Forget restaurants and eat at these fast, cheap and tasty mall outlets instead

Terminal 21 Food Court (BK PICK!)

The vibe: Time may have taken the shine off your fave old food courts, like the classic at MBK. But the relatively new one at Terminal 21 offers cheap bites and a whole lot of fun thanks to the faux buildings that engage with their Pier 21 fishermen’s wharf concept. You get some scenic views of Bangkok, too, if you can snag a table at one end of the food stations.
Eat this: The prices here are ridiculously cheap at a time when it’s hard to find a B25 bowl of noodles on the street. The most popular are the guay tiew nuea Go Hub, khao gaeng (rice with toppings) at around B27 and the khao nah ped (rice topped with roast duck, B40) at Dragon X. Finish things off with dessert at the popular Cheng Zim Ei.
5/F, Terminal 21, Sukhumvit Rd., 02-108-0888. BTS Asoke. MRT Asoke. Open daily 10am-10pm.

Siam Center Food Republic (BK PICK!)

The vibe: The new kid on the block is very lively with its chic signage, lighting and cool crowds. The atmosphere is the least food court-like on the list and really more like an active market place, though quite stylish.
Eat this: The food stations, too, are fun and creative. The Hor Jia stall seems to be particularly popular, as you get to choose how you want your dish by picking from different ingredients. One portion of vegetables costs B15 and meat B25. Otherwise, pull up a seat at the Xpress Teppanyaki with its live cooking. Prices start from B109.
4/F, Siam Center, Rama 1 Rd., 02-658-1000. Open daily 10am-10pm.

Central Food Loft

The vibe: With its black and steel grey décor, its large windows overlooking Sukhumvit and its army of staff who hold your table while you saunter off to order your food, this is a bit of a hybrid between a traditional food court and a sit-down restaurant (and can sometimes be a bit confusing). You’re unlikely to get too many private moments, though, as the place is usually pretty hectic.
The selections: Externally contracted restaurants serve international cuisine: Indian by Indian Spice, Italian by Gianni’s and many more. This was probably the food court that kicked off the card swiping system, and it’s remained pretty hi-so ever since. The prices, too, are not low, and a dish will cost you around B120. Do note that the food court on the G/F is also pretty nice.
7/F, 1027 Ploenchit Rd., 02-793-7070, 02-793-7777. Open daily 10am-10pm. BTS Chit Lom

Empire Tower Food Court

The vibe: If you think it’s hard to get a seat at Paragon’s food court, try here. More often than not diners use their office ID cards to claim tables before wandering off in search of food. The atmosphere is pretty typical but one of the good reasons to drop by is for the cute office workers lining up in front of you.
Eat this: This is sweet-tooth heaven. Dessert ranges from the decent nam taan sod (coconut palm juice, B20) to the big chunky maprao kati (coconut in coconut milk, B35). There’s also plenty of shakes. As for the savory options, there’re the popular khao mun gai Pratunam (rice topped with chicken) and khao gaeng Pantip (rice with toppings).
G/F, Empire Tower, 195 South Sathorn Rd., 02-670-2000. Open Mon-Fri 6:30am-7:30pm.

The Platinum Fashion Mall Food Center

The vibe: Bustling with tourists so be prepared for plenty of musical chairs and a lot of background noise.
Eat this: Quite a lot of options. But it’s the crepe stall that attracts most hungry shoppers looking for a hearty snack on the go. If you feel like more serious eats, try the somtam tord (deep-fried papaya with spicy salad, B45) at stall P25.
6/F, Platinum Fashion Mall, Petchaburi Rd., 02-121-9999. Open daily 9:30am-8pm.


And now, those that did not make the cut...

