#1 CHINA INN
There are many reasons why this café is one of my most beloved places on the island. This former hole-in-the-wall Sino-Portuguese building turned precious jewel was renovated in 2004 and opened two years later. The family house was decorated with lots of love, care, impeccable taste, style and true knowledge of Phuket history. The charm of China Inn could seduce you to stay there for hours. The entrance of this café reminds you of an old-day teahouse in Hong Kong, but the inside is far more fascinating with beautiful different sections. The first room in China Inn is just like any wealthy Chinese immigrant’s house in Phuket, the living room that nobody really stays in but functions as a showroom for the family’s portrait and the nicest pieces of vintage furniture. The owner filled the hallway with beautiful clothes, accessories, small items, pottery and decorating gears that transport you to old-world China. The highlight is definitely in the garden with few dining tables in lovely ambiance. Their speciality is Phuketian/Peranakan cuisine cooked with fresh local ingredients like Phuket Pineapple soup flavoured with Andaman Shrimp Paste, Local Dried Anchovies and Morning Glory, or Pomela Salad to refresh your afternoon after a long walk on Thalang Rd.
#2 KRUA JONGJIT
If you are looking for a place where locals are their loyal fans and probably less than 1% tourists, this is the right Krua (kitchen) for you. I discovered this place by driving past and saw many elders in Peranakan sarongs and lace tanktops waiting in the front with stack of stainless steel Tupperware (yes the old-school kind). I had to park and see what the commotion was all about. By far, this is the most interesting small local restaurant I have dined in for years. In recent decades, food trend is important and fashionable but Krua Jongjit opts out of any of those stylish food decorations and imported items from the west. They care more about original recipes than modern gimmicks. None of their plates (nor bowls) are coordinated, which makes you feel like eating at your grandparents’ house. Don’t let the chef’s body that is full of Thai ink and mystic tattoos fool you. He looks more like a Harley driver. However his cooking skills transcend it all. Be prepared for his fried pork cheeks that have been stewed for hours in soy or his GangSom, a typical Southern soup with fish head and palm tree’s heart; ingredients that sound so exotic for you but very common and beloved by local Phuketians.
#3 TORRY’S ICE CREAM BOUTIQUE
What suits a hot day in Phuket island better than ice cream? The answer is Phuket-style ice cream. What makes Torry’s Ice cream distinguished from the rest of the ice cream/gelato shop is their assorted Thai flavours. Located in Soi Rommanee, once a red light district turned into a thriving business alley, Torry’s Ice Cream building is undeniably attractive and draws people’s attention in. Nonetheless, the highlight of this boutique is its 60 flavours of delectable ice cream with no artificial food colourings or additives. The signature flavour is A-Pong, a Phuket old-school delight made of egg yolk, flour, coconut, milk and crunchy sugar, almost like thin crêpe. Another must-try is the pastel macarons ice cream sandwich which is custom-made to fit any holidays. Don’t think this is merely ice cream paradise. You can also find high quality tea with other various thirst-quenchers on the menu, pretty much anything to cool you down.
Kun Eang has been Phuket’s favourite for many decades but the new and more modern version of this seafood branch is even more spectacular. They promoted themselves as more than just a restaurant, which I totally agree with. It is the oldest yet remains contemporary with a lush southern and enormous seafood menu. Located by the pier, the setting is right by the sea so you could observe beautiful long tail fishing boats and enjoy the cool breeze while you have lunch or late supper. It is like a beautiful park with food. When it’s dark, KunEang@Pier turns into a luxurious romantic venue both outdoor and in an air-conditioned room. The live seafood stall is pretty exciting as well. You can choose your own crustaceans and fish to your cooking preferences. Although it is very famous for Thai/Southern style, KunEang@Pier offers a variety of Japanese dishes, especially raw items like sashimi and sushi. Try Phuket Tiger Prawn sashimi, it is so fresh with Japanese-style condiments and spicy Thai dipping sauce.
#5 THE ROOFTOP, PEARL HOTEL
One of the most memorable experiences for Phuketians growing up is having dim sum breakfast at the Rooftop of Pearl Hotel. If you are in Thailand and always have breakfast at your hotel during your holidays, this is the opportunity to try something new, something so Phuket. While listening to live piano in the late morning, you can enjoy a large variety of Chinese breakfast menu items, such as Dim Sum, their famous and classic Peking Duck, Crispy Prawn Salad, Barbecue Pork, Jellyfish in Sesame Sauce, Suckling Pork, Fresh Spring Rolls in Light Soy and Oyster Sauce and so much more. Dim Sum is very common breakfast/ lunch to southerners but the Rooftop is something extraordinary with fresh ingredients and an ancient recipe. Besides the delicious taste of Chinese cuisine, you will indulge Phuket view from the city corner and the Andaman side.
