Som tum, ant larvae, larb—Isaan food is about how you make it.
Perhaps no other regional Thai cuisine has had a better few years than Northeastern. Isaan dishes are everywhere these days. Bangkok is home to a range of north eastern Thai restaurants, offering classic dishes like the popular som tum Thai to the more adventurous dishes with ant larvae and fresh blood. Here’s our list of some of the best places that specialize or are influenced by the Northeastern regions.
This top 10 includes picks from BK's Top Tables at Anantara Siam Bangkok earlier this year, sponsored by UOB, supported by alcohol partners Gulp, Campari, and TAP. View the full Top Tables 2023 list here.
This spot serves real Isaan food—not the dishes adapted to cater to Bangkok tastes—in a space that’s even more hip than your average cafe. All the ingredients are delivered from the same market they use at their Ubon branch. Somtam (get the hairy-fruited eggplant) lovers, this is your pla ra paradise, they have three different kinds of pla ra for different dishes which took months to research and find. Try the set of three jaew (chilli paste), featuring their signature jaew, galangal jaew, and fresh Ubon chili jaew served with crispy pork skin and isaan vegetables. The deep-fried pla yon (local Isaan freshwater fish) with garlic will really help with the spiciness.
25 Pridi Banomyong Alley., 063-246-9545, 11:30am-11pm.
Supanniga's four locations (Thonglor, Sathorn 10, Tha Tien, river cruise) is a blend of traditional cuisines from Thailand's north and northeast provinces, a stylish yet casual ambiance, and prices that won't break the bank. The cuisine is inspired by the owner's roots; dishes include moo cha muang, which is pig belly curry, a delicacy from the East, and veggies among you will want to try their mushroom larb.
160/11, Sukhumvit Soi 55 (Thonglor), 091-774-9808. Open daily 10am-10pm.
100 Mahaseth is another space that specializes in northern and northeastern-inspired delicacies, but this spot gets its rep from going head-to-tail. Chef Chalee Kader uses products from local farms and use techniques like pickling, smoking, and a dry-aging meat cabinet which are common to Northeastern fare. Typical dishes include their eggplant relish with fried pork and their signature larb phed with duck breast and galangal.
100, Maha Set Rd. (Si Phraya), 02-235-0023. Open Tue-Sun 11:30am-midnight.
The Zao empire doesn’t end with one shop. The owners of Zao, Nutthida “Eve” Palasak also have a sibling branch, Zao Larb on Thonglor Soi 25, focusing on more adventurous and lesser-known dishes like som suer which features fermented beef brisket wrapped in bamboo leaves, the beef is perfumed from the inside with herbaceous stuffing before streaming under coal for five minutes to elevate the flavor. There’s even raw beef delicacies including soi ju and goy. Soi ju, is packed with chewy beef tripe and liver served with bitter dipping sauce and som teen ngua with fermented ox feet that gave us the impression of eating a soup version of nhaem.
11/7 Thonglor Soi 25., 062-639-1445, Open Tues-Sun 8:30am-2pm, 5-11pm.
How about bite-sized larb skewers paired with selected craft beer both on tap and by bottle with an alfresco rooftop view in the heart of the city? Owner Arthit “Fai” Mulsan, started experimenting on his larb siab, bite-sized skewers complete with toasted rice powder, bird’s eye chillies, lime juice, and fish sauce. Skewers include beef onglet, shank, duck thigh, and pork intestines, which are dried and crispy on the outside as they should be. There’s also Isaan sausage, stuffed and later torched with cheese.
The Jim Thompson Art Center, 1 Kasem San Soi 2, 065-115-6925, Open Wed-Sun 5-11pm.
Phed Phed started in 2017 with their OG Phed Phed Cafe, after eight years they have now expanded to six spicy restaurants. The Nakhon Phanom-hailing owners Nuthakorn “Ohm” Jivarungsinee and Nattaphong “Tom” Saehu guarantee a menu of authentic gaeong om (spicy vegetable soup with pork), ko moo yang (grilled pork neck) and somtam in 20 varieties. However, the restaurant’s most popular dishes are tam plara gung sod which is papaya salad with fermented fish and fresh shrimps and tam luang prabang, which is fermented fish, shrimp paste, and crab paste sprinkled with river tamarind seeds.
9, Pradiphat Soi 20, 097-918-1175. Open Mon-Sat 11:30am-8pm.
Hua Hin certainly isn't in Isaan, but this Ari resto specializes in som tum salads that blend fresh seafood from Hua Hin with a pungent, northeastern flare. Featured dishes include fried squid, mussels with green papaya, deep-fried shrimp with garlic, and spicy som tim with raw mantis shrimp salad. Many dishes are the owner's creations, who’s a native of Hua Hin and a former partner at Somtum Der, who brought her family's recipes to Bangkok.
65-67, Phahon Yothin Soi 7, 02-023-4521. Open Mon-Fri 11am-3pm, 5-10pm; Sat-Sun 11am-11pm.
Sabai Jai Gai Yang has been known for its Isaan fare in Bangkok since 2000. Customers come here to enjoy one of the many Northeastern food with cheap drinks in their beer garden where live music entertainment can often be found. As the name already suggests, one of the specialties is their grilled chicken which goes down with a chilled beer. For a larger appetite, try the steamed sea bass with lemon juice.
87, Ekkamai Soi 3, 02-714-2622, Open daily 10:30am-10pm.
Crying Tiger is a recently created spin-off from the Ros’Niyom Thai chain, and does a fine job at authentic street flavors in the comfort of a mall. There’s a tum poo maa (blue crab somtam) that’s salty and biting; a cucumber tum pla raa (fermented fish somtam) that’s fresh, punchy, and not for the weak of stomach; and a tum kai-kem (salted egg somtam) that leads with a smack of acidity and goes easy on the sweetness—just how we like it.
Market Place Nanglinchee, Nang Linchi Soi 3, 02-287-2786. Open daily 10am-10pm.
It's not going to win any beauty competitions, but Jaekoi is a spot you can rely on. This semi-indoor baan-style joint—be prepared to take the heat—also has the option of an air-con private room. A must-try is their hyped yum pla dook fu, which is deep-fried minced codfish with green mango salad or their yellow curry crab and tom zaab which is zesty soup with kaffir lime, lemongrass and fish sauce. All dishes are large portions and prices are super affordable.
361/2-3, 12 Thanon Phetchaburi., 081-818-3625, Open daily 10am-3am.
Somtum Der serves is situated in Silom and Thonglor and offers a small variety of Isaan dishes with prices that won’t break the bank. Highlights are tum thai kai kem, moo ping kati sod, tom saap kra dook aon, and sa poak gai tod der. The team of Thai owners also has other branches from New York City to Ho Chi Minh City and Tokyo.
5 Sala Daeng Rd., Khwaeng Silom, 02-632-4499, Open daily 11am-11pm.