Where to Eat on Koh Tao
For a tiny island, Koh Tao is not hurting for outstanding restaurant options — why do you think I had to write this post? And while the Thai food here is some of the best I’ve had in the country, Koh Tao is also home to expats from around the world — meaning a cuisine scene almost as diverse as any major city I’ve ever visited (One major hole: Mexican food. Any Guadalajara gourmets want to come live in paradise and open a restaurant?) From 50 baht street food lunches to 300 baht luxury dinners, you will never go hungry on Koh Tao. In no particular order, here are some of my favorite places to eat myself silly on my favorite island.
In my opinion, The Whitening is Koh Tao’s most beautiful and romantic restaurant — when my family visited, I brought them here for Christmas Eve! Nestled on the beach in Mae Haad and lit by candles and tiny white fairy lights, you’d be hard pressed to find a better setting to eat. Some chefs might have a hard time living up to the location, but the meals are delicious (if a bit pricey). They have a large menu specializing in Thai dishes and grilled seafood and meats.
Favorite dish: Beef tenderloin steak with mashed potatoes and salad (300 baht)
Yellow Rice and Chicken
On the road to Chalok Baan Kao, just before the T-junction that leads to Autokan, a small no-name food stand serves up one of my favorite lunches on Koh Tao. For less than $2USD, this delicious meal of yellow rice and crispy chicken will have you considering making a return trip for dinner.
Favorite dish: The only one on offer — yellow rice and chicken! (50 baht)
Koh Tao has a surprising number of Italian restaurants — but none of them can compete with Porto Bello. This popular dinner restaurant in central Sairee is constantly packed, and for good reason! Stone baked pizzas, homemade pastas and imported wines will have you wondering if you’re in Thailand or Tuscany.
Favorite dish: Pesto dough ball appetizer (90 baht) followed by a margarita pizza (170 baht)
Taste of Home
This German-style restaurant is an expat favorite. Owner Uschi will do her best to accommodate special requests, but it’s hard to imagine you won’t find something you love on the small and tasty menu. The chocolate mousse with homemade Bailey’s is a local legend — make sure to order it as soon as you sit down, lest it sell out!
Favorite dish: Penne carbonara (170 baht) followed by homemade chocolate mousse (80 baht)
Sairee Cottage BBQ
I rarely eat on the beach (with the few exceptions noted here!) as it tends to be pricier and lower quality. One exception is Sairee Cottage’s nightly BBQ. A great value, a great meal, and a great location — and even I am not immune to the charm of sitting on pillows and listening to the waves crash while I eat my dinner!
Favorite Dish: BBQ special with 2 skewers, baked potato, and salad (120 baht)
My favorite local hangout and bar also serves some of the best meals on Koh Tao. The 300 Baht Sunday roast is island-famous, while the other six days of the week also see a constant stream of fans of the kitchen’s breakfast, lunch and dinner menus. They also just launched a new deli menu featuring imported meats, cheeses and antipasti. The setting, a thatch-roof bar tucked under a sacred banyan tree in the corner of Sairee isn’t bad either.
Favorite Dish: Homemade lasagna, big enough for two to split! (220 baht)
Sitting high up in the mountains over Koh Tao, Lum Pae provides not just an other-worldly setting but also free pickup to get there — just call 08 62871039 from anywhere on the island! Once you’ve arrived, take advantage of the most famous steak on Koh Tao, the “E4” — the staff even wear t-shirts with the menu number emblazoned across them.
Favorite Dish: The infamous E4 steak with mashed potatoes and salad (280 baht)
Hippo broke my heart when they discontinued their 199 baht steak-and-a-glass-of-wine special last year. But this trendy and stylish Sairee restaurant will always have my heart thanks to a tasty dessert menu including apple crumble, warm brownie sundaes, and the best shakes on the island.
Favorite dish: Oreo milkshake (90 baht)
Zest, right in the heart of Sairee, is without question the best breakfast spot on Koh Tao. I might never leave if they hadn’t covered over all their electrical outlets — though perhaps that was their point. According to my vegetable-loving friends, this place also serves up the best salads on Koh Tao.
Favorite Dish: Mini breakfast set including scrambled eggs, toast, and bacon (90 baht)
Cheap Thai Places
“...And what about the cheap Thai places!?,” I hear you crying. Not to worry, I’ve saved the best for last. Scattered throughout Sairee, some of my favorite tucked-away Thai places include Su Chili, Krua Thai, Tik’s and J’Nees (known locally as Mamas). These are my daily staples on the island for delicious food at a fantastic price.
