There are plenty of reasons to travel to Chiang Mai, Thailand’s northern ‘cultural capital’ – beautiful temples, massage schools, green spaces, fresh air and a generally slower pace of life are just some of them. But the city’s signature dish is as much of a draw as anything else, if not more so. Khao soi, a rich, brothy, gravy-like noodle soup made with flat wheat noodles and topped with crispy deep fried noodles, is irresistible. 

Eat it the classic way with chicken, or in any number of twists from crispy pork to beef, duck or even seafood – it just doesn’t matter, you will still be going back for more. Khao soi is always served with a small side plate containing a mix of onions, pickled cabbage, lime chunks and chilli paste; add them to your noodles to your own taste for an exciting contrast of flavours – it’s what Thai food is all about, and khao soi is no exception. 

Naturally there is no better place to try the real thing than here in Chiang Mai, and luckily the city is overflowing with places to chow down a bowl or three.

Walk down pretty much any street and you will struggle not to come across a stall, café or restaurant touting some khao soi – but for a dish that’s a cut above the rest, check out two favourites that won’t let you down. 

At the casual end of the spectrum is the down-to-earth Khao Soi Khun Yai (which translates as Grandma’s Khao Soi), on Sriphum Road, a low-key street side restaurant that feeds hungry Thais in their hundreds each day, as they pop in, slurp down their noodles and move on. Far be it for me to say with any precision, but this could well be the best bowl of khao soi in the country – even better, it is cheap as chips and comes in well-sized portions. 

30 baht gets you a bowl full of tasty noodle soup, with bite-sized pieces of chicken, pork or beef, in a genuinely Thai atmosphere. Other noodle dishes are also available – the restaurant is located between Wat Monthian and Wat Kuam Kama on Sriphum Road. From the street, look out for the big orange sign (with writing only in Thai) that points you into what looks like someone’s house – the restaurant is just on the way in on the left hand side. 

Khao Soi Nimman, on Nimman Soi 7, is a different kettle of fish altogether – a far glitzier place, but to your relief still serving up an equally tasty bowl of noodles. This is where you come for a little more comfort – the trendily designed building has concrete tables and chairs set on the lawn outside, and an air-con cooled space inside. At 50-75 baht the khao soi is predictably pricier here, but portions are still generous and the chicken is a whole drumstick on the bone – the meat is more tender, but a bit of a pain to eat with chopsticks! Crispy pork could be the easier option. Their extensive menu also includes frog dishes when in season, and a selection of chilli pastes to enjoy with fresh, raw vegetables.