Since when did Bangkok dining get so good?

If you want to start a fight with foodie friends, just challenge them to name the best dining city in the world. And if you want to really go no-holds-barred, tell them you think it’s Bangkok.

OK, so Thailand doesn’t yet have the economy to sustain bleeding edge food. And there’s more than a whiff of hype right now. Other cities still do molecular better; and for all that places like Le Beaulieu are doing classical food superbly well, you can find equivalents elsewhere. But what’s clear is that Bangkok is being watched and that the economy is growing fast. Michelin critics passed through recently, as part of their big Southeast Asian investigation. Robuchon is said to be opening something there soon. Rumor has it Juan Amador (another 3-star chef) is heading there, too. Michelin-worthy outlets have set up in the past, but they’ve never done well before; so change may be afoot.

Then, of course, Bangkok has the best Thai food in the world. And since Thai food tops so many people’s list of their favorite cuisines, maybe doing the world’s best Thai food—on top of all the other international, experimental stuff—means you really do have the best dining scene.

Says Gregoire Glachant, Managing Editor of our sister magazine BK, “I think people have also been blown away by the diversity of food in Bangkok. With food trucks so hot in the US, visitors are just amazed by the markets and the food carts here. It’s taken a few years but people now get that green curry and pad Thai were the tip of the tip of the iceberg. Best dining city? Maybe not. Most exciting (and perhaps underrated)? Probably.”

And since BK Magazine’s all-new Top Tables 2013 is far and away the best guide to Bangkok’s restaurant scene, we thought we’d share edited highlights of their top five here just to whet your appetite.

1. Nahm
Thai
While there may be one or two close rivals to the throne, we still believe Nahm serves the best Thai food you can eat in Bangkok. (In fact, we believe it serves the best food you can eat in Bangkok, period.) We love the flexibility given by the set menu which starts you off with delicious canapés (the skewered Southern grilled mussels are divine) before letting you pick one nam prik (relish), one salad, one soup (per person), one curry and one stir fry from a mouthwatering list of options. And while Thompson is resolutely traditional with his dishes, there is just enough innovation to keep you on your toes, especially in the sublime desserts courtesy of his partner, Tanongsak Yordwa.
G/F Metropolitan, Sathorn Rd., +66-625-3333. Open daily 7-11pm.

2. Le Beaulieu
French
Resisting fads and fashions, Chef Herve Frerard remains resolutely French, whipping up chicken liver pate, soups and consommés (such as his famous bouillabaisse) and hearty, rustic mains split between land and sea. In short, these are simple dishes using top ingredients imported direct from France or making the most of the chef’s involvement with the Royal Projects in Thailand. Such understated refinement and taste doesn’t come cheap and the crowd reflects this, but Le Beaulieu is currently our favorite French restaurant in town.
G/F Athenee Office Tower, 63 Witthayu (Wireless) Rd., +66-168-8220-3. Open Tue-Sun 11:30am-2:30pm, 6:30-11:30pm.

3. Quince
Mediterranean
The food at the super popular Quince is pretty consistently excellent. Unfortunately, Chef Jess Barnes left the place not long ago. Quince’s number three ranking is thus more a reflection on what the restaurant has accomplished until now, than a guarantee as to its future. Using local produce and seasonal ingredients, Barnes’ cuisine really shines through in dishes like the roasted carrots with shallot, honey, poppy seed and thyme. The space is truly handsome and the kitchen staff is both bold and talented—let’s hope it stays that way.
Sukhumvit Soi 45, +66-662-4478. Open daily 11:30am-1am.

4. The Water Library Thonglor
French
What if you imported nearly all your produce from the best sources in the world? What if you had more chefs than diners? What if you made those diners start eating together at the exact same time, with a set menu they can’t pick and choose from? This crazy dream is a reality at Water Library Thonglor (there’s also Water Library at Chamchuree Square, which does classic a la carte dining). The restaurant serves a maximum of 10 diners per night, starting at 7:30pm on the dot. To make it all happen, Water Library assembled a dream team of international mixologists, chefs and wait staff, and uses only the very best imported ingredients to boot. While this is Bangkok’s most expensive set dinner, the experience and flavors are also some of the most exciting in town.
The Grass, 264/1 Sukhumvit Soi 55, +66 (0)2-714-9292-3. Open daily 6pm-1am.

5. Bo.lan
Thai
Chefs and couple, Bo and Dylan (Bo. lan, get it?) worked at David Thompson’s Michelin-starred Thai restaurant Nahm at its original London location. But it was them who first brought the promise of authentic, uncompromising food at fine dining prices back home to Bangkok. Flavors are uncompromisingly, but not overpoweringly, hot, such as the grilled aubergine salad with fresh, plump river prawns and a perfectly half-boiled duck egg. Each bite lets the complexities of the Thai spices and herbs unfold in your mouth. This is Thai food for connoisseurs who want to be pleasantly surprised (as opposed to comforted) by what’s on their plate.
42 Sukhumvit Soi 26, +66 (0)2-260-2962. Open Tue-Sun 6:30-11pm.