Koh Tao is a small island long known as a backpacker hot-spot, so you might expect the culinary options to be limited to cheap Thai food and bad burgers and pizza, but Koh Tao’s visitor demographics are changing and, along with that, so are the options for dining out. Oh, don’t worry, you can still find some bad burgers and pizza, but that’s not what I’ll be focusing on here. Koh Tao has far too many restaurants for me to have tried all (or even most) of them, but here are my favorites along with some places that come highly recommended.
Great Thai Food - There are innumerable places to get Thai food on Koh Tao, most of them are inexpensive, many of them are excellent, and everyone has their favorite places, but these are great options, with a few that absolutely shouldn’t be missed.
Duck 995, Mama Tam’s, and Pork Leg (Sairee)
If there is one place that seemingly everyone recommends, it’s Duck 995, and for good reason. It’s absolutely delicious and an excellent value and while it’s always busy, the service is surprisingly fast. They specialize in, you guessed it, roast duck and that is what you should get if you go there, whether in soup, on rice or noodles, or just a big plate of it, but they have non-duck dishes as well for those who prefer something else. Not to be missed.
Right up the street from Duck 995 is Mama Tam’s, one of the best places on the whole island if you are looking for inexpensive, delicious Thai food. With a menu covering all the Thai favorites at absurdly good prices, this place is almost always packed and the waits can be a bit long at times, but it’s worth it.
Across the street from Mama Tam’s is Pork Leg (not to be confused with Joe Pork Leg - more on that in a minute). With a massive menu filled with Thai and non-Thai food, it has something for everyone and is a great option if Duck or Mama’s are packed (or closed).
Joe Pork Leg (Mae Haad)
Pork Leg (above) is good, but if you want slow-cooked pork served in a variety of dishes, make your way to Joe Pork Leg. The pork dishes are the standouts and the best value, but everything on the menu is delicious. It’s also the only place I’ve found on the island that makes fresh, hand-cut papaya salad (as opposed to using pre-shredded papaya). Joe the owner is hilarious and may bring you a shot of something random when you finish eating.
Joy (Mae Haad)
Specializing in northern Thai food with a lot of unique papaya salad options and spice levels that can test the most avid chili-hunters (if you ask for it that way), Joy has a somewhat limited menu, but the Pad Kra Pao, Penang Curry, and Laab are all best-on-the-island quality and the weekend BBQ’s are excellent. Joy, the owner, is also an absolute sweetheart.
P’Noot (Mae Haad)
Usually just open for lunch, P’Noot is a one-woman show and serves some of the best value Thai food on Koh Tao and is a great place for a quick lunch in Mae Haad. Everything is good, but try the red and green curry fried rice for a spicy, delicious, filling meal.
Dee Dee Thai (Chalok)
A small, family-run operation about halfway between Mae Haad and Chalok Beach, Dee Dee serves up excellent, authentic Thai food at great prices. This is not generic, westernized Thai food, so it’s on the spicy and boldly flavored side, but I highly recommend trying it.
Non-Thai Food - The range of non-Thai food you can get in Koh Tao is genuinely impressive, from inexpensive to definitely not inexpensive.
Pizza: My top pick for pizza is French Market in Mae Haad, particularly their Tuesday 150 baht pizza lunch special. This is high-quality pizza that would be at home in a major city. Other great options are Cafe Del Sol in Mae Haad and Pizzeria Del Claudio and Porto Bello in Sairee.
Mexican/Tex-Mex: None of the “Mexican” food on Koh Tao is going to impress anyone from Mexico or the western USA, but Cantina de Koh Tao in Sairee does genuinely tasty Tex-Mex with a range of delicious meat and non-meat options to go inside their giant tortillas and taco shells. The Chile Verde Pork is particularly delicious.
Burgers: There are a few places to get good burgers on Koh Tao and “best” here seems highly personal, but my pick is Tattoo Burger in Mae Haad. The patties are juicy, crispy, and salty, the buns fresh, and the topping options plentiful — the blue cheese burger is killer. Hippo Burger and Juicy Burger in Sairee are also quite popular. Juicy Burger has a range of other things for those who don’t want burgers — the chicken dippers are particularly excellent.
Japanese: I can’t vouch for the sushi on Koh Tao (just can’t do it), but Asia Mood in Chalok does excellent izakaya-style Japanese and has some of the best iced tea you’ll find and Kokage Ramen in Mae Haad will definitely cure your ramen cravings.
Italian/Continental European: Depending on your budget, there are quite a few choices. If you’ve got a few extra baht in your pocket, French Market, Cafe Del Sol, Porto Bello, and Pizzeria Del Claudio are all really good and have a range of options from pasta to steak and things in between. On the budget end, Bam Bam in Mae Haad is endlessly popular with dive pros and backpackers and has an absurdly huge and varied menu, though the waits can be punishing when busy. People swear by their inexpensive pasta, though for me the various sandwich and fries combos are the way to go.
Special Occasion or Splurge
If you’ve got a few hundred extra baht in your pocket or are having a special night out, Barracuda Roof Top and Barracuda at Darawan, both in Sairee though at different locations, put out consistently excellent food and are worth the splurge.
On Your Honeymoon or You Just Won The Lottery
In the hills above Sairee with a view to die for, you’ll find The Gallery. Offering only a 10-course Trust the Chef tasting menu of traditional Thai food that rings in at 3200 baht per person not including drinks, this is properly expensive. But read the Google reviews and you’ll get the impression that it’s worth every baht. I cannot personally verify, yet, but I can update you after we have dinner there on Christmas Day! The Gallery’s Gold Bar serves up cocktails and a selection of a la carte snacks and dishes for those who want a taste of what they offer without the full financial commitment.
As I mentioned, this list hardly covers all the great places you can eat in Koh Tao, but it should keep you fat and happy for a while. The Koh Tao Foodies Facebook Group is also a great place to find and ask for recommendations and see what specials various places are offering.
27 November 2023