Bangkok’s best street food spots, according to top chefs

This article was produced by National Geographic Traveller (UK).

Bangkok is packed with fine dining restaurants, dozens of which hold Michelin stars, and many more of which have simply garnered loyal fan bases for their refined takes on Thai cuisine. Yet, the city is also inextricably linked with street food, thanks to the countless carts, stalls and hole-in-the-wall that turn out flavoursome dishes from morning until night, whether it’s noodles, curries or something else entirely. It can be hard to know which street food spot to choose, so we asked some of Bangkok’s top fine-dining chefs to tell us where they like to grab a bite when they clock off work.

Pichaya ‘Pam’ Soontornyanakij 
Potong has wasted no time in scooping up accolades since opening in 2021, having earned not only a Michelin star but the guide’s inaugural Opening of the Year Award (2023), as well as a spot on the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list. Driving this success is Pichaya ‘Pam’ Soontornyanakij, whose ‘progressive Thai-Chinese’ cuisine, as she calls it, combines traditional and modern techniques. “I was born into a Thai-Chinese family but my culinary training was in New York and very Western-style,” she says. “When it came to Potong, I wanted to make something more personal.”

The result is a reimagining of Thai-Chinese dishes, such as five-spiced duck, aged for 14 days and roasted for 10 minutes to create a crispy bird with “intense duck flavour”, and frog meat encased in a bamboo lattice and paired with a clear broth. It’s all served up as part of a changing 20-course tasting menu. All of this takes place within a converted shophouse — formerly the headquarters of Soontornyanakij’s family’s traditional Chinese medicine business — located on an alley in Chinatown. Above the restaurant, on the building’s top floor, is Potong’s cocktail bar, where willing guests can try a ‘cocktail omakase’ (a selection of the mixologist’s favourite creations).

Street food tip:  “I like Sai Nam Phueng Noodle Shop’s dry rice noodles with slow-cooked chicken wings. The noodles are cooked just right, with a gooey texture and slippery mouthfeel, and the chicken wings themselves are very tasty.” Alley 392/20, between Sukhumvit Sois 18 and 20

Dylan Eitharong
“Chefs take Thai food too seriously,” says Dylan Eitharong. “Thai food isn’t a mythical old man in the mountains who can only be accessed through meditation.” Born in Florida to a Thai father and a US mother, Eitharong came to Bangkok just before the pandemic to open Haawm, the supper club he runs from his home. With cooking for the public temporarily not an option, he used the time to deepen his Thai food knowledge.

One conclusion he reached: “Thai fine dining is a fad”. Despite that, Eitharong’s dishes — made traditionally but with a hint of cheeky ‘your grandma would never’ energy — are decidedly elegant. They include a ‘dry’ tom kha gai (coconut and galangal soup) with chicken braised in young galangal juice; and gaeng tai pla (Southern Thai-style fermented fish innards curry) enriched with roasted coconut and a dash of coconut cream.

Having grown up with Thai-American food in the US, “at some point I realised there was more to Thai food than that”, Eitharong says. Initially inspired by recipes from 1970s and ’80s Thai women’s magazines, he’s now finding his own style. He’s not chasing awards or stars, but his cooking has won Haawm a loyal following. And with just 20 covers, spread across part of his home (he still lives upstairs), this spot has become one of the city’s hottest tickets.

Street food tip: “Khao Tom Jay Suay is my number-one, especially late night. Always order stir-fried pork and Chinese olives, smoked duck breast (add fried garlic), Chinese sausage salad and khao tom (rice porridge) on the side.” 547 Thanon Phlap Phla Chai

At Jay Fat, fried chicken is made to order, accompanied by dishes using Thai produce such as papayas.