MBK FOOD CENTER

Vibe: Narrow and crowded as it sits in the middle of the building with no views on the outside world, the court’s use of bright colors and lights does little to save the day. There are flat wide-screen TVs at every corner to catch up with the news or some boring documentary, but the most annoying thing is the cash-back counters located a hundred yards away. Are they hoping we won’t bother?
Selection: The food ranges from a la minute stir-fries to shark fin soup but most importantly, this is one of the rare food courts where the stalls have legendary reputations that rival those of street food.
Cleanliness: The cleaners do a surprisingly quick job of clearing dishes and cleaning tables despite the crowds, with plates getting whisked away as soon as you finish them. Utensils and the counters in front of stalls are not always as clean though.
Cost: It’s not street cheap, with dishes starting from B40 and climbing up to B70 even for simple Thai dishes. But it remains incredibly affordable.
Top Stalls: The beef noodles, the Khamoo St.Louis, the somtam, phadthai, hoithod and Thai dessert stalls...
6/F, MBK Center, 444 Phayathai Rd. BTS National Stadium. Open 10am-9pm.

Central Ladprao,
Tops Market

Vibe: Since the big revamp of Central Ladprao, the food court’s atmosphere is ten times better. The brand new table sets are in a lovely eggshell tone and the overall color palette is cloudy grey. Too bad the seating is very limited, compared to the abundance of food stalls. We even saw some customers having to share their table with strangers—the horror!
Selection:Lots of Thai options, with decent choices for Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese and Western food. The stall selection ranges from very ordinary tam sang (stir fries made to order), to a kebab place and a hi-so Italian chain, Scoozi, that does pastas starting at B100. Rarely seen in any other malls, Crepes & Co. and Chokchai Steak Burger also have outlets here—B120 for a pork burger.
Cleanliness: Everything is clean and pleasant. Although, with seating spread out over three different areas, the cleaning staff has a hard time getting to all the tables.
Cost: Not “food court cheap” but definitely cheaper than standalone counterparts.
Top Stalls: Tue Huan Ladprao 64, Krapor Pla Yaowarat and Vegetarian Food by Major General Jumlong Srimeung.
Basement, Central Ladprao. 1691 Paholyothin Rd., 02-541-1111. Open daily 10am-10pm. MRT Paholyothin.

Fifth Food Avenue (MBK)

5/F, MBK Center, 444 Phayathai Rd., 02-620-9814. BTS National Stadium. Open 10am-9pm.
MBK’s 5/F is one of the more style-savvy food courts; its black chairs contrasting with smooth white tables elevate it to more of a restaurant feel. Kiosks serve Thai (try Thai Fusion Cuisine’s stir-fried chicken with cashew nuts for B80), Indian (such as Indian by Chutney’s lamb masala), Mexican (Burrito Loco’s quesadillas for B85), Italian (Angelo does a seafood spaghetti for B80) and many more. And although in most food courts, you can see who’s cooking what, here it feels more like a collection of open-air kitchens because everything’s neat and orderly. For the most part, everything’s a bit more expensive than B100 but, it’s probably one of the best semi-affordable inter meals you can get in the ‘hood. Our faves? The Tamarind Tree cooks some fantastic vegetarian Thai food, sans MSG; and Sultana’s halal Thai food.

Central Food Loft

7/F, Central Chidlom, Phloen Chit Rd., 02-793-7070. Open daily 10am-10pm
With its black and steel grey décor, its large windows overlooking Sukhumvit and its army of staff that holds your table while you saunter off to order and brings you your food, the place is a bit of a hybrid between a traditional food court and a sit-down restaurant (which can sometimes get confusing). Externally contracted restaurants supply international cuisine: Indian by Ind Spice, Vietnamese by Dao Vien, Italian by Gianni’s, Japanese by Hou Yuu and much more. Instead of coupons, they have a card swiping system, though the protocol between self-service and table service is a bit ill-defined, so there can sometimes be confusion. That, and the place is always packed to the gills at mealtime, making it a bit of a market place rather than a hi-so chill-out zone.

BIG C Rachaprasong Food Park

Vibe:  This extra-large space has a tropical forest theme so green, brown and white colors dominate the place. Walls are decorated with both fake and real green plants, and there’s a large pond with a fountain at the center. They’ve overdone the mixing and matching with the furniture, but we like the idea of their open-air area, and also the views afforded by the tall windows. For better or for worse, there are flat screen TVs as well.
Selection:  Sectioned into three categories: rice express, international and noodles. Inter includes Japanese, Indian, Chinese and Vietnamese. The guaytiew Sukhothai is lovely, but the fish balls in the kanom jin by Khun Lek taste like boiled flour.
Cleanliness:  Since the mall was recently renovated, everything looks very new. The staff seems to be a bit inactive, leaving some of the tables a mess for long minutes. We once spotted hair on a spoon—eek!—but other than that, the utensils look fairly clean.
Cost: 5/5. Cheap!
Top Stalls: Guay Tiew Sukhothai Mae Boon Rod
4/F, 97/11 Ratchadamri Rd., 02-250-4888. Open daily 9am-9:30pm