#6 GARDEN COTTAGE SWISS RESTAURANT
Tucked in the greenery of Nai-Yang Road, Garden Cottage is a hidden gem when it comes to good food especially their Swiss gastronomy. Phuket is Thailand’s number two melting pot after the capital Bangkok. Tons of expats have moved here to work in 5-star establishments, real estate business, entertainment business, diving centres, and most importantly the food industry. They came with recipes from home so you could find international flair from north to south of the island. Garden Cottage is only five minutes from Phuket International Airport, so it is an ideal place for you to stop by before your flight or worth a ride for the most beautiful sunset and romantic dinner. Their most admired Swiss dishes are Rösti made of potatoes and lots of butter in a pancake/ fritter form, once a common food which have now become so popular that some call it a national dish. The goulash is equally tasty with good quality beef and aromatic spices. Try the pasta with a great selection of sauce and high quality cheese. Their wine menu is small but impressive and you will fully enjoy it in the tropical garden ambiance.
Have you ever seen the long queue, right in front of any establishment right before it opens the business: either Apple store or Nike shop? Yes, this happens on the island too, except that massive line is waiting for food, pork soup/porridge, to be exact. This eatery opens at 7:00 pm but the line starts around 6:30 pm and it is packed every day. There are only 25 tables but the food is so divine that people are willing to wait. Don’t let the minimal decoration and humid environment turn you down; the menu will make you smile and your stomach full with the least spending. Order their speciality, Dried Porridge Rice and Pork Ribs, along with lots of Deep Fried Mince Garlic. They revealed the secret recipe to us: it’s all about the soup. Their soup is sweet, full of flavour and very aromatic from slowly cooking pork bones alongside Thai and Chinese herbs. If you’re a meat eater and a night owl, this is a street food heaven for you, since they open until 2:00 am.
#8 TUNGKA CAFÉ
This is another beautiful spot for a beautiful sunset, especially when you’re already in Phuket town in the afternoon and do not feel like driving too far to the beach front. Tungka literally means Phuket. As the matter of fact, many older generations still call the island “Tungka” instead of Phuket. The place is quite popular for local islanders because of the intense flavour of Thai/southern food like Crab Curry and Skinny White Noodles, Shrimp in Tamarind Sauce and Deep-Fried Sea Bass with Garlic Pepper. Also try the colourful and sweet Thai dessert served with coconut milk and shaved ice or sweet potatoes with palm sugar syrup. Tungka has one of the best ambiance to chill in the evening. Their decoration is a mixture of nature and cosy home. One of their best dishes to order is iced coffee Phuket-style, but they also have a lovely wine list, from bargain Thai wine to vintage ones from the old world.
#9 BAMPOT KITCHEN AND BAR
Don’t let the petite size of this restaurant fool you. Actually you may have driven past it but that is why the place is unique and special. Bampot is a very European/modern gastronomic restaurant located on the northern part of the island in Cherng Talay or Laguna area. This 44-seat open kitchen is extremely hip that you have to book in advance. Once entered, you probably thought you were in some fashionable bistro in New York or London. Start your evening with daring cocktails from classic martini to their trendy and quirky booze menu. With the creativity of the chef, the brown paper clipboard menu is an intriguing mix of local ingredients and rare imported items. Try salmon three ways as a starter to get the full bite of crunch, softness and aroma. Order Wagyu Steak with Cauliflower Mash; the tenderness and saltiness of Japanese import matches well with the sweet root vegetables. Leave some room for White Chocolate Mousse as a dessert or just order artistic cheese plate to pair with their well-selected wine. Believe me, Bampot Kitchen and Bar is the place where east meets west at its best.
#10 MEE AO GAY
We cannot end our feasting journey without mentioning one of the best, the oldest, the most loved dish, “Hokkien Mee”. There are many restaurants that serve these round yellow noodles but nowhere ever comes close to “Ao gay”. The Hokkien Mee recipe was passed down by Hokkien people from Taiwan for centuries from the tin-mining era. There are few Hokkien Mee in other parts of southeast Asia like Penang and Singapore, but Mee Ao Gay is extra palatable with lots more ingredients like shrimps, mussels, squid, pork, fish and vegetables. The savoury sticky sauce is what makes Mee Ao Gay shine but the soft-boiled egg is the hero of the dish. It is served on top of the superb hot dish right from the wok. And you use your chopsticks to crack the yolk open and let the juice flow on top of the noodles before adding chilli and vinegar. One bowl of Hokkien Mee may not be enough when you are starving but there are few appetizers you can order before your Mee arrives such as Bite-sized Chicken Satay or Deep-Fried Curry Fish Cake. Located on Poonpol Rd, it is a bit tricky to find but most taxi drivers will know where to drop you for lunch.