DUBAI: Nestled between skyscrapers in Jumeraih Lake Towers, this cozy café provides authentic Thai food and vibes. From the design of the outdoor terrace to the Thai music and cutlery and the street posters inside, eating at Isan is the closest thing to experiencing Thai street food that we have in Dubai.
The café takes its name from Isan, the northeastern region in Thailand. The head chef hails from the region, and he imports some of the ingredients from there to ensure an authentic Thai taste.
Some of the most defining ingredients in Thai cuisine are lemongrass and coconut, so we opened with an order of iced lemongrass tea and a fresh coconut drink. The iced tea was refreshing and light, with the characteristic earthy flavor of lemongrass. The coconut was also refreshing but with a sweeter flavor.
The cafe has a selection of starters, and all the ones we tried tasted great. The dim sum were filled with flavor, with hints of garlic and lemongrass. The coconut shrimp were quite interesting, as the coconut flakes added crunch and sweetness.
One of the star dishes was the Pik Gai chicken wings — the exceptionally crispy skin with the juicy meat was exactly what one would want in such a dish. Another one that would transport you to Thailand with its flavour was the grilled chicken satay in peanut sauce.
We also tried two salads. The signature dish of Thai cuisine, papaya salad or Tom Sum, had ingredients all prepared to perfection. The papaya was crunchy, the tomatoes were soft and the dressing was sour and spicy and it was topped with peanuts.
The second salad, Laab Gai minced chicken salad, had a very special taste. The chicken was succulent, and the toasted rice powder, Khao Khua, added a nice crispy texture. However, if you don’t enjoy warm salads then this dish might not be for you.
Café Isan also serves a northern Thai dish called Khao Soi, which is perfect for those who also enjoy Indian cuisine with its pronounced curry flavor. It is filled with hints of coconut and enveloped in a creamy taste with slight spiciness. The crispy wontons with the tender chicken added an interesting depth to the dish.
Another dish we highly recommend is the Panang (red) curry with prawns. Like the Khao Soi it has a rich creamy taste, but the coconut flavor is more pronounced than the curry in this dish, which also makes it slightly sweeter.
If you had to order one dish and one dish only from Isan, you should definitely go for the mango sticky rice, another staple of the Thai cuisine. The Dubai café version of this dessert beat all the ones we have eaten in Thailand. The rice was cooked just the right amount, engulfed in a sweet and creamy coconut milk, topped with fresh mango and toasted sesame seeds.
It is no wonder that Café Isan has received Time Out’s Best Thai Restaurant award for 2020. Their food truly tastes like Thai street food and the ambience adds to that experience.