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What to Eat in Chiang Mai - A Chiang Mai Food Guide

Chiang Mai Food Guide – The Best Chiang Mai Restaurants and Cafes

In Food Guides, Thailand by Daryl & Mindi Hirsch

Chiang Mai food forged a place in our hearts with its deep flavors and liberal use of chili peppers. Go beyond the typical Chiang Mai restaurants and you will fall in love with the food too.

Nam Prik Ong - What to Eat in Chiang Mai Thailand - A Chiang Mai Food Guide

A month in Chiang Mai was just enough time for us to fall in love with Northern Thailand’s quirky city filled with temples, night markets and expats. Although the expats can rightfully take credit for the abundance of trendy eateries and third wave coffee shops, the Chiang Mai food scene remains true to its flavorful Thai food roots.

This is a city where people step over cracked sidewalks to reach food served under tin roofs and atop folding tables. Flavors in the best Chiang Mai food are intense and deep thanks to the liberal use of ingredients like lemongrass, chilis, turmeric, makrut limes and coconut.

Limited on time? Click here to book a 3-hour Chiang Mai Street Eats Tour where you can sample different Chiang Mai food favorites and visit the Wat Chedi Luang temple.

Although we rented an Airbnb apartment with a kitchen for the month, we ate out a lot. There are a lot of great things to eat in Chiang Mai. Plus, let’s face it, the Chiang Mai street food is so cheap that it doesn’t make sense to cook dinner in Chiang Mai. Even the best restaurants in Chiang Mai are highly affordable based on western standards.

Chiang Mai has seemingly endless cheap, good food at places as varied as malls, markets, shacks and restaurants. As a bonus for travelers, the best places to eat in Chiang Mai are relatively reasonable by western standards, making splurges easier to justify.

That being said, Chiang Mai isn’t a city for fancy dining. Save special meals for countries like France and Japan and instead spend your time eating some of the best street food in the world.

Khao Soi at Khao Soi Khun Yai in Chiang Mai Thailand

We ate this Khao Soi at Khao Soi Khun Yai, a Chiang Mai restaurant located in a shack near the city’s North Gate. Who says that good food has to be fancy? Not us.

Roll up your sleeves and grab your spoon, the Thai eating utensil of choice, as we share the ‘musts’ on what to eat in Chiang Mai.

Check Chiang Mai Hotel Rates ➜

Chiang Mai Food Guide

Although there are many reasons to travel to Thailand, food was our top motivation for spending a month in Chiang Mai, a city where food takes center stage and tempting aromas drift through the air. In most cases, we found the best food with our noses instead of from a Chiang Mai food blog or guidebook.

We traversed the city with a Chiang Mai map and ate it all in this Northern Thai foodie paradise. The following dishes win our votes for the best food to eat in Chiang Mai:

Khao Soi

Khao Soi at Khao Soi Nimman in Chiang Mai Thailand

Bowls of Khao Soi at Khao Soi Nimman showcase the available proteins for the popular Chiang Mai dish.

Khao Soi is the one dish that you absolutely must eat in Chiang Mai. If you only have one meal in Chiang Mai, it should be Khao Soi. If you only have two meals, then you should eat Khao Soi again. Hopefully, you have at least four meals because Chiang Mai has four ‘not to miss’ spots to eat Khao Soi.

For the uninitiated, Khao Soi is a soup flavored with yellow curry and coconut milk, loaded with boiled noodles and then topped with fried noodles. Although Khao Soi is traditionally prepared with chicken or beef to comply with Muslim dietary rules, newer Chiang Mai restaurants, like Khao Soi Nimman, add various proteins like seafood and pork.

Khao Soi at Khao Soi Mae Sai in Chiang Mai Thailand

Though located in a nondescript Nimman food stand, Khao Soi Mae Sai serves generous bowls of traditional Khao Soi that are both cheap and satisfying.

Pro Tip: Be sure to add condiments to your bowl of Khao Soi. Popular sides are chopped shallots, pickled mustard greens, spicy roasted chili paste and lime juice.

Each Chiang Mai restaurant provides a unique version based on the cook’s upbringing and preferences. Our favorite Khao Soi spots are Khao Soi Khun Yai, Khao Soi Lam Duan, Khao Soi Mae Sai and Khao Soi Nimman, Do yourself a favor and try all four.

