Where to eat and drink: Nakhon Ratchasima

Nakhon Ratchasima: Where to eat and drink

Khorat has some solid international restaurants along with a huge array of cheap street eateries and markets. The local-style joints don’t get many foreign patrons and can be intimidating for non-Thai speakers; approach staff with a smile and you’ll usually end up with something delicious.

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Food enthusiasts should start at Mae Kim Heng Market, a roofed maze of stalls that overflow onto both Suranaree and Pho Klang roads, just west of Ya Mo. On the Suranaree side, footpath vendors serve gai yang (grilled chicken) with sticky rice along with fiery chilli pastes, several types of sausages and sun-dried meats. A breathtaking array of fruits includes rambutan, longan, grape and custard apple, often cultivated in the Wang Nam Khiao and Khao Yai areas. Step inside to find bright Thai sweets, pig heads, flower garlands and paper offerings used in traditional Chinese funerals.

Good meals are always on offer at Mae Kim Heng Market. : David Luekens.
Good meals are always on offer at Mae Kim Heng Market. Photo: David Luekens

While Mae Kim Heng is great for an eye-popping stroll with some finger foods, you’ll also find a line of vendors serving standard street dishes like noodle soups and khao man gai (chicken rice) to some tables on the west side of the roofed market. We couldn’t resist a 20-baht bowl of khanom jeen nam yaa krathi, one of several khanom jeen (sticky rice noodle with curry) dishes served by a few different vendors. Nam yaa krathi is slightly sweet thanks to coconut milk and not quite as fishy or spicy as other types of khanom jeen curries, which are all displayed in big cauldrons that make it easy to order by pointing. Grab a stool and pile on the fresh and pickled veggies before indulging.

A lively option for a cheap evening meal is the Wat Boon Night Bazaar, marked by big English signs at the far western end of Chomphon Road in the old quarter’s eastern fringe. Poke around to find som tam, curries for takeaway, deep-fried Thai mackerel and all of the classic Thai and Chinese-Thai street dishes. This is also a good place to find pad mii Khorat, a local fried noodle dish usually made with pork and morning glory that tastes like an extra savoury and crunchy version of pad Thai. Some carts offer a few tables for eating on site.

Pad mii Khorat, a fried noodle dish that tastes like an extra savoury and crunchy version of pad Thai.  : David Luekens.
Pad mii Khorat, a fried noodle dish that tastes like an extra savoury and crunchy version of pad Thai. Photo: David Luekens

If you’re looking to try street-style Thai food with less of a language barrier and perhaps a more sanitary appearance, Klang Plaza 2 has a basement food court with stalls offering pad mii Khorat and many other options for a little more cash than you’ll pay on the street (but still darn cheap). Diners buy a ticket at a counter and hand it to the vendors after ordering, returning to the counter to get any unspent money returned. Around 100 baht is enough for a couple of plates of food and bottled water. The food options are posted in English.

Stroll around downtown streets like Suranaree and Jomsurangyad at dusk and you’ll see loads of street carts and open-fronted shops that get packed with locals. A standout for grilled chicken is Gai Yang Saeng Thai, which churns out juicy rotisserie birds cooked along the footpath for 130 baht a pop. It’s mainly a takeaway joint; from here you could walk south and hang a right on Jomsurangyad before busting out the chicken at a streetside table overseen by a som tam lady who opens in the evenings next to a 7-eleven and just west of Klang Plaza 2. She pounds several different types of shredded green papaya salad, including the Central Thai version with a splash of Isaan-style pla raa (fermented fish sauce) known as som tam Khorat.

Class Cafe delivers the caffeinated goods. : David Luekens.
Class Cafe delivers the caffeinated goods. Photo: David Luekens

Over in the old quarter, we’re still partial to a tiny lunchtime kitchen called Baan Khun Yai, sandwiched between a motorbike dealer and bridal shop down a narrow alley off Assadang Road, just east of the Korat Hotel. There’s no English sign but the owner is friendly and the khao ka muu (stewed pork knuckles with rice) and kuay thiao nam (noodle soup) do the trick for a cheap and filling meal. Just northwest of the Korat Hotel on Yommarat Road, Larose is worth a stop for do-it-yourself nam neuang fresh rolls with peppered sausage and other Vietnamese-Thai options served at an open-fronted kitchen next to Penneung Bakery, which is also worth a stop for a fresh coffee and brownie.

Speaking of coffee, we returned to Klang Plaza 2 several times for the excellent brew, blueberry muffins and croissants at the slick Class Cafe, which is impossible to miss at the front of the building. Part of a growing local chain with at least four locations in Khorat (look out Starbucks), the air-con cafe features long wooden tables, free WiFi and wall-to-ceiling windows that make it perfect for checking email, people watching or just waiting out a rainstorm.

Good brekkies and lunches at Hop Yen. : David Luekens.
Good brekkies and lunches at Hop Yen. Photo: David Luekens

A bit further west from Klang Plaza 2 on the south side of Jomsurangyad, Hop Yen is a smaller cafe that’s a good option for breakfast and lunch. We enjoyed a tasty kai kata (eggs and pork cooked and served in a skillet) with a mini khanom pang yuan (Vietnamese-style pork sandwich) with the strong and bitter coffee. The staff speaks some English while also serving simple sandwiches, burgers, Thai rice plates and cake at tables found in an air-con dining space and an outdoor patio overlooking the street.

