Good value eating: by Mark Whitman

Ten recommendations…And your suggestions, please

With no seeming prospect of a high season this year in Chiang Mai or indeed anywhere else, and not just in Thailand, it seems that tightening belts might continue to be the order of the day. Certainly restaurants have been badly hit along with other areas of the tourist and entertainment business. A few places buck the trend thanks to a good location (think of Arco’baleno) or to a devoted clientele or, of course, by offering exceptional value.
Many such places will attract only Thai customers or will be modest eating places which do not really qualify for the ‘dining out’ label. What I have chosen is a selection of just 10 restaurants which offer good overall value. This does not mean that they are all modestly priced and cheerful but each offers pleasant surroundings, attentive service and, above all, good food. The order is random: though possibly the last one on the list takes some beating for a combination of good value and really attractive surroundings, spoiled only by too loud music on occasion. It is obvious that choosing fancier dishes or a bottle of wine negates the above premise so please don’t write and tell me that a meal at one of the following cost 600 baht a head because it need not. I think most of those mentioned would come in at around 150 to 350 baht (the farang suggestions are inevitably more expensive). If you have any recommendations please feel free…the Mail welcomes mail.
Wat Suan Dok: this impressive temple, on Suthep Road, has an excellent vegetarian open air café, open during the day for breakfast and lunch. The menu is wide ranging and the fruit and other drinks especially ‘moreish’. The food is freshly prepared and organic. Reckon on about 120-130 baht a head for a healthy brunch.
Pasta Café on Soi 3, off Nimmenhaemeninda Road. This well established Italian restaurant has a spacious feel to it thanks to the adjoining garden. It has open air seating as well as an inside air conditioned section. There are daily specials but for real value choose one of the generous set meals from 250 baht – but only if you have a good appetite. Portions of all the food are large: I go for two starters.
Ney Ney, at the junction of Super Highway and Soi Taewan, is a firm favourite of mine. It has mainly Thai customers for no obvious reason since it is very accessible and super value. They have good music, bright service and the food, especially the fish and their deep fried Morning Glory and Wing Bean Salad, is wonderful value. Reckon on 200 baht plus with draft beer.
Café Pandau has relocated to 118/1-2 Tha Pae Road (Soi 3 Loh Kroh) and they have extended their organic produce menu. Open from 7.30 in the morning until late afternoon for set breakfasts, pastas, and sandwiches with home made bread, as well as lovely fruit and other drinks. The salads are good too and the atmosphere is relaxed and the décor pretty. Around 150 - 170 baht a head.
Kitchen Nimman, just opposite Hillside 4 at Fantanee Market, Huay Kaew Road is run by Krit, an experienced and first class Thai chef. Go for the specials on the board and for the very fresh fish. This is a lively and friendly place to eat in attractive surroundings with beer at very reasonable prices. Slightly more expensive than some of those listed but you can eat well for 250 to 300 baht a head, including one of their delicious ice creams.
Pulcinella di Stefano. You will find this well known and old established restaurant – one of several run by Stefano – across the square from Thapae Gate. They do special menus based around pasta at around 150 baht and cater for the tourist trade. It is not especially elegant but offers a friendly environment and plenty of decent food. Good value, especially considering the location.

Lemongrass Thai Cuisine: I reviewed this restaurant only a few weeks ago but think it is worth a mention again for value and the pleasantly casual atmosphere. It has a fairly large menu, with lots of choice and inexpensive beers and a mixed crowd, including visitors to the Night Bazaar. Around 200 – 250 baht a head. You will find them near the Lanna Hotel, on Loh Kroh Road.
Café de Nimman. This is just inside the area known as Rooms, before the CMU off Nimmenhaeminda Road and, as I have said before in these pages, for sheer consistency it has few rivals in Chiang Mai. The menu is very extensive and there is a main seating area outside and the smaller air conditioned one which resembles a café inside with a small bar area. Excellent Thai food and masses of drink options. Around 250 baht with beer.
Taste from Heaven is one of Chiang Mai’s excellent vegetarian restaurants that you will find at 237/239 Thapae Road. They offer a lunch option at 99 baht. There are such things as tofu burgers for those who want something that ‘hints’ of meat but plenty of tasty alternatives. Around 150 to 200 baht per person. Veggie food is very good in this city and well worth trying even if you ordinarily eat fish and meat.
Sabaidee Santhitham. I reviewed this very attractive Lanna style restaurant when it opened and after a dozen or more visits since can see no reason to change my mind about any comment made then. The décor is most attractive. You can go there just for a drink at the bar or have a very good Thai meal at around 200 baht per head, including beer. Find them at 65 Santhitham Road, Chuang Puak and I seriously doubt you’ll be disappointed.


Spanish Paella

This is a typical Spanish paella with chicken, pork and seafood. Similar to the Thai khao pad talay, but the Spanish version has more garlic, while the Thai variety has chilies.

Ingredients                 serves 4
Long grain rice                 80 gm
Chicken breast pieces      50 gm
Pork collar butt pieces      50 gm
Squid fresh chopped         50 gm
Baby clams                     50 gm
Shrimps                          50 gm
Mussels                          150 gm
Onion chopped                 50 gm
Green bell pepper             10 gm
Green peas                      10 gm
Garlic                              10 gm
Parsley                            20 gm
Tomato sauce                   5 tbspns
Olive oil                            2 tbspns

Cooking Method
Clean the mussels and place in a shallow pan. Cover with water and bring to the boil. When mussels are cooked (shells will be open) remove and save the stock. In blender place parsley, garlic and some mussel stock and blend into smooth liquid. In a large shallow fry pan, heat the olive oil and sauté the chicken and pork until lightly brown, adding chopped onion, capsicum, squid and baby clams and sauté briskly.
Now add the tomato sauce and rice plus two cups of mussel stock and the blended garlic and parsley mixture. Mix thoroughly and cover and cook on a medium heat until water evaporates (around 20 minutes).
Arrange the mussels, prawns and green peas over the top of the rice and cover again. Cook on low heat for another 10 minutes.
Before serving place the Paella in a pre-heated oven (180 degrees) for 10 minutes.