Photo: Wat Mahathat, Sukhothai.

Eat and meet

Sukhothai has a decent food scene but the idea that Westerners can only handle watered-down curries and chilli-free som tam is deeply entrenched -- and not only at the traveller-oriented restaurants. Stay in New Sukhothai if food is an important part of your travel experience.

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The area’s top culinary specialty is kuay tiao Sukhothai, a twist on the usual Chinese-Thai kuay tiao nam, or noodle soup. The “Sukhothai noodles” blend rice noodles with crushed peanuts, thinly sliced long beans and lime juice to offset a slightly sweet broth, which can be served on the side (heng) or in the bowl (sai nam). Located on Jarod Vithithong on the way from New Sukhothai to the historical park, Ta Pui does an excellent version with roasted pork -- order it heng and the smiley staff will serve the broth in a ceramic bowl on the side. The large and popular open-sided restaurant also sells pork satay, crispy deep-fried pork fat, look chin muu ping (skewered pork balls), khanom tuai (pork rice flour dumplings) and a range of teacakes and other local products. Ta Pui even has WiFi and a fresh coffee stand, making it an ideal breakfast spot.

Start with a bowl of kuay tiao Sukhothai.

Start with a bowl of kuay tiao Sukhothai. Photo: David Luekens

While Ta Pui is great, the best kuay tiao Sukhothai that we’ve come across came from a street cart with a few dented tables -- look for it to open around 17:00 just west of the bridge in New Sukhothai, in front of a blue Krungthai Bank ATM on the north side of Jarod Vithithong. Here the traditional version is stepped up with roasted chicken leg, melt-in-the-mouth pork shoulder, crispy pork and a square of congealed chicken blood for good measure. Sukhothai noodles can be found at several other places all over town, including traveller-oriented restaurants, but a bad version can be really bland.

In New Sukhothai we also enjoyed an excellent bowl of khao soi, Northern Thai egg-noodle curry soup with chicken, along with sai oua, an herbaceous Northern Thai sausage, and the tart-and-spicy green chilli paste known as nam prik num at a nondescript hole-in-the-wall restaurant on Nikorn Kasem Road. Take the first right after crossing the bridge from New Sukhothai, walk for a few hundred metres and look for the yellow crunchy fried noodles on display in front of an old wood shophouse on the right.

At Ta Pui.

At Ta Pui. Photo: David Luekens

Sukhothai’s loosely defined night market is anchored along the footpath that skirts the south side of Wat Ratchathanee on Jarod Vithithong, just east of the bridge in New Sukhothai. Several places with footpath tables serve street standards like kuay tiao nam, pad Thai and khao man gai (chicken rice) while others offer up to 30 Thai and Chinese-Thai stir-fried vegetable dishes, curries and soups cooked up quickly for around 50 baht. These cater to locals and travellers and usually have English menus; some sell smoothies and beer too. A bunch of street vendors also dish out Thai sweets, fried chicken and more to the west of the bridge on Jarod Vithithong.

Beginning at around 18:00, a lively Saturday night market runs for a long way down Nikorn Kasem Road and bursts with finger foods as well as clothes and knick-knacks geared towards locals. Around the corner on Ramkamhaeng Road, a local-style food court that’s open daily does kuay tiao Sukhothai, pad Thai, grilled seafood and a full range of Chinese-Thai dishes served at spacious open-air dining areas. It opens during the day and night, when you can sip on beer towers and watch soccer on TVs set up along the footpaths. While we like the atmosphere, the som tam that we tried here came with zero chillies even though we asked for it spicy.

One of everything please.

One of everything please. Photo: David Luekens

From morning to late afternoon, walk north up Ratchathanee Road from where the night market sets up to find a colourful day market set up along the footpaths. This is a great place to buy tropical fruits like durian, mangosteen and stumpy bananas from the straw-hatted vendors while snapping photos of bright red and green chillies and fresh river fish. Evening vendors also set up around here to dish out sai grok (Northeastern Thai sausage), curries for takeaway, doughnuts and deep-fried hard-boiled eggs stuffed with fish cake.

