Friday, March 28, 2014

$4 Fish in Chiang Mai: Lert Ros

During a two-day stay in Chiang Mai, we visited Lert Ros for dinner twice. That's how good this Isaan-style restaurant is. Lert Ros' main attraction is red tilapia that's grilled right on the street. They kind of heckle you a little when you approach which is annoying but typical, but atypical is that at this place they're actually heckling you to do something that's in your best interest. Because their bbq fish is bangin'.
This guy, who an educated guess tells me is Lert Ros' owner, salts and grills each fish to charred perfection. Then he slits the skin and flaps it to the side before serving. The fish come in three sizes and run about 100, 120 or 140 Thai baht each. That's about $4 USD per fish. Surely these are farmed fish, but you can't argue with that price.
Each fish has its guts pulled out and replaced with a few stalks of lemongrass. He does stuffed banana leaves with steamed, fermented or curried pork on these well-used drum barbecues as well.

The inside of this open-faced restaurant is pretty typical of any Thai street place. Random portraits on the walls, weird stickers etc.
On our first visit, we ordered two medium fish, a pork larb, sticky and steamed rice, fermented pork in banana leaves and a dish of grilled pork. Basically every dish here comes in a choice of small or large – go with smalls and try as many different things as you can! They have good-looking som tum (papaya salad), but we were kind of tired of it at this point after the great som tum we had a few times up in Pai.
A small order of fermented pork came with two moist, zingy dumplings. They were steamed nicely and salty, and were fatty but not gristly like some fermented pork skewers on the street can be. 
The larb was a bit different than any others we've had. We expected a bright, lime-minty salad, but this one was tinted by warmer spices. It had all different cuts of pork tossed with shallots and scallions, all in plenty of dressing. Just a little spicy.
Caralee's grilled pork was delicious. Thin slices were basted with a sweet sauce and grilled until to golden. She went with fish on our second visit after seeing that Charlie and I lived through it, though. 
Tilapia here comes with the skin flapped open to reveal tender, moist and flakey meat. The fish came with a serve of a spicy green sauce and a fish sauce – each a light but flavorful complement for the meat. There are tiny little bones in there, but they're easily detected and discarded. Eat through the top layer of meat and remove the spine and lemongrass stalks to reveal a cavity of stewed juices and the second side of meat.
When you get down to the bottom skin, mix in the rest of your sauces and some rice. A medium fish is definitely enough – Charlie got a large on take two and regretted it. On our second visit we also tried  the curried pork and a steamed pork and glass noodle salad. We couldn't finish the glass noodle salad because we were full – but it was kind of just OK. 

Seriously – don't skip Lert Ros. It's on the first street on the right when you enter the old city through Tha Phae Gate and you can't miss the owner grilling fish on the street. He won't let you walk by without asking you to eat there, anyway. And if you need a cheap, good guesthouse, Awanahouse is just across the street. We stayed there twice and it has a nice roof deck and a pool. Chiang Mai can certainly get sweaty!


Lert Ros: Soi 1, Rachadamnoen Road, Chiang Mai, Thailand.

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