Where to eat and drink: Udon Thani

Udon Thani: Where to eat and drink

If you don’t explore some of the markets while in Udon city, you might as well not come to Udon city at all. In addition, you’ll find some of the most abundant Western and Vietnamese food in Northeast Thailand.

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Sprawling on both sides of Tongyai Road just northwest of the train station, Centerpoint Market boasts a large nighttime food court where you can grab a sit-down meal of kuay-tiao nam (noodle soup), Isaan sausages or khao na ped (roasted duck with rice), among many other options. On the other side of Tongyai, a few stalls serve pla plao (whole grilled freshwater fish) with som tam and other fiery Isaan salads at long tables set up under umbrellas next to the street. Wander further into this portion of the market and you’ll find a bounty of fresh fruit, Thai sweets, barbecued meats and Vietnamese spring rolls, to name a few.

Hop across Prajak Road to the southwest side of the train station and you’ll find another huge spread of food at the UD Food Bazaar. Though it’s part of the highly commercialised UD Town shopping centre, the food bazaar feels like a particularly tidy Thai street food market and supports dozens of vendors serving food to far more tables than are found at Centerpoint. Grilled seafood, including whole fishes, jumbo river prawns, scallops and steamed saltwater crabs, are a big hit here. You’ll also find no shortage of khao gaeng (curry and rice) stalls along with Northern Thai, Vietnamese-Thai, Chinese-Thai and Isaan fare, and even some sushi and pizza.

Some stalls are open during the day at Centrepoint and UD Food Bazaar, but most open at around 17:00 and run fairly late into the night. If you prefer Korean, Japanese or Western chain food, you’ll find several air-con sit-down restaurants nearby in UD Town and Central Plaza.

We also recommend seeking out some of the grittier markets away from the train station area. Head west from Central Plaza on Prajak and then turn down one of the narrow side lanes running south to find a bustling fresh market where chillies of many shades sit piled high and meats from many types of animals dangle from steel hooks. If you don’t lose your appetite from sights like that, pick up fresh fruit like durian, mangosteen and rambutan at wholesale prices, or nibble on dried squid and khanom krok (mini rice-flour pancakes with corn).

Of all the markets that we visited in Udon city, our favourite was Talad Ram Huay, located to the north of town on Udon Dutsadi Rd. Though not as big as the train station area markets and with virtually no seating, it’s a particularly colourful spot where locals come to fetch dinner. The footpaths out front fill up with street carts slinging fresh fruit, khao niao bing (coconut sticky rice with fillings grilled in banana leaves) and patango (deep-fried dough served with Thai tea custards). Inside you’ll find huge displays of curries and stir-fries for takeaway, plenty of grilled fish and meats, deep-fried chicken wings and muu krob (deep-fried pork belly) sold by some rather intimidating women who will grab a huge cleaver to hack your desired portion off from a massive hunk of meat.

Take a few steps north up Udon Dutsadi from Ram Huay Market and you’ll also find some good hole-in-the-wall sit-down eateries selling Chinese-Thai street staples like khao ka muu (braised pork shanks with rice) and khao man gai (chicken rice).

Vietnamese food is available in most of the markets and at several eateries around town, but probably the best-known option is VT Namnueng on the west side of town. This very large restaurant/shop churns out deep-fried and fresh rolls, noodle soups with peppered sausage or grilled pork, various types of dumplings and the namesake naam neuang, a do-it-yourself platter of sausage, greens and transparent rice-flour wrappers that diners dip in water to soften before wrapping. Also don’t miss the khanom pung yuan, super-soft mini baguettes made with two types of sausage and real butter -- grab a bag (or three) to go and your bus trip will be a whole lot more manageable.

Most of the Western restaurants are clustered on and around Soi Sampantamit just west of the train station. A standout is the Irish Clock, serving delicious English breakfasts along with hearty fish and chips, meat pies, Guinness on draft and Premier League on the widescreen. If you’re in the mood for pizza, walk to the far northern end of Soi Sampantamit, cross the street and look for the hole in the wall called Little Italian -- we didn’t try the pasta but the pizza and salad were excellent. Anyone after a burger or perhaps a plate of grilled salmon or roasted duck breast with passion fruit sauce should head to the Chef’s Table, which also offers a full bar and wine list in a more upscale setting next to the Kavin Buri Hotel. All of these Western options will run you 100 to 250 baht per dish.

Udon has no shortage of nightlife, but much of it comes in the seedy variety on and around Soi Sampantamit, where an entire plaza of Pattaya-style “beer bars” are staffed by scantily clad women who unceasingly shout “hellooooo handsome man!” to passing guys at virtually all hours of the day and night. For a more straightforward nightclub experience, head around the corner to the large Tawan Daeng on the corner of Wattana Nuwong and Thikhananon roads, where you’ll find live bands and DJs thumping into the early hours of the morning.

Centerpoint Night Market: Both sides of Tongyai Rd, north of Prajak Rd and just northwest of the train station; open nightly from around 17:00-22:00.
Chef’s Table: Next to Kavin Buri Hotel on Prajak Rd; open Wed-Mon 10:00-22:00. T: (092) 251 0655.
Little Italian Restaurant and Pizza: 67/3 Wattana Nuwong Rd; T: (084) 685 0337 ; (081) 717 5787
Ram Huay Market: Corner of Udon Dutsadi and Phon Phisai; open daily from morning to around 20:00.
The Irish Clock: 19/5-6 Soi Sampantamit; Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner; T: (042) 247 450
UD Food Bazaar: North end of UD Town shopping centre, just southwest of the train station; open daily 09:00-22:00.
VT Namnueng: Corner of Tummajedee and Posri; open daily 06:00-20:30; T: (042) 347 111 ; (042) 348 740.

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