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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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 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
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!
Khao Kha Moo Chang Phuak is located by the North Gate at Thanon Manee Nop Parat, Amphoe Mueang, Chiang Mai, Thailand
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.
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.
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 FoodEating 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.
Aroy Dee is located “under the tree” on Sirimangkalajarn in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Night Market Food
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.
Meat on a Stick
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.
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.
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.
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.
Since there’s a happening Chiang Mai coffee scene, we originally planned to try different a 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.
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.
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
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
- Visit an elephant jungle sanctuary where you can bathe the elephants.
- Spend a day touring Chiang Mai’s grandest temple, Doi Suthep.
- Check out five hedonistic things in Chiang Mai.
- Pamper yourself with a Thai massage at a spa.
- Take a four-hour cycling food tour.
- Get a Sak Yant Tatoo.
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.
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