WARNING: WEAR YOUR STRETCHY PANTS
American F&B whiz Kristina Dziedzic – with 15 years’ experience in the fine food & beverage industry – surely knows what she’s talking about when she says this is some of the “best food in Chiang Mai.” Let’s hear more from this adventurous lady who has been traveling throughout Southeast Asia for the last three years…
It’s 9am, I’m already dripping sweat, and I’m starved. I only have 24 hours in this foodie haven before heading north to Pai, and I’ll be damned if I miss any of my favorite spots! This is my fourth trip through Chiang Mai and, as always, my stomach determines the activities of the day. This mission has five stops, so loosen your belt and join me as I stuff my face with my must eats in Chiang Mai!
Free Bird Cafe: Best for breakfasts & brunch
Okay, so I know what you’re thinking. Girl goes to Thailand and heads straight for the first hipster vegan cafe she sees (insert eyeroll here). But hear me out! To start, as you’ll soon read, I am FAR from vegan. Secondly, I cannot function without coffee, so a cafe is a must. Lastly, this is not just one of the best cafes in Chiang Mai, it’s also a social enterprise.
Free Bird’s menu of smoothie bowls, salads, and local dishes are all made from whole, quality foods from local vendors, and 100% of proceeds go back to Thai Freedom House. You heard that right – 100%. The organization serves refugees who have little to no access to formal education and even less access to other basic human rights. Many face fear of return their homeland and it’s conditions. By providing education, they give a kind of freedom to the mind that cannot be attained any other way – hence the name, Freedom House.
So to all the meat-eaters, do me a favor by feeding your belly (and your soul) and give this place a shot. Their Chocolate Smoothie Bowl and Pumpkin Ginger Curry are always top of my list, but for the sake of hitting all my favorite spots before the day is over, I’m sticking with a house-made Almond Milk Latte.
Bonus: If you are vegetarian, Free Bird makes a mean Vegetarian Khao Soi and their wifi is tops.
14 Sirimankalajarn Soi 9 (13,372.33 km) 50200 Chiang Mai. 9am-9pm
Khao Soi Mae Sai: Best for Northern Thai cuisine
If you haven’t tried Khao Soi, have you even been to Chiang Mai?! This signature Northern Thai dish is served on almost every corner, and for good reason – it’s delicious! The rich curry-based egg noodle soup, topped with fried noodles and cilantro, is commonly served alongside fresh shallots, pickled mustard greens, and a wedge of lime. It’s the perfect combination of salty, sweet, sour, and savory.
Khao Soi Mae Sai, found just outside the northwest corner of the Old City is, without a doubt, my favorite spot for this must-try dish. Grab a seat alongside the locals at a community table, and before you can say “Sawadee Kah”, your bowl is placed in front of you. For only 40 Baht a bowl, and with chicken that literally falls off the bone, there’s no shame in ordering a second helping.
The Khao Soi Gai is my fave, although you can’t go wrong with any of the concoctions they offer. Add a heap of pickled greens and some shallots, pull the meat off the bone with your spoon, lean in, and slurp up that soup like a bonafide local. Make sure you throw the chef an enthusiastic “Aroy!” (delicious in Thai) on your way out.
21/9 Ratchaphuek Road, Chang Phueak, Chiang Mai. 8am-4pm
SP Chicken: Best roast chicken in the city
Little backstory here: on my second time in Chiang Mai, I had a random high school friend reach out to me on Facebook after posting a photo with my destination. “You’re in Chiang Mai?! You gotta try SP Chicken!” I hadn’t spoken to this person in over 10 years, so at first it seemed a little odd that they had reached out, but I then I thought, “Heck! That chicken must be pretty good then!”
I’ll never forget the first time I gazed upon those dancing, golden brown ladies. It was love at first sight and I’ve been falling ever since. Gai yang, Thai for “Grilled Chicken”, is not your average grocery store rotisserie bird. This family-owned and operated business has been serving some of the best chicken in Chiang Mai since 1977.
Accompanied with a trio of tangy, spicy sauces, these lemongrass and garlic stuffed chicks are so good you can eat a whole one to yourself, but today I’m sticking to a half order. Here’s what you do: Ball up a pinch of sticky rice, top it with a juicy nugget of roasted chicken, dunk it that salty, sweet sauce and enjoy. Then, of course, Facebook a random friend to make sure they try it too!
9/1 Sam Larn Soi 1, Phra Singh, Muang (13,373.15 km) 50200 Chiang Mai. 10am-5pm
Also Read: Uluwatu (Bali): Top 10 See, Do & Eat
Chiang Mai Gate Market: Best street food
As you can imagine, I’m pretty full at the moment, but I can’t turn a corner without seeing, or smelling, the northern Thailand specialty Sai Ua. It’s like a tractor beam; sucks me right in. This coiled northern Thai pork sausage is sold in almost every market, restaurant, and butcher. The smell of this grilled lemongrass-stuffed sausage permeates the air, and it is heavenly.
Now everyone has their favorite Sai Ua. Many even will travel far outside the Old City in search of the best, but I ain’t got all day. I head just outside the south gate, take a right, and there it is: Chiang Mai Gate Market. In the early morning, this buzzing market is a great way to pick up the local vibe of the city. In the afternoon, and well into the evening, it turns into an all around foodie paradise!
Some of my best skewers, noodles, and curries were had here, but I’m on the lookout for one thing: Sai Ua. There are several stands all grouped together that sell the famous delicacy, and I’d be lying to you if I told you exactly which one is my favorite. Each time I try a new stand, and each time it’s delicious. I walk through the vendors, and using my eyes (and nose), I find the perfect golden brown coil. Personally, I like it when it has a darker grill on it. The darker the char, the richer the flavor, and gives the casing a bit more snap. A little goes a long way here, so this is the perfect snack before my last meal.
Bumrung Buri Rd, Tambon Phra Sing, Amphoe Mueang Chiang Mai. 6am-11pm
Also from Kristina: 5 Best Ways to Experience Siem Reap’s Pub Street Night Life
Khao Kha Moo Chang Phueak a.k.a. The Cowboy Hat Pork Lady: Best late night eat
This, my meat loving friends, is the Holy Grail of pork. Famous with the locals, and made even more famous by the brilliant Anthony Bourdain, this Khao Kha Moo is worth missing your flight for. Exaggeration? I think not.
There is a reason this place has locals and tourist alike lined up for a tiny plastic stool. Is it simple? Yes. Is it nothing special to look at? Yes. But the slow braised, aromatic, fall off the bone, succulent morsels of pork leg will have you wishing you ordered the bigger plate. Served over a bed of white rice with a medium boiled egg and pickled mustard greens, this combination is the perfect balance of rich, sweet, and sour.
I would order the large serving of mai ow nang with two eggs. Next, you see that bright orange suspect looking hot sauce on the table? Put a ladle of that over the top. Cut the egg in half and layer each ingredient on your fork. Enjoy that delicious bite and follow it with a tiny nibble of a raw garlic clove you’ll find in the center of the table (and if you’re brave, followed by a bite of chili). Is that not heavenly?!
Manee Nop Parat Road-Outside North Gate. 5pm-2am
Well there it is friends! My 5 must-eats in Chiang Mai! Remember, the best way to get to know a culture is through food. It’s a part of everyday life, and is what brings us together. So get out there and eat your way through Chiang Mai! You’ll gain a new perspective – and possibly another chin – in the process. 😂 Now please excuse my food baby and I as we slip into a meat-induced coma.
Planning a trip to Chiang Mai? Check out Trip Guru’s recommended tours below!