Since making the move to Chiang Mai, Thailand, one of the many joys my husband Glenn and I have discovered is that you don’t need to spend a lot of money here to eat a delicious, satisfying meal. In fact, our favorite and most frequented cafes and restaurants are no more than a 10-minute walk from our home here. Each meal only costs us a few dollars which is great for our budget too.
In these local Thai cafes, English is not always spoken, but they generally have menus in English. Even if they don’t, you can be adventurous and point at a photo. That’s part of the experience of living in another country.
It’s worth mentioning that many of the local Thai cafes provide free water and ice for their customers. If you feel like a beer and it’s not on their menu, no problem, just visit the nearest 7/11 store, purchase your beer, and bring it to the cafe to have with your meal.
Also, most cafes provide free high-speed WiFi.
Here are my top five. All meals cost less than $3 however, our favorites cost less than $1.50.
1. Zaab Nimman, Soi 8, Nimmanhaemin Road
This is hands down our favorite! All the food is organic and cooked freshly for you. One of our go-to dishes is a delicious yellow curry with pork, chicken or tofu, large, flat noodles, and cashew nuts.
This cafe has a great selection of varied Thai meals from their extensive English menu which includes other favorites like fried rice with pineapple, tofu with ginger, mushroom, and onion as well as green curry with chicken.
Their food is served “mild” but there are chilies and other spices available on the table to add if you like your food spicy. Expect to pay between $1.20 and $1.50. Water and ice is supplied for free, but if you want chilled bottle water, it will set you back 30 cents.
2. Khao Soi Mae Sai, 29/1 Ratchaphuek Alley
Khao Soi is a unique curried noodle dish from northern Thailand that consists of egg noodles and meat in a coconut milk and curry broth topped with crunchy fried noodles. This local place has the reputation as the best Khao Soi in Chiang Mai and we totally agree.
A bowl of delicious Khao Soi (with a chicken drumstick) will cost you $1.20. For vegetarians like myself, you can order it without the drumstick but, be warned, they serve their Khao Soi in a spicy broth. Get here early, it’s popular with locals and they can run out of food by 2 p.m.
3. K’s Kitchen, 18 Sermsuk Road
The sign says it all: “No meals over 100 baht ($3.20)” and most meals cost around $2.30. This casual, air-conditioned cafe consistently serves up delicious food. On mild evenings you can choose to sit outside on the bench style seats that are covered with colorful cushions. The menu is limited to 10 choices, but mouthwatering dishes like Penang Curry, Hung Lay (northern pork curry), and Tea Leaf Salad will have you coming back again and again.
This restaurant is a favorite of mine as they serve delicious vegetarian food. I can personally recommend the Pumpkin Khao Soi. At lunchtime, your server is often your cook, so be prepared to be patient while she prepares your meal.
4. Kad Suan Kaew Street Market, Huay Kaew Road
Local vendors set up in front of this “mall” (the oldest one in Chiang Mai) from Thursday to Sunday evenings. Fantastic street food is prepared by locals and sold at “local prices.” Expect to pay anywhere between $1 to $3 for a tasty Thai dish. Soup and noodle dishes, deep fried squid, papaya salad, spicy northern Thai sausages, mango, and sticky rice and much more.
There is a seating area to relax and enjoy your meal and listen to musicians strumming on their guitars playing a mixture of pop songs in English and Thai. An added bonus with this market is that a massage center is set up adjacent to the food stalls. If you are feeling tired or want to spoil yourself, you can get a one-hour Thai massage for less than $5.
5. Blessed Food, Soi 6, Punna Plaza, Nimmanhaemin Road
A modern, air-conditioned cafe with friendly, efficient staff who all speak perfect English. This cafe was recommended to us by an expat couple who claim they serve the best Pad Thai for only $1, which is served wrapped up inside an omelet. I must agree with them, but there are other great meals here too such as pork won ton soup for $1.40. They also have a “healthy set menu” which will appeal to health-conscious eaters.