Favorite dishes: Chicken cashew nut from Su Chili (90 baht), fried broccoli and rice from Krua Thai (80 baht), and above all, chicken massaman from J’Nees (80 baht).
Did I miss any of your favorites? Tell me in the comments below!
Note: Need help finding these places? Koh Tao doesn’t really have addresses, but it’s a small island. Ask a local or check out this map for better directions!
This has got my mouth watering! Been too long since I was on Ko Tao so will be checking out some of these on my next visit. Thanks for writing such an in-depth article, Alex.
You’re welcome Roy! Always glad to share my insider favorites 🙂
Couldn’t find reg comment site to add one of my favs… will do it here.
Lai’s Beach Bar Restaurant on Tanote Bay has some real treats: grilled prawns(enough for 2)Tom Yum Seafood Soup(one of the best I’ve tasted), mango and sticky rice(a large serving) and the well made coconut shake(orgasmic) add a banana and some rum and make it even better!
Quiet location and large portions offset the slightly higher prices.
Good view of the leaps off of Jumping Rock.
Thanks for the tip! Now that restaurants are re-opening, I might go have a look for it 🙂
I was going to Leave some additional comments but this narrowed format makes it difficult to type and to proof read
Hey Dina, are you on an iPhone or tablet? The comment sections are tricky on those devices — I’ll make note for a future redesign! On a desktop should be nice and easy!
Oh wow these all look SO amazing! Ahhhh I LOVE Thai food and would give anything for a Thai iced tea right now.
I miss these restaurants SO MUCH when I’m not on Koh Tao… I can relate to the craving.
Not sure what you we’re trying to say, but this seems a little better.
If you try Lai’s , see if they have fresh fish and ask her to tempura it. They sometimes go out at night after they close to catch fresh fish. Tasty, crispy and not at all greasy.
First time there was during the full moon. Everyone was in Koh Pha-ngan so we had the place to ourselves. My sweetheart and I were in the balcony enjoying the off-shore breeze and the food while watching the moon rise over the ocean. It couldn’t have been more romantic.
May I suggest that you create a larger box for typing and make it horizontal? Thanks
Hey Dina, that’s what I was referring to. The comment section is much easier to use on a desktop computer, but I will make a note for future redesigns to make it more user friendly for smart phones and tablets too.
Mouthwatering post….and nice to revisit some of the places you showed when we visited. Thanks.
Yes, I remember bringing you guys to The Whitening and Porto Bello and I think some of the little Thai places too…
Oh yellow rice and chicken don’t make me cry! I miss it ever so much. Definitely missed was Pud just across the road from Tik. Although its best to all order the same thing when dining in a group as meals are generally cooked one at a time. 995 Duck is also yummy. I miss this so much! How lovely are the ladies at Zest? I remember she made me a free breakfast on my birthay, so sweet! xxx
Ah, I know some people rave over Pud but I’m sorry…. I’m too impatient! 🙂 And ugh, Zest… I love it too much.
There was this fantastic roast duck and noodle place at the end of the sairee beach main rd (not the one closest to the beach) and to the right. I forget what it was called but it was madly delicious! Best food I had on Koh Tao
I think I know what you are talking about… 99 Duck? Or something like that? Shame we weren’t here at the same time!
I definitely loved eating on the beach 🙂 Even just getting kebab sticks and sitting on the sand was heavenly. The new restaurant Gallery is supposed to be amazing, and proper Thai food, though I didn’t get to visit it whilst I was there. Next time!
I’ve heard great things about Gallery as well, but actually did not get to try it either! Ah well, as you said… next time 🙂
The whole Porto Bello paragraph is linked to your yellow chicken and rice photo–which, admittedly, does look delicious.
Thanks for the heads up Daniel — just sorted that out!
The decor is pretty upscale in some of these places, looks really nice!
I’m a sucker for cheap, tasty, not a lot of seating, kinda of places!
Yeah, some of these places are quite posh but I think still have a lovely island vibe to them 🙂 I like to mix it up and go cheap some meals, then treat myself from time to time as well!
I can highly recommend “Darawan Restaurant” which is part of Ban’s Diving resort.
And never underestimate the Awesome Pancaces. Not just Pancaces, they are awesome! Pancaces.. Especially at 3AM..
I’ve been to Darawan once, for Christmas dinner! It definitely has a lovely view.
“It definitely has a lovely view.”
sounds like you didn´t like the food?
To be honest it was just so long ago that I really don’t remember!
