Lena Restaurant

By Elle Faraday

On my travels, I’ve often been asked what my favourite type of food is and why. I was never able to give a direct answer until I moved to Chiang Mai. I can now say that Thai food is without doubt my favourite cuisine. The longer I’ve been living here, the more able I am to cope with spicy(ish) food and I now have an understanding of chillies. They’re not there to simply burn a few layers of skin away from the roof of my mouth, but are actually there to enhance the flavour of a dish.
As regular readers of this column will know I go out to eat fairly regularly, certainly a lot more than I ever did in London, and I try to fit in a Thai meal as often as possible. One of my perennial favourites is the popular Lena Restaurant, which can be found at the bottom corner of Loi Kroh Road, Soi 5, at the end of Anusarn market.
Their food is exceptional and service is particularly efficient. In all the times I have eaten there, which I can assure you is a fair few, I have never been disappointed with the dishes I have been served. The large number of local Thais that eat regularly at Lena is ample testament to the quality of the food. They have many repeat customers and I have known people who have visited Chiang Mai for a couple of days and never felt the need to find an alternative dining experience! They tried many of the numerous dishes on the menu at Lena instead of trying different restaurants. Their reasoning was, “We know the food is high quality and authentic Thai cuisine so why go somewhere else that might not be as good?”
Whenever I visit, I always try to sample something different on their menu. I do, however, enjoy ordering a couple of oysters to start. They are simply divine and at just 45 baht each are impossible to resist. If you are not feeling very hungry and just want a snack, their fried rice (in particular crab fried rice) is delicious and is served with limes that are perfect squeezed over the top. The spring rolls and shrimp cakes are also tasty tempting appetisers. If I fancy something light, I normally go for a small mix of appetisers or Lena’s mixed entr้e platter. This consists of a wide range of Thai delights (great to share) at just 190 baht. They also serve an extensive range of traditional Thai style (occasionally spicy) salads and noodle dishes that start at 45 baht, perfect for a light evening meal.

If you feel you need something more substantial than a few appetisers, you will find an abundance of main courses to choose from. My favourites include fried crab in black pepper sauce (price depends on size of crab), squid steamed with lime garlic and chilli (120 baht), sweet and sour pork (65 baht) and fried sea bass with tamarind sauce (120 baht). Of course, whenever I order any main course, I’ll always order a portion of sticky rice as the perfect accompaniment.
This is just a tiny selection of what is on offer at Lena; there are many other dishes suitable for vegetarians and many more adventurous dishes such as curried shrimps steamed in banana leaves and wild boar fried with chilli paste. I have eaten both these dishes and can guarantee that you will not be disappointed if you try them.
If you have room for a dessert after you’ve feasted upon some of Thailand’s favourite dishes, the sticky rice and mango comes highly recommended. This northern Thai style dessert is always served to perfection.
Lena Restaurant is open seven nights a week and although it can get busy, this adds to the atmosphere and booking is never required. It is a great introduction to Thai cuisine and therefore an excellent restaurant to entertain friends and family from overseas. Simple things make it very customer friendly for example if you ask for ‘not spicy’, you will get a tasty dish without the heat preferred by those more used to oriental food.
When you ask for the bill, you will be treated to a little bit of ‘Thai magic’. The owner will manually add up the cost of your meal - regardless of how much you ordered - and do this at such a speed that you will not fail to be impressed. She has never once made a mistake in all four years that I have been going there.
If you want to contact Lena Restaurant, phone: 053 274 588. Head for Anusarn Market, just off the Night Bazaar and you won’t miss it.