Located east of the clock tower in a part of New Sukhothai that few travellers ever see, Felice is an Italian/Thai restaurant serving lasagne, squid ink spaghetti with salmon, classic Bolognese, baked New Zealand mussels, a range of upscale Thai fare, lamb shanks and steaks that top out with an 850-baht Australian filet mignon. The atmosphere is a bit dire with green walls and a love-song soundtrack, but it’s a solid choice for a splurge or to satisfy a pasta craving. Mains start at around 150 baht and the kitchen can be slow, so grab some wine and take your time. For dessert, you might pop into Nuan Bakery for a piece of cake, brownie or cookies on your way back towards the bridge.

Mmmm pork.

Mmmm pork. Photo: David Luekens

The long-running Poo Restaurant (the name is an unfortunate rendering of the Thai word for crab) is one of the best traveller-oriented joints found just west of the bridge in New Sukhothai. Neither the Thai or Western food will knock your socks off but the tasty massaman curry goes well with more than a dozen types of Belgian beers. While it’s a popular spot for breakfast, it really comes alive after dark when travellers sit around and sip drinks while playing cards or watching soccer on the widescreen. The staff is so friendly that they’ll let you grab a marker and write a drunken message on the wall -- don’t be afraid to be original!

New Sukhothai has a few fun pubs as well. Just west of the bridge near Poo, the long-running Chopper Bar was undergoing renovations when we last passed through, but the nearby Bar 6400 was going strong with its cramped outdoor seating along the road. Step up to the tiny bar and order a cocktail or beer tower from one of the friendly bartenders. Across the bridge on Ramkamhaeng Road, next to the local-style food court, Fong Bear specialises in imported beers served to an interesting mix of trendy locals and travellers.

Fancy Indian? Try Ali Baba's.

Fancy Indian? Try Ali Baba's. Photo: David Luekens

Old Sukhothai’s food and drink offerings pale in comparison to New Sukhothai’s, but you certainly won’t go hungry here either. Sprawling next to the temple of the same name, Traphang Thong Market features a bunch of vendors selling fresh and prepared foods under a large pavilion. Fresh-cut pig’s heads and piles of veggies make it a fun place to wander through, while a decent selection of sausages, grilled meats, curries and soups also make it a good option for some late-afternoon grazing. There’s no on-site seating but you’ll find plenty of places for a picnic in this vicinity.

Stretching east from the historical park’s main gate and across from Traphang Thong market and temple, a line of open-fronted restaurants all look very similar and offer nearly identical menus aiming for overseas customers. We had a good experience at Coffee Cup, which offers decent baguette sandwiches, bagels, French toast, smoothies and fresh coffee among many other breakfast and lunch options. The voluminous menu also includes some Thai duck and crocodile curries. Head further east down the main strip to find more local-style joints, including a few that sell kuay tiao Sukhothai.

If you’re in the mood for Indian food, Ali Baba Indian Restaurant grills up nan, roti and tandoori chicken in front of a makeshift outdoor seating area near a bunch of resorts on Napho-Khirimas Road, which otherwise lacks freestanding restaurants. We tried some delicious lamb vindaloo served in a huge portion that made it worth the 250-baht price tag. You’ll also find a range of paratha breads and vegetarian dishes, with an emphasis on southern Indian cuisine. The fluent English-speaking owner will pick you up if you call ahead.

Ali Baba Indian: Napho-Khirimas Rd (Highway 1272; across from Tharaburi Resort); T: (083) 635 4400; open daily 10:00-22:00.
Coffee Cup: Highway 12, just east of the historical park main gate; open daily 07:00-16:00.
Felice: Corner of Vichien Chamnong Rd and Pa Muang Rd (keep north past the clock tower on Jarod Withithong Rd and bear right on Vichien Chamnong, then keep walking and Felice will be at the corner); T: (089) 960 9660; open 11:00-22:00.
Local food court: Ramkamhaeng Rd, about 100 metres east of Jarod Withithong Rd and north of Nikorn Kasem Rd; open daily for lunch and dinner.
Poo Restaurant: Jarod Vithithong Rd, about 200 metres west of the bridge; open daily 08:00-22:00.
Ta Pui: South side of Highway 12 about 100 metres west of the PTT gas station (sign in Thai; look for a large yellow and red sign and a blue sign on the roof with Chang beer logos on either side); T: (055) 620 435; open daily 07:00-16:00.

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