Wondering what to eat in Chiang Mai? Welcome to the second edition of My Local Eats, a guest post series in which foodies from around the globe share their favorite local places to eat and drink.
Today My Local Eats makes its first stop in Southeast Asia, a region I have dying to visit since high school. Alana Morgan, an American who lives in Chiang Mai, Thailand, writes Paper Planes, a beautifully photographed travel blog that regularly contributes to my Thailand envy.
I’ve easily gotten spoiled by living in a country with some of the best food in the world. The tastes of Thailand are fresh, varied and usually a surprise to the taste buds as dishes try to achieve the perfect blend of spicy, salty, sweet and sour. In the northern town of Chiang Mai you have your pick of ridiculously cheap street food, upscale restaurants, vegetarian fare and western standbys. After being here for two years, I’ve managed to find my favorite little places for specific dishes. For example, I tend to go to only one stall for their phad thai (but not their suki yaki), another for noodle soup with slow-cooked duck (but not their duck over rice) and yet another for their chicken (but not their tempura shrimp). Fried rice is available everywhere, yet I’ll only order it a couple places that are a notch better than the rest. Because each place has their own specialty, it’s sometimes difficult to give recommendations on where to go.
Street food is great, easy and diverse – with most plates costing only $1 – $2! – but sometimes you want more options. Sometimes you want a place where you can take a break and spend an hour or two…or four. For these times I suggest heading to Bird’s Nest Cafe. With its friendly staff and comfortable atmosphere, the restaurant is the perfect go-to hangout, lunch and lounge spot, or work station for the day.
Located near the center of the old town in Chiang Mai, Bird’s Nest Café offers a mix of brunch-y breakfast plates, Mediterranean sandwiches and Thai favorites like fried rice and tom kha (coconut and galangal soup). The ingredients are sourced from local farms and producers, like the well-known Pun Pun. Mainly vegetarian, here you can find pancakes topped with mangoes and strawberries, grilled mozzarella sandwiches with house-made cashew pesto on focaccia, warm pumpkin salad and creamy Thai green curry with brown rice.
If it’s too hot to eat you can enjoy one of their signature fruit shakes or sodas, like coconut and cinnamon, mint-lime -honey and passion fruit, or even a mojito. For a caffeine kick, they have fresh coffee from the hills of Thailand, masala teas and, my favorite, cappuccinos made with coconut milk.
Come for the food but stay for the atmosphere. There’s a range of indoor and outdoor seating – from benches, to pillows, to hammocks – and plenty of music, books and games to keep you entertained for a while. The pieced-together, communal feel, mixed with the veggie eats and commitment to local producers and artists make Bird’s Nest a favorite among the expat yoga/holistic living community that’s drawn to Northern Thailand.
How to find it:
Bird’s Nest is on a small soi (street) within the old town walls – Singharat Soi 3. They’re open 9 a.m. – 9 p.m. (yes, the website times say differently) and often have themed nights, live music or events. Check their Facebook Page for upcoming specials and activities.