Hai Som Tam Convent in Bangkok, Thailand

For some of Bangkok’s best (and most well-priced Isaan food), look no further than this shop-kitchen tucked onto prime street food territory.

For decades, Hai Som Tam Convent has been Bangkok office workers’ go-to destination for spicy northern food. For many years, the greasy spoon shophouse has been incredibly popular for its prime location adjacent to Silom Road—despite having very little atmosphere (green paint, uncomfortably bright lights and no AC).

Nowadays, the restaurant boasts a second floor with extra seating (it’s air-conditioned, while the ground floor still keeps an open layout with electric fans) and more staff than ever. The leather-bound, laminated menu has expanded considerably with even more Thai dishes, but the best ones remain the same: classic, fiery delights from Thailand’s rural northeastern Isan region.

Isaan recipes are known for bringing the heat and Hai’s chefs, cooking in an open, street-side kitchen, keep up with tradition. As the name suggests, som tam (shredded green papaya salad) is the specialty here and available in an assortment of toppings from salted crab to fermented fish.

Other popular menu items include smoky gai yang (grilled chicken marinated in a flavorful mix of garlic, cilantro roots, soy sauce, and fish sauce), served with spicy dipping sauce, as well as sai ua—northern Thai pork sausage fried with lots of aromatics including lemongrass and galangal.

Don’t forget to order khao niaw (sticky rice), which, unlike jasmine rice, is served in individual portions in plastic pouches tucked into cute bamboo holders. This is meant to be eaten with your hands—pull pieces off and use it to mop up all the extra spicy sauces you can muster.

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