If there’s one question that receives endless debate here in Phuket it isn’t the meaning of life, the nature of evil, being, or happiness. No, the question that every Thai in Phuket will have an opinion on and a well reasoned and convincing argument for is the best Isan restaurant.
The favored restaurant will always vary, and indeed, will also be an almost impossible to find shack on some byroad that no one would intentionally travel down. Still, people will swear by these places and you’ll often be surprised by a little, nondescript shack with chicken roasting out front filled to overflowing with guests. As a case in point, the Isan restaurant just outside of my village is one of the more famous stops. True to the pattern, it’s only a small little shack, but if you want some of their famous Som Tam, you better be prepared to spend 30 minutes waiting.
However, if you want great Isan food without the shack, Big Chicken Isan Restaurant is where you should go. It’s not actually called “Big Chicken” its real name is Toong Tong) but once you see the enormous chicken outside sitting in front of its relatively tiny sign in Thai with its real name, it will always be “Big Chicken” to you too. Now both its famous mascot and its nice decor disqualifies it as being anyone’s “favorite” since no one would ever want to admit to liking a place that someone else already knows about, but it’s still always filled with customers.
Big Chicken has all the standard favorites including, spit roasted chicken and pork, great sticky rice, and, of course, Som Tam. On my last trip there, I had, in addition to all the standards listed above, some great fried chicken with lemon grass. I hadn’t ever had that before, and it was a great addition to my standard Isan restaurant fair. Perhaps most important for a Westerner, they get the spiciness right. Many Isan places will just blast you with impossibly hot food regardless of what you say; they have two settings: crazy hot or inedibly hot. The others will see a foreigner and just not put any chillies in at all. Big Chicken understands that you’ve got to have a bit of heat for the food to actually be Isan food but that most people aren’t full-time masochists looking for their next fix of unbearable pain.
So, if you’re looking for some good Isan food but don’t need the bragging righs associated with some out of the way hut, check out the Big Chicken. Just look for the biggest chicken out front of any restaurant in Kathu, and you’ll be there.
Cuisione: Thai, E-Saan,
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