The Northeast is changing. Thanks to young locals with an eye for international trends in dining and design, it’s now as easy to find a slow-drip coffee in Korat as it is in Chiang Mai. We spoke to the faces behind some of these burgeoning small businesses to create the definitive modern Isaan checklist.

KHON KAEN

 1. PUN PANG

This much-Instagrammed cafe was established after three years operating as a cake delivering service. Try the seasonal durian cheesecake (B85) this season.
577 Moo 7, Soi Ban Kok 40, Ban Ped. 096-130-8479. Open daily11am-8pm. www.fb.com/punpangbakeAcake
 

 2. NEIGHBOUR

This little cafe quickly won locals’ hearts with its minimal design and tasty cakes. Try the Oreo cheesecake (B70) and brown mint choco wheat waffle (B135).
Lang Mueang Rd., 081-546-1946. Open Tue-Sun 10am-7pm. www.fb.com/neighbourcafe
 

 3. SALAD MANIA

This all-white, minimal salad cafe belongs to an architect couple. Their specialty is vegetables, offering a salad bar at B25 per 100g. It’s always packed in the evenings, mainly with joggers who train around the area. Their signature dressing is an oilfree version of Japanese sesame.
Adunyaram Soi 2, Muaeng, 083-451-1155. Open Sun-Fri 4-10pm. goo.gl/7sjley
 

 4. THE CONCEPT AROMATIC THAI CUISINE

The young guy behind this project, Warong Laopaiboon, studied at Le Cordon Bleu at Dusit Thani before working at W Bangkok and Hilton Sukhumvit. Together with friend Chot Wongsaman, they serve both Thai and international dishes. Highlights include Isaan ome (Isaan-style spicy vegetable soup with beef, B195), laab pla duk (spicy cat fish with herbs, B180) and fusion fried pork knuckle with fish sauce (B380). There’s a vast and constantly changing list of imported beers, too.
192 Airport Rd., 094-512-8685. Open daily 11am-10pm. www.fb.com/concept.khonkaen
 

 5. BLUE JAYS BURGERS

This food truck serves burgers made using local beef, including the popular pineapple-topped Hawaiian burger and fresh veg Canadian burger. They normally station at Hugz Mall, the new trendy community mall in the city center, but check their Facebook page to avoid disappointment.
180/1 Nai Mueang, Maliwan, 098-584 -287. Open daily 5:30-10pm. goo.gl/nzS9Ff
 

 6. THE TERMINAL

Located near Khon Kaen Train Station, this contemporary hotel takes influence from Thailand’s railways. The lobby is dotted with vintage benches while rooms feature aluminum train seats and step-ladders from sleeper carriages. Room rates start at B1,200 for superior and B2,200 for the four-bed Classic room.
181/44 Laonadee Road, Muaeng, 043-227-000-1. www.theterminalhotel.com
 

 7. SUPANNIGA HOME

This boutique hotel is set amid lush greenery and offers various programs for those who want to explore the traditional side of the region. Room rates start at B4,380 for two persons and B18,000 for four persons.
130/9 Potisarn Rd., 089-944-4880. supannigahome.com

BK ASKS

Supachai Srisudto, 36, Blue Jays Burger

After studying to become a chef at George Brown Col lege in Toronto, where he worked at several Italian and French kitchens for a decade, Suphachai returned to Khon Kaen and opened this burger t ruck named af ter Toronto’s iconic baseball team.
 
Why did you choose to open a food truck rather than a restaurant?
It’s cheap and you don’t need to do much marketing. Everyone knows burgers and loves them. I’ve been overwhelmed by the response.
 
Why did you return to Khon Kaen?
I wanted to be close to my family, but now I have plenty of new friends and support from locals.
 
How has the restaurant culture in Khon Kaen changed?
It’s really changed a lot. The new generation is waking up to international food trends and wants to try new food experiences. My customers don’t just come for the food; a lot of them also studied abroad, so they gather here to share their experiences.

UBON RATCHATHANI

 8. NOM NOIR THE MILK BAR

The latest addition to Ubon’s milk culture offers toasted bread and fresh milk, as well as a classic coffee list. Their signature, Nom Noir, mixes hot milk with caramel (B25).
Sukhauppathum Soi 9, 095-883-4383, Open daily 11am-10pm. FB.com/nomnoirubon
 

 9. PAPILIO

This minimal, Japanese-style bakery sets itself apart from others thanks to its rose macarons (made in-house from roses imported from France), Viang Jumon tea from Chiang Mai and TWG tea sets at affordable prices.
than you’ll find in Bangkok. Sappasit Rd., 081-600-6460. Open 9am-11pm. goo.gl/MkM39n
 
