Bangkok’s street stalls and the fiery complexity of its local cuisine once lured intrepid international diners to the Thai capital.
But over the past decade or so the overall level of dining has skyrocketed, in terms of quality, innovation and variety.
Top restaurants have been placing highly in critics’ regional and local “best” lists.
For the past two years Bangkok establishments have topped the San Pellegrino Asia polls, edging out lauded restaurants from Hong Kong, Tokyo and Singapore.
These 10 great places have opened in Bangkok in the past couple of years, raising the local foodie stakes higher than ever for both Thai and international cuisines.
L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon
Joël Robuchon’s establishments around the world hold 28 Michelin stars.
Many critics saw the 2014 arrival of his latest, Bangkok’s L’Atelier, as being emblematic of the increased seriousness with which the city’s eating scene is being taken by the industry at large.
Olivier Limousin, from Robuchon’s London outlet, delivers classics such as lobster and turnip ravioli with consummate panache.
L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon, Mahanakon Cube, 96 Narathiwas Road, Bangkok; +66 (0)2 001 0698
A bit of a cheat as Benjarong has been around since the early 1990s, but since the arrival of tattooed pin-up chef Morten Bjostrup Nielsen (formerly at the Michelin-starred Kiin Kiin in Copenhagen) this once stodgy hotel restaurant has been utterly reborn, with a menu stressing quality ingredients and fresh, clean flavors, creating Thai food at its best.
The green curry with three-day braised short ribs is a wonder.
Benjarong, Dusit Thani, 946 Rama IV Road, Bangkok; +66 (0)2 200 9000
Ginza Sushi Ichi
Bangkok is suddenly swamped with expensive sushi places boasting about how frequently they get their otoro from Tokyo’s Tsukiji Market.
But this basement restaurant, a spinoff from a Tokyo favorite, is one of the few to get the serene, blond-wood, Jiro vibe just right.
There’s little point in singling out any one dish — we just ask for the omakase and take what the chef hands us.
The Erawan shrine, a notorious tourist trap, is just outside, but this is a true religious experience.
Ginza Sushi Ichi, Erawan Bangkok, 494 Ploenchit Road, Bangkok; +66 (0)2 250 0014
The latest project from Fred Meyer (also involved in Bangkok restaurants Issaya and Namsaah) is Japanese, but far from the ascetic aesthetic of Ginza Sushi Ichi.
The decor at Kom-Ba-Wa (Japanese for “good evening”) follows Meyer’s predilections for retro quirk (imagine a deliciously disreputable bar in 1930s Tokyo) and the food leans to hearty favorites like Tajima steak with ponzu jelly and Kurobuta pork with a peach sake glaze.
Kom-Ba-Wa, 9/19 Soi Suanphlu (Sathorn Soi 3), Bangkok; +66 (0)2 679 3775
Ton Tassanakajohn is one of the most exciting Thai chefs around right now.
After training and interning in the states, he brings modern techniques to local ingredients and flavors, creating a cuisine that’s identifiably Thai but at the same time unpredictable and — for culinary conservatives — sometimes challenging (lobster with coriander snow and caramel sauce for one example).
The best bet is to pick one of the set menus (four- or seven-course) and let events take their course.
Ton is also a sommelier and the wine selection is a little gem.
Le Du, 399/3 Silom Soi 7, Bangkok; +66 (0)92 919 9969
In the upscale Groove development of bars and restaurants, Mejico may not be the truly authentic Mexican place that Bangkok needs (it’s actually Australian-owned, of all things), but it’s a cut above most of the Tex-Mex joints around.
You’re welcome to stick to drinks but the food is just too tempting.
Guacamole prepared at the table, soft-shell crab tacos and slow-cooked short rib are among the standouts and it also has by far the best selection of tequilas in town.
Mejico, Groove at Central World, 999/9 Rama I Road, Bangkok; +66 (0)2 252 6660
It’s best here to ignore the gaudy decor, clubby beats and fact that chef Noom Chantrawan got his big break on a TV show.
That makes it easier to enjoy Thai food created and presented with wit and thoughtfulness.
Volcanic beef, made with wagyu, is an upscale take on the fiery classic pad krapow.
The legendary tom yum soup is pretty much reinvented, prepared and served in a coffee siphon.
If you get the chance to talk to him, Noom is an amiable evangelist for his take on his home cuisine.
Osha, 99 Wireless Road, Bangkok; +66 (0)2 256 6555
Sister restaurant to its next door neighbor (the popular Tex Mex La Monita), El Osito leads a double life, serving as an American-style deli during the day then morphing into a lively tapas bar as darkness falls.
All the food is good but there’s one thing that places El Osito on this list — the awe-inspiring Reuben sandwich, constructed with thick-cut homemade corned beef on seedless rye.
Any New Yorker missing Katz’s should come here, order one and have a little sob.
El Osito, Mahatun Plaza, Ploenchit Road, Bangkok; +66 (0)2 651 4399
Bangkokians have been crazy for Italian food for a while but it’s only recently that restaurants focusing on specific regional cuisines have become successful.
Paolo Vitaletti, already responsible for the Rome-centric Appia, is behind the relaxed, family friendly Peppina, with its specifically Neapolitan take on pizza.
Of note are the specialty sausages, such as pork liver salami, with which the bubbly and slightly charred bases are enhanced.
Peppina also has a nice selection of Italian craft beers.
Peppina, 27/1 Sukhumvit Soi 31, Bangkok; +66 (0)2 119 7677
A number of Michelin-lauded chefs have opened satellite establishments in Thailand but Henk Savelberg has gone the whole hog, shutting down his place in the Netherlands and moving to Bangkok for good.
His menu hits a midpoint between classic French and nouvelle cuisine, with his ever-evolving signature lobster salad — jazzed up with foie gras cream and spiced quinoa — being just one highlight.
The multi-course dessert offerings are worth saving space for.
Savelberg, Oriental Residence, 110 Wireless Road, Bangkok; +66 (0)2 252 8001