A Chilip’s Guide to Thimphu: Western and World Food

While ema datse and muttar paneer are good enough to live off, sometimes we all yearn for the tastes of home.

Western Food: There are more attempts at western cuisine than there are great offerings, but there are certainly a few places that can at least cook some things that I can’t:

Thimphu's finest

Thimphu’s finest

Season’s Restaurant: The best pizza in town. I agree that this is not the highest hurdle, but the pizzas here are really good, with a nice range of creative and fresh toppings such as fresh mushrooms, spinach, and sundried tomatoes. Three sizes mean that there will be something just right for your appetite, but don’t come too hungry, as the wait is long. In addition to the pizzas, save room for their impressive dessert and pastry selection, and then buy a loaf of the best whole wheat bread in town to take home with you.

The Zone: This one is a standby for burgers and fries for many. Until recently, it inexplicably topped Tripadvisor’s rankings for best restaurant in town. There is a yak burger on the menu, but it has not been available any time I have tried to order it. The veggie burger option is just fried potatoes on a bun, so a bit of a nonstarter, and feel free to ensure that they give you more than a dozen shoestring fries on the side.

Relish: This is the first and only grill I have come across in Thimphu. Set at the bottom of Chang Lam Square, Relish boasts a beautiful outdoor garden with little distraction from traffic and city noise. The menu features a wide selection of grilled meats, with fewer options for the vegetarian.

Upstairs Restaurant: Aside from the bizarre maze-like entry through the My Mart grocery store, this is a new and open restaurant with one of the nicest terraces in town. The menu is eclectic, but standard fare is pizza, Thai or Bhutanese. The fresh spring rolls are amazing and better than the greasy fried ones at Baan Thai.  The rest of the menu is average. My colleagues tell me that the pizza is good with a thicker crust than Season’s, but I find that our standards are a bit different in this category!

Other selections not listed here are Plum’s Cafe (at traffic circle), Cafe Italia (across from Post Office), Wine & Dine (Across from Taj Tashi) and Mezze (above Druk PNB).

World Food Yes, you can actually get other food in Thimphu. Here are a few examples worth a visit when you want to be whisked away to somewhere else:

Salsa Fiesta: Yes, there is actually a Mexican restaurant here in Thimphu! The menu is not the most expansive, but she serves real margaritas, pineapple margaritas and a few m ore delicious drinks. The chips and salsa are entirely homemade and entirely more-ish. The main courses are a bit confusing and perhaps not what you are used to, but enchiladas and burritos top the menu, all available in veg, egg, chicken and beef. You can even get a side of decent frijoles!

A la Carte: Recently opened by a former cook at the five star Amankora hotel, this is becoming the new hangout and is recognised by many as the best Thai food in town. The menu is simple, but the service is excellent – head and shoulders above the average restaurant. Our waitress even repeated our order back to us to ensure she had everything correct! Antonia loved the Pad Thai, her signature test of Thai food, and I experimented with a Tom Yum soup and a stir fry.  The portions are huge, so one dish per person was plenty for us. The decor is cute with hand painted silhouettes on the walls. Heavier curtains might help the acoustics as it can get a bit echo-ey when empty, but I doubt it will be empty often!

Baan Thai: With all the direct flights from Thailand and an increasing number of tourists, one might expect more Thai food here, but this is the only place with a full Thai menu that I have come across here in the capital. The restaurant can be found by winding through several flights of stairs on the fourth floor of a shopping complex just above the traffic circle on Norzin Lam. Thai staples such as spring rolls, papaya salad and pad thai are standard fare. (For the best Thai food in Bhutan, head to the Haven Resort near the National Museum in Paro, owned by a lovely Thai couple with an exigent Thai chef!)

MK Restaurant: This one somehow avoided detection for a few months, during which we definitely missed out. This gem, located upstairs in Centre Point Mall, has a lovely Japanese menu including Gyoza, Miso Soup, Tempura, Teriyaki and a few other delicacies. Best visited when you have time and a crossword puzzle to complete, the excellent food is definitely worth the wait. Visiting in small numbers to prevent egregious waiting times. The owner is charming and always willing to come out of the kitchen to translate something on the menu. Unfortunately, there is no sushi, but our favourites are the gyoza and smoked eggplant. (Best to avoid the omelet roll whose special sauce is ketchup.)

Pallden Cafe: Believe it or not, you can get amazing Korean food in Thimphu: Palden boasts a small Korean menu, including kimchi with pork and vegetarian bibimbap with egg! There is a limited choice for vegetarians, and so the bibimbap is the only dish I have tried, but there are four other pork, beef and chicken dishes on a very constant menu.

Click on either map below to expand, save and print. Please share this post and send others here to add more suggestions!

Finally, a map for living, not sightseeing!

Here is a more detailed map of the center of town:

City blocks are numbered North to South, and lettered East to West. Not.

Thanks to Google Maps for providing maps with street names (that the locals do not use), and to all my friends for showing me the way around when we first arrived!

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5 responses to “A Chilip’s Guide to Thimphu: Western and World Food

  1. Sounds like you are getting better Mexican in Bhutan than I am getting in Germany! I just wish I could find Triple Sec somewhere, then I could make my own Margaritas! Tequila-got it, lemons and limes, but no Triple Sec….grrr.

  2. Hello, We’re in the process of setting up a directory listing site for Bhutan. would you mind if we cited some of your restaurant reviews on our site http://bhutan.la? Obviously we’d make sure have links back here and cite this page as a source? Thanks so much

  3. Pingback: Destination Druk Yul 2: Thimphu Town·

  4. If you dont mind I am going to add few of my favourites in town. Cloud 9 of their burgers especially the Cloud 9 beef burger and San Maru for South Korean food.

    I think you should do a guide to coffee shops as well 🙂

    I tried the Upstairs restaurant once and I didnt like the pasta they served. May be I ordered the wrong thing. Seasons does a better job I think. And you should also try out Chaa Bistro although a bit more touristy (Red Panda on the tap).

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