As you’d expect there are heaps of good places to eat in the old town. I’ve put all the places mentioned below and more on this map.
Thipsamai Pad Thai aka Pad Thai Pratu Pi (Intermediate A), 313-315 Maha Chai Rd, Khwaeng Samran Rat, Khet Phra Nakhon, Krung Thep Maha Nakhon 10200, thipsamai.com
Pad Thai Pratu Pi (meaning “Ghost Gate Pad Thai”, named by customers after a nearby intersection) is perhaps the most famous Pad Thai restaurant in Bangkok. Consequently it’s very popular with locals and tourists alike and starts filling up as soon as it opens at 5pm and doesn’t stop till 3am.
Pad Thai has an interesting history. Its status as a national dish originated during a rice shortage in WW2 when the nationalistic prime minister Plaek Phibunsongkhram (aka Phibun) introduced a campaign to make people eat more noodles. According to some accounts a competition was held to find the best noodle dish and Pad Thai was the winner.
Ultimately of course noodles and stir-frying came from China so prototypes of this dish must have existed before the war. You might notice that chopsticks are used to eat Pad Thai and they are only ever used in Thailand to eat Chinese food (otherwise forks and spoons are preferred, etiquette on their use here). Ironically the use of chopsticks was discouraged during the Phibunsongkhram era as they were considered unpatriotic. This restaurant started during that time and it’s classic version of the dish is used as a standard by many other restaurants around the world.
I arrived a bit later and had to queue for a short while but I didn’t mind as you could watch the chefs working out on the street churning out Pad Thai at lightning speed. One chef fries the soaked dry noodles and adds other ingredients (eg tofu, shrimp, leeks, bean sprouts) according to the recipe and passes it to a second chef who wraps it in a thin skin of egg omelette, twice. Video here.
The whole place is run like a factory production line. These are the side plates of fresh bean sprouts and lime segments waiting to go. Other additions like chili flakes and crushed peanuts are already on the tables.
Once you’re seated you are presented with a tick box menu offering a choice of Pad Thais. You can choose between cheaper dried prawns or more expensive fresh ones, whether to have egg or glass noodles whether egg is to be included and how but there is an ‘other’ section for any special requests relayed to the server.
I began with the classic version wrapped in egg which is called Pad Thai Haw Kai Goong Sot (ผัดไทห่อไข่กุ้งสด).
On the menu it’s the ‘Superb Pad Thai (big prawns)’ option.
I was still feeling hungry so I followed up with Pad Thai Sen Jan Man Goong (ผัดไทเส้นจันมันกุ้ง) where the noodles are fried with the head juices of the big shrimp for extra flavour. Rather than being wrapped in egg, this style included scrambled eggs mixed in with a bit of tofu for good measure. This isn’t on the menu so you’ll have to show them the Thai name above, or show them this picture so they can write it in that ‘other’ section on your bill.
A plate of Pad Thai costs between 60 and 300 THB costs here. Expensive by Bangkok standards but it’s a great experience nonetheless.
There’s another smaller, more recent but also very famous noodle restaurant just on the next corner…
Raan Jay Fai (High Elementary B+) , 327 Maha Chai Rd, Khwaeng Samran Rat, Khet Phra Nakhon
I make a point of avoiding popular places at peak times so I got a table straight away when I arrived in the late afternoon.
Jay Fai is the nickname of the elderly lady wearing goggles working the wok outside the side door in this corner restaurant. Despite the no-frills appearance of her shop she’s considered one of the best street food cooks in Bangkok and her prices reflect that. However for your money you will get good quantities of quality ingredients stir fried in a style that uses minimum amounts of oil.
I had her most popular dish, Pàt kêe Mow Talay aka “drunken noodles”, or broad ho fun noodles stir-fried with seafood and lots of chillies. The food had a slightly singed taste and appearance which surprised me a bit but it was still very good (B+).
It’s now much harder to get in since she was awarded a Michelin star in 2018, something she’s not too happy about (article here). A friend went in 2019 and waited two hours for a table so you might want to avoid peak times.
This next place is handy for Wat Pho…
Err (Intermediate B+), 394/35 Maha Rat Rd, Khwaeng Phra Borom Maha Ratchawang, Khet Phra Nakhon, www.errbkk.com
This is a modern trendy place aimed at visitors rather than locals and again the prices aren’t as cheap as they can be in Bangkok. However, the Thai and Australian chef couple who own it have a good pedigree via working at London’s Nahm and their own fine dining restaurant Bo.Lan.
I was just here to snack on interesting stuff so I got a few starters as small plates rather than try the mains.
I liked the Sai Ouwa; coconut-smoked northern sausage (B).
By my favourite was the Kor Moo Yang; grilled pork neck with tamarind sauce (B+).
Their craft IPA and Weiss beers from Phuket’s Full Moon Brewery were pretty good too. I can’t remember anything about this spirit though! It’s glorified paint stripper no doubt.
Rarb (Low Intermediate B+), 52 60 Charoen Krung Rd Soi 30, Khwaeng Bang Rak, Khet Bang Rak
A bar that sells decent food and delicious cocktails with vulgar names, designed by award-winning bartender Karn Liangsrisuk. I enjoyed every aspect of the Fuck My Farm (rum, American honey, kaffir lime, roselle)…
…Mahon – Nhahor (gin, Vietnamese coriander, lychee)…
… and the Fake Wedding (tequila reposado, pink grapefruit, passionfruit, salted caramel).
I don’t really remember what any of them were like but the Mahon – Nhahor sticks in my mind as the most interesting for some reason.
In preparation for travelling to Isan and Laos, I tried their Larb Moo (a kind of spicy pork salad) as well which was fine (B). It’s best with the toasted rice apparently but I wasn’t hungry enough for both.
And if you’re in need of a change head to Little India…
Royal India (Intermediate C) 392 1 Chakkraphet Rd, Khwaeng Wang Burapha Phirom, Khet Phra Nakhon, www.royalindiathailand.com
The best of the Indian restaurants in this Indian neighbourhood, according to Lonely Planet at least.
It’s fine (C+) but not worth a detour unless you really have curry withdrawal. I went at lunch time and had the non-veg thali with Mutton Curry, Veg Curry, Raita, Naan, Popadom, Pulao Rice and a sweet (Gulab Jamun) for only 300 baht.
And that’s it for the old town. We’re heading east for a bit of culture next…