While we survey the traditional puppets in the Bangkok Artists’ House in the Klong Bang Luang Floating Market, a plume of smoke wafts into the space. As in a fire drill, everyone darts out. But instead of running away from the smoke, they rush toward it.
Along the canal, a canoe had pulled up with two women manning a charcoal grill covered with chicken skewers, and the hungry, in-the-know locals line up for the meat with the intoxicating aroma.
The scene shows that you can discover great food everywhere in Bangkok.
To help you navigate the overwhelming options in one of the world’s best food cities, we offer our gourmet guide on where you should eat and drink right now in Bangkok.
Eat on the River
Ignore the neon-lit, bass-thumping party boats that overtake the Chao Phraya River and board the Supanniga Cruise for a tranquil and upscale ride. The new 40-seat dinner cruise, which launched in December, comes from the same family behind a slew of Bangkok restaurants, including the excellent Supanniga Eating Room.
Glide along the river at sunset while indulging in a six-course meal packed with Thai flavors that are less common in Bangkok restaurants. Supanniga specializes in cuisine from Isan, a region in northeastern Thailand bordering Laos often overlooked by tourists.
Jolt your palate with mahor, a fiery minced pork, garlic and peanut mixture resting on an orange round, and nam prik kai pu, a spicy dip of crab roe and crab meat (an Isan specialty). Don’t pass over the “son in law” eggs, with medium-boiled eggs that are fried, halved and served in a pool of three-flavor sauce with crunchy shallots, or the yum pla salid, chunks of crispy leaf fish that get a surge of flavor from the heaps of fresh lemongrass and a spicy dressing.
The sticky rice dessert arrives with mango slices sculpted into a picture-perfect rose.
As you sip Taittinger champagne, take in sparkling views of Wat Arun and the Grand Palace (a sightseeing guide pointing out riverside highlights is on your table).
Eat at a Culinary Destination
With river and garden views, a balcony, lounge, dining room, pantry and more, Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok’s stylish new Garden Suites call for a stay at the Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star hotel. But this is a world-class epicurean destination unto itself.
Foodies usually come to dine at Le Normandie, one of the top fine-dining restaurants in Bangkok. Yet there’s so much more to taste at the hotel.
Afternoon tea in the bright, light-filled Author’s Lounge should be on every gourmand’s checklist. A wicker and white bamboo trolley rolls up with a Thai-flavored tiffin set with irresistible mango scones, spice-laden curry chicken puffs and melt-in-your-mouth mango sticky rice tarts alongside steaming cups of Oriental tea, a medium-bodied black blend with a hint of jasmine.
For more Thai fare, head across the river to the luxury hotel’s Sala Rim Nam. Upon entering, you’ll encounter two men playing the ranat ek, a xylophone-like Thai instrument, setting the scene for the lovely classical dance show to come. As you watch the dancers’ curved hand movements, feast on a prix fixe menu of royal cuisine (richer, more refined food in intricate presentations) like cho muang, flower-shaped dumplings with a dark blue hue from butterfly pea flower, and stir-fried basil beef that’s bursting with heat.
Among the tray of desserts, which is fashioned to look like a sweets shop, the lod chong (pandan noodles in coconut milk) is refreshing, while the steamed banana with warm coconut milk and a sprinkle of salt is comforting.
If you feel inspired after the meal, sign up for a class at The Oriental Thai Cooking School, where the entertaining and knowledgeable chef Narain Kiattiyotcharoen will teach you how to create those impressive dumpling flowers.
Eat in Glamorous Surroundings
The MahaNakhon Cube building (you can’t miss it — its unusual exterior looks like it’s crumbling) houses a number of culinary attractions. Joël Robuchon, Masaharu Morimoto and Dean & DeLuca all have outposts in here. But for the most glamorous spot, zip up to the sixth-floor Vogue Lounge, the world’s first Vogue-licensed restaurant and bar.
Bangkok’s fashionistas tend to gather in the expansive lantern-lit brick rooftop, but go inside to sit in eggplant-colored curved booths and take in the gleaming white marble bar, the oversized black-and-white photos from Vogue’s archives and the magazine-like menu.
The food and drinks are just as beautiful as the restaurant because of chef Vincent Thierry (formerly of Five-Star Caprice in Hong Kong). Small plates dominate, like foie gras ravioli with smoked duck consommé and unagi teriyaki sliders with wasabi mayonnaise.
The cocktails here are worthy of their own Vogue magazine spread. Sip the refreshing Vogue Lounge Tonic, which upgrades the G&T with chamomile-infused gin, cardamom syrup, lemon juice, apple juice limoncello and white vermouth. A seaweed rim lends the cocktail a salty note.
Eat in a Hidden Restaurant and Bar
Hostesses in fringy flapper dresses and servers in fedoras and suspenders welcome you to The Speakeasy, an American Prohibition-themed bar. The small 24th-floor alfresco bar at Hotel Muse Bangkok provides a pleasant perch to gaze at the city over sips of the zesty Siam Crush (Thai-herb-infused vodka, Italian bitters with ginger chili orange and mint lime and ginger ale) and indulgent bites like fried mac and cheese balls with black truffles and ham. For more substantive fare, veer toward the Italian dishes, like the from-scratch fettuccine with lamb ragù and crispy artichokes. Adjacent to the bar is The Blind Pig cigar lounge, a handsome carved-wood-filled room with its own terrace.
A whole different experience awaits behind a hidden door that leads upstairs to the rooftop — a vast open-air lounge with sweeping vistas and three cozy domes that function as private dining spaces. You’ll want to linger here, especially when there’s live music on Wednesdays, when you can watch the new cabaret show Flavortale (through September 27) at the chic boutique hotel.
Eat in a Cool Rehabbed Factory
You might wager that locals fill The Never Ending Summer for its pla haeng taeng mo (watermelon with dried fish flakes and crispy shallots) or puu nim ga ree (soft-shell crabs with egg curry). But really, it’s the hip scene that draws them.
The restaurant resides in the Jam Factory, a warehouse that was converted into a mixed-use space housing a café, bookstore, homewares shop, gallery and more from local architect Duangrit Bunnag. The Never Ending Summer opened there in 2013 and followed it up with next-door sister eatery The Summer House Project in 2015. Both have an industrial-chic look that’s livened up with overflowing ferns and other hanging plants.
The Summer House Project has even more greenery, giving it a garden-like atmosphere, and floor-to-ceiling windows look out on an alluring terrace. Follow the locals outside to sit underneath strung lights and soak up some of the city’s best river views.