Every time I hear someone bash Pattaya, I’m tempted to say, “Yeah, that’s right … Pattaya sucks. Don’t ever go there”. However, I can’t help but let the cat out of the Pattaya bag sometimes. Since moving there in 2007, I have an “I can’t believe this is Pattaya” moment at least once a week. So, I’ll have plenty of content to offer as I kick off this new series of articles about the never ending surprises our “little fishing village” springs on me.
Food Glorious Food
Pattaya must be home to more refugee chefs than any place in the world. If I had to count how many restaurants and cafes I’ve eaten in run by famous, renowned or Michelin-starred chefs in Pattaya, I’d need a lot more fingers and toes. And the variety of cuisines represented here is mind-boggling. Thai, Indian, Japanese, Lebanese, Turkish, Chinese, Korean, English, American, German, Spanish, French and more Italian restaurants than you can shake a cannoli at.
My favorite was Valencia Spanish restaurant on Thepprasit Road near Jomtien Beach. Hand crafted Zarzuela and Paella from Chef Vincent was as authentic as it gets. Even though advanced age caused him to close, this place represents what Pattaya’s food culture is all about … authentic food made by people passionate about their cuisine.
When I’m asked where is the best restaurant in Pattaya it’s a bit of a dilemma. I always say, “It depends on what you are looking for”. That’s not a copout, it’s true.
Best Thai food? I always go with Cabbage-n-Condoms on Pratumnak Hill. Best French Food? Au Bon Coin also on the hill. Best Italian? That’s a tough one. Pattaya is absolutely chock full of good Italian joints, but I choose Toscana Trattoria on the Northern end of Beach Road for traditional and Marco’s in Jomtien for a modern Franco-Italian twist. Best Mexican? Mike’s just off Thappraya Road. Best American? Hands down Tigglebitties on Pattaya Tai Soi 8. Best seafood? Well, you better pull up a chair, this is going to be a long conversation.
Sunset and Seafood
But, we’re talking about “I can’t believe this is Pattaya” moments aren’t we? Probably my first such experience was at The Glass House on Na Jomtien Beach. Picture a big white colonial style house sitting right on a golden sand beach with seating for a ton of people both indoor and outdoor. Peppy Brazilian jazz emanates from the elaborate speaker system. Beanbag seating and full dining service is offered on the beach. A bright red British phone box serves as the cashier’s stand.
My first trip was on a breezy Sunday afternoon seated in the dining room near the bar raised several steps above the beach. The uber-efficient staff scurried around purposefully serving the good looking crowd of Bangkokians down for a weekend of seafood and fresh air. And what seafood it was! Traditional Thai dishes like whole sea bass steamed with lemon and garlic, curry crab and a modern twist on a popular Thai salad, larb Salmon. The wine list is deep and affordable and the best part of the day wasn’t even on the menu … the sunset. When that big orange ball started sinking into the Gulf of Thailand it was the first time I uttered the phrase, “I can’t believe this is Pattaya”.
Since then I’ve experienced deja vous at several waterfront restaurants like The View in Na Jomtien, Silver Lining in Naklua and Rimpa Lapin on Ban Amphur Beach. In fact, the entire Ban Amphur Seafood District is unbelievable. Remember, Pattaya isn’t just Walking Street. Scenic beaches and waterfront restaurants are strung from Naklua all the way to Rayong.
Pound for Pound
If someone asks me what is the best “pound for pound” restaurant in Pattaya I consider another such moment at Café Des Amis. “Pound for pound” is a boxing term that translates to the culinary world as “best dining experience for the money”. One lonely Christmas Eve, I was boo-hooing my way through a family-less holiday so I dragged my melancholy butt into Café Des Amis on the recommendation of a friend. I was greeted in the bar by the proprietor and chef at this cozy yet elegant Jomtien bistro who goes by the unforgettable name Blue Drew. Chef Blue and his gorgeous wife/hostess parked me at the well-stocked bar and lifted my spirits with a cracking good glass of Malbec.
The flawless blend of Southeast Asian décor with European sensibilities at Café Des Amis gives you the feeling of being somewhere else no matter where you are from. What’s more, the menu amplifies the exotic vibe. Pan-seared scallops with pork belly, duck presented three ways and some of finest looking steaks I’ve seen in Asia. It’s no wonder this place was named the #2 Best Fine Dining Restaurant in Thailand by Trip Advisor.
As it was Christmas time and I was longing for a little down home comfort food, I chose Blue’s famous Beef Wellington, a dish Gordon Ramsay calls the back-breaker of most chefs. I must say, it was well beyond my expectation. The presentation, the execution, the service and the atmosphere completely erased the song “Blue Christmas” from my playlist. I sat at the bar sharing some holiday cheer with other single-diners, basking in the glow of families doing the same and those famous words escaped my lips once again … “I can’t believe this is Pattaya”.
Time after Time
Those are but two memorable other-worldly moments I recall. I saw a night of one act plays presented by the “Pattaya Players” at Indian by Nature, easily Pattaya’s premier Indian cuisine. I experienced my first Russian meal at a restaurant completely themed around a popular movie. I watched the Super Bowl with a gang of rowdy Americans while chowing down on a Philly Cheese-Steak Sandwich at Rich Man Poor Man guest house in Jomtien Beach. And every time I had to take a moment to reflect on where I was and let slip these words with a wry smile,
“I can’t believe this is Pattaya”.
by Bart Walters