While it's easy to stick to the traveller-oriented cafes near the train station, Trang's distinctive food scene with heavy Chinese and Muslim-Thai influences is a joy to explore. At the least, be sure to sample the locally grown, wood-fired kopi with a slice of the famous Trang cake.
A good place to start is the night market, which runs every evening from 17:00 to 21:00 next to city hall off Rama VI Road, a short walk east of the clock tower. One whole section is devoted to Southern Thai khao gaeng (curry and rice) vendors who often sell 20 or more varieties at once. You'll find fiery standards like gaeng neua (spicy beef curry), khung sataw pad prik (prawns stir-fried with stink beans) and gaeng tai pla (super-spicy Southern fish curry) along with several types of soup and whole steamed fishes rendered bright yellow from the turmeric. Other vendors dish out nam prik kapi among the pungent chilli pastes with steamed vegetables and Thai-style omelette fried with the distinctively sour flavour of cha-om (climbing wattle) leaf. Most vendors have a few on-site tables and you can easily order by pointing; beware if you can't handle it spicy. The market also hosts no shortage of fried chicken, khao mok gai (biryani rice with chicken), fresh fruit, roti and Thai sweets.
On Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights, a second night market pops off right in front of the train station and has more of a carnival atmosphere. While it's not the place for Southern Thai curries, you will find plenty of meats-on-sticks, grilled prawns, roasted ducks and endless deep-fried snacks. Along with clothing, toys and pirated DVDs, you'll also find some unexpected foods like Thai-Japanese hybrid sushi, raw oysters on the half shell and fresh strawberries. A small market sets up here on weeknights but it's nothing compared to the weekend edition.
Several khao gaeng shops also operate during the daytime, with the stretch of Phattalung Road (aka Rachadamnern Road) just east of Visutkel Road hosting about a dozen of them over the course of a half km. Vegetarians will be pleased to find a trio of vegan curry shops in this area, across from city hall and between Phattalung sois 3 and 5. Expect to pay 20 to 40 baht for a single item plus 10 baht for rice, and don't be afraid to pile your plate high. If you prefer the curry or stir-fry on the side, ask for it "sai tuuai (in a bowl)."
Back west on Rachadamnern Road, just west of the Visetkul intersection on the north side of the street, a small shop with an English sign that says "Food and Drink" is a good spot to try out Chinese-style offerings like sala bao (steamed rice flour buns with sweet or savoury fillings), dim sum and ba-mii ped (roast duck soup with egg-wheat noodles).
A couple doors down from Kasikorn Bank on Rama VI Road, Jay Wan slings pre-made Southern Thai curries and Chinese-Thai "made to order" dishes like pak buung fai daeng (stir-fried morning glory) that are prepared in an open kitchen that fills the dining room with sneeze-inducing "wok breath." The flavours are excellent (try the sweet pork ribs) and the very welcoming owner speaks good English. The sign is only in Thai; look for two red lanterns and a fresh egg vendor out front next to the curry display.
Trang also has an intriguing cafe culture: it's quite possibly the best place in Thailand to graze on Chinese-Thai foods while sipping the local kopi and jasmine tea that always accompanies it for free. Grown in the nearby Ban That mountains, the wood-fired Robusta brew goes great with khanom pat jang (sticky rice with pork, egg, lotus seed and other ingredients steamed in banana husk) and the locally famous muu grob, roasted pork belly with tender meat mingling with melt-in-the-mouth fat and crispy skin. A great place to try all of the above is Yue Chiang, which has been open for a century at the corner of Rama VI Road and Soi 1 (look for the ancient-looking wooden shophouse painted blue). The elderly owner also cooks up some mean Southern Thai curries that get displayed in the late afternoon and are usually sold out by 17:00.
If you want the roasted pork without the kopi, the day market on Rachadamnern Road is positively stacked with it. The meat is said to be prepared differently in Trang than elsewhere in Thailand via a process that includes ageing in a mix of salt and herbs before slow roasting over ceramic charcoal grills. It's so good that they've even made a festival for it, held annually in September.
A standout cafe that's always full of both locals and travellers is the aptly named Kopi, going strong next to the train station since 1942. The atmospheric open-fronted eatery is Trang's go-to spot for breakfast, serving very good kopi along with dim sum, sala bao, rice kongee accompanied by ginger and eggs with runny yokes, and buk-kut-te, a wildly popular Chinese herb soup packed with needle mushrooms, goji berries and fall-off-the-bone pork. Stuffed with both Vietnamese and sweet Chinese sausages, the satisfying egg and sausage skillets are served with mini pork sandwiches on the side. You'll also find Western-style sandwiches, French fries and tasty rice plates.
Trang also hosts a few traveller-oriented cafes near the train station, including Sri-Trang Cafe and Wunderbar. Both do decent sandwiches and burgers to go with cold beer and good smoothies, but the Thai food is watered down for Western tastes. Both also offer free WiFi, and Sri-Trang has a great atmosphere for lazing with a book or computer. Wunderbar offers some European beers and can get lively after dark with Trang's few expats, though it's not a proper bar.
Finally, no visit to Trang would be complete without a slice of Trang cake. Available in coconut, coffee, pandan, orange, banana, and, our personal favourite, "three tastes" (a marble mix of three out of the above), the cakes are sold all over town in bright boxes with pictures of dugongs on the front. The cake is moist, spongy and not overly sweet -- the perfect cushion for that strong kopi. If you happen to be here in August, why not gorge yourself during the annual Trang Cake Festival?