Chiang Mai is the best place to sample northern cuisine. The most distinct style is known as khan toke. A Khan Toke meal consists of several small dishes such as chicken or beef curries, crispy fried pork skin and northern style chili sauces such as the mild red nam prik ong or the firey nam prik on; all served with sticky rice. A Khan Toke dinner is traditionally served on a small round table.
You will find several Khan Toke restaurants around Chiang Mai. Most of them are tourist oriented and put on a show of traditional dancing along with dinner. Our favorite is the Kum Kaew Palace, located near the Vista Hotel, just inside the Changpuek gate. It's located in a small old palace building belonging to a princess of Chiang Mai. However, on our last visit our party were the only guests, so we wouldn't be surprised if the place was closed soon.
Chiang Mai Street Food
Chiang Mai also has its own style of street food, the most well known of which is khao soi. This dish is made with flat egg noodles, something like linguine, served in a hearty soup with either chicken or beef. A thick black chili paste, lime, shallots and bean sprouts or some other vegetables are served with the dish to allow you to season it to your own taste. While you can find this dish in some Bangkok restaurants, most people agree that there's nothing like the "real thing" found just about anywhere in Chiang Mai. Your best bet if you want to give it a try is the Anusarn night market, about a block from the night bazaar, or a new restaurant dedicated to this dish, 'Just Kao Soy' on Charoen Prathet Road, not far from the Anusarn market. The "original" place to get khao soi is the small alley connecting Charoen Prathet and Chang Klan Roads just before Tapae Road. The street has a small mosque and two or three khao soi stalls. These usually close after lunch, so don't plan on having khao soi for dinner.
Chiang Mai's long popularity as a tourist destination means that there's ample opportunity to sample other cuisines, if you tire of Thai food. In fact, some of the restaurants are better than their Bangkok counterparts.
Japanese - There are two good choices in Chiang Mai for good Japanese food at reasonable (but not cheap) prices: Fuji, in the newly opened Panthip Plaza on Chang Klan Road at Si Don Chai, serves a variety of Japanese foods in a very high design shop. Sakae Sushi, in Kad Suan Kaeo shopping center, serves mainly sushi, as the name implies.
We've assembled a list of our own favorite restaurants, as well as those highly recommended by others. See the list for a short sampling of what's on offer.