The Absolute Best Thai Restaurants in Melbourne CBD
Do you like your som tam (green papaya salad) spicy and your guay tiew (boat noodles) slurpy? These eight Thai restaurants – all within the heart of Melbourne CBD – are the closest you’ll get to the bustle of Bangkok’s night markets and northeast Thailand’s fermented flavours without leaving the city.
Suriya Chantarungsarit (Tee) opened Thai Town at the end of 2019 to give expats, especially international students, a taste of home. The restaurant looks like a hawker market with different food stations and a mini Thai grocer at the entrance. On Friday and Saturday nights there’s live music and beer towers that encourage sing-alongs. Food here hasn’t been dumbed down for western palates. Between noon and 3pm the lunch menu is a steal, with meals under $15. For dinner, signature dishes include platters of grilled chicken, sticky rice and papaya salad on banana leaf, as well as fried rice served with shrimp paste, fresh vegetables and a whole fried mackerel for dipping. There are also plenty of Insta-friendly set ups, whether you prefer holding your Thai milk tea cocktail up to a neon sign or ordering a side of bright blue butterfly pea rice.
QV Shopping Centre, Shop 25 Artemis Lane, Melbourne, thaitownqv.com.au
Tucked away inside The Paramount Centre food court, this unassuming takeaway shop serves some of Melbourne’s best and most authentic Thai food. The prices are stupefying. Where else can you order boat noodles for $6? Rock up with $15 and you’ll walk away with change from basil and chilli stir-fried duck, massaman curry, hor mok pla (fish steamed in coconut milk and chilli paste), roast pork and more. There are hard-to-find dishes here, like oyster omelettes, southern kang tai pla (spicy fish organs with vegetables) and house-made fish balls in green curry. Don’t leave without tasting a classic Thai dessert.
The Paramount Centre, shop 2/108, Bourke Street, Melbourne, medeethai.com.au
There are two Dodee Paidangs: one in the basement beneath Causeway 353 hotel and another on Swanston Street. Both specialise in tom yum noodle soups. There are more than 20 varieties on the menu, ranging from spice-free through to Dodee super nova, which clocks in at spice level seven and is generally only attempted by university students as a dare. There are other traditional Thai dishes, too. Think moo ping pork skewers, som tum salads, whole grilled fish, curries and grilled meats.
Basement 353 Little Collins Street & 245 Swanston Street Melbourne 3000, dodeepaidang.com
Mookata is a popular hotpot in Thailand that’s difficult to find in Melbourne. The utensil both barbecues meat on a grill and boils soup in a surrounding moat. Nana Mookata Thai Hotpot was the first to introduce it to Melbourne. A two-person Thai barbecue set is $35 here and comes with a marinated meat medley, seafood, noodles, vegetables and an egg. Open daily until 1am (the kitchen closes at midnight), there’s usually a queue out the door, but it moves fast. With stainless steel tables, red stool and an electric atmosphere, eating here transports you straight to Bangkok. Other exciting dishes include raw prawn salad with fermented fish and pla dook yang (catfish stuffed with lemon-grass and grilled until it’s skin turns black). Read more here.
169 Bourke Street, Melbourne, facebook.com/NanaThaiStyleBBQ
This two-storey Thai restaurant next door to Nana Mookata is decked out in pink neon and a jungle of faux plants. Don’t let the modern fit-out fool you, these flavours are as authentic as they come. If you don’t know where to start, the mixed platter is ideal for the indecisive: papaya salad, fermented Isaan sausage, grilled pork, meatball skewers, egg, crackling and fermented rice noodles. There are classic pad kapao chilli and basil stir-fries and khao soi coconut curry noodle soup from Chang Mai (similar to laksa, try the lobster version). For something standout, order mud crab when available, or tom leng saap hotpot (a mountain of meaty pork spines in tangy, aromatic broth with loads of lemongrass, galangal and makrut lime).
171 Bourke Street, Melbourne, thaitide.com.au
Soi 38 is one of Melbourne’s most hidden Thai restaurants. It’s also its worst-kept secret. You’ll find it down McIlwraith Place inside the multi-level car park, right beside the elevators. The lunch crowd slurps broth at red and blue metal tables, while the evening menu expands into Thai-style ceviche, spicy larb salads and moo ping grilled pork skewers. Try whole, deep-fried pork knuckle and oom kai (spicy herbal chicken soup).
38 Mcilwraith Place, Melbourne, soi38.com
People slow down as they pass Isan Soul, peering in to get a closer look at the rickshaws and vintage tin signs on the walls. It’s not what’s on the inside that counts here, but what comes out of the kitchen. Wrap lightly fried barramundi fillets in betel leaf to start, or share spicy salads with grilled pork and pickled crab. There’s tom yum from the soup section, but tom sap is an aromatic introduction to soft pork bone broth. Curries, stir-fries, whole fish and grilled meats with tamarind sauce are great for sharing – even if you don’t want to.
98 Bourke Street, Melbourne, facebook.com/isansoul
We need to talk about Jing Jai Thai’s purple anchan noodles. They’re naturally dyed deep indigo with butterfly pea flowers and served with grilled chicken and sweet, tangy tamarind sauce. Jing Jai has fun with their food, but remains true to traditional flavours. Take for example tha khan tok set, a northern Thai platter with chilli paste, green chilli nam prik, crackling pork, chicken wings, a boiled egg, veggie stir-fry, sticky rice and fresh vegetable sticks. There’s also an oversized Monster Bowl, tom yum seafood noodle soup for two to three people.
271-273 Flinders Lane, Melbourne, facebook.com/jingjaithairestaurant