Last month I wrote a post detailing a bunch of my favourite restaurants in Chiang Mai, the places I’d most enjoyed before buggering off to Cambodia followed by Yangon. If you haven’t read that and are looking for places to eat in and around Old Town, pop on over here.
After Cambodia, I returned to Chiang Mai and continued my quest to unwittingly induce a pre-diabetic state and, rather than add to that post, which is already pretty long, I thought I’d list my additional ‘best dishes’ over here. Not all, but lot of them can be found in the ‘Nimman area’ (around Nimmanhaemin Road) as that’s where I ended up staying upon my return, in a private room in a hotel/hostel called Varada Place. If you’re looking for a spot in this area I can’t recommend it enough. The private rooms are big, mod and clean, the owner, Varada, is loveliness personified, you get free tea and coffee and there’s a common area downstairs that makes it super easy to meet people. I was so happy there that I ended up staying for two weeks. For me, a constant ‘onto the next last-minute special’ kind of peep, this is a record.
Anyway, let’s get stuck in, shall we? It’s a long list so I’m going to move fast. First up, Rustic & Blue is the shizzle’s nizzle and deserves all the hype it gets on TripAdvisor. It’s one of those ‘farm-to-table’ spots that’s all about fresh, seasonal produce. I popped in for brunch and tried their Rosy Benedict, a beetroot Hollandaise-topped poached egg perched atop a croissant. It was nothing short of sublime and paired brilliantly with my black sea salt caramel cappuccino.
I’m returning to Chiang Mai next month (I’m currently in Vietnam) and can’t wait to go back and try more of their food. Price-wise, it’s a lot more expensive than 90% of the other restaurants in Chiang Mai, but don’t let that put you off. That just means it’s on par or less than Cape Town. If I remember correctly, The Rosy was just under R80. If you visit, be sure to try their ice cream! I nearly ordered a scoop of peanut butter stout with Bailey’s chocolate chips but ended up going for goat cheese and mulberry brittle which was incredible.
Another place I’m dying to go back to is The Salsa Kitchen. I’ve tried Mexican all over Chiang Mai because I love it and its hands down the best place I’ve been to. I liked it so much, in fact, that I went three times (it’s just around the corner from Varada Place) and can report that the crispy shrimp tacos (R80) are a thing of beauty. Each taco is rubbed with chipotle sauce and contains shrimp sautéed in lime cream and served with refried beans, spicy rice and pineapple and jicama salad.
In my last post, I mentioned my affinity for Fat Elvis, a run down, completely devoid of atmosphere pool bar with great buffalo wings. That still stands. Their wings are great. But I found another spot that, if you’re a wings fan, can’t be missed and that’s RAW Truckr. (Yep, there’s no ‘e’.) Maddening name aside, RAW Truckr is a little food truck in a courtyard surrounded by other restaurants that serves up the crispiest, stickiest, yummiest wings among a few other greasy-delights.
Their spiciest flavour (they have several from which you can choose) is ‘black chill’. I tried that, along with ‘cheese lava’ dip, which is essentially a cheese sauce, and thought they were brilliant! For the record, my friend Salomie ordered from the pizza spot close to the truck and that was also very good in that it had a nice, thin, crispy crust, which is difficult to find in Asia.
Still, not everything in Chiang Mai is set to give you high cholesterol. If anything, the sway over there is more towards vegan/vegetarian spots. I’ve said it before, but it’s true – the whole city is on a health kick – so if you’re looking to ‘eat clean’, you’ll be a very happy bunny, especially after a visit to Free Bird Cafe.
A café for a cause, all the restaurant’s profits (yep, all of it) goes to Thai Freedom House, a social enterprise that assists Burmese migrants and immigrants. The prices are very reasonable (under R50 a plate) but I ordered the lone expensive thing on the menu because I felt like it – the Arinuma superfood cocoa bowl, named after a woman who was pushed from a train, lost her leg and went on to climb Everest.
What’s in the mix? Cocoa, coconut milk, maca, date, banana, dried coconut, sesame seeds, mango, dragon fruit, goji berry and chia seeds. Annoyingly, I can’t remember what it cost, only that it was more than double the price of everything else.
I’m looking forward to going back to Free Bird Café to try their salad special, where you get to pick a mix of three from a big list for under R60 a plate. (In a way, it reminded me a lot of Karen Dudley’s The Kitchen in Woodstock.) The café also has a second-hand clothing shop in the back and sells ‘hippie girl’ bric-a-brac in the restaurant itself (Mooncup, anyone?) along with pre-loved books for R8 a pop!
Another veggie winner is Goodsouls. I tried their vegan mushroom burger, served with crispy potato wedges and creamy veganaise, because peeps around me kept raving about it and it was the best veggie I’ve ever had in my entire life. That’s a big, bold statement but it’s true. I don’t know how they did it, but they managed to make that mushroom patty taste like a meaty Steers burger. I can’t explain it. Only tell you that if you eat it off the back of my reccie you’ll come back to comment with thanks. (In advance: ‘You’re welcome!’)
Lastly, I ate quite a bit at Amrita Garden because, aside from having lots of healthy options, it offered great value in a relaxed, shady garden-setting.
I’d often order their daily veg plate for R39 along with detoxifying papaya leaf tea – R18 for a big pot – which tastes bitter and blah at first but weirdly grows on you. It’s got a laxative effect so bear that in mind before you order it then book yourself a bus ticket to Pai!
Their vegan platter of the day (R80) is great too and includes a selection of vegan cheeses. Amrita Garden has 12 of them and you can experience them all via pick-and-mix cheese platters.
Speaking of cheese, don’t miss their mango cheesecake (R29), which isn’t vegan as it’s made with cream cheese.
When I’m looking for sushi, I head straight to Ai Sushi. I tried one of their set menus that included a mix of sushi, miso soup, kimchi, and a big bowl of rice for R94 and was blown away by the quality of their sashimi.
I’m a ride-or-die tuna freak and used to eat it four times a week back in college (I used to waitress at Willoughby & Co in Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront), so I know my sashimi and Ai’s is melt-in-your-mouth A-grade perfection.
Right, I’m about to black out so let’s wrap things up with a few honorable mentions. If you want grilled fish head to Lert Ros. It’s a cheap as chips, hole-in-the-wall mom ‘n pop shop where you can get a whole BBQed tilapia for under R60. I can’t remember what else I ate there, it was unmemorable, but that fish – the specialty they’re known for – was fantastic and I’ll definitely be back.
If you like craft beer, head to Ugo. They have loads of them and I really enjoyed my Stone Head Creamy Coconut Ale. Just bear in mind that they’re pricey, around R80 a pop. (The average price of a ‘regular’ beer, like a Chang, is R16 in a restaurant and even less at a store.)
Their food, however, is delicious, beautifully presented and very pocket-friendly. (Essentially, your beer, if you choose a craft one, will cost you double the price of your meal.) Their service is top notch too and, while I didn’t try one, the pizza that came out of their kitchen looked really good.
Speaking of great service, I was very impressed with Accha. A very pretty-looking restaurant in the Nimman area, it’s got a nice, vibey atmosphere, good value menu and super attentive staff. Two curries, a garlic naan and drinks for two came up to R150 per head. They also bring you nuts while you wait for your food and your meal is accompanied by several dips.
My favourite Indian place in Chiang Mai is still The Grill of India because every dish I’ve ever had there has been 10/10, but it looks like a total crack den and the service, while friendly, is untrained. For this reason, I have to give props to Accha because, while their food is a 8/10, everything else is magic and, in all fairness, I’ve only tried two of their dishes.
So! Is anyone feeling peckish?