Chiang Mai food forged a place in our hearts with its deep flavors and liberal use of chili peppers. Go beyond typical Chiang Mai restaurants and you’ll 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.
→ Discover 26 Thai food favorites.
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 Thai food dishes are intense and deep thanks to the liberal use of ingredients like lemongrass, chilis, turmeric, makrut limes and coconut.
→ Click here to book a 3-hour Chiang Mai street food tour.
Table of Contents
- Chiang Mai Restaurants
- Chiang Mai Cheap Eats
- Chiang Mai Food Guide
- Things to Do In Chiang Mai
- Planning Checklist
- Headed to Vietnam next?
- Hungry for More Asian Food?
- Pin It for Later
- About the Authors
Chiang Mai Restaurants
Although we rented an apartment with a kitchen for a month, we ate out a lot. And why not? Even the best restaurants in Chiang Mai are highly affordable based on western standards.
Despite this affordability, don’t rule out Chiang Mai’s restaurant scene. Michelin found 40 notable Chiang Mai eateries to feature in its inaugural guide in 2020. The famous food guide awarded 17 restaurants with the ‘Bib Gourmand’ rating and 13 with a ‘Michelin Plate’.
And the best part? Most of the Michelin-approved restaurants, including those recommended in this guide, won’t break your bank.
Chiang Mai Cheap Eats
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, making splurges easier to justify.
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.
→ Discover the 40 best noodle dishes in the world.
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.
→ Discover more of the best soups in the world.
→ Watch our Khao Soi video.
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!
→ Watch our Khao Kha Moo video.
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.
→ Watch our Thai Roast Chicken video.
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
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.
→ Watch our Delicious Thai Food video.
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.
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.
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 like best incorporates sweet corn into the coconut pancake. As a bonus, this Chiang Mai local food is vegetarian-friendly.
→ Discover 100 more of the best desserts around the world.
Chiang Mai Cafes
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. We recommend both Larder Cafe & Bar and Rustic & Blue for their cool vibes and authentically prepared western comfort food.
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.
Or, if you’re feeling homesick, grab a burger at Beast Burger or some pizza at Why Not? These two restaurants serve solid versions of popular Western fare. We ate at both during our month in Chiang Mai.
Chiang Mai Drinks
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 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.
→ Watch our Chiang Mai Coffee video.
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.
→ Click here to book a Thai cooking class in Chiang Mai.
Things to Do In Chiang Mai
Pin It for Later
About the Authors
Daryl & Mindi Hirsch
Saveur Magazine’s BEST TRAVEL BLOG award winners Daryl and Mindi Hirsch share their culinary travel experiences and recipes on the 2foodtrippers website and YouTube. The married Food and Travel content creators live in Lisbon, Portugal.
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