I lived Bangkok about 10 years ago, and just spent a few days back there escaping Hong Kong's SARS-induced depression. We stayed at the Oriental, which is still the best hotel in the world - but you can stay at the new Peninsula for 1/2 the price. Breakfast every day was at the hotel, outside by the river - can't be beat, especially since it was included in the rate - and I had a couple of quick meals at the coffee shop. Good hotel food but no reason to make a special trip eat there. I've tried their China House restaurant for dim sum before, but when you live in Hong Kong, you don't come to Bangkok for dim sum.
My favorite place to eat at the Oriental was their outdoor Italian restuarant (closed for the summer). I also like their Bamboo Bar - great jazz, great drinks (fresh fruit in all the mixes),but stunningly expensive.
One funny thing about Bangkok is that there aren't a lot of mid-range 'ordinary' Thai restaurants - people can eat that stuff at home. So you either get street-stall type food for the office lunchtime or late-night crowd, or upscale places for tourists, or 'specialty Thai' places (seafood, Isarn [northeastern, spicy, like Laotian] food, etc). Here's where we went. All have English menus, air con unless noted, exchange US$1 = about Baht43. Country code for Thailand is 66, city code for Bangkok is 2:
Ban Klang Nam: Thai seafood. Non-aircon old house right on the Chao Praya river. End of Soi 14, Rama 3 Road, tel 292 0175. OK, OK, it's 'been discovered' and isn't as cheap as it used to be and is full of foreigners (like us) at night. So what? Just go for a late lunch instead. The place will be empty, and you can kill the afternoon eating seafood and drinking beer and watching the river go by. Mains range from B200-300, more if you let them talk you into lobster and scallops. I like their 'pla kapong neung prik manao' (poached fish w/chili, garlic and lime). Four of us had tons of food with gallons of beer for B1500.
Ban Chiang: Thai. In an old house at 14 Surasak Rd (that's the street behind Crown Plaza Hotel, off Silom) tel 236 7045. Apps B70-100, mains B100-250. Some hits, some misses. Fantastic Tom Kar Khai (chicken/coconut/lime soup), the best I've had anywhere - I'd go back for that alone. Good duck curry, also enjoyed a dish called something like 'crab claws (actually legs)w/onions and curry'. But the Pad Thai was pretty bad.
Sara Janes: spicy Isarn/Lao. Two locations, Sindhorn Building 130 Witthayu, tel 650 9992; and 55/21 Narathiwat Ratchanakharin (between Sathorn and Silom) tel 679 3338. These places are busier at lunch, and have a much more local crowd - but less rustic atmosphere - than the restaurants above. We were at the Narathiwat location. All the Isarn classics are good here - Som Tam (papaya salad), Larb (meat salad), Isarn sausage (an aquired taste), gai yang (grilled chicken - not as good as the chicken places listed below). They also have Italian food - I'm not that brave!
Soi Polo Chicken: 137/1-2 Soi Sanamkee (Soi Polo), off Wittayu Rd. tel 252 2252. Oh dear oh dear. When I lived in Bangkok this was a dirty un-aircon hole in the wall. You could get chicken (fried in a ton of garlic and chili), sticky rice, and that was about it. Now they have air con, new English menus, home delivery - thanks to a NYTimes review. Well, the chicken is still great. A whole bird is B120, figure 1/2 bird per chowhound. Four of us ate 2 birds and everything else on the new menu (good Isarn food, actually - good 'cotton fish salad', som tam etc) and drank 3 big beers for B800. Impossible to eat more without exploding.
Not a review, but a request: The best grilled (not fried) chicken in Bangkok used to be at a very flammable-looking wood shack beside the train tracks in Makkasan. Classic Isarn gai yang grilled on charcoal, served with sweet chili sauce. I didn't get a chance to go there this time - can someone advise if it still exists, and if so, is it still good? Location was on Rachadamri/Rachaprarop, between the Indra Hotel and the railroad tracks at Si Ayutthaya (actually just beside the tracks).
Here's a couple of non-Thai weird ones to round this off:
Scala 'Cocktail Lounge and Restaurant': Old-school Thai Chinese. Underneath the Scala Theatre, Soi 1 Siam Square tel 251 2863. Faded glory. This was the classiest Chinese place in town maybe 25 years ago. The food is still good but the piano is silent and the bar hasn't served a cocktail in decades. Peking duck is the best in town. It can be a little expensive, figure B1000/head w/beer if you're doing the Peking duck etc. If you want to impress older Thai Chinese with your knowledge of obscure local restaurants, this is the place.
Jools: British pub. 21/3 Sukhumvit Soi 4 (opp. Nana Hotel), tel 252 6413. This place is where many expats and 'people that have been around too long' come to eat a morning-after fry-up (opens 9am), or or prepare themselves for another interesting Bangkok night out (closes 1am). Upstairs in a pub-grub restaurant, downstairs is a bar. The bar can get quite rowdy in the evening - the publican, 'Big Dave', uses rather colourful language. What can I say - I like it a lot, but I wouldn't bring my Mum.
And one more, this one's a cheapie: MBK (MahBoonKrong) shopping mall has a really good food court up at the top floor.
That's all for now. If anyone has info on the Makkasan chicken shack, please post it in this thread.
Hong Kong Dave