While Bangkok is a city big on history, I’ve found it’s becoming more avant-garde than ever — especially when it comes to gastronomy. Over my last 10 years living and working in the Thai capital, I’ve constantly tried new restaurants as a guidebook author and travel journalist, and have watched the scene flourish with fresh talent and tastes.
The Thai capital will always be known for its no-frills street food culture, but lately, I’ve also noticed a new crop of forward-thinking restaurants pushing the boundaries of flavor while still paying homage to Thai identity.
These are some of the restaurants where you can experience some of Thailand’s most exciting contributions to global cuisine.
Canvas is my favorite restaurant in Bangkok right now. I’ve been to fine dining restaurants around the world but was blown away by an experience here unlike anything I’ve ever had before.
The 18-course menu here is the definition of “food as art.” Each dish is arranged, stroked, or dabbed onto the plate like paint. Among the most impressive is a medley of 33 different vegetables reminiscent of a Pollock masterpiece. A book of artwork (painted by the chef himself during the pandemic) also accompanies the meal.
I loved how a wide geographic area of Thailand was represented through the meal with rare ingredients such as Hua Hin caviar and candied coffee flowers from Chiang Mai. Request a seat at the bar overlooking the open kitchen so you can see the troupe of chefs working with those ingredients — including live Phuket rainbow lobster — while zigzagging between burners and plating stations.
I go to Umi when I want an amazing omakase experience run by a master Thai chef trained in Japan. Out of all of Bangkok’s omakase menus, this one is known for sourcing some of the best, hard-to-find ingredients and seafood from Japan weekly. From personal experience, it’s a great restaurant to eat alone at as there’s so much to feast your eyes on, like the sushi master slicing fish and pounding fresh wasabi like a choreographed performance. The lunch menu is a more modestly priced (and less filling) alternative to the 20-item dinner experience.
Since its opening in 1958, Le Normandie has been at the top of classic French cuisine in Asia. With unparalleled views down onto the Chao Phraya, I think a special-occasion dinner in Thailand does not get better than sitting down alongside the restaurant’s gold chandeliers and opulent flower arrangements.
Since December 2021, a new French chef is helming the grand traditions of Le Normandie with divine dishes like wagyu beef with truffles and pan-seared Canadian lobster. Dinner is an iconic moment, but I prefer the three-course lunch menu for its more economical price plus bright daytime views of longtail boats on the river.
Sorn, a fine-dining space serving southern Thai cuisine, is what I consider to be Bangkok’s most exclusive eatery at the moment. With 20 dinner-only seats, it’s constantly booked, and only 10% of reservations are saved for international diners, so you’ll need to email your request to the restaurant. I managed to get a table after a last-minute cancellation, so if you’re flexible, be sure to mention it.
Unlike what seems like most of the capital’s contemporary restaurants these days, Sorn offers a menu of just five courses instead of upwards of a dozen, and everything’s served in a family-sharing style. You’ll come across dishes and techniques including a yellow curry with mangosteen and gu fish and ingredients like sugar palm and coconut milk prepared from scratch daily in-house.
If you’re looking for a chance to lap up Michelin-starred Thai cuisine in Bangkok, this is where I would go. Based upon royal Thai gastronomy, Paste’s dishes feature lavish local ingredients in uncommon yet time-worn recipes such as watermelon and fish roe soup and northern Shan curry with beef cheek.
The restaurant is located in the prime real estate of Bangkok’s swankiest mall, Gaysorn Village. My favorite seats in the house are the booths along the floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the Ratchaprasong district. From up here, I think all the taxis and tuk-tuks weaving hectically around each other look strangely peaceful.
Jua is my casual-chic spot for a dinner date with friends. Tucked into a tiny industrial shophouse in Chinatown, this modern izakaya exemplifies Bangkok’s affinity for Japanese cultural influences with specialty grilled skewers and shared plates.
The intimate yet buzzy atmosphere, set to an old-school hip-hop soundtrack, is a real treat. Jua’s cocktails, made with Japanese liquors are also particularly well-made (the bartender also makes a mean espresso martini). For my crew, it’s usually a pre-game stop before a night of bar-hopping in Chinatown at spots like Teens of Thailand and Maggie Choo.
I did not expect that one of the world’s most creative (and Michelin acclaimed) German restaurants would be in none other than Bangkok, but it is. At Sühring, chef-owners Thomas and Matthias Sühring, twin brothers from East Berlin, experiment with refining traditional German cuisine and many dishes from their childhood.
The chefs elevate classic German dishes like chicken salad, reinvented as a one-bite tartlet topped with butterhead lettuce jelly. Other dishes come with fascinating stories that were new to me, such as Leipziger Allerei, an everyman’s dish of veggies and fish, and roasted Hungarian duck, which was a typical Christmas dish for the chefs growing up.
Gaa’s menu runs the gamut of inventive Thai and Indian fine dining, yet is always focused on local products (it’s no wonder since the chef, Garima Aurora, once cut her chops at famed Noma in Copenhagen). Dishes such as mango soup with vanilla and dehydrated fruits and a crispy pomelo, chutney, and trout roe snack are inspired by Indian street food with a twist.
While Aurora hails from India, the restaurant is a Bangkok original, and, in my opinion, brings much-needed visibility to the country’s sizable Thai-Indian minority which has existed for generations.
Jay Fai is Bangkok’s most legendary street-food stop. Dining at this unmarked shophouse is a rite of passage, as 70-something Jay Fai, who tosses high flames all day while wearing ski goggles and red lipstick, is a superstar. Since there’s no booking ahead, die-hard gourmands start waiting as early as 10 am for a table. One upside I’ve found, at least, is since there’s no real queue but a sign-up sheet, you can mill about and chat with a diverse crowd of travelers also eating their way around Asia (and usually, they’ll have great restaurant tips, too).
If you are lucky to get seated, Jay Fai’s revered dishes like the crab meat omelet (what you’ll see her firing up most often in her charcoal brazier) and the seafood drunken noodles live up to the hype. A meal here is considerably more expensive (around 1,000 baht or $30 per dish) than what you would pay for most street food, but much less than dining on Michelin stars anywhere else in Bangkok. If you ask me, waiting a few hours is worth the bragging rights.
80/20 is a restaurant that showcases Thai flavors in a forward-thinking way. The name represents the chef’s philosophy of using 80% Thai pantry and 20% of produce from abroad. I think the outcome is a fantastic menu flaunting balanced, seasonal flavors, such as the signature Stormy Sea made of squid, mangosteen, and chili (my favorite dish), and pork belly with infused mushroom.
Located in a converted Chinatown shophouse, the 80/20 vibe features sexy lighting, jagged cement, and handmade earthen crockery. The impressive kitchen techniques, including an in-house fermentation lab, leave a lot to talk about, so it’s a great spot for a first-time date with another foodie.
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