Thailand has many wonderful features to recommend it…a vibrant cultural heritage, friendly people, low prices, beautiful islands…I could go on. But if you consider what Thailand is best known for around the world, food will always be near the top of the list. As my long stop in Chiang Mai winds down, I’m almost embarrassed to admit that the food is one of the things I’ll miss most. But honestly, have you tasted Thai food? I know you feel me.
After nearly seven weeks in Chiang Mai, I’ve been visiting all of my favorite eateries one last time before I go, indulging in their best dishes and then waving a sad goodbye. (Sniff, sniff…)
As a loving tribute to the city that fed me so well, I’ve developed this list of amazing places to find cheap and delicious food in and around Chiang Mai’s old city. When I tried other restaurants, I usually ended up disappointed by the food quantity, quality and/or price, and wishing I had just stuck with my faves. Don’t miss the spots on this list.
(Note: As a pricing reference, $1 currently equates to 35 bhat.)
*Lunch and Dinner Destinations*
Tong Tong Restaurant (at RCN Court)
Location: MoonMuang Soi 7
I stayed at the budget hotel RCN Court & Inn during both my visits to Chiang Mai, and I dined at Tong Tong restaurant for lunch many times. The portions are generous and very flavorful (especially the curries!). True, the dining area is adjacent to the hotel’s parking area, but the atmosphere is pleasant enough and the friendly chef serves some of the lowest-priced food I found in Chiang Mai.
Favorite dishes: Rice Omelet (40 that) |Pad See Ew (50 bhat) | Green Curry with Rice (60 bhat)
Peppermaint Vegetarian (yes, that’s how the name is spelled!)
Location: 29/1 MoonMuang Soi 6
This large blue and yellow corner restaurant sits between Lucky Too and Lucky Coffee and has a hostel/guesthouse upstairs. I came here about once a week for their vegetarian curry feast…an all-you-can-eat buffet for 120 bhat. The buffet usually includes four different curry dishes, a vegetable dish, fruit and spring rolls or another fried side dish. The dinner price was higher than I would typically pay, but the food was delicious and the quantity was amazing. I always made sure to arrive hungry! They also offer a huge variety of fruit shakes
Favorite dishes: Weeknight Curry Buffet (120 that) | Fruit Shakes (30-40 bhat)
Lucky Too/Lucky Coffee
Location: MoonMuang Soi 6
I can’t count the number of times I visited these sister restaurants, which are around the corner from each other. Lucky Coffee is only open during the daytime while Lucky Two serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. The portions are generous, the food is delicious and the prices are cheap. The restaurant is run by a friendly husband (American) and wife (Thai) team. They have a few young helpers but you can usually find both of them at Lucky Too.
Favorite dishes: Pad See Ew (50 bhat) | Chicken Khao Soy (60 bhat) | Penang Curry with Brown Rice (70 bhat)
By Hand Pizza
Location: 25 MoonMuang Soi 7
As delicious as Thai food is, sometimes you just want a pizza. Western food is always more expensive than Thai food in Chiang Mai, but in this case, the extra cost is definitely worthwhile. The pizza at By Hand is better than most of the pizzas I’ve tried in Phoenix. This place basically only serves pizza, wine and beer (and water!). The pizza menu is extensive, and each pizza is cooked perfectly in By Hand’s brick oven.
The first time I visited By Hand, I ordered the “white pizza” (180 bhat). It was love, and after that, I had a standing Friday night date with this delectable menu item. The white pizza consists of garlic, onion, mushrooms, olive oil, mozzarella…heaven on a wooden pizza round, essentially! But if that’s not your style, there is a pizza for everyone, and I’m sure they all taste wonderful.
By Hand can get crowded, so be prepared to sit back and relax as you await your meal. The oven can only accommodate a few pies at a time.
Favorite dish: White Pizza! (180 bhat)
Khao Soy Street Stall
Location: Moon Mueang Road north of Sompet Market
I discovered this mobile street stall outside Sompet Market during the last couple of weeks of my stay in Chiang Mai, and I ended up having dinner there four nights in a row. The stall owners seat patrons at folding tables and chairs on the sidewalk behind the cart. Every evening, the cart parks north of the Sompet Market entrance on Moon Mueang Road in front of the Kodak store.
This stall serves delicious Khao Soy, which is a slightly spicy Northern Thai noodle dish made with coconut curry and topped with crispy noodles and red onions. Khao Soy has become one of my absolute favorite Thai dishes, and this stall serves Khao Soy with chicken, pork, pineapple, beef or tofu for about a dollar!
Favorite dish: Khao Soy Pineapple (40 bhat for a “small” bowl)
Sunday Walking Street Market
Location: Rachadamnoen Road beginning at TaePae Gate
On Sunday evenings, I skip my usual restaurant routine and head to the “Sunday Walking Street” (the Sunday evening market) on Rachadamnoen Road in the old city. The street closes down and the streets fill with people as vendors line up on the sidewalks selling a huge variety of goods, many of them handmade.
A plethora of food vendors also participate in the market, and most park in alleyways or inside temple grounds away from the main street. I like to go into the temples and sample food from the huge variety of vendors there. It’s hard to go wrong in a place like this. The food is served fresh and cheap, so just look for the busiest stalls and order what everyone else is ordering! (Obviously, avoid any food that looks like it’s been sitting for a while!)
