menus (yes, like 5 or 6 of them!) that make it super easy to order. We loved their tenderloin noodle soup! Expect to spend 40–50 THB per meal here.
Awesome owner and awesome food! You need to take your shoes off before going inside and somehow that makes it really special. Kids loved their Pad Thai and we couldn’t get enough of Young Coconut Curry and Mango Curry. The spiciness level of their food is rather low so if you like it hot, don’t be afraid to say so, they won’t go nuclear on you. Again, as it is a restaurant, be prepared to spend more (the Coconut and Mango Curry were 90 THB each plus rice).
Fried Chicken Leaves Nimman
This is the same place we went to have our breakfast – once they close at 10am, it turns into a fried chicken (and tofu, fish, sausage etc.) joint. I am not a big fan of fried food but Kaja and the kids loved it! We would just pick a variety of fried things, some steamed pumpkin and sticky rice, they would chop it up and serve it with a heap of fried onions and kaffir lime leaves. We never spent more than 200 THB for five people here.
Khun Kae’s Juice and Smoothie Bar
Why didn’t we find this place earlier?! They might as well serve the most delicious smoothies in whole Chiang Mai. You can mix and match your own. The kids went crazy and sometimes nailed it – like with banana plus orange. My favorite was banana, coconut, and passion fruit – all for mere 40 THB. Oh, and for the young wheatgrass lovers – they have a shot of freshly squeezed juice for 40 THB.
Burmese Restaurant and Library
Right next to our favorite breakfast joint is this restaurant that has both Thai and Burmese menu. Make sure to peek under the lids of the pots in front if you like to pick by what you see. We loved the tea leaves salad, green mango salad, egg plant curry and pork curry with potatoes. The portions of curry are rather small so having these four meals between us adults was just perfect. Kids again loved their Pad Thai. Meals are between 30 and 40 THB. (Don’t ask about the library part – we looked but couldn’t find any book there!)
So there you have it. List of our favorite places to eat. Share yours in comments!
People have asked us few times if we’re not afraid to use/drink the water. We only used tap water for brushing our teeth and washing. For drinking, we always bought filtered or bottled water. At first, we would even bring our water to restaurants. However, as the time passed and we became more comfortable, we would start using the water they served (or at least their ice). If you want to be 100% sure the ice is from filtered water, just check if it has a hole inside. That means, it was made in machine using a filtered water.