A half-dozen street restaurants churn out Isaan (Northeastern Thai) food to the masses alongside a busy road in the heart of Bangkok every night. After trying them all, we’ve gravitated back to Krua Muang Ling thanks to big portions and bigger flavours that don’t hold back on the chillies.
The restaurant’s actual name (transliterated as best we can) is: Raan Khao Thom Khon Munglop Krua Muang Ling. The last bit, “Monkey City Kitchen,” highlights a connection to Lopburi and its resident monkeys. With Chinese-Thai dishes like khao ka muu (braised pork shank with rice), hoy tort (fried oyster omelette) and roast duck served alongside Isaan fare and many dishes rooted elsewhere in Thailand and beyond, the options are practically unlimited.
It’s essential to insist on getting the Thai-language menu (menu pasa Thai) as foreigners are normally given an English menu with only “foreigner-friendly” dishes like green curry and pad Thai. Most options in the Thai menu are pictured, making it easy to order with nothing more than a point. Prices range from 40 baht up to 250 for some seafood selections. Cold beer is plentiful. Servers can be surly.
The ambiance is exactly what you’d expect from a central Bangkok street at night. Cars beep and motorbikes rev; smoke billows from several grills; waiters shout; steel tables get bumped together for groups of friends ready to clink their Singha bottles after a hard day. If the steamy air or close proximity to traffic unnerves you, head inside and pay a little extra to sit in the air-con dining room, which is only marginally quieter.
Isaan staples like gai yang (grilled chicken), nam tok muu (spicy pork neck salad) and tam tuea (spicy long bean salad) tilt towards the salty/spicy end of the spectrum — be ready for intense flavours and a runny nose. Among many green papaya salad variations is som tam paa, a platter of steamed veggies, hard-boiled eggs, fried pork belly and grilled chicken surrounding a portion of Isaan-style som tam that pleases both the eyes and taste buds.
A wide range of seafood dishes include talay pad cha, a sizzling pot that bursts with shellfish sauteed in a brown sauce rich with garlic and Thai basil. But our favourite is mieang pla-plao, a whole salted/grilled white snapper served on a massive plate with khanom jeen (fermented rice noodles) and mounds of fresh herbs. Grab a hunk of fish, throw it on a slice of lettuce or cabbage, pile on the greens with chilli-lime and fried garlic sauces, wrap it up and enjoy a whirlwind of tastes and textures.
While there’s no English sign, Krua Muang Ling is easy to find thanks to its location at the corner of Phetchaburi and Phaya Thai roads, a quick hop from exit 3 out of Rathchathewi BTS station. Siam Square and BACC are within walking distance. If you fancy an appetiser, start by heading up the street to Petchaburi Soi 10 and/or Soi 5 for Isaan sausage, fresh fruit and much more.
David Luekens first came to Thailand in 2005 when Thai friends from his former home of Burlington, Vermont led him on a life-changing trip. Based in Thailand since 2011, he spends much of his time eating in Bangkok street markets and island hopping the Andaman Sea.