Favorite dishes: Pork with Noodles (40 bhat), Fried Milk (a dessert; 20 bhat), Mushroom Hot Pot (40 bhat)
*Drinks and Snacks*
Khun Kae’s Juice Bar
Location: 19/3 MoonMuang Soi 7
I was beyond excited when I discovered Khun Kae’s Juice Bar, which was just down the road from my hotel. This little eatery serves juices and smoothies made fresh with natural ingredients from the market down the street. Choose from a huge list of smoothies with ingredients like avocado, spinach, carrot, beetroot, ginger (my favorites!). They even offer wheatgrass shots if you’re so inclined.
For a girl who faithfully used her NutriBullet to create a green smoothie each morning back in Phoenix (and consumed zero green smoothies during 10 months of travel), this place has been a dream come true! Of course, the owners also serve plenty of non-green options. All the drinks are made without added sugar or flavoring. Score.
Favorite item: Smoothie Letter ‘L’: Spinach, avocado, ginger, banana…I skip the banana (40 bhat)
North Gate Market Mango Sticky Rice
Location: Just outside the old city across from the North Gate
If you have not had mango sticky rice in Thailand, get ready to have your world changed. I love mangos, and the mangos in Thailand always seem to be ripened to perfection. Mango sticky rice is a ubiquitous dessert in Thailand that can be found in most restaurants and many street stalls, and ranges in price from about 40-60 bhat.
Honestly, it’s hard to do make this dish wrong, but from a freshness and quality perspective, my favorite mango sticky rice is available from a vendor at the North Gate night market, which is open each evening. The husband and wife team sells fruit and this dish from two folding tables at the start of the market right next to the 7-11 on the corner. Don’t miss it!
Favorite item: Mango sticky rice (40 bhat)
Kintim Chiang Mai
Location: Sriphum Road east of the North Gate
Kintim, an adorable cafe that opened recently, is one of those places that just makes me smile. The interior space is bright and airy (and air-conditioned!), and the owners are so kind and friendly. I stopped in a few times on my way back from the gym for some restorative coconut milk ice cream, and I was not disappointed.
If you order “set 1” as I did, you can choose from around 10 ice cream flavors, all made from coconut milk, and two toppings. The whole extravaganza is beautifully presented in a coconut shell with a small bottle of refreshing coconut water on the side. The flat edged-spoon is perfect for scooping out the fresh coconut still inside the shell.
I get excited when eateries put in the effort to serve a dish that’s as beautiful as it is delicious, and that’s definitely the standard here!
Favorite dish: Lychee ice cream topped with sweet sticky rice and raw cashews (50 bhat)
Akha Ama Coffee
Location: 9/1 Mata Apartment, Hussadhisewee Soi 3
Because I love coffee and coffee shops, I usually do a little online research to find the best coffee shops wherever I travel. Akha Ama was featured on every “best coffee shops” list I found for Chiang Mai, and it was definitely my favorite of all those I visited in the city.
Akha Ama is hidden in an alleyway north of the old city. (There’s a second Akha Ama location in the old city that I didn’t like quite as much.) The shop serves organic local coffee and has great seating for working on your laptop or reading a book. I spent a few hours here at a time, and I can tell you that the lattes are amazing!
Favorite item: Hot latte (40 bhat)
Vigie Sist Cafe
Location: 200/3 Ratpakinai Road
Vigi Sist Cafe’s entrance and covered porch sits on Ratpakinai Road and is a great place to enjoy food, drinks and specialty coffees during the day. But if you walk around to the side of the building facing the alley, you’ll find my favorite part…this cute little bakery stand offering cheap, freshly-baked muffins, breads and Thai buns to passersby. This table is often unmanned and open late, which I found adorable. If no one is around to take your money, you can walk around to the front of the cafe and pay there at the counter.
I’ve sampled many items from this little counter! The “buns” are like soft white rolls with a hollow center. Inside, they’re filled with chocolate, pumpkin, black beans or shredded pork. Everything I tried was tasty, and the family who runs the eatery always serves with a smile.
Favorite item: Pumpkin bun (10 bhat)
Location: MoonMuang Soi 6
Sompet Market is the best place in Chiang Mai to find fresh produce at low prices. You can also find raw cashews and almonds, dried fruits and any ingredient you might need to cook a typical Thai meal. I visited the market numerous times to stock up on bananas, jack fruit, dragonfruit, nuts and more.
The market is surrounded by small restaurants, street food stalls, massage places and a few shops, making it a good starting point for your evening meal if you just want to wander without a plan and see what looks good. It’s also a fun place to observe and interact with locals, who shop and sell here regularly.
Favorite items: Bag of raw cashews (100 bhat) | Package of fresh jack fruit (20 bhat)
One thing’s for sure… if you go hungry in Chiang Mai, there’s definitely a problem! This is a city for eating, and with the super cheap prices and wide range of healthy options, there’s no reason not to indulge. I hope this list gives you a few places to start on your restaurant tour of Chiang Mai — or makes your mouth water enough to inspire an unplanned visit!
If you’ve been to Chiang Mai, what are your favorite places to find cheap and delicious food?