There’s been a little gap between my tips recently as I focused more on the usual travel guide type material. In this issue of my Bangkok Tips I look at where to find cheap Western food.
As most of you who spend any time in Bangkok know, the Western luxuries in Bangkok can cost more than they would back in the West. This is because of a combination of high import taxes and also the “luxury image” factor. For Thai people, showing off that they lead a regular Western “luxury” lifestyle is a big part of gaining face in front of their peers and they are willing to pay for the privilege. As a result, in many Western restaurants, you can expect to pay a minimum of 300 baht for a meal and a drink. In some places, that minimum price edges closer to 1,000 baht and there are a few steak places where a steak meal is closer to 3,000 baht.
However, it is possible to enjoy Western style cooking without paying the luxury prices. The following is my personal list of places that I go to when trying to save a bit of coin:
- Saraburi Steak – This is a Thai chain of steak houses that uses locally sourced beef. The beef isn’t as nice as imported Aussie or New Zealand meat, but its still not bad. Given that you can have a steak dinner for 100 baht, it works out to be an outstanding deal. You will find Saraburi Steak restaurants scattered around the suburbs near major highways, such as one on Raminthra Road, a bit north of the intersection with Lard Prao Road. In addition, some food courts will have a small Saraburi Steak outlet, such as the orange coloured foodcourt in MBK.
- 13 Coins Restaurant – This is very similar to Saraburi Steak and does quite a nice fillet mignon for around 200 baht.
- Black Canyon – This is perhaps a more modern version of 13 Coins and at present is more popular (and is everywhere). Pricing is very similar and there are quite a few Western dishes as well as Thai and fusion food. Sandwiches are between 90 and 130 baht whilst a steak will be around the 200 baht mark. They also do good coffees that are much cheaper than Starbucks.
- S&P – Similar in many ways to Black Canyon, except they have a slightly different menu, their own bakery, and a greater range of desserts. They offer sandwiches, pastas, soups and various other Western items in addition to really good Thai food. My favourite item on the menu is the mixed sausage plate that comes with sauerkraut. Pricing for most Western dishes is around the 100 baht mark.
- Took Lae Dee – Most of you will think of Thai food when you hear this name, and yes, it is famous for offering cheap Thai food in a food hall setting. However, they also offer solid Western food at cheap prices (under 100 baht). Located within Foodland Supermarket on Sukhumvit near Soi 5. Incidentally, the name means “Cheap and Good”.
- Chester’s Grill – The last time I set foot in a Chesters Grill, the menu was still exclusively in Thai. However, don’t let this put you off as the staff are usually very friendly and they have pictures of everything anyway. I quite like the food, and it is cheap for what you get. Although this may look like a McDonalds clone, the menu is quite broad and includes steaks and spaghetti in addition to fast food favourites such as grilled chicken and burgers.
- The Main Fast Food Franchises – Yes, I know its junk food, but once in a while you feel like some comfort food, and this tends to be reasonably cheap in Thailand. In particular, McDonalds and KFC offer good value with cheap meals at around the 100-130 baht per person mark (full meal including drink and fries). You can also go to Pizza Hut, which has a full menu including pasta and various other items. In addition, there is the Pizza Hut clone, Pizza Company (interesting story here that I will talk about in a later article) which I think is better than Pizza Hut, but pricing is very similar. For the Pizza places, keep an eye out for their promotions as these tend to be really good deals. A meal for one will be around the 200 baht mark. If you share a pizza with a friend you could get away for as little as 150 each.
- Au Bon Pain – This is a deli sandwich type place, but they do have some warm foods on the menu as well (such as soup served in bread). Pricing is around the 100 to 200 baht range.
- 7-Eleven – If you really are short on funds and want a light Western meal, then this is the cheapest option I can think of. 7-Eleven offers various types of hot dogs, hamburgers, microwave pizzas, and best of all, their famous grilled cheese sandwiches. Pricing is in the 20 to 40 baht range.
- Dairy Queen – The mostly do ice creams and shakes, but the more elaborate outlets also offer cheap hot dogs, including with some decent fillings such as chilli dogs. Pricing is similar to 7-Eleven (around 20 to 50 baht depending on what fillings you went for).
The above isn’t a comprehensive list, but the places I have listed are pretty easy to find for the average tourist. In addition, there are some specific restaurants (not chains) scattered around town that have reasonable prices, although as soon as they become popular, then pricing soars (and quality often drops as well).
If you have a bit more time up your sleeve, another thing to do is to keep an eye out for special promotions. Some of the big hotels often do lunchtime buffet specials that can be good deals considering quality of the food (and in comparison to their a la carte menu). However, these are still considerably more expensive than the options I have listed above. As an example, the Novotel in Siam Square often does weekday lunchtime buffets for 600 baht++ (++ means you need to add 7.5% VAT and 10% service charge; this is a common theme in a lot of restaurants).
You can also get free food if you keep an eye out for birthdays and anniversaries at bars in the Patpong 2, Nana and Cowboy areas. Balloons and a pig on the spit are often a good indicator. You will of course need to purchase a couple of beers in consideration though. The best source of information on events in such areas is http://www.stickmanweekly.com.
It is definitely possible to eat Western food at reasonable prices in Bangkok. I guess the real question is how little do you want to spend. In this article I have concentrated on what I consider to be the truly cheapest options available. There are still plenty of other alternatives that offer relatively cheap meals (say 200 to 400 baht range), such as a lot of the Pubs, eg the Robin Hood and the Penalty Spot. Also some of the local Western food chains such as Sunrise Tacos offer awesome meals in that price range. Although it is possible to eat Western food very cheaply at the above places, the one thing to keep a careful eye on are the drinks prices. Most of the chains like S&P, Black Canyon, Pizza Hut, Pizza Company etc offer very attractive drinks such as fruit smoothies that cost almost the same price as your main meal. Therefore if you really want to save money, avoid these (get the smoothies from street vendors instead) and stick to water or basic soft drinks or local tea. Of course, when in Thailand, you should try the Thai food as well.