France has the Michelin guide, and Thailand has Shell Shuan Shim. The award, which was established 58 years ago, aims to give recognition to restaurants in the country that serve excellent food. See a Shell Shuan Shim sign at a restaurant’s entrance, and you know that that eatery probably serves up some damn fine food.
One of the country’s most respected food critics, Thanadsri Svasticolumn, was a co-founder of the award organization, and also penned the Shell Shuan Shim column spotlighting exceptional restaurants and their owners.
The column had been published for 50 years before it ended in 2012, which makes this latest award announcement the first one to be made in seven years. Thanadsri passed away just weeks ago in late August. He was 93.
From the popular supper destination Jeh O to Australian-style cafe spot Toby’s, here’s a look at the ten best eateries in the country, as chosen by Shell Shuan Shim, for 2019.
Uncle Riang & Auntie Malee
Located in a coastal city near Pattaya, Chonburi’s Bang Lamung district, this hidden gem not only serves seafood dishes, but also a wide array of recipes with ingredients sourced from the wild, such as stir-fried bird, deep-fried catfish and spicy wild boar. The highlight is chicken curry with coconut meat served inside a coconut shell.
FIND IT: Soi 5, Takhian Tia, Bang Lamung, Chonburi
True story: We’ve waited in queues for almost two hours just to get a table and dine in at the legendary Jeh O. Soon after Jeh O moved from Soi Chula 22 to open the place on Soi Charus Muang in 2015, it suddenly became the talk of the town. Today, it’s hands down the top supper destination not only among Chulalongkorn University students, but basically almost everyone in town who’s craving a zesty pot of tom yum with instant noodles, heavenly crispy pork and fresh chunks of salmon in spicy salad.
FIND IT: 113, Soi Charus Muang, Pathum Wan, Bangkok (BTS: National Stadium)
A few hundred meters away from Phra Sumen Fort lies this tiny Thai restaurant that’s dedicated to traditional Thai cuisine. The cozy spot only has three tables and can only accommodate 15 people at a time, so booking in advance is compulsory. The must-order dishes here include stir-fried shrimp with shrimp paste, deep-fried pork belly in fish sauce, crab cakes, garoupa fish soup and crab roe with chili sauce.
FIND IT: 310, Soi Ban Pan Thom, Phra Nakhon, Bangkok
Ruan Thai Goong Phao
The former capital of Thailand is known as the destination for ancient temples, floating markets and river prawns. Among several seafood restaurants in the province, Ruan Thai Goong Phao offers jumbo-sized charbroiled prawns. The signature dish comes with a big platter of fresh prawns that’s been perfectly grilled over charcoal. Once you bite into the crustacean, you can feel its fat melting down into the tender meat. Dipping it in spicy seafood sauce is optional.
FIND IT: 1/2, Soi Thetsaban 10, Bang Sai, Ayutthaya
Pa Lek & Pa Yhai’s Mango and Sticky Rice
Situated near the July 22 Circle in Bangkok’s old town, this shop is run by two aunties selling everyone’s favorite traditional dessert: mango and sticky rice. The shop only opens five months out of the year — January through May — since barracuda mangoes are seasonal. The sticky rice recipe they use has been passed down through several generations and has remained the same through 60 years — perfectly al dente rice that’s aromatic, sweet and nutty.
FIND IT: Santiphap Rd, Pom Prap Sattru Phai, Bangkok (MRT: Hua Lamphong)
Once you’re in the northeastern province of Nong Khai, you can’t miss a visit to the original branch of Vietnamese restaurant Daeng Namnueng (there’s even a popular saying that “if you go to Nong Khai and you don’t go to Daeng Namnueng, then you are not truly in Nong Khai”). The place has been open for nearly 50 years, and is accredited for setting the trends for Vietnamese food in the country. Nowadays, it’s so popular that it even offers delivery service of a package of nam nueng (Vietnamese wrap with pork meatballs and vegetables) to other provinces in Isan region and Bangkok.
FIND IT: 526-527, Soi Rim Khong, Muang, Nong Khai
The ingredients at this franchise Japanese restaurant are fresh and top-notch — supposedly almost the same as eating right at a traditional fish market in Japan. The recommended dishes include foie gras sushi, salmon rice bowls, Matsu Sashimi (which comes with eight types of sashimi) and any dish with “Honmono” in the names, really, since it’s their signature stuff.
FIND IT: Soi Thonglor 23, Watthana, Bangkok (BTS: Thonglor)
Cocotte Farm Roast & Winery
This steakhouse in the heart of Bangkok sources organic products from farms and serves a large range of roasted mouth-watering meats, cold cuts and premium cheese that pair perfectly with wine. The restaurant opened back in 2016 with the concept of “living in farm” — farm-to-table, basically — aiming to prepare the dishes with ingredients from organic farms and food artisans as much as possible.
FIND IT: Soi Sukhumvit 39, Watthana, Bangkok (BTS: Phrom Phong)
This photogenic restaurant has been a favorite among many of the city’s in-the-know cafe-hoppers and brunch seekers. Toby’s is owned by a group of Thai friends who used to live in Australia, and it specializes in all-day Aussie-style breakfasts, including hearty, egg-centric dishes, avocado salad and quinoa dishes. Beverage-wise, the highlights are cold-pressed juice and seasonal coffee blends with hints of flowers, fruits and spices.
FIND IT: 75, Soi Sukhumvit 38, Khlong Toei, Bangkok (BTS: Thonglor)
Last but never least, the top-ranked Italian restaurant housed inside a two-story house decorated in Mediterranean-style, and which has been around for almost 20 years: Pizzeria Limoncello. Drawing inspiration from owner-chef Gianmaria Zanotti’s hometown of Turino, the venue serves a great selection of authentic, crispy, thin-crust pizzas done Napoli and Capri-style, made in wooden-fire ovens. The signature Limoncello Pizza features fresh champignon mushrooms from New Zealand and rich gorgonzola cheese.
FIND IT: 17, Soi Sukhumvit 11, Watthana, Bangkok (BTS: Nana)
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