Mae Sai is definitely not the culinary capital of North Thailand. We guess most people are too busy shopping and wheeling and dealing to bother too much about food. Indeed, along the main drag there’s not much space for cafes amid all the jewellery and Chinese electrical goods stores, and your best bet near the bridge is possibly Top North Hotel’s cafe, which at least has an English-language menu and board outside. They propose pancakes, omelettes and even muesli for breakfast, with a range of sandwiches plus the usual Thai suspects for lunch or dinner. Sukhothai Noodles, located at the start of Sailomjoy, to the left of the bridge, is good for noodles but closes down early. You can also try Khao Soi Islam back on the east side of Phaholyothin, a short walk from the bridge, though that too is more of a lunch spot and closes at 17:00. The main drag does get quite lively in the evenings, with plenty of ambulant fried chicken and noodle stalls open into the evening. Close to Khao Soi Islam, on the same side of the road, is the curiously named Shalom Restaurant -- curious since they specialise in Kachin and Malar regional Burmese food. It’s inexpensive and open for lunch and dinner, though we didn’t have time to sample their dishes.
In and around the market areas you’ll find a few perfunctory noodle stalls but far from the usual range of tempting titbits you come across in most town markets. The bus station however does conform to norms and has a selection of fair local-style restaurants. They have plenty of simple rice and noodle dishes for around 30 baht plus som tam and sticky rice on offer with more fresh coffee available. Some of these will stay open late and open early for the night bus trade. If you’re heading up this way, then there’s always the food hall in Tesco Lotus. Even in Mae Sai, a shopping mall is a shopping mall and surroundings are neither classy nor local style, but you are guaranteed a wide selection of Thai food at cheap prices. It’s open from 10:00-21:00.
There are at least a couple of decent coffee shops. A-One Coffee is obviously run by a policeman’s wife and found out front of their station while the excellent Coffee Heart set up just before the bridge on the left opposite the Kasikorn Bank. They have some funky decor including converted oil drum chairs and serve a range of teas, coffees and ice-creams. Open daily 08:00-19:00. Across the road you’ll see the bright green frontage of an outlet of Chiang Mai’s Honey Bee health food store, which also has a seating area and healthy drinks and snacks based, unsurprisingly, around honey. These guys are open daily 07:30-19:00.
Again out of town a bit, towards the bus station and Lotus, is something called the Top North Complex. Assuming it’s the same owners as the old hotel in town, then they’re doing very well for themselves as the Complex houses an upmarket hotel, an expensive Muslim restaurant and even a small sports centre which is home to local team, Mujahideen FC. Of more interest to the casual passerby is the very good Snack Box bakery and Doi Chang coffee outlet. You can sit outside in a garden and admire the football club’s crossed Kalashnikov emblem opposite while you enjoy a caffeine and brownie hit before heading out of town.