Credit : www.facebook.com/yes.coffeebar.ubon

 10. YES

This coffee bar and bistro is more like a pub, perfect for hanging out for a drink at night. The vibe is all about American retro, from the lightbulb-illuminated sign outside to drawings of Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe.
Ubon Square 21/2, Chayangkul Rd., 093-448-8855. goo.gl/jx3Zc5
 

 11. NA NA HANI

This small hotel incorporates plenty of Isaan charm thanks to the work of local artists depicting important local festivals such as Boon Bung Fai (rocket festival) and Wan Khao Phansa (Buddhist lent), the famous candle festival of Ubon Thani.
Room rates start BTK. 65/3 Soi Shayangkul 12, 061-136-9693. FB.com/nanahaniubon
 

 12. PALS

Sharing a home with Charcoal Soymilk (see BK Asks, right), Pals serves healthy junk food alternatives like gelato sherbert, smoothies and thin-crepe pizza, as well as salads and cold-pressed juices.
274 Oob Lisan Rd., 095-451-5655. FB.com/palstable

BK ASKS

Nathida Palasak, 32, owner of Charcoal Soymilk

Ubon native Nathida Palasak is a designer at fashion label Shaka (3/F Siam Center. www.shakastyles.com). Last year she rebranded her favorite local soymilk into the contemporarystyled Charcoal Soymilk (FB.com/charcoalsoymilk). The popular drink can now be found at Emquartier and Siam Paragon, but also still holds a place in Ubon locals’ hearts.
 
After living in London and Bangkok, how do you find being back in Isaan?
It’s really happening in my eyes. We can’t beat Chiang Mai quite yet, but there is definitely a cafe culture here now. It’s the businesses that are really offering something different which I believe will live longest. 
 
How do you find the social life?
I don’t really see much difference between people here and in Bangkok. They both love to go to new places and share them on social media. Here, the slower pace of life is much nicer than Bangkok.

UDON THANI

 13. DOSE ESPRESSO

Borrowing its name from the popular Sydney coffee shop, this cafe specializes in quality coffee which the owner, Naowarat Kuwajanakul, sources with the help of Dose Espresso in Sydney (where she used to work as a barista). Naowarat also plans to open a second branch at the end of the month, focusing on clean, organic food as well as coffee.
106/40 Soi Ratchapatsadu (Thanarak Market), 092-991-9225. goo.gl/Isnoxr
 

 14. UNDER THE TREE

Expect this whimsical country cottage-style cafe to be packed almost every day thanks to its signature “pizookie” (B85), a pizza-size cookie served with ice cream. They also come up with unorthodox drinks like espresso soda (B75).
888 Pracharaksa Rd., 085-456-1199. Open daily 10am-8pm. www.fb.com/cafeunderthetree
 

 15. BAAN RARE

Designed by its architect owner (see BK Asks, right), this minimal guesthouse is chockfull of Isaan touches, from pakaoma (local gingham) pillows to kratib (sticky rice bamboo containers). The same owner also runs a bike tour operator called Otto, which offers bike trip to Laos starting from B12,000 per person. Room rates start from B500-B,1000 with breakfast.
4/8 Po-Sri Rd., Maak-Kaeng, 081-260-1333. www.fb.com/baanrare
 

 16. SAMUAY & SONS

The brothers behind this tailors’ home turned restaurant, Weerawat and Worrawut Triyasenwat, both have experience from top kitchens in San Franciso, including Commonwealth (which just lost its Michelin star this year) and Thai restaurant Osha (which also now has a Bangkok branch). Their menu is a mix of ancient and new recipes from Isaan and elsewhere in Thailand, like saeng wa (non-spicy yam) and baby bamboo in fermented fish soup topped with fried giant cat fish.
133/25 Ponepisai Rd., 086-309-6685, 083-056-0380. Open daily 11am-9:30pm. goo.gl/7u1j8N
 

 17. WOLF’S DEN

Twins Pitawat and Nichaporn Urwongkul teamed with chef friend Menat Sikala, who previously worked at JW Marriott Phuket. They offer homemade Italian dishes, from fresh pasta to desserts. Try their Australian ribeye with port wine gravy (B450). The venue looks stunning, too; Pitawat used his architect background to revamp two old shop-houses in a very chic industrial style.
43/33-34 Srisuk Rd., 085-221-0330, 083-357-2287. Open daily 10am-8pm. www.fb.com/w.wolfsden
 
Credit : FB.com/maibaan

 18. MAIBAN VILLAGE

Here you’ll find two shops worth checking out: furniture store Maibaan (FB.com/maibaan) and Japanese knickknack shop Soontaree (084-478-0919, FB.com/soontareebrand), both of which sell stylish souvenirs and keepsakes.
333/20 Ring Rd. Open daily 9am-8pm

BK ASKS

Rirk Chaowanakawee, 51, owner of Rare Guesthouse

Bangkok-born Rirk, an architectturned-marketing consultant for hotels opened his small 12-room guesthouse in 2013.
 
