From HT Woodson Part 2
A while back I got a mad craving for Issan food that lasted about 2 weeks. For some reason I woke up every day just craving the stuff, so I spent that time driving around the city and trying every Issan restaurant I could find. I tried about 10 or so different places, but only a couple really stood out from the pack.
So, without further ado, my favorite Chiang Mai Issan restaurants.
#1 on my list is Chai Sii, located on the Canal Road about a block north of Huay Kaew Road, on the east side of the road.
I didn’t take any pictures myself because there is an entire 2 page thread on CM108.com dedicated to this restaurant, and someone did a brilliant job photographing the place and the food. The thread is here
, have a look, it’s mouth watering.
The food is every bit as good as it looks in the pics at the above link.
Unfortunately, the menu is completely in Thai and the owner doesn’t seem to speak any English, so either know what you want before you go, read Thai or bring a Thai friend. The owner seems to be the only person in there, so if it’s crowded you might have a long wait for your food.
Also, the food was so hot that I couldn’t finish everything. I like spicy Thai food and can handle the heat, but this was at another level. I got spanked. I had a few minutes when I just had to sit with tears running down my face waiting for the ringing in my ears to stop. If you don’t like your food NASA hot you better let her know when you order.
Aside from those shortcomings though, the food was DELICIOUS!. I still haven’t found better.
My #2 pick is Issan Laan %. I think this place is probably better for most people than Chai Sii above though, because it’s not overly spicy and it’s friendlier to folks that don’t speak Thai.
Issan Laan % is directly across the street from the Chiang Mai University north gate on Huay Kaew Road.
Not much for parking, but the fans are blasting inside so it’s pleasantly cool during the hot season, and there are lots of University girls to look at. I of course have a GF and don’t notice such things.
They have the best kind of menu, dual-language, meaning everything is printed in both English and Thai, unlike many places that give you a shortened English menu with a few items on it. The prices are cheap, with the exception of a few items.
Everything we ordered was great. There wasn’t anything we didn’t enjoy, and the portions were generous.
The grilled fish was wonderful and the dipping sauce with it was delicious.
The somtam was great as was the Sai Yaang.
The Geeng Om was meaty and delicious, and was 90% edible. What I mean is that it was only 10% ginger, lemongrass and lime leaves; the rest was all edible bits. It’s so nice not to have to spend all afternoon picking lime leaves out of your meal.
The Sai Groh (sausage) was delicious but a little expensive (50 baht).
My only gripes are that I would have liked the spicy dishes a little spicier, but I tend to like things hotter than most people. Also, the Sai Groh was 50 baht; I can’t figure out why it was so much more expensive than everything else. Other than that everything was very affordable and delicious.
I still think the food at Chai Sii was slightly tastier, but Chai Sii is stuffy during the hot season, crowded, slow and there is no English menu. The food at Issan Laan is very nearly as good, but the overall experience is better. Great restaurant, 2 thumbs up.
Coming in at a distant 3rd would be “Roum Jai Kai Yang”. This is the one on the moat just before Chiang Mai Ram Hospital.
This is really not one of my favorites, but I mention it because every expat I talk to in Chiang Mai about Issan food tells me they love it. I don’t really agree, but I’m one against many. It wasn’t bad, I just thought some of the other places were better.
For starters, there’s no parking unless you park in Kad Suan Kaew and walk. Bummer in the rainy season.
On the plus side, they do have an English menu, though predictably it has only half as many items on it as the Thai menu.
Here is the menu:
What I really didn’t like about this place was that the food seemed like it was made for “the farang” at the table. There were no chillies in anything, maybe 4-6 chillies in all 4 dishes put together, and the somtam was the sweetest one I’ve had anywhere, just loaded with sugar. The tomyam gung had no heat at all and so much coconut milk in it that it was more like a curry than a soup. I can’t say this was all a bad thing, because I think many people would prefer the food this way rather than rocket hot and true Issan style. But it wasn’t for me.
I also thought the portions were small and the prices were high. You definitely get a lot less food for your money here than at the restaurants above.
Yet despite all that, this seems to be the most popular Issan place with everyone I speak to. I would say this is a good restaurant for people that like Issan style food, but want it more to farang tastes, ie. not so phet, lots of coconut milk, etc… Good place to take your family to when they’re visiting Thailand.
I did try Ken Chai II on the Canal Road, which is another favorite with lots of Chiang Mai expats, but I’m not going to recommend that one. It has the best atmosphere of anyplace, and is a great place to have a beer with friends during CM Bike Week, but I think the food is mediocre and overpriced. I posted some pics from that restaurant on TV, here
My little Issan exploration was a while ago, not this year. I was so sick of Issan food after eating it everyday that I took a long time off, but looking at these old pics has my mouth watering again. Does anyone know of any new places that have sprung up lately? I’d kinda like to try someplace new.