Khao Soi at Khao Soi Lam Duan in Chiang Mai Thailand

Bowls of Khao Soi at Khao Soi Lam Duan are cheap in price but rich in flavor, making them perfect for lunch in Chiang Mai.

Check out our Khao Soi Video to watch us eat this iconic Chiang Mai dish.

Khao Soi Khun Yai is located at Sri Poom 8 Alley, Mueang Chiang Mai District, Chiang Mai 50200, Thailand.
Khao Soi Lam Duan is located at 352/22 Thanon Charoenrat, Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Khao Soi Mae Sai is located at29/1 Ratchaphuek Alley, Tambon Chang Phueak, Amphoe Mueang Chiang Mai, Chang Wat Chiang Mai 50300, Thailand.
Khao Soi Nimman is located at Nimmanhemin Soi 7, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Khao Kha Moo

The Cowboy Hat Lady in Chiang Mai Thaland

The Cowboy Hat Lady is famous in Chiang Mai both for her hat and her tasty Khao Kha Moo.

Khao Kha Moo is a popular Chiang Mai dish, and nobody does it better than the famous “cowboy hat lady” at the Chang Phuak night market. We dare you to find a better value for a dollar than this plate of succulent stewed pork leg served over rice with an egg and flavorful sides like pickled mustard greens and garlic chili sauce.

It’s no wonder that crowds line up each night for the dish loved by locals and made famous by Anthony Bourdain. It’s a winner!

Check out our Khao Kha Moo Video to watch us eat at the Cowboy Hat Lady’s stand.

Khao Kha Moo Chang Phuak is located by the North Gate at Thanon Manee Nop Parat, Amphoe Mueang, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Noodles

Pad Thai in Chiang Mai Thailand

Pad Thai is the most famous noodle dish in Thailand, but it is just one of the many rice noodle dishes served in Chiang Mai.

We could eat rice noodles every day and never tire of their taste and texture. Perhaps that’s an exaggeration, but we’re willing to accept such a challenge in Chiang Mai where rice noodles are a staple served with all kinds of herbs, vegetables and proteins.

It’s easy to find Pad Thai in Chiang Mai. Though more of a Bangkok specialty, the national dish is also popular in Thailand’s second biggest city, especially at street vendors and fast dining establishments. Everybody loves Pad Thai, typically prepared with stir-fried noodles, peanuts and shrimp.

While in Chiang Mai, we expanded our noodle repertoire to include Pat Sii-Yew made with wider rice noodles and soy sauce as well as Pat Kii Mao, a spicier noodle dish with veggies. If you’re looking for a meat-free option, noodles are often a good way to go.

Noodles are available everywhere in Chiang Mai – yet another reason that we love Chiang Mai.

Roast Chicken

Thai Roast Chicken at SP Chicken in Chiang Mai Thailand

SP Chicken roasts petite chickens on a vertical charcoal rotisserie with garlic and lemongrass. If this dish is good enough for Pok Pok’s Andy Ricker, then it’s good enough for the 2foodtrippers too.

In many cuisines, chicken is a bland, one-note dish. This approach is not the case in Chiang Mai where cooks flavor chicken as much as any other protein with cooking styles that vary by restaurant and by technique. We found our favorite Thai roast chicken dishes at Cherng Doi Roast Chicken, Kiet Ocha and SP Chicken.

Thai Roast Chicken at Khao Man Gai at Kiat Ocha in Chiang Mai Thailand

For a break from Thai roast chicken, try Khao Man Gai at Kiat Ocha where line cooks elevate chicken and rice to the next level.

Check out our Thai Roast Chichen Video to watch us eat the local specialty.

Cherng Doi Roast Chicken is located at Mueang Chiang Mai District, Chiang Mai, Thailand in the Nimman neighborhood.
Kiet Ocha is located at 41 43 Intaworos rd., Mueang Chiang Mai District, Chiang Mai 50200, Thailand
SP Chicken is located at Samlan Rd Soi 1, Mueang Chiang Mai District, Chiang Mai 50200, Thailand.

Elevated Street Food

Arroy Dee in Chiang Mai Thailand

Cooks at Arroy Dee use plenty of oil when making omelets and other popular Thai dishes. This little shack makes some of the best Thai food in Chiang Mai.

