CHOOSING the restaurants on this list was tough, but in the end it came down to one thing: consistency in cooking. While there are many great Thai restaurants in Krabi, the biggest problem is finding those that are always good, no matter when you go and whom you go with.
Of course, even in our chosen favourites, the chefs might still have an occasional off-day, but they’re usually on lip-smackingly good form. For lovers of Thai food, all of these establishments offer the genuine article, with no concessions to the tourist palate (except for more or less chilli) and all are in the restaurant class - although often good, no roadside stands are listed here.
IN KRABI TOWN
IF you are serious about Thai food, this is the place to come. In addition to the famed street stalls and markets, you’ll find some truly amazing restaurants - at a fraction of the prices found on the beach.
Ruen Mai on Maharat Rd, despite stiff competition (see below), continues to hold its well-deserved crown of best Thai restaurant in Krabi. Using only the highest quality ingredients, each dish is a carefully crafted blend of flavours, that is guaranteed to please. There’s a vast menu, with many southern Thai specialities and the restaurant itself is set outdoors in a pretty garden, making dining a special occasion day or night.
Ruen Mai’s closest rival is Ruan Tip, another excellent restaurant featuring a traditional Thai menu (try its delicious smoked crispy leg of pork, prawn beignets or crab curry) as well as its own innovations - the spicy Ruan Tip salad, with lansa fruit, cashew nuts and crispy dried seaperch is a must. Live music every night plus good service and an upmarket local crowd seal this restaurant’s position in our top ten.
Jao Sua, another restaurant slightly far from the centre, would certainy be the people’s choice for best Thai in town. It’s always packed with an eclectic crowd - especially after bar closing time at 1am - and thus offers a taste of the real Thailand. The menu is huge and cheap, with almost anything Thai you can think of, including dishes with birds and frogs.
Best are the southern specialities such as the hot and sour fish curry, kaeng som and the chilli prawn dip, nam phrik kung sot. The rickety old wooden building offers plenty of seating choice - you can even sit cross-legged on the floor.
While not as spectacular as the previous three, Bai Toey’s pleasant dining room on the banks of the Krabi River provides good, reliable Thai cuisine, only a short walk from the old pier on Khong Kha Rd. Try the clams stir fried in sweet chilli paste and basil (hawy waan pat nam phrik pao) or the strange-sounding but excellent squid stir-fried with salted eggs - there’s plenty of dishes you won’t find on a tourist Thai menu.
Yet another restaurant worth checking out in town is Peak Mai (on Krabi Rd, near the turning for Ao Nang), which has a menu similar in style and price to Jao Sua - it’s a popular evening choice for local Thais. Not quite making it into the top ten, but good for a lunchtime dose of chillies, is the strip of restaurants in Thara Park, serving treats from the north-east of Thailand daytime only.
OUT OF TOWN
AT the weekend or on public holidays, there’s nothing Thai people like to do more than drive out into the countryside, park and eat. Two favourite places, where children are also kept occupied by swimming and splashing around in the river, are Klai Wang Water Garden (also known as ‘catfish farm’) and Suan Kluay Mai, both on the road from Klong Haeng to Klong Muang.
Klai Wang is a great place to spend an afternoon. Lunch is served in rickety old wooden pavilions dotted around the river and the food has gone back to its usual high standards, following a brief crisis after the departure of its long-time chef.
Of course, everyone comes for the catfish, caught fresh on the premises. Try it in an excellent, many-textured salad (foo), or simply fried with garlic. Other good dishes include kua kling, an extremely spicy, dry curry and any of the north-eastern salads (laab, som tam etc.).
Suan Kluay Mai is a pretty garden restaurant, on the banks of a bend in the same river, further upstream. The soups there are all fantastic - in particular, we recommend the chicken coconut and ginger tom kha gai, or the simple chicken turmeric broth gai baan tom kamin, this last especially if you are harbouring traces of a cold from the European winter.
If possible, try to visit this restaurant with Thai friends. The large menu is only partially translated and - rather worryingly - there are also different prices for Thais and foreigners. Please also note that both the ‘out of town’ choices can have very slow service when they are busy. Be patient - or go swimming!
IN AO NANG
IN the sea of restaurants near the beach, the number of real Thai eateries, we are ashamed to say, can be counted on the fingers of one hand. The places listed below are unique in the tourist area in serving authentic Thai food to authentic Thai people - always the clincher for the observant traveller: if the locals eat there, goes the saying, it must be good.
Ton Sai is a small, unassuming, family-run restaurant on the corner of Soi 15 and the main road. Unassuming, that is, in everything except what is served on your plate. The food is delicious and worthy of a price-tag more than double than that which you actually pay.
From basic, one-dish meals (pad thai, stir-fried beef with chilli and basil on rice), to elaborate curries (Penang chicken, green curry) and a great tom yam soup, Ton Sai produces consistently top-class food. The family atmosphere is charming; the only complaint would be the long waiting time, again when the restaurant is busy.
Esan Seafood, on the other side of the beach, past the tourist police, is regularly recommended by locals as having excellent Thai food. Even with the recent price hike, it still provides value for money in the beach area, with fresh and authentically spiced dishes on a menu offering a wide range of northern and southern specialities. We like the ho mok thaleh (seafood baked in a coconut, with red curry paste) and the spicy chicken salad.
If you would like to eat in more elegant surroundings, however, there is only one choice: Sala Bua, on Ao Nang beachfront. This has all the right ingredients for a special night out: delicious food, well-prepared and presented; a dining area with beautiful sunset views; and the perfect hosts. Portions are quite small, so you can order a lot and taste as much as possible from the menu.
Other Thai options (okay, there’s now more than ten, we’re cheating!) in Ao Nang include the venerable Mother House, one of the oldest restaurants on the beach. A tiny dining room, opposite The Lost Pirate Bar, serves up pretty authentic food [Update 02/07/06 - Currently closed for renovations]. Rimpa Restaurant, in The Cliff Ao Nang Resort, and Ruen Prutsa, in Somkiet Buri Resort are two hotel restaurants we like that also have good Thai menus.
One final note on eating Thai food: it is best to order as local people do, with several dishes to share, rather than one dish for each person. Order rice separately and taste a little of everything. This way, you can get a balance of flavours and textures - soups, curries, stir-fries, salads etc. Don’t forget simple dishes like omelettes, which can really help you get through the spicy food!
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