Big portions, low prices
Set in a barely noticeable pavilion behind some bushes on Sukhumvit Soi 36, Krua Rom Mai is the sort of Thai restaurant that you expect to find along a rural highway far beyond Bangkok. If you don’t require trendy decor or a traditional dance performance to go with your meal, this slow-paced eatery dishes out big portions of tasty Thai food at backpacker-friendly prices.
With only white-wooden fencing for exterior walls and a transparent plastic roof overhead, the dining space stays relaxing and relatively cool thanks to several powerful fans and potted plants. Tables of various sizes are spread far apart, including some that can seat 12 or more, making this a great choice for groups and families but also for couples seeking a quiet meal. Such spaciousness is a pleasant surprise in this upscale area, where most eateries are stuffed into cramped shophouses.
Prices are lower than we’ve come to expect from sit-down restaurants in the Thong Lor vicinity, with everything except whole fried, steamed or barbecued fishes costing between 50 and 130 baht. The picture-menu with English descriptions and limited transliterations covers a few Southern Thai dishes along with Central Thai standards like green curry and tom yum soup. Isaan (Northeastern Thai) fare is the specialty.
We started with som tam kor muu yang, a typical green papaya salad with the addition of grilled pork neck that was exceedingly tender. The papaya itself was also more tender than usual, sliced into thin strips that soaked up the fish sauce, coconut sugar and heat from the fresh red chillies. It leaned towards the salty side of the spectrum, fatty slices of pork neck and balls of sticky rice making it rather irresistible.
Served around five minutes after the som tam, our gaeng om also delivered a hefty portion and solid balance of flavours. The herbaceous soup was stacked with fresh green dill, oyster mushrooms, tender chicken breast, soft Asian eggplant and abundant fresh red chillies to make us cry (it helps with the humidity). Costing only 100 baht, this dish alone would be enough to fill up two if you threw in a couple of portions of rice.
Krua Rom Mai also does savoury finger foods like sai krog (fermented Isaan rice/pork sausage), sun-dried pork, deep-fried chicken wings with lemongrass and gai yang (barbecued chicken), making this a great spot to relax and munch while sipping on cold Singha or Chang. The service can be glacial when it’s busy, but this isn’t the kind of place where you go for a quick meal. We feel that it’s a good — and cheaper — alternative to neighbouring Vientiane Kitchen for those times when you don’t feel like dining to live Thai music and comedy.
To find Krua Rom Mai, take the BTS skytrain to Thong Lo station and head down the stairs at exit 2, hanging a U-turn once you hit the footpath. Then take the first left into Sukhumvit Soi 36, and keep an eye out for Krua Rom Mai’s faded green-and-white sign on the right, not far past Vientiane Kitchen.
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.
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