Chiang Mai is one of my favorite places in the world and if you know me, then it’s not hard to guess one of the top reasons I love going to Chiang Mai is the amazing food. I’m a struggling (but getting better!) vegetarian, but there are so many delicious vegetarian options in Chiang Mai to keep my tastebuds and belly happy that I can content myself with satisfying meals without the occasional craving for anything more. These meals are some of the best I’ve come across in Chiang Mai and I think even non-vegetarians are going to enjoy dining at these delicious spots.
AUM, 65 Th Moon Maung (just off Thaphae Gate). Best veggie burgers, hands down. Add avocado to the burger and it changes the entire game, but don’t forget the carrot sauce – trust me! This veggie burger was the one meal I was looking forward to for my trip back to Chiang Mai and it does not disappoint. The generous amount of lettuce can be overwhelming at times, but the specially spiced veggie patty and slightly sweet bun is the perfect compliment to round out the flavors. The AUM khao soi is also done extremely well – a sweeter, non-spicy vegetarian version of Chiang Mai’s famed dish, though chili is offered on the table should you want to kick it up a notch or two (or ten).
Hear Tong Food Shop, Chaiyaphoom Road (just to the right of Spice Bar). This no-frills local joint is Chiang Mai’s version of a fast-food restaurant and it’s perhaps one of Chiang Mai’s most underrated. The English menu provides key Thai staples, though I suspect ordering off the menu would provide a more adventurous and sumptuous feast. While Hear Tong is not exclusively vegetarian, they do have the best pad Thai (meat or no neat) around. Seriously. The portions are a bit on the small side, especially if you have a robust appetite (like I do), but for 35 baht a plate, go ahead and order a second helping! Hear Tong’s pad Thai is cheap, fast, and most importantly, extremely flavorful. And yeah, they’re probably using MSG (I’m okay with that), but hey, that’s what makes their pad Thai all the more authentic. Keep in mind that Hear Tong is open everyday except Fridays, starting from 4:30pm to 2am so time your visit right.
Beetroot Stories, Rachadamnoen Road – aka Sunday Walking Street, just behind Wawee Coffee). Beetroot Stories has a basic menu: several curries served with brown rice, plus the usual rice and noodle dishes, but everything they do is fresh and delicious, as well as vegan friendly. Portions are moderately sized, which is great when you’re looking for something light and not too heavy. Save room for their fresh smoothies though. The glass seems never-ending and the flavor combinations are all winners. Their coconut coconut coconut smoothie is literally the best drink I’ve had in a long time, and even palatable enough to convince a self-prescribed hater of coconuts to declare it “pretty good.” I crave it already. Beetroot is closed every Monday and Tuesday during the third week of the month.
Hungry Vegie, Moon Muang Soi 4 (adjacent to Namo Yoga Center). Open during the odd hours of 11-7pm (not early enough for breakfast, too early for dinner) makes Hungry Vegie the perfect spot for lunch. The menu is rather extensive, covering a wide range of food from freshly chopped salads to heaping bowls of curries and huge plates of traditional noodle and rice dishes. Everything our group ordered was great, with a special nod going towards the rad na, a rich gravy-topped noodle dish with a medley of vegetables that included crunchy water chestnuts, and the yellow curry, which was a group favorite for its just right amount of spiciness. The watermelon cooler is a refreshing thirst-quencher, especially during hot Chiang Mai afternoons. My only complaint with Hungry Vegie is the operating hours. Open longer so that I can eat here more often! Closed on Sundays.
Dada Kafe, Ratmakka Road. Although not an exclusively vegetarian restaurant, Dada Kafe has more than plenty of delicious vegetarian options available in its massive menu. A friend swears by the soy milk porridge, but it’s still porridge and that’s boring. Try the Dada bruschetta instead. The baguette is consistently fresh: crisply toasted on the outside and wonderfully soft on the inside. Add the generous helping of tomatoes and avocado with a spritz of fresh lime, and you’ve got an appetizer worthy of a whole meal. A cinnamon-topped cappuccino makes the perfect addition for a filling breakfast to get your morning going. If you’re looking for something more healthy to drink, check out the interior wall for all of Dada’s healthy fruit shake and smoothie options.
Juicy 4 You, Ratchamanka 5. Despite the address, Juicy 4 You is actually located just across the street from Dada Kafe and has the second best veggie burgers around. I can say that with all confidence because my friends and I did a taste test to settle the debate once and for all. While the presentation of the veggie burger at Juicy is much nicer than at AUM, the ultimate downfall to Juicy’s veggie burger is the bun. It just doesn’t have the same subtle flavor as AUM’s, making it runner-up to the impromptu Chiang Mai Veggie Burger Challenge. On the other hand, if you’re looking for a spicy khao soi, look no further. Juicy’s version is nothing short of spectacular; spicy enough to give your taste buds a swift kick in the rear, but without making you lose your mind. Mountains of pumpkin, tofu, and fresh vegetables makes the khao soi one of most filling meals around. And of course, the fresh smoothies here are also extremely good. Closed on Sundays.
Cat House, 25 Chaiyapoom Road, Soi 1. Whenever my tastebuds need a break from Asian flavors or if I need something big and heavy to help ease the pain
of a hangover from the prior night out, I head further afield to the chilled out Cat House for a dose of Western food. Cat House isn’t strictly vegetarian either, but with plenty of tofu options to substitute for meat, it’s still a winner. I’m partial to the heaping plate of a chili-smothered burrito with a side salad topped with a light, fruity homemade dressing, but a friend swears the spaghetti with tofu and tomato sauce was one of the best things he’s eaten in a long time. Be forewarned. Although the dishes are mostly Western, they still have a bit of that Thai spice in them. If you’re looking for an afternoon pick-me-up, the coffee here is freshly grounded, strong, and aromatic. The homemade brownies are pretty good, as well.
I’ll admit that being a vegetarian, especially when traveling, can be hard sometimes. It’s unfortunate, but some travel destinations just aren’t as vegetarian friendly as others. Luckily, Chiang Mai offers such appetizing vegetarian options that it’s hard to tear yourself away from eating day in and day out! If only more destinations took vegetarian food this seriously.
Have I convinced any of you non-vegetarians to give these places a try?