Eating in Chiang Mai never bored us with the city’s variety of good food and eateries. We stumbled into Arroy Dee for Pad Thai on our first night and then returned several times to enjoy other delicious Thai food, with Chiang Mai dishes like Khai Jiao (crispy omelets deep-fried in oil) and loaded Tom Yum Soup.

Any time we wondered where to eat in Chiang Mai, we came back to this shack for some of the best food in Chiang Mai. Arroy Dee translates from Thai to delicious or yummy, which is no exaggeration here.

Check out our Delicious Thai Food Video to learn more about the local Thai food served at Arroy Dee.

Aroy Dee is located “under the tree” on Sirimangkalajarn in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Night Market Food

Pai Night Market Vendor in Pai Thailand

This night market vendor was actually in Pai where we did a two-day excursion from Chiang Mai. We loved Grandma and her Nutella-filled pancakes!

Night markets are wildly popular from the huge weekend Chiang Mai night bazaar inside the walls to Chang Puak by the Elephant Gate where the “Cowboy Hat Lady” sets up shop every night. We tried a lot of the Chiang Mai night markets, and our favorite was the Sum Meut Market a/k/a Hiding in the Dark Market. Open three nights a week, this smaller market outside of the Tops grocery store has it all including two of our local street food favorites – meat on a stick and Khanom Krok.

Pro Tip: Take a break from the hustle-bustle of Chiang Mai with a weekend trip to nearby Pai. In Pai, you can chill on a hammock or enjoy coffee with a view. Popular with the backpacking crowd, Pai has numerous food stalls like the one pictured above. Check out options for traveling from Chiang Mai to Pai now.

Meat on a Stick

Meat on a Stick at a Chiang Mai Night Market

Meat on a Stick, Chiang Mai Style

We love to eat meat on a stick when we travel. Each cuisine takes this grilled staple and adds its own twist. People in Chiang Ma typically grill sausage so that it’s spicy, sour and full of flavor. When you walk around a night market, eating meat on a stick is a must eat Chiang Mai food option unless you’re a vegetarian.

Khanom Krok

Khanom Krok at a Chiang Mai Night Market

It’s ironic that the little coconut pancakes known as Khanom Krok turned out to be one of our favorite Chiang Mai foods since we don’t normally like fresh coconut.

We stumbled upon Khanom Krok at the Sum Meut Market for the first time. The vendor laughed when we asked for hot sauce. It turns out that Khanom Krok are coconut rice pancakes and are best eaten as dessert. The version that we liked best incorporates sweet corn into the coconut pancake. As a bonus, this Chiang Mai local food is vegetarian-friendly.

Chiang Mai Cafes

Rustic and Blu in Chiang Mai Thailand

We liked Rustic and Blue so much that we attended one of their special farm dinners. This soup dish was just one of the courses that we enjoyed while dining under a tent adorned with twinkly lights.

We didn’t look for western food to eat in Chiang Mai, but it’s hard to miss the many cafés sprinkled throughout the expat neighborhoods. Since there’s only so much spicy food that we can eat, we eventually drifted into local favorites that cater to westerners with dishes that we would normally find on brunch menus back home.

Many of the best cafés in Chiang Mai are located in the Nimman neighborhood close to our Airbnb apartment. We recommend both Larder Cafe & Bar and Rustic & Blue for their cool vibes and authentically prepared western comfort food. Or, if you’re feeling homesick, grab a burger at Beast Burger 0r some pizza at Why Not? – both serve solid versions of popular Western fare.

Beast Burger is located at Su Thep, Mueang Chiang Mai District, Chiang Mai 50200.
The Larder Cafe & Bar is located at 3/9 Sukkasem Rd | Suthep, Chiang Mai 50200, Thailand.
Rustic & Blue is located at Nimman Soi 7, Chiang Mai 50100, Thailand.
Why Not? is located at Nimman Soi 11, Chiang Mai 50100, Thailand.

Chiang Mai Drinks

Longan Juice in Chiang Mai Thailand

We never drank longan juice until our recent Chiang Mai visit. We liked it. We really liked it.

Drinks are everywhere in Chiang Mai from juice to beer and everything in-between. Though we drank our fair share of lager beer in Chiang Mai, we fell in love with the city’s coffee and smoothies.

Coffee

Cappuccinos at Akha Ama in Chiang Mai Thailand

Cappuccinos at Akha Ama are both stylishly prepared and enjoyable to drink.