Those places look so beautiful, and the food looks so delicious! The bread rolls look even better (big bread fan)!
Ugh, bread will be the death of me! I love it so much. Lucky for my waistline its not easy to find good bread in Thailand…
Great post! I’ll be sure to try out some of those spots during my stay there next month! Could you help me with something? If you know them, would you recommend Ban’s Diving Resort or Simple Life Resort to stay at? Or some place else?
I would recommend Simple Life over Bans because I think they have a preferable dive school. But to be honest, I’d chose Sairee Hut above both — lovely resort and dive school and I believe a comparable price!
For cheap burgers what about Fishy’s Burger Island? Looks like I missed a bunch of great places though. Oh well, I’ll just have to go back.
Eugene, I’ve heard GREAT stuff about Fishy’s Burger! But I just haven’t been there yet 🙂 Next time!
Oh man those are some awesome looking places!
Delicious places! I love the “Yellow rice and chicken” one…lol
What they lack in atmosphere they make up for in taste!
Pretty please may I ask your esteemed readers to consider buying a plastic clip-top container. I LOVE getting out my hot food on the boat on a safety stop, but HATE the foam boxes, plastic forks, in a plastic bag.
The restaurants are at first a bit confused by it (i.e. trying to put the foam inside the plastic box) but once they know, they know. One place even gives me a 5B discount.
Too much foam and plastic on that island.
Loved your top 10 list – high time I tried the yellow rice 😀
Wes, that is such a great suggestion and I’m going to include it (and credit you!) in my next Earth Day post — going to talk about ways we can travel eco-friendly (like with my cursed SteriPen). I am not currently traveling with tupperware but I do have my own spork so that I can at least refuse plastic spoons and forks 🙂
You can’t really go wrong with a restaurant on the beach, but some of these sound especially delish. If only Koh Tao were a little closer!
I’m still in the same country, and I wish Koh Tao were a little closer 🙂
Love food posts! Looks like you ate at some great places.
I thought of you while I was writing this 🙂 You are the queen of food posts! And I mean that as the ultimate compliment, of course.
I´ve visited Koh Tao twice now, the last time was May 2012 and those pics make me feel sooo sad, because I don´t know when I will return next time :-/
Have you been to that food place in the mountains, I think it was right above Tanote Bay or that bay with Shark Island? I can´t even remember the name, but there´s this crazy nuts Thai lady who owns the place, her name is “Mama” and she invites you to smoke weed with her before you even get to eat 😀 The food was awesome and the view on the bay and jungle just breath taking….
If it still exists – you HAVE to try it!! 🙂
Jana, I think I know the place you are talking about! It’s on the road to Tanote Bay and the view is fantastic. Lovely, lovely place… though I’ve never eaten there 🙂
YUM!!!!! Going to sleep soon and for some reason pretty hungry. This isn’t helping!
I apologize — pre-bed hunger is the worst feeling ever!
Aghhhhh this made me so hungry!! Great post
Thanks for this info, we are headed to Koh Tao in June, and this list will be super helpful!
No matter how much time I’ve spent there in the past, I’m always jealous of those that are headed there now 🙂 Enjoy your trip!
My boyfriend and I are in Koh Tao for the first time as we speak and are checking off all the restaurants you have mentioned – have not been dissapointed yet! Went to Whitening first night and boyfriend loved it so much he wants to go back every night haha. Great post!
Hey Jes, so glad to hear it! Thanks for commenting, made me smile to know someone is enjoying this list! Enjoy paradise 🙂
Do you happen to know the name of a restaurant / bar on the beach, next door to Big Blue diving school (a few doors down from Lotus) that’s all lime green bean bags?? I’m sure it has a four letter name…used to go there all the time but can’t remember what it’s called and it’s really bugging me. 😀
That would be Fizz! I should have added them to this list. I love that place!
Fizz is amazing, as are the delicious prawn curries served up there! No better place to eat while the sun sets in front of you!
Oh my god you’ve just killed any semblance of sleep I was going to get tonight.
Instead of waiting til July (sensible) me and the mrs are now talking about pushing our first experimental mini-retirement forward to end of February (not As financially sensible). Because of this I decided that, rather than koh tao which I heard was expensive, we should probably do the sensible thing and stay in chaing mai as life can be super cheap there.
Now you’ve just destroyed that idea. I think koh tao is where I need to be money be damned. Reading this and your koh tao fitness post the place just seems like David paradise. It ticks almost every box for me a place could tick. I’m almost concerned that life will be so good there I won’t do much else in thailand.