For more of an upscale Thai dinner option, Rabiang Pa on Yommarat boasts a soothing dining deck with fountains and greenery. The menu resembles a reference manual in weight and scope and has both pictures and English listings to aid in decision-making. Standouts include the addictive veggie laab salad -- be sure to make your spice-factor known -- and several varieties of tom yum soup that arrive piping hot and stay that way thanks to glowing charcoal briquettes. A bit further east is Rabiang Kaew, which has both in and outdoor seating for enjoying fresh seafood options -- the grilled shrimp and seafood soups are delicious. Large servings make for good sharing.

Anego is our go-to Japanese pick. : David Luekens.
Anego is our go-to Japanese pick. Photo: David Luekens

Khorat has a considerable presence of Japanese expats who join the local Thais around a dozen different Japanese restaurants. A mainstay is Anego, an upscale air-con spot located in front of the Chaophaya Inn. The picture menu includes a full range of udon noodle soups, katsu don, fresh sushi, sashimi and maki, along with all sorts of authentic Japanese dishes that we’re not going to pretend to know. A good selection of imported beers and dozens of sake options are also available. Seating comes by way of regular wooden booths and traditional Japanese floor cushions with low-lying tables placed over bamboo mats. When we dined here there were three parties of Japanese people who looked very happy. Expect to pay a minimum of 500 baht for a meal for two.

Khorat doesn’t have a huge Western expat community but there are a handful of good options if you’re craving some bread or schnitzel. Swiss-owned Chez Andy is an excellent European restaurant with a full bar, several German beers, a good wine list and seating in a sophisticated air-con dining room or outside in a roofed beer garden. In addition to several authentic Swiss options, including fondue, the kitchen serves Australian ribeye and tenderloin along with lamb, duck, pork chops and plates of imported cheese, salami and sausage. You’ll also find fresh bread, salads, pizza and house-made gnocchi among a page of pasta choices. Most mains go for 150 to 500 baht while the priciest steaks fetch as much as 1,000 baht, making this a good option for a splurge.

We mentioned the market, right?  : David Luekens.
We mentioned the market, right? Photo: David Luekens

If you’re looking to chat up some of Khorat’s Western expats, make your way to the long-running Check Inn on Suranaree. The English-style pub plays Premier League games on a big screen TV, with seats inside at tables and a bar, or outside next to the footpath. The kitchen serves a good mix of Thai and Western fare, and a billiards table keeps the gang occupied. A larger billiards hall is located upstairs and Check Inn hosts live music on weekends. A few other low-key pubs are found on Yommarat and Suranaree roads, but you’ll have to go further to find the places where Khorat really lets loose.

One of the most popular nightclubs is Check In Korat (not to be confused with Check Inn), located a few kilometres north of downtown on Chang Phueak Road. The large club gets going every night at around 22:00, when Thai rock bands and DJs perform to fashionably dressed 20-something’s who congregate around tables and bottles of whiskey served with ice and mixers. You’ll also find a rocking atmosphere at U Bar, which is part of a nightlife complex surrounding the Pegasus Hotel off Mittraphap in the city’s northern reaches. West of town off Mittraphap near the Sima Thani Hotel, the Tawan Daeng nightclub also hosts live music and draws a slightly older crowd.

You just never know what you'll find in Khorat. : David Luekens.
You just never know what you'll find in Khorat. Photo: David Luekens

If you’re looking to explore deeper into Khorat’s food and nightlife scene, the expat-oriented What’s On Korat is a good resource with regular updates as of mid-2016.

Anego: Jomsurangyad Rd (in front of Chao Phaya Inn); open 17:00-0:00.
Check Inn: West end of Suranaree Rd; open 11:00-0:00; T: (082) 130 2844.
Chez Andy: Corner of San Prasit Rd and Manat Rd; open 11:00-23:00; T: (044) 289 556 ; (081) 797 8453; www.chezandykorat.com.
Class Cafe: Ground floor of Klang Plaza 2, Jomsurangyad Rd; open daily 10:00-21:00.
Gai Yang Saeng Thai: 122-126 Ratchadamnoen Rd (next to Cathay Hotel and just northwest of Yamo Monument); open 07:30-20:00; T: (044) 241 240.
Hop Yen: Jomsurangyad Rd (just west of Buarong Rd); open 07:00-18:30; T: (044) 242 588 ; (081) 304 8787.
Klang Plaza 2 food court: Basement, 24 Jomsurangyad Rd; open daily 10:00-21:00.
Larose Vietnamese 175 Yommarat Rd (just east of Chumphon Rd; look for the big yellow sign with red and green Thai script); open lunch and dinner; T: (044) 253 343.
Mae Kim Heng Market: Between Suranaree and Pho Klang Rds; open daily early morning to late afternoon.
Rabiang Kaew: 184/3 Yommarat Rd (near Thai Inter Hotel); open lunch and dinner; T: (044) 267 765.
Wat Boon Night Bazaar: West end of Chomphon Rd behind Wat Boon; open nightly from 17:00.

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