Located across from the main entrance at Chiang Mai University, Isaan Laan % (Isaan 1 million % – อีสานล้าน%) is a Chiang Mai institution and certainly my favourite Isaan spot in town. Isaan is the name for the northeastern Thai provinces near Laos, home to a plethora of amazing dishes, some of them now popular all over Thailand. I have certainly had some amazing meals at Isaan Laan %; the liberal use of herbs and spices creates the right array of spicy northeastern-style Thai food – not your place if your tolerance for chillies is low…
Sit in the rustic tables, enjoy the simple wall decor and be reassured that Thai people’s commendable habit of judging restaurants by the cooking rather than by the look of the place, here works. So, no haute cuisine but simple, delicious northeastern standards. Among the dishes you should sample are spicy salads, grilled fish, tom sep (a pork and herb soup), namtok (a grilled pork salad), moo/neua deat deow (sun-dried pork/beef coated with sesame seeds and deep fried): Isaan Laan % makes an excellent job of these. Hear the mortar-and-pestle music of papaya salad som tam, or its mango variation; smell the mint in laap (a minced meat in pork, chicken, catfish or duck variations, mixed with chillies, lime, spring onion, crushed dry-roasted rice and herbs). All dishes are really good, but do not miss out on Isaan Laan % signature dish: kai yang, the grilled chicken for which they are well known by locals. Add these to vegetable dishes, bamboo shoots, kao niaw (the gutinous sticky rice) and their fiery dipping sauces, and you get the picture. And of course, an iced-cold beer to wash down all the above is highly advisable.
Isaan Laan % gets quite busy when everyone who leaves the university gets hungry, as they combine great food and good prices, with most dishes costing between 40 and 60 thb. Your meal will not cost over 150-200 thb, including a couple of beers. The service is decent and fast; some of the waitresses speak English and there is an English menu.
Isaan Laan % is located directly in front of Chiang Mai University’s main gate, in the strip of small restaurants along Huay Kaew Road. Its front is fluorescent-lit in the evenings. Open daily 9am to 10pm, or earlier if the food is sold out.