Ive decided it’s koh tao for me all the way. im so excited i can’t sleep now Alex. Thanks.
I know how that feels 🙂 Chiang Mai is cheaper indeed but I would never be happy living there. I need an ocean. Good luck with the move!
I’m on kt now. Thx for the tips. Loved portobello. Banyan has great food and is a cool place to drink with the local expats. I wasn’t satisfied with my steak at hippo, and my gfs pork was also undercooked. I’d take a miss on that one. Tiks great. Zest good too. thanks for the post
You’re welcome, Nil! Sorry to hear Hippo wasn’t up to par. I was devastated when they stopped their steak special.
Let’s not forget ying yangs in chalok and bam bams in Mai had, also tukta up the road from yellow rice. All definitely worth a visit.
I’m not sure if I remember those, will have to check them out when I return. Thanks for the tips!
Was super impressed by Lung Pae and the birthday boy seemed to savor the experience even more than I did–thanks for the rec!
And Aurori Spa–woah!! I’ve never bothered to check reviews or garner recommendations before getting a massage in Thailand and generally go with the first place I find with a listed price that I am willing to pay, but I am determined to change that approach because I’m pretty sure I got 400% more out of that massage than I generally do, which makes a 40% mark-up for a massage that I can count on being professional in a setting as pleasant, serene, and happy-ending free as that one feel like a total bargain. Thanks so much!!
Yup, Spa Aurori is a winner! I’m pretty much a regular there when I’m on island 🙂
We just had lunch at 995Duck…both had Phad Thai, one chicken and one shrimp, two cokes…150 baht, total…made perfectly. Don’t know why anyone would go to another place and pay double. Guess you have to pay for the music LOL Headed back now for a couple of their lovely noodle bowls.
I love me some cheap Thai food! However, I definitely love fine dining as well and I can totally see why people sometimes pay more for atmosphere 🙂 To each their own!
Thanks to your tip we walked to the Yellow Rice. My girlfriend got cold feet when she saw the shabby “Restaurant” but nonetheless later devoured half of my portion. Really delicious!
So happy to hear that, Beat! Sometimes the “restaurants” that look the shabbiest in Thailand are the best!
So…here we wander through the streets of Koh Tao, when I wonder “Hmmm…I wonder where I can eat a yummy piece of cake on this Island”. One search on google and it leads me to your page. Thanks to you we are going to Portobello one of these nights!! Thank you 🙂
Also, a new favorite — the chocolate cake at Barracuda. YUM! Enjoy, Tess 🙂
Portobello was amaze-balls! Especially the Pizza Fiorentina & the Seafood Tagliatelle (*salivating*). At Hippo’s about to drink a shake & Taste of Home is next on the plan. We are doing the Alex in Wanderland Koh Tao taste of food tour! Happy Days!
Haha…. I love it! Make sure to have a juice at Living Juices too and say hi to Janine for me 🙂
When I ate Thai food in BKK or the Isaan back in the early 1990’s, the beef was awful. It was always really rangy (strong flavored, not corn fed). I must say that I had little or no budget and the only dish that I liked made with beef was Nam Tok (beef waterfall). You said that you liked the ‘tenderloin steak’ at Whitening. Are there steak’s as good as those in the states? I’m headed back to Thailand for a vacation. Haven’t been there in 20 years. Do they advertise where they get there beef at any of the restaurants? I’ll probably do almost 100% Thai food, but I may mix it up with a good steak if they really have such a thing. Love your article!
The restaurants in Koh Tao do indeed advertise where the beef comes from! It will say on the menu either “local” or “Australian” cuts — and if it doesn’t, you can assume local 🙂 Enjoy treating yourself!
i was so hoping you wouldnt include porto bello in this post because we are at the end of really long trip so our budget is airtight, and every time i walk past this place it smells so damn good that I have to convince myself that it’s probably not…but now i guess i have to go *sigh*…
Haha, I’m sorry to do this to you, but yes, you have to go 🙂 Think of it as one final treat to wrap up the trip!
I should really be commenting on ‘that’ post you had to write…..because due to these culinary delights, I too am experiencing the dreaded ex-pat fat in Koh Tao…..
Check out the “Staying Fit in Koh Tao” post 🙂 I miss doing Muay Thai terribly!
Barracuda and Su Chilli!
Su Chilli is mentioned in the “cheap Thai favorites” section 🙂 And Barracuda has become a new love of mine since I wrote this post — might be time for an update!
nice post! can’t wait to go back to kho tao! you forgot my favorite place MINT KITCHEN. small place at roctopus dive shop, try it if you didn’t already!
