Bangkok teems with street stalls, each featuring a different specialty or strain of Thai food. Pad thai, fried chicken, rice congee, and soup-noodle vendors abound, while more rarefied offerings—oyster omelets, sublime coconutty sweets, fermented rice noodles with curry —require a little more patience to suss out. It’s no stretch to say that street dishes number in the hundreds here, which is why they can be so fun (or challenging, depending on your point of view) to explore.
The least intimidating introduction to Bangkok street food is probably the loose collection of evenings-only stalls located at the entrance to Sukhumvit Soi 38. Known to locals simply as Soi 38, this side street near the Thonglor sky train station offers a vast range of Thai staples: grilled pork satay paired with a generous helping of pickled cucumbers and shallots; fiery-sweet pad thai; silky egg noodles with Chinese-style wontons; and that perennial favorite, mango on sticky rice (khao neow mamuang). All vendors here enjoy a devoted following, and have a reputation for being hygienic. Best of all? A gigantic meal for four will typically set you back a mere 400 baht (about US$13).
Another good place to dip a figurative toe into the waters is Polo Fried Chicken, a longstanding outlet off of Wireless Road that spec-ializes in the pungent flavors of Isan, as Thailand’s rural northeastern region is called. The stand—also known as Gai Tod Jeki—is so successful that it now boasts an air-conditioned dining room, a delivery service, and a vastly expanded menu that includes, inexplicably, southern Thai favorites such as gaeng trai pla (fish-entrails stew). But stick with what brought Polo Fried Chicken its horde of customers in the first place: crispy, deliciously meaty fried chicken, garlanded with deep-fried garlic and accompanied by sticky rice and a sweet red chili dipping sauce.
No survey of Thai street food is complete without a mention of Chinese-style grilled duck or barbecued pork on rice. The best place to get this is always up for debate, but one of the oldest and most popular vendors of this dish is Jibgi Ped Yang, across the road from the old Nang Lern wet market in Banglamphu. Juicy cushions of meat come with clear bowls of broth flavored with scallions and lime and generous portions of fluffy white rice. It’s the perfect lunchtime treat.
By now, any longtime Bangkok food fans reading this may be thinking, “Been there, done that.” So consider this: Nai Mong in Chinatown, home to what may possibly be the most succulent oyster “omelets” in the city—crispy disks of egg and flour topped with a bounty of barely cooked shellfish. Lovers of all kinds of seafood, meanwhile, will have to work a tad harder to find Elvis Suki, tucked in a side alley across from the Hua Chiew Hospital. Here, one-of-a-kind grilled scallops paired with slivers of pork, Thai-style seafood sukiyaki, and a whole sea bass grilled in banana leaves set pulses racing.
If noodles are your thing, head to Lookchin Anamai in the Huai Khwang area (it’s across from another medical landmark, the Bangkok Hospital). Named for its famous grilled meatballs, served slathered in a sweet chili sauce, this eatery is praised also for its rice noodles in beef broth, quick service, and reputation as one of the cleanest street stalls in the city. Of equal repute is Raan Jay Fai, just down the road from an old whitewashed citadel called Mahakan Fort. Manned by Jay Fai herself (loosely translated, the name means “Sister Mole”), the one-person “kitchen” churns out plate after plate of pad kee mao goong—stir-fried noodles with shrimp, chilies, and holy basil.