Chiang Rai is an extremely pleasant city in the very northern part of Thailand.
It’s much smaller than Chiang Mai, and I really love Chiang Rai for its laid back feel, beautiful surrounding mountains, fantastic coffee (Doi Chang), extremely nice people and culture, wonderful fresh food markets, and plenty of delicious northern Thai food, Chinese food, and even northern tribal food available.
In northern Thailand the staple starch is glutinous sticky rice, which should be available at just about every local restaurant you eat at in Chiang Rai.
Along with the restaurants listed below, one of the best places to get a taste of authentic local food in Chiang Rai is by going to the evening market at the old clock tower. There’s an array of northern Thai food, snacks, and interesting dishes to keep you happily eating for a long time!
Where to stay in Chiang Rai:
When my wife and I go to Chiang Rai we usually stay at Amarin Residence, a wonderful relaxing and extremely quiet resort (affordable resort). The hotel is located in the quieter section of Chiang Rai, across the highway from the city center, and not far from the river.
We’ve also stayed at Rinlada House, located right in the center of Chiang Rai, just a few minutes walk from the clock tower area.
Best Restaurants in Chiang Rai:
Laab Sanam Keela (ร้านลาบสนามกีฬา) – Without doubt, Laab Sanam Keela (ร้านลาบสนามกีฬา) is one of my favorite restaurants in Chiang Rai – it’s probably the restaurant I would go directly to the next time I land in Chiang Rai. They serve northern Thai food, with a pretty heavy emphasis on meat dishes, and the restaurant is a favorite for many locals in Chiang Rai. Among the dishes I tried, one of my favorites was their jeen neung (จิ้นนึ่ง), steamed beef with herbs, served with nam prik kha (น้ำพริกข่า), a galangal chili sauce. Another dish you have to order when you eat at this restaurant is pla tabtim tod kratiem (ปลาทับทิมทอดกระเทียม), a deep fried golden tilapia with a mountain of garlic – it’s insanely delicious. If you go to Chiang Rai and if you’re looking for a local feast, Laab Sanam Keela (ร้านลาบสนามกีฬา) is one of my top restaurant recommendations.
Lu Lam Restaurant (ร้านหลู้ลำ) – Lu Lam (ร้านหลู้ลำ) is another excellent northern Thai restaurant, and it’s more of a sit-down restaurant, overlooking the Kok River. On their menu, they have just about every type of northern Thai food you can imagine, plus some interesting local Chiang Rai specialities like wasp larvae chili dip and a dish called loo (หลู้), raw pig’s blood soup, to which the restaurant is named after. But you don’t need to try their more exotic dishes, they also have excellent dishes like laab moo khua (ลาบหมูคั่ว minced meat salad). Lu Lam (ร้านหลู้ลำ) is an excellent restaurant in Chiang Rai to try local cuisine with a nice relaxing environment.
Ja Jaroenchai (ร้าน จ.เจริญชัย) – Along with northern Thai food, Chiang Rai is also home to a number of Thai Chinese restaurants that I thoroughly enjoyed, one of my favorites being a Ja Jaroenchai (ร้าน จ.เจริญชัย). They serve a menu of all things stir fried, and they also have a number of different prepared dishes in the front, like braised duck and boiled chicken. One of the most famous dishes to order is pad makua sawuy (ผัดมะเขือเสวย), stir fried eggplant with minced pork, and it is extremely delicious. Another dish I really enjoyed at Ja Jaroenchai was their pad yod on tandawan moo krob (ผัดยอดอ่อนทานตะวันหมูกรอบ), stir fried sunflower sprouts with crispy pork belly. Ja Jaroenchai (ร้าน จ.เจริญชัย) is my kind of a restaurant, and if you like Chinese food, I think you’ll love it too.
Roti Pa Yai (ร้านโรตีป้าใหญ่) – Roti Pa Yai (ร้านโรตีป้าใหญ่) is a pretty decent restaurant in Chiang Rai that serves halal food. As the name of the restaurant suggests, one of their main specialities, and something they do very well, is roti, fried bread prepared in a number of different ways. I ordered the roti mataba gai (โรตีมะตะบะไก่), a roti stuffed with a mixture of egg and chicken and spices, and fried to crispy deliciousness. While a few of the other dishes I ordered were a little on the plain side, their gaeng gari gai (แกงกะหรี่ไก่), chicken curry, was excellent. If you’re looking for Thai Muslim halal food, a change from typical northern Thai cuisine, Roti Pa Yai (ร้านโรตีป้าใหญ่) is a decent meal option.
I’ll be adding more restaurants to this list as I continue to eat and explore more of Chiang Rai.
Hope you have a great time visiting Chiang Rai and that you especially love the food!
– Mark Wiens
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