For Americans, one of the first things missed when they are living abroad is a good American style pizza. While pizza is made just about everywhere in the world, there is a special experience with a good American pizza and a cold beer that is difficult to duplicate in an exotic corner of the World. Chiang Mai expat Tom Tanner did a thorough investigation of the local pizza scene and his report follows….
A Quest for the Perfect Pizza in Northern Thailand
By Thomas Tanner
I’m a big proponent of Thai food. I’ve been living up in Chiang Mai for 10 months now, and I still enjoy eating Thai food usually three meals per day. But every now and then, I tend to revert back to my roots and crave a hamburger or a pizza. Finding an excellent hamburger here is not a problem – there are many places, at least in Chiang Mai, that should satisfy most hamburger aficionados: Chiang Mai Saloon, Gekko Garden, Loco Elvis and Mike’s are the best that I’ve had, and in that order.
My quest to find the perfect pizza in Thailand has been a different story all together. One of the first pizzas that I tried here in Chiang Mai was at Mad Dog Pizza. Although some people that I know here tell me it’s “one of the best”, I didn’t like it at all. It seemed like they served me a previously frozen pizza. Reading between the lines, what they might have meant is it’s, “one of the best places to hang out”. OK, that may be more accurate, as this place is busy nearly every night with expats and tourists. People must go there for the camaraderie but certainly not for the pizza.
After my visit to Mad Dog, I’ve eaten pizza at Pizza Hut which is pretty good, but expensive and far from perfect. I’ve eaten the pizza at The Pizza Company which I didn’t find to be that good. I’ve eaten at Art Café and The Diner, where the pizza was so bad I almost lost my appetite, permanently.
Several weeks after my many disappointments in finding the perfect pizza, I began watching some YouTube videos from a well-known expat that lives here in Chiang Mai. In one of his videos, he mentioned that a restaurant named LaPin has great pizza. I went to LaPin later per his recommendation. It is more of an Italian restaurant and not a pizza joint, which is fine by me; they had excellent pastas, lasagnes and calzones on their menu as well as a decent wine list. Their pizza was good, but not great; and far from the perfect pizza for me.
This same guy later posted another video about pizza in Chiang Mai. This time he mentioned Success Pizza. My girlfriend and I couldn’t wait to check it out, just “knowing” that this place might offer the Holy Grail of pizzas based on his enthusiasm from the video. We found the restaurant with no trouble at all, as it’s right on the Mae Ping River, fairly close to LaPin. The staff was friendly and the restaurant was appealing, but, again, the pizza was just “good”… far from delightful. “Aroy Mai”, (was it delicious?) was what the pleasant owner asked us after we had finished eating. There’s only one answer to a question like that which is “yes/chai”, as saving face is priority number one here in Thailand.
Being that this YouTuber has lived in Chiang Mai for over a decade, he must certainly know the city inside and out, so the reality set in that only “OK” pizza can be found here. It’s something that I wasn’t happy about, but I could certainly live with.
A few frustrating weeks later, I was talking with the owner of Loco Elvis, the restaurant that I frequented many times during my three-month tour here in 2012, because they appealed to my comfort zone, and the food is good. He insisted that the best pizza that he’s ever had in Thailand is found in a small town called Phayao about three hours away.
I’ve wanted to visit Phayao, even before the mentioning of it – if they’ve got the best pizza in Thailand, then going there is a no-brainer. Damon, the owner of Loco Elvis told me the name of the pizza place is called The Brick Oven. After returning to my apartment from talking with him, I immediately went to the Trip Advisor website to see what other people have said about it.
“Amazing”, “Fantastic”, “Best Pizza in Thailand!” were some of the comments about this place, accompanied by its perfect “excellent” rating of six voters.
Two weeks later, my friend and I arrived in this little town rarely visited by farang, after enduring many winding and wet roads through the mountains and jungles in northern Thailand. We didn’t waste any time going to The Brick Oven, and we were on our way there less than twenty minutes after securing a hotel.
We found the place fairly easily… a nice, clean restaurant settled amongst a side street in this quiet and charming town… but the staff was not so charming. This is Thailand; sometimes when (apparently) the owner is away, Thai people cannot conceal that fact that they would rather be anywhere else in the world than to wait on two farang in a restaurant. With this in mind, the grumpy staff members were forgiven.
We each ordered a beer, but the grump-o-waitress told us they don’t serve beer. What is pizza without beer? That’s the same as going to the movies and not having popcorn. Or ordering a salad without lettuce. The grumpiness that I forgave so quickly previously is now back on the table, as this is strike two. But I realized that essentially we came here for pizza and not beer (nor smiling service for that matter), there was still hope for getting an “amazingly fantastic pizza that’s the best in Thailand.”
We ordered a pizza with Italian sausage and some veggies. After the pizza arrived, I was once again disappointed, even before my first bite, because there was hardly any sausage on it. The severe lack of sausage toppings was probably comparable to how much exercise equipment is in Rosie O’Donnell’s mansion. Although the crust was to my liking, the pizza as well as my overall experience was a massive disenchantment.
A few days after my trip, another friend told me that I should try the pizza at The Duke’s. The Duke’s is a very popular restaurant here in Chiang Mai, which recently opened its third location. I’ve driven past The Duke’s many times, particularly the location on the river, which is very close to Success Pizza; but I had never stopped there before.
When my girlfriend and I arrived on a Saturday evening, the place was bustling with farang and Thai customers. I immediately noticed that nearly half of the tables had a pizza sitting on it which is a very positive sign.
After we were seated, we were not only able to order a beer; we were able to order a good beer: Rogue! They had the usual Thai beer assortment, but it’s not often one can have the option to drink a (semi) micro-brewed beer in Thailand. The pizza we ordered was the Meat Lover’s: ham, sausage, and pepperoni were the “pre-arranged” toppings. Fifteen minutes later, our pizza arrived. We ordered a size small, but it was far from small. Size can be an objective term, just like telling others if a pizza is good or not, but Holy Hand-grenade, this was a massive pizza for a “small”. And a generous amount of toppings were used … no scarcity issues here.
My quest is officially complete: the pizza at The Duke’s is in fact the perfect pizza.
The cherry on top of their great pizza is the atmosphere is top-notch … and the staff was friendly … and it’s reasonably priced; our “small” pizza with probably ¼ pound of toppings was just 260 baht. After discovering the perfect pizza that used to be hidden in plain view right under my nose, my girlfriend and I have paid a visit there every weekend since. Dare do I say to make a trip to Chiang Mai just for the pizza, as having high expectations only leads to unhappiness and disappointment; but their pizza is not only the best that I’ve eaten in Thailand by a long shot, it was better than many pizzas that I’ve had in America. The Duke’s is highly recommended for anyone with a passion for pizza.
Tom Tanner risked everything to come to Thailand at age 45, having escaped a failed marriage as well as a failed economy in the U.S.A. His biography in, The Amazing Stories of Tom in Thailand tells all; an informative, entertaining and sexy Amazon eBook about Thailand and the drama in moving here. Every Thailand newbie should read it, and every person who likes a good travel yarn will find it to be a page-turner. Click the thumbnail below to preview it for free or to download.
Please share your Pizza Experience in Thailand in the comments below.