One of new Sukhothai's pleasant surprises is its wealth of high-quality but well-priced food on both the tourist-oriented and local levels. Eating options are far more limited in old Sukhothai, but a row of touristy restaurants get the job done.
Sukhothai's must-try local dish is kwit-teow Sukhothai (Sukhothai noodles), a mix of rice noodles tossed in a light sweet and sour lime sauce with string bean, crushed peanut, roasted chicken leg, slow roasted fatty pork shoulder and deep fried pork skin. It might not be for everyone, but if you enjoy sampling Asian specialties, you won't be disappointed. It seemed like every noodle shop in town specialised in kwit-teow Sukhothai, the going rate being 30 baht. We had good luck with a little stand right across from 7-eleven just to the west of the Phra Ruang bridge in new Sukhothai.
Being not so far from north Thailand, it's also possible to find some solid northern Thai cuisine in Sukhothai. We enjoyed an excellent bowl of khao soi (northern-style curried egg noodles with chicken) along with northern Thai spicy sausage at a nondescript hole-in-the-wall restaurant on Nikon Kasem Road (first right after the bridge if coming from the west of the river). Just look for the yellow crunchy fried noodles on display. The shop is on the right if coming away from the bridge just after the more noticeable Kho Lang Chinese restaurant, which sports a few red Chinese lanterns out front and does have an English sign. They serve up "roast duck in sweet sauce with vegetables", and although we were too full from the khao soi to give it a shot, it sure sounds good.
Several street restaurants and carts set up at night in front of Wat Sathani just east of the river, and these serve the standard noodles, som tam and grilled chicken, grilled fish and pork balls, sweet and flaky roti, and there are even some more extensive "made to order" restaurants with English menus — a safe bet for a cheap and authentic meal.
A little further into town on Rat Athit Road is a more "official" but still small night market with similar choices, but if you go here head to one of the smaller sidewalk restaurants and not the larger JR restaurant towards the front — it has an English menu, advertises vegetarian fare and looks like it will produce spicy and authentic food — but we had a terrible experience with watered down, tasteless som tam and overcooked, uninspired garlic pepper chicken.
If looking for some more authentic Thai food, head north away from town on Jarodvithi Thong Road, where you'll find a tear-inducing northeastern Thai restaurant (no English menu but the sign has a big pair of red lips on it) and a host of kap khao shops where you can point to any curry or stir-fry that strikes your fancy. The curry shops will be closed down by 19:00 but the "lipstick" Isaan restaurant stays open late, although there's no English menu so you'll need to know a thing or two about I-san food.
Moving on to the more tourist-oriented offerings, we found Pai restaurant near TR Guesthouse to prepare consistently good Thai food along with some great coffee and decent breakfasts in a stylish lounge-style atmosphere. The krapow chicken with fried egg we tried wasn't the best on record, but it was spicy and will do the trick for those who love real Thai food. Although we didn't try their restaurants, we've also heard good reports about the food at several of the guesthouses, including TR, J&J and Garden House. All of the above, along with most places in Sukhothai, serve real fresh coffee.
Although it's a bit of a hike to get there, Sun &Night (the brown and orange sign just says S &N) down Singhawat Road near Sawasdipongs Hotel is probably the best in town for a mix of authentic Thai and Western fare in a comfortable, air-con setting. Along with some great coffee, Sun &Night offers several small rice plates (the green curry fried rice and Japanese curry were both excellent) along with pizza, sandwiches and T-bone steak. The latter will run you 300 baht, but most dishes cost 80 to 120 baht. Despite all of the great food choices, S &N is more of a cafe and only stays open until 20:30.
If you're in that area during daylight hours, stop by Newan Bakery on the way back to the river for dessert. Tucked among a row of shopfronts on Jarodvithi Thong Road just before it meets Singhawat Road (on the right if coming from the river), Newan offers (once again) outstanding coffee along with delectable baked goodies like carrot cake, brownies and Chinese-style tea cakes. There's no English sign but you'll be drooling at the first sight of the window display.
Also on the sweet tooth note, don't miss the street carts selling tasty and colourful khanom Thai sweets like coconut custard — they're very sweet, but yummy, and Sukhothai is apparently famous for them. Another local snack specialty is khanom toua tort (fried peanut and rice cakes), which make for a welcome morning snack and come in to-go bags that are perfect for a bus ride. They can be found on display at many tourist-oriented shops and cafes as well as on the occasional street vendor's cart.
While most of the Western food in Sukhothai seems to come in the form of poorly executed sandwiches, pizza and pasta, there is one stand out Italian choice. It's called Felice and it's located on Vichien Chamnong Road on the way to Sukhothai Guesthouse a good 10 minutes' walk east of the river. Believe us, it's worth the walk — the fettucine alfredo we tried was exactly what you hope for in that dish, with the pasta perfectly prepared and the portion generous at just 120 baht. The sauteed mushroom salad with lovely hydroponic greens also hit the spot at 50 baht. They don't offer pizza, but a healthy number of pasta dishes are available along with appetisers like New Zealand mussels with arriabiatta sauce and other mains like spicy Thai-style spaghetti plates, steaks and pork chops. They also have a full bar and a few wine selections, and the air-con atmosphere is bright, spacious and inviting.
As for nightlife, Sukhothai is not exactly teeming with dance clubs but Chopper Bar is something of a drinker's institution. Impossible to miss just off Jarodvithi Thong Road near several popular guesthouses west of the river, Chopper Bar serves generously poured and cheap mixed drinks along with a full food menu in a spacious, wild west saloon-style bar. The two barber shop chairs placed ominously off to one side make for a quirky touch, as does the enormous horned bull's skull hung from the ceiling. To start off your night, you might stop into Poo Restaurant (an unfortunate transliteration of the Thai word for crab) just a short way further west on Jarodvithi Thong. We weren't too impressed with the sandwich we tried at Poo, but it's hard to argue with their 17 varieties of Belgian beer.
Out in old Sukhothai, the food scene is far less compelling, but kwit-tieau Sukhothai can be found here as well, and a small local market looks like a good place to sample grilled chicken on a stick and other Thai staples. A line of tourist-oriented restaurants also occupy Jarodvithi Thong Road near Old City and Vitoon guesthouses, all of which boast voluminous Thai-Western menus that always include Western breakfasts. We tried one called Coffee Corner — nothing to write home about but it did the trick to fill us up before a long day of bicycling the ruins. If seeking a more refined (and expensive) dining setting, the restaurant at Tharaburi resort is a good bet.
There’s no doubt that Sukhothai‘s centuries-old stone monuments are what attracts a steady stream of travellers year-round, but “new Sukhothai”, the small, modern city 12 kilometres east of the historical park, has an outstanding food scene worth checking out during a visit. Here’s a quick heads up on some of the Sukhothai edibles worth seeking... Read our full review of Sukhothai's fantastic food scene.