Hidden eats: Bangkok’s best holes-in-the-wall
Travel writer and blogger Adam Hodge hit the streets of Bangkok recently to find the best low-cost hidden eateries in this sprawling metropolis. Unsurprisingly, he found some real gems, and some surprises too…
BANGKOK has its fair share of swanky eateries where there is virtually no ceiling to what you might spend on dinner. And come lunch or dinner, the sidewalks are flooded with vendors catering to on-the-go Bangkokians, offering some of the best street food in Southeast Asia.
So you want delicious food, but you don’t want to sacrifice your savings, and maybe you’d rather be inhaling the aroma of your pad thai – not car exhaust fumes. Occupying a little niche above street food are Bangkok’s little local eateries. These holes in the wall cater primarily to the neighbourhood, boast little English, and are almost as cheap as street stalls, but come with amenities like small fans and TVs broadcasting Thai soap operas. These are five of the best in the city, categorized by dish/cuisine.
1. Khao Man Gai
Thai khao man gai is a local take on Hainanese chicken rice. Such a simple dish can be surprisingly difficult to get right. The khao man gai at a little restaurant called Jay Wa might be the best in the city. The chicken is tender and juicy, and rests on a bed of fragrant rice. It’s accompanied by a bowl of hot broth and a spicy sauce – a mix of ginger, chilis, soy, and plenty of garlic – with a cucumber and cilantro garnish.
How to get there: Take the BTS to Victory Monument Station. Walk toward exit 4, and continue on the curving pedestrian overpass that runs along the east side of the massive Victory Monument roundabout. Take the staircase down to street level on the north side of Thanon Ratchawithi. The resto has a white sign with blue text and is on the left at the bottom of the stairs.
2. Bamii Khao Moo Daeng
A little restaurant on Chula Soi 5 serves up some of the best bamii khao moo daeng (wheat noodles with roasted red pork) in the city. And for a city with plenty of bamii khao moo daeng, that’s saying something. The roasted pork is bouncy and moist, and the sweet sauce is rich and flavourful. Ideally, you will get the green noodles (bamii yok), and take the broth on the side, adding a little at a time to the dry bamii moo daeng to savour the different flavours. While you’re in the area, the sois around the Pathum Wan district offer some of the best street food in the city, and that’s saying something, too.
How to get there: Take the BTS to National Stadium, and take exit 4 down to street level. Walk south on Phaya Thai. Turn right onto Chula Soi 12, and continue on until it intersects with Chula Soi 5, where you will turn left. The restaurant is on the west side, about halfway down the block and next to a massage shop. Recognizable by a green awning and a yellow sign.
Banana Family Park is the least “hole-y” of any of the restaurants on this list. It even has a Facebook page. That’s because BFP is actually a local wellness center that offers yoga courses and herbal treatment consults. But what makes it so great is the small cafeteria that’s in the compound, where several stalls sell outrageously cheap vegetarian food. Of particular note is the tam phonlami ruam, a spicy fruit salad in the spirit of som tam. Veggie spring rolls are fresh and delicious, as are the many cooked dishes, including a spicy green bean and tofu combination. Fantastic fresh juices are on offer at another counter, where they juice avocados with seemingly every tropical fruit. Dishes rarely cost over 50 Baht (US$1.70). Open til 3 p.m. for breakfast and lunch.
How to get there: Take the BTS to Ari station, and take exit 1 down to street level. Walk south. The entrance to BFP is on the right before the ESSO station. Walk west through the complex until you hit the food stalls. BFP is also known as Baan Aree, in case you need to ask someone.
Some of the best food from South Asia can be found in a small Indian community in the shadow of the Si Rat toll expressway. Specifically, a restaurant named Yogi’s serves up excellent Indian dishes, offers a smattering of vegetarian north and south Indian specialties for very reasonable prices. Especially good is their kadhai paneer, which is some of the most flavourful off of the subcontinent. Open til 3 for lunch, and 9 for dinner. If you’re looking for your desi fix in Bangkok, you come to this soi. Lucky’s, at the complete opposite end of the street, is an excellent alternative hole-in-the-wall.
How to get there: From Saphan Taksin BTS station, walk out exit 3 and onto Thanon Charoen Krung. Head north for about 750 meters and turn right onto Thanon Surawong. Walk for several blocks and turn left onto Mahaset. Turn left down the first soi on the west side of the street – Soi Puttha Osot. Yogi’s is at the end of this soi, before it turns 90 degrees and heads south.
After navigating a few back alleys and climbing four floors behind some shops, you reach a room with a TV, a couch, a coffee table, and two small dining tables. This is someone’s living room, you think. But it’s not. It’s a restaurant run by a friendly Cameroonian emigre and his Thai wife. Tropicana is the successor to Amirra, an eponymous restaurant run upstairs by his sister, who sadly passed away a few years ago. The food from Amirra was a siren for the West African community in Bangkok, who longed for a taste of home. Tropicana continues the tradition. On the menu is basically whatever the owner has on hand. We ate delicious barbecued fresh fish, and uniquely West African staples like steamed plantains, a spicy peanut chicken dish and and a cornmeal couscous similar to fufu. He’s eager to show off his native cuisine, so chances are whatever he makes, it will be to a high standard. Tropicana is a great option for late eats, as he only really gets cooking around 8 or 9, with the place filling up much later.
How to get there: Take the BTS to Nana station. Take exit 1 to street level and head west. Take a right on Soi 3, and another right on the first alley you come to after the 7/11. Halfway between Soi 3 and Soi 3/1 in this alley is a small corridor on the right. It looks intimidating and perhaps dark. Walk in and head to the end where you’ll find a red door. Walk up to the fourth floor and don’t be put off if no one is there right away.
About the author
Adam Hodge is the author of a book about the history, people and politics of Pakistan. His work has been featured on CNN Travel and Ask Men. You can read more of his writing at his blog, where he chronicles his adventures driving around the world in a small SUV.