khao soi from chiang mai in webster groves photo by greg rannells

2020 Best New Restaurants // No. 4 Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai pays homage in name and spirit to chef-owner Su Hill’s hometown in northern Thailand and shares with us a rare taste of the region’s food. The friendly staff aren’t there to judge your lack of familiarity with the cuisine; rather, they’re excited to teach you just when to take tiny bites of fresh Thai chile pepper and how to quell the heat with crisp lettuce and fresh cilantro.

chef-owner su hill // photo by greg rannells

The menu is a confident, straightforward list of regional signature dishes that make those lucky enough to already know them raise their eyebrows in excitement. House-made sakoo sai moo? In St. Louis? Sure enough, the tricky-to-master tapioca dumplings filled with minced pork, preserved white radish and peanuts are beautifully round with a satisfying texture combination of soft, chewy and crunchy. Larb khua, a type of ground meat salad, is laid out like you’re a guest in Hill’s home with fresh herbs, vegetables and sticky rice; lettuce and pork rinds come on the side for scooping. While you may be familiar with the more common Lao larb, which is sweet and sour with plenty of fish sauce, Chiang Mai’s version focuses on dried spices like cloves, cumin, long pepper, star anise, cinnamon and ground chiles. Even the khao soi, a chicken and curry noodle dish commonly found on Thai take-out menus, has its own distinct personality, with a darker, burnt orange color and nuanced spice mix.

sakoo sai moo // photo by greg rannells

There are no trendy cocktails, slickly designed dining spaces or “innovated” fusion menu items at Chiang Mai, the building blocks you might pessimistically assume make up these end-of-year best-of lists. Its strength is skillfully prepared food that isn’t interested in compromising itself to be easy – and we’re ready to learn.