I've been in Nepal for nearly a month, so I'd better write up my list of top Khon Kaen restaurants while they're still fresh in mind. Since I didn't visit any of the restaurants in the better hotels, nor any of the better chains in the malls, this is a list of stand alone restaurants that I continued to enjoy after several visits during my three month stay.
1. My favorite is Ban... on Prachasamosorn Rd., past Soi 20, between a Jiffy gas station and Cactus Resort. Across the street is a red shirt gathering place and FM radio station. I ate there many times and enjoyed both the Thai and the Western food. Best hamburgers, best fish and chips, and best down home Thai chicken and fish dishes, all at low prices. English menu available.
2. For pizza, I liked Pomodoro, on the left side soi right next to the Pullman Hotel, the town's 5 star hotel. (Khon Kaen is a city of over 200,000, the heart of Issan, with one of the largest universities in Thailand.)
3. Right next door is De Lite, a beautiful indoor-outdoor restaurant with the most romantic jazz-influenced Thai music in town. Good for an after dinner drink, but they don't serve deserts and I haven't had much luck with their food, although I liked the tom ka gai as well as the fish cakes I found on their English menu.
4. Further down the soi, past an upscale nightclub on the right (U-Bar) you come to Bee-Gin at the intersection. Good coffee, great deserts, a limited menu of Thai food (not translated into English), a beautiful outdoor space with a live jazz-Thai trio as well as a modern enclosed room, plus an outdoor pool table and a covered bar.
5.Not far away on Prachasmran Rd. is Di Dine, a super-modern European bistro with maroon clothed tables in a glass box and a European chef with the tallest toque in town. I kept ordering tender medallions of beef with sauted veggies and perfect french bread. English, etc. menu and fair prices for the quality of the food.
6. Down that street past Rad nightclub and left on Ruenrun Rd. takes you to Livin' on a Jet Plane (I kid you not) with a super-modern indoor space and a typical Thai outside space, but larger. The food is good, if a bit pricey, and I have yet to find a favorite, but the big draw here is real jazz. The large bandstand is situated so that the glass wall can be rolled open on sultry evenings, and the band turns around to face the large, outdoor crowd. It's one of the two really cool places I've visited in town.
7. The other cool place for food and jazz is called Smile, and it's situated across the street from Bung Kaen Nakhon lake, which is just a few blocks away from downtown. Smile is a huge, multi-leveled, indoor-outdoor space surrounding a very large pool with tables on all sides. It would be impressive anywhere in the world. Jazz is played inside one of the three-story high glass wings of the building and piped around
the grounds outside.The Thai-Western menu is large and in English. I had a fine beef tips and noodles dish, heavy on the noodles and the price. Large desert selection. Definitely a date place. (Google for its web site.)
8. Kiwi Cafe is on the other side of the lake, and the name says it all. Western and heavy on coffee, drinks, and deserts, but with a short list of tasty entrees. It would be my wifi hangout, but it doesn't open until 5 on weekdays and noon on weekends.I love their salads, a fruit, nuts, and veggie burst of tastes. The building is a modern glass box of comfort and color. (I get my wifi fix each morning at an Amazon Cafe. Functional and comfortable, they're attached to Jiffy gas stations all around that part of Thailand.)
9. There's a neighborhood lake that takes up a square block off Sri Chant's Soi 31, and next to that lake is a Thai seafood restaurant that I visit regularly. Nuggets of deep fried fish are wrapped in lettuce leaves, showered with pea-sized chunks of onion, garlic, Thai veggies, and hot sauce, and washed down by Singha beer. Across the lane soccer is being played on a tennis court sorrounded by a net, aerobic dancers are grooving to Thai hip-hop music, and folks of all ages run around the lake.
10. All the way down Sri Chant, past the new Central World mall, over the railroad tracks and past Ram hospital on the right takes you to a large, funky restaurant that specializes in Thai seafood and Thai rock. Go there. (No English menu.)
Extra: If you take a left at Central World and go down a mile on the very wide highway, on your right you'll see a massive parking lot next to a very large wooden structure. While the Thai food is ok and the beer is endless, it features the most outrageous stage show in town, and
hundreds and hundreds of Thai people who know all the songs and dance like beings possessed. A similar but smaller venue across from
Rad, Top West, is a less chaotic substitute.
p.s. Sad but true, the only Khon Kaen restaurant entry in the very popular Trip Advisor is an ex-pat bar with a microwave, Seven's. It's a friendly bar with free pool, free wifi, inexpensive rooms upstairs, and a used book store across the street. A step up from the other two ex-pat favorites, Eric's and #1Bar, but a restaurant it's not.