Since there’s a happening Chiang Mai coffee scene, we originally planned to try a different coffee bar every day both for the experience and for our Chiang Mai guide. We started our noble venture at Akha Ama and were pleased with our cappuccinos.

However, we hit trouble at Ristr8to Lab. Ristr8to’s coffee drinks were so good that they tainted our visits at other coffee bars. Though we found some other excellent Chiang Mai coffee bars like Ming Mitr Coffee, Nimmanian Club and Nine One Coffee, we eventually abandoned our plan and just went to Ristr8to Lab every day for guaranteed coffee bliss.

Satan Latte at Ristr8to Lab in Chiang Mai Thailand

At Ristr8to Lab, coffee artists execute drinks to order like this Satan Latte.

Check out our Chiang Mai Coffee Video to learn more about the Chiang Mai coffee scene.

Akha Ama is located at 9/1 Mata Apartment, Hassadhisawee Rd, Soi 3, ถ.หัสดิเสวี ซอย 3, Changphuak, Muang ช้างเผือก, เมือง, Chiang Mai 50300, Thailand
Ming Mitr has multiple locations in Chiang Mai.
Nine-One Coffee is located at Moo 2 30 Tumbon Pamiang, Doi Saket 50220, Thailand
Ristr8to Lab is located at 14 Nimmanhaemin rd soi 3 Suthep Mueang เชียงใหม่ 50200, Thailand.

Smoothies

Coffee and Smoothie at Larder Cafe in Chiang Mai Thailand

Why settle for just coffee when you can enjoy a coffee and a smoothie like this beverage combo at The Larder Cafe?

We kind of love smoothies. How happy were we when we realized that not only are they readily available in Chiang Mai but they’re also cheap? After taste-testing several, and by several we mean a lot, we can report that mango is the official smoothie flavor for the 2foodtrippers.

Smoothies are available all over Chiang Mai. We drank this one at The Larder Cafe located at 3/9, Sukkasame Rd, Suthep, Chiangmai, 50200, Thailand.

Chiang Mai Cooking Class

Love Chiang Mai - Chef Lin

Chef Lin runs a fantastic Chiang Mai cooking class that includes shopping, cooking and eating – three of our favorite activities.

Taking a cooking class is a great way to delve into a city’s cuisine while traveling. The folks in Chiang Mai have clearly embraced this concept, and taking a Chiang Mai cooking class is one of the best things to do in Chiang Mai.

We spent a day cooking and eating Chiang Mai cuisine including Khao Soi. During the class, local Chef Panphalin Puntira (Lin) patiently demonstrated and taught local cooking techniques while sharing stories about Lanna Thai culture and her fascinating life.

We enjoyed the small group setting and vibe of this class and would recommend it to anybody wanting to learn more about Lanna cuisine. You can make a reservation for a cooking class here.

Things to Do In Chiang Mai

Here are some great ideas for more things to do in Chiang Mai beyond taking a cooking class:

If you fall in love with Chiang Mai, you may decide to stay for an extended time. Either way, you should check out Chiang Mai travel costs before your trip. Spoiler alert: Chiang Mai is NOT expensive.


Headed to Vietnam next? Click here to secure a hassle-free Vietnam Visa.


Chiang Mail Meal Map

We’ve included this handy map so you can track your Chiang Mai meals with a smartphone.

Research Chiang Mai Hotels

Have we convinced you to plan a food-focused trip to eat the best of Chiang Mai? Click here to find the best rates for hotels in Chiang Mai.

Once you book your Chiang Mai hotel room or Airbnb apartment, click here to pre-arrange car service from the Chiang Mai airport.

Stay Connected in Chiang Mai

You’ll want WiFi on the go for mapping, ordering Grab cars, translating menus and posting Instagram stories. Click here to order a Thai SIM card that you can pick up at the Chiang Mai airport.

This is a great option if your mobile phone is unlocked and you want to stay connected.

Book a Chiang Mai Food Tour

There’s so much to do in Chiang Mai. Click here to find an awesome Chiang Mai tour or try one of these Chiang Mai food tours:

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About the Author

Saveur Magazine's BEST TRAVEL BLOG award winners Daryl and Mindi Hirsch share their culinary travel experiences on the 2foodtrippers website and YouTube. The married Food and Travel content creators live in Lisbon, Portugal.

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We update our articles regularly. Some updates are major while others are minor link changes and spelling corrections. Let us know if you see anything that needs to be updated in this article.