I love Mint and head there often for takeaway chicken stir-fried with broccoli 🙂 A good choice!
I lived on Koh Tao for two months and this post makes me so nostalgic ! For the best thai food, and zest sandwiches.
Whenever I’m not on Koh Tao I can’t go a few days without thinking about all my favorite foods there! Looking forward to updating this post with some new favorites next time I’m in town.
I love Los Pollos Hermanos! It’s right beside Barracuda.
I can’t believe this is true of any restaurant on Koh Tao considering how much time I spend there but I’ve never tried it! Will have to do so this fall…
Oh! Should say it’s by the new Barracuda (near Asia Divers!) not the original one. 🙂
Another place I need to add to the list!
Ko Tao was amazing. We’d never snorkeled before and we can’t wait to go back. We visited ‘Su Chili’ and had the most amazing Nam Tok (beef waterfall) for 80thb. This is a Thai dish that I have purchased at Thai restaurants everywhere I’ve traveled over the last 20 years and this was one of, if not the best, I’ve ever had. The place was clean and great service. Su chili actually specializes in Esaan food (N.E. Thailand) like Laab, Namtok & somtam. The price was much more economical than other places on Tao. We loved the Moo Daeng (red pork over rice) at 995 duck and we did it twice for breakfast. The fried Som Tam (fried papaya salad) at our resort was one of the most interesting meals we had. It was super good! It was like som tam French fries. We ordered it our last day and would have ordered it again if we’d had another day (The tiny PD resort on June juea beach, down south). We went to Whitening on my birthday and had a fried fish and a couple of other dishes. We weren’t impressed by the flavor or the price. The atmosphere was amazing as we watched the sunset then enjoyed the twinkling lights of the boats moored in the harbor. Next time I’d eat dinner at Su Chili then drive (too far to walk) down to Whitening for a fresh coconut to watch the sunset. We found a tiny Esaan restaurant in Chalok town that only charged 40 thb for Laab or Somtam. Only locals stopped there. They had a cool pond with a huge alligator fish in the murky water.
Thanks for all the tips and info, Justin! Sorry to hear you weren’t impressed with The Whitening, it’s still one of my favorites for a splurge. I’ll try to check out some of your other recommendations that I haven’t tried.
hey Alex you have my three favourites,the whitening (have been going for 20 years! )barracuda and suchilli. Now i want to go in february on my own and need to know a clean fresh place to stay with sea view and safe where do you think?
Mmm, three of my faves as well! Have you heard of Aminjirah? I wrote a review of it last year, it has gorgeous sea views and is close to Sairee!
Ive been to Koh Tao two years in a row and both times I went to Porto Bello and I agree it might be the best italian on the island! 🙂
SO good. I crave it when I’m not on the island!
Thank you for this amazing post, Alex! I have been to many of the places and they are really good ? but I think you’re still missing The Coconut Monkey on Mae Head – I offers so many healthy choices for an amazing breakfast! And more importantly – Thaita! It is a very small restaurant in Sairee run by a wife and a husband team from Italy and it is hands down the best Italian food on the island – and I have also never had anything better in the whole of Thailand. We decided to go there because it was listed as #1 place on TripAdvisor and can wholeheartedly recommend this place. It’s a little bit pricier (pasta for around 300 baht) but you really get what you paid for! Homemade pasta, fresh ingredients, authentic cooking! Absolutely fantastic ?
Hey Dana! I actually wrote this post before Coconut Monkey even opened… but you’re right, it’s definitely a good one to add! (And I am planning to update this post soon.) Unfortunately I had a very, very unpleasant experience at Thaita once and left in tears after the owner berated me and so haven’t had a chance to try the food… and based on that experience won’t be returning. It was extremely upsetting though I know a few other locals on the island who have had similar experiences, which has at least nudged me to try not to take it personally. I’ll have to go elsewhere for pasta, I’m afraid.
I’m really sorry about that terrible experience; the owner was only nice and helpful to us. Good luck and thank you!
Yeah, it was awful. Such a shame as I’ve heard grew things about the food but obviously don’t feel comfortable going back there (he did try to apologize as we were leaving, but it was kind of too late for that.)
I would just like to add, please try The Livingroom. We loved the coffee and breakfast. Big portions!
Thanks for the tip, Yvonne! I’ve been meaning to update this post for ages!
Brings back some good memories!
So glad to hear it. Travel memories are more precious than ever now!