Photograph by Witchupol Charoensupaya

Napol ‘Joe’ Jantraget
Understated yet elegant, with an open kitchen at its heart, Nawa Thai Cuisine is all about offering an inclusive, less formal vision of fine dining, where “no matter how elevated, we can welcome mom and dad, auntie and uncle”, according to chef Napol ‘Joe’ Jantraget. Having opened the popular — and more casual — restaurant Samlor in 2021, Jantraget decided to return to fine dining, having previously worked at Bangkok’s Michelin-starred 80/20. “I felt my job, in terms of Thai food, is not done yet,” he says. Last year, Jantraget opened Nawa, which he runs alongside his pastry chef wife Saki Hoshino, and which has already earned a star from Michelin and picked up its Opening of the Year award.

The innovative menu features Central Thai dishes such as Hua Hin caviar, Surat Thani crab and organic pork from Nakhon Pathom. It isn’t afraid to tweak the classics, as evidenced in dishes like ma hor — traditionally, sweet-and-salty pork paste on an acidic slab of pineapple or orange, here served with different fruit depending on the season. “What makes ma hor is the paste. That’s something we’d never touch,” says Jantraget.

Street food tip: “Jay Fat is an aharn tham sung (made-to-order) stall where they make great deep-fried chicken with lots of MSG. It’s so wrong but so right.” Charoen Krung Soi 28

Sujira ‘Aom’ Pongmorn
Sujira ‘Aom’ Pongmorn debuted on the Bangkok dining scene like a culinary supernova, becoming the first winner of Michelin’s Young Chef Award in 2021, while working at high-end restaurant Saawaan. The chef has now brought her talents to Khaan, a spot she co-owns in downtown Bangkok, devoted to “reimagining traditional Thai cuisine”. The move came about after the pandemic, when Pongmorn’s “ideas and experiences were quite different”, she says. “I wanted to move out of my comfort zone, get inspiration from locals.”

This inspiration has come from trips out of Bangkok. “Every weekend, I go out to places like Rayong, Ranong, Phuket or Krabi,” Pongmorn says. It was on one of these sojourns that the chef found inspiration for Khaan in Southern Thai cuisine. “It’s not just spicy food — there are Muslim and Chinese elements, mixed cultures,” she says. As a result, many of Khaan’s creations are peppered with ingredients from the south. These include puu naa (rice field crabs) with sticky rice, which Pongmorn says “tells a story about how farmers use whatever they can find to create good food”.

Street food tip:  “Yoo Fishball is a stall open at night in Chinatown. I always order sen yai nam (rice noodles in a pink fermented tofu broth).” 433 Yaowarat Road

Thai dish prawn cakes

Charmgang is a retro-style curry shop, serving its fine-dining spin on classic Thai curries.

Photograph by Zuphachai Laokunrak

Aruss ‘Jai’ Lerlerstkull
At Charmgang, diners can hear the chefs grill, chop and grind ingredients in a pestle and mortar in the open kitchen. The restaurant feels informal, even homely, but the skill that goes into the cookery is a cut above.

“The food is more casual, but we achieve the same quality as fine dining,” says Aruss ‘Jai’ Lerlerstkull, who helms the kitchen with his wife, Atcharaporn ‘Aew’ Kiatthanawat. But the restaurant’s popularity comes down to more than just cooking — it’s “the ambience, the people”, Lerlerstkull says. 

The chef, who met his wife while they were working under David Thompson at Nahm, launched Charmgang as a retro-style ‘curry shop’. A rotating menu of Thai classics shows off his knack for curries and his love of coconut. “I know coconut cream very well; every season, every taste, where it comes from,” he says. No surprise, then, that coconut-heavy fish curry and panang curry are both permanently on the menu.

While these dishes seem traditional — made ‘with a passion verging on obsession’, according to one reviewer — Lerlerstkull is happy to add his own touches, such as a sprinkling of peanuts to a Penang curry. After all, the ‘traditional’ dishes of today were the “fusions of 50 years ago”, he says. “Food always develops.” 

Street food tip:  “I love som tam (green papaya salad) shops. At Mae Nid Som Tum, in Si Phraya, I like the laab kua (minced meat salad) with sticky rice and tom saap (spicy Isaan-style clear soup) with bitter bile.” Surawong Road, close to Wat Hua Lamphong.

Published in Issue 23 (spring 2023) of Food by National Geographic Traveller (UK).

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