Central Rama III Food Park

Vibe: The décor has an underwater theme, so white and ocean blue are the main colors. The proportion between seating and empty space is not too cramped, and apart from regular tables and seats, there are also hi-so looking tables with black leather chairs which are set up along the glass-window corners offering a great sky and city view. There’s a toddlers’ ball pit and decent amount of arcades in the area, so expect screaming and noise. Tutors and high school students make up half the crowd.
Selection:  Choices are limited and mostly Thai with a few basic international additions like Japanese katsu curry rice and EZ sausages and steaks. The place does offer some interesting snack choices like the cold Japanese crepe and takoyaki. All dishes are priced under B100.
Cleanliness:Stalls and utensils are sufficiently clean, but dirty tables don’t get noticed right away by the staff, so you may eat your meal next to a table piled up with leftover food.
Cost: 3/5. Average, but you can still fill up on B100.
Top Stalls: Guay Tiew Yhib Yum, Kamoo Nakorn Pathom and Cold Crepe.
6/F, 79/3 Satupradit Rd., 02-673-5555. Open daily 11am-9pm.

Emporium Food Hall

Vibe: The eating area is open, with natural light coming from the huge windows that showcase a scenic view of Benjasiri Park. The faux book case along the walls and plants on every corner give it a homey, library feel. Unfortunately, it’s even more cramped during lunch hours and it’s hard to find a place to sit. Be ready to fight for your seat.
Selection: There isn’t much choice: you can get combination seafood plates for B80-B100, noodle soups (B50) and rice noodles with shredded duck (B60)—not that they’re any good. If you’re into sweets, they have ruam mit, a traditional Thai dessert where you can choose from an assortment of jellies and syrups, cherry, coconut milk, or regular (B25 for two desserts, B10 for each additional one).
Cleanliness: Maybe it’s the nice lighting and decor that makes it all seem cleaner than most mall eateries, but staff is also quick to clear tables.
Cost: You’ll pay B60-B100, rarely more, rarely less. Kind of pricey, but it is Emporium.
Top stalls. White Kitchen does a mean fried rice with Thai sour sausage (B65) and garlic meat or combination seafood dishes (B55-B75). There are also more elaborate creations like their tom yum goong spaghetti with shrimp, squid or a combination of both (B90-B100).
5/F, Emporium Shopping Complex, Sukhumvit Soi 24. BTS Phrom Phong. Open daily 10am-8pm.

Paradise Park Seri Market Food Court and Food Bazaar

Vibe: Paradise Park has two food court options on the ground floor. One is the original Seri Market and another is called Food Bazaar. Seri Market has an old market theme with wooden signs on the top of every stall and a seating section also resembles an old wood house. Gift shops that pop up along the food section are a bit of an annoying distraction, though, and we’re on the fence about the dim lighting. The Food Bazaar, on the other hand, is new and boasts a bright and colorful decor. The good thing here is you don’t have walk around looking for a coupon counter as all the shops take cash.
Selection: Prices here start at B30, and there are several popular franchise stalls like Rod Dee Ded and Guayjab Bangrak at this section. The Food Bazaar too has famous downtown shops: Khamoo Roddee (B40) or our favorite Yentafo J.C. Silom, where prices are B50 and there are more options, like radna yentafo (B50), guaytiew lod (B45) and por pia sod (B45). Although it’s mostly a take-away sort of place, Food Bazaar also has a cute seating area called Food Bazaar Terrace.
Cleanliness: Staff is quick about clearing tables, and they do have clean utensils and tables. But the black, wooden chairs and lack of light make this place look a little gloomy.
Cost: Affordable.
Top Stalls: Somtam Ranraek, Guaytiew Tomyam and Roti Fahtima.
G/F, 61 Srinakarin Rd., 02-787-1000. Open daily 10am-10pm.