Why invest in Udon?
Udon Thani is a hub for international travelers on their way to Nong Khai and Laos. But the Isaan region also has its own rich culture. It’s like a spicy dish that you never get bored of. The people, too, are so friendly and open to newcomers.
 
Do you see a lot of growth potential for the region?
There is st i ll vast room for investment, which can’t be said for other parts of Thailand in the North and South, which are so packed and expensive. Route R9, connecting Myanmar, Thailand, Laos and Vietnam, has huge potential to grow. We just need to be careful to retain Isaan unique character.

NAKHON RATCHASIMA (KORAT)

 19. FIKA

This cafe and co-working space sits in an old wooden house. As well as serving Thai coffee and fusion spaghetti dishes like nam prik ong and kua klong (B135), it’s also a dealer of TokyoBike brand bicycles, and hosts a craft market once a month.
Charng Pueak Soi 6, 062-139-2699. Open daily-10am-10pm. www.fb.com/WeloveFika
 

 20. POLAR POLAR

A bit out from the city center, Polar Polar is a good spot to stop by for sweets and coffee (made using beans from Bangkok’s Roast). They also regularly host a street art market selling toys, home and phone accessories, and clothes from local designers.
508 Moo 11, Khok Kruad, 083-788-8338. Open daily 8am-8pm. www.fb.com/polarpolarcafe
 

 21. YELLOW PUMPKIN

Newly built but with a nostalgic vibe, this cafe in the busy city center hosts regular talks and group bike rides, and also serves as a pop-up gallery. Their signature ingredient is pumpkin, which they bake into cheesecake and muffins.
1223 Trok Samranjit, Chomphon Rd., 098-221-2001. Opens Fri-Tue 10am-7pm. www.fb.com/yellowpumpkincafe
 

 22. CLASS

This local chain of coffee roasters has four branches serving both local and international beans. Prices range from B55-B115 per cup. Their third branch (near Wat Bu) also has a grill station called Scale Burger, serving New York-style burgers at B160 for pork and B180 for Angus beef.
Chomsurangyart Rd., 044-007-277. Open daily 7am-8pm. www.class.coffee
 

 23. BAAN ISSARA

Baan Issara offers three types of accommodation: a hotel, a resort and a townhouse-style villa for families. Room rates start at B550 for superior rooms, B1,000 for suites and B1,500 for two bedrooms.
259/9 (Behind The Mall Korat), Trok Wat Thatako. 087-962-5553, 094-275-3555. www.fb.com/BaanIssaraKorat
 

 24. 8 BISTRO

Run by the owners of a successful Korat pub and restaurant called Hansa, this bistro focuses on European food and imported beers.
9/8 Trok Saowtong, Mukkamontri Rd., 044-248-888. Open 10:30am-midnight. www.fb.com/8bistro
 

 25. C’EST SI BON

Operated by an alumni of Dusit Thani’s Le Cordon Bleu cookery school, this little French-influenced kitchen serves classics like eggs Benedict and duck confit alongside burgers and luxurious desserts. Don’t leave without trying the double chocolate croissant.
Time Square, 1849/25-27 Suebsiri Rd., 044-353-525-6. Open 10:30am-8pm. www.fb.com/cestsibon.th
 

 26. ART AND FRIENDS MARKET

Gathering on the first week of every month, this art and crafts market hops around town visiting Korat’s various cafes. The same group also runs “art farm,” where you’ll find businesses like Baan Baan Décor (084-410-4040, goo.gl/teXisr), the beloved eco shop selling wooden home accessories, ceramics and tie-die along with homemade pizza. Follow their event at goo.gl/PF52xp.

BK ASKS

Marut Chumkhuntod, 37, Class Cafe owner

Marut packed in his job in digital marketing at a telecommunication company to open a cafe in his hometown, Korat.
 
Was there anything like Class Cafe in Korat a few years ago?
If you go back three years, there was no cafe that people could actually connect with. There were expensive Starbucks hidden in malls that didn’t open till at least 10am. I wanted to create a sense of coffee culture; somewhere that opens at 7am and serves quality coffee. The young entrepreneurs really love it. We’re always busy in the morning.
 
What differences do you see in Isaan’s youth culture compared to Bangkok?
Big brands often fail here because they bring in things that people don’t want. In Bangkok, the pace is much faster, service needs to be sharp. Here, it takes most people 10 minutes to get from their home to the office so they have more free time. There are a lot of opportunities waiting for those who see them.