On the Bangkok streets, where all the pavement's a stage for pad Thais and hoy tod oyster omelettes washed down with swashes of ice-cold Chang, weekend trippers tend to focus their energies on conquering as many street food stalls as they can. Perhaps they shouldn't. The Thai capital has seen a surge of casual restaurants and bars sprout up in recent years – here are a few of the ones that are making waves in the city.
Thai fine dining spot Bo.lan is widely regarded as one of the country's foremost keepers of authentic local cuisine, but sitting through a seven-course meal there can cost upwards of THB2,680 ($104) per head. If all you've packed for a weekend trip are holiday berms and Kratingdaeng singlets, check in to Err instead.
Consider it the diffusion brand of Bo.lan flagship that has a lot more fun than her older sister. Hidden down a short darkened alley not far away from the Grand Palace, Err is a technicolour eatery where racy food competes for attention against graffiti, screen-printed Visit Thailand posters, and nostalgic tchotchkes – some familiar even to Singaporean audiences.
Duangporn Songvisava, the 'Bo' to Dylan Jones' 'Lan', also has a hand in the food here. The friendly staff encourage a party of four to order six or so dishes from the menu that includes preserved, pickled and charcoal-grilled dishes. The recommended Chicken Movie (THB150, $6) is a deep fried and paper-thin jacket of spring chicken skin served with a housemade Sriracha dip, while Isaan cuisine gets prime representation in supple cuts of toasted, rice-covered squid, zested with lashings of lime juice. And even though the dining room can find itself filled by tourists and expats on a busy Friday night, no one gets a break from the spice in dishes like the red curry of chicken bits on the bone and chunks of sweet melon (TBH350, $13.50). To douse the gob flames are a collection of Thai-distilled rum, rice, potato and corn spirits, served by the shot (THB120-125, $4.65-$4.80) or in refreshing cocktails (THB180-250, $7-$10).
394/35 Maharaj Rd, Tatien, Phra Borom Maha Ratchawang, Phranakorn (+66 2 622 2291, www.errbkk.com). Tue-Sun 11am-3pm, 6-11pm.
Supanniga Eating Room
The Supanniga brand started as a hotel in Khon Kaen in the northern region of the country, serving home-style Thai dishes that pine for khunyai’s (‘grandma’ in Thai) cooking. Owner Thanaruek Laoraowirodge pitches yet another Supanniga concept in a shophouse, just a few soi shy of the party district, that whips up cuisine from the country’s Trad and Chantaburi provinces – where Laoraowirodge’s his hails from.
On the pretty patterned tableware, dishes like Son in Law Eggs coat vivid, orange-yolked, boiled-then-fried eggs in a sticky sweet sauce and fried shallots, while a soup of beef shank is a tart tomato-heavy counterpoint to the fish- and lime-dominant street food. The recipes are said to have been passed down over 80 years, but diners more familiar with Chinese food can still find comfort on a plate of Surat Thani-style stir-fried crab, tossed with shallots, garlic and Thai chilli.
160/11 Soi Sukhumvit 55, Klongton Nuea, Watthana (+66 2 714 7508, www.supannigaeatingroom.com). Daily 11.30am-2pm, 5.30-11pm.
Not all of Bangkok's Chinatown is the heaving Yaorawat thoroughfare of seafood and bird's nest restaurants. From the Hua Lamphong end of the district, hop on an Uber and follow the signboard once your driver lets you down, even if it's leading you down a wet and quiet alley – because at the end of it, you’ll find Tep Bar. The reward is a refined cocktail experience whose authenticity no tour group, however off-the-beaten-path, can offer. Inside the dimly lit shophouse, a tiny spot with Thai xylophones, drums, flutes and strings worked by students soundtrack the room with polyphonic music.
Even if it doesn't make much sense to the tourist in you, take it all in with a drink by your side. Tep is all about weaving down-home flavours in its mixology, with a hot-and-herby backbone of different Thai yadong moonshine. The Ya Sa Nae takes the roselle coolers of our Chatuchak romps and addles it with Thai rum, while the Like a Virgin balances white rum with a housemade lemongrass syrup and ginger. But if skulling drinks is more your thing, there's always the E-Sarn Rocket: a beer and yadong shot for all your party-drinking needs. Tep's clearly serious about its drinks, but still hospitable enough to serve you your poison of choice.
69-71 Soi Nana, Mitrijit Rd, Pom Prap, Krung Thep (+66 467 2944, www.facebook.com/tepbar). Tue-Thu 5pm-midnight, Fri-Sun 5pm-1am.
Let the Boy Die
Not too far away from Tep Bar is Let the Boy Die, another player in the city's burgeoning craft beer scene. Inside this bar with looks for days, drop all expectations to find the usual suspects from Denmark, the US or the UK – you'll find plenty of those in the Thong Lor and Ekkamai districts further east of the city.
Look to the blackboard instead to find the local brews (read: made by the owners) of the evening, poured out of wood-handled taps on a small subway-tiled bar counter. Popular styles like pale ales, IPA, amber ales and Siam-style steam ale are sold by the cash-only pint. And sip slow: the atmosphere in the tap room – enhanced by grainy wood from rail sleepers and Edison bulbs suspended from the trellis-embellished the ceiling – all add up to an incredibly chill evening you won't want to end early.
542 Luang Rd, Wat Thepsirin, Pom Prap, Sattru Phai (+66 82 675 9673, www.bit.ly/lettheboydie). Tue-Sun 6pm-midnight
At this year's inaugural announcement of Asia's 50 Best Bars, it emerged that the Thai capital had its fair share of quality drinking establishments. Coming in at 26th place, Q&A is a speakeasy that's nestled in a residential apartment block not far away from the colourful chaos of Soi Cowboy. But its proximity to the red-light district is pretty much where their similarities end. Past the very tall doors and curtains is a train cabin-like space here to take you on a journey – the time you spend travelling depends on just how much you drink.
Names of classic cocktails engraved on metal tags stud one wall of the room, but you'll want to make a booking to snag one of the red leather seats facing the talent. The incredibly affable bartenders are always happy to work a bespoke drink for you – otherwise, hold a candle up to the menu of classics like the Negroni (built with a house-infused gin) and creative cocktails such as the Ambrosia Cloudy Punch, served with green apple slices cooked sous vide in vodka. Take note of the dress code, though. Come in smart casual or you'll feel thoroughly out of place.
253/13 Sukhumvit 21, Klongtoey Nua, Wattana (+66 2 664 1445, www.qnabar.com). Mon-Sat 7pm-2am.