I have a very soft spot for Cooking Love. For one, the food is amazing, and it was the first meal I was able to eat for the first time in a month during my year of travelling! Remember my story about how I probably burned my stomach with spicy food in Phuket? Well, I couldn’t eat anything but bread and bananas for a month until Cooking Love.
Lin, the owner, and her staff all have a fascinating life story which I was honoured to learn from them. When you hear Lin’s struggles about how she built Cooking Love from nothing, you will have so much respect for this strong woman.
I loved how she did not give up on her dream and how she kept working towards it. When she talked, I could relate in so many ways and felt like I was talking to a wise family member.
Visit her, you will see.
What brought me to Cooking Love in Chiang Mai
This restaurant has an extensive menu of different Thai dishes, and they don’t use MSG in their cooking. The food is perfect for those who are looking for healthy Thai food while not sacrificing on flavour. What I also like about Cooking Love is how they flavour their food and don’t go overboard with salt and sugar. Case in point: we ate at Cooking Love every day for almost a month (read part 1 of what it was like living in Chiang Mai during our long term travels here), and we ate so much that we were full. But because the food was prepared healthily, we managed to lose weight instead of gaining weight. So I guess it’s safe to say this restaurant is diet friendly too!
What is the ambiance and service like at Cooking Love Chiang Mai?
Ok so we had no idea that there are two Cooking Love locations on the same street. The original Cooking Love is much more authentic and has an attentive staff, while the second Cooking Love is a hit or miss. So if you are reading reviews online and your experience at Cooking Love doesn’t add up, it’s likely because you’re at the second location.
The service at Cooking Love in Chiang Mai is honestly the best that I’ve experienced in the city
Each time we visited Cooking Love, we felt as if we were welcomed as old friends. Even on busy days when the restaurant was full, Lin and her staff still find a way to make you feel special and loved.
The first time you eat here, you’ll likely hear about the purpose of her business, which focuses on good food and good friends. And even though we are customers, Lin makes it a priority to make sure you don’t feel like a customer. Instead, her goal is to make everyone feel like they are friends and family of Cooking Love.
Well, let me tell you, she excelled in that goal.
Her staff members are just as awesome
Goi was our excellent server who is incredibly honest. The first time we ordered our food, we ordered quite a few dishes. She gave us a concerned look and said “No, too much food. Try these dishes first and if you’re still hungry, order more”. I loved that she was blunt and not trying to up-sell us.
The cook saw that I was taking photos of the restaurant and of Goi and was waving frantically at me to take pictures of him.
Ice is also a very incredible person who shared tidbits of her life with us while teaching us about the Thai culture.
Adam is the manager of Cooking Love and has the most incredible life story
You wouldn’t know of the hardships he has been through with his happy and kind demeanour. When he shared his life story with us, it hit a nerve with me because my family also lived in refugee camps for years. Here is a snippet of his family’s story of how he came to Thailand.
“Not knowing where to go, our family wandered down to the nearby river, where it turns out others from our village had also come together through instinct,” continued Paw Toh Ki, who now lives in Minnesota, USA with her family. “A tall dark man — I have no idea who he was — told us that we were going to Thailand. We all simply followed. We walked up and down mountains, through jungles and across rivers for two weeks. We often starved ourselves to feed our children, but thankfully my husband was a good hunter and he would kill monkeys and deer along the way. We drank water from rivers and streams, and some of the people in our group contracted, and eventually died of, malaria.”
You can read the rest of the story here in this article called Refuge from Home.
What’s the difference between the two locations?
Cooking Love has an airy, outdoor feel (but there are lots of fans and air conditioners!) at the original location. Customers must remove their shoes before entering the restaurant. You will also be spoiled with fruits and desserts. If you come to Cooking Love often, don’t be surprised if the owner offers you free appetizers and new dishes to try. She is very generous like that.
The second location is inside of BB Mantra Hotel and has a more traditional restaurant feel. If you are icky about removing your shoes (come on, guys!), then you might prefer the restaurant at BB Mantra. I gotta warn you though; mosquitoes ate me alive (while I was also eating…HA!) at the hotel location.
We discovered the original place by accident, to be honest. We walked into BB Mantra Hotel one afternoon and was heartbroken to hear that the restaurant was closed for renovations. “But don’t worry, you can go to the original location down the street,” the waiter assured us.
Wait… what? There’s a second location?
That’s when the gap between what we read online versus what we experienced started to close. At first, we couldn’t understand the hype about Cooking Love and only came back for the food. But then we realized had been going to the WRONG location! Whoops…
So yeah, go to the original Cooking Love location because you’ll have a better experience.
What we ate at Cooking Love in Chiang Mai
The menu at Cooking Love is very diverse – you can find something for everyone. If you are a vegan, vegetarian or you have allergy restrictions, not to worry because Cooking Love can customize your food.
Cooking Love was so perfect for us because we didn’t have an apartment at the time and relied on eating out. As you know, eating at restaurants can get very unhealthy and bad for the waistline. As I said, we were stuffed to the max each time we left the restaurant. But since we were eating healthy food, we LOST weight thanks to Cooking Love.
Yup, we loved everything on the menu. What we tried was only a fraction of what’s available.
Appetizers from Cooking Love
Main dishes at Cooking Love
While prices are a little bit higher than what you’d pay for street food, the portions are huge, and your food is obviously cooked in clean conditions.
Tom yum soup is one of my favourite Thai dishes in the world but only at Thai Basil on Bloor St. in Toronto. Maybe it’s a hard dish to make – who knows but tom yum soup is something that is uniquely made depending on the restaurant.
And so I was quite surprised and happy to find another place that serves a delicious dish of tom yum soup.
Dessert at Cooking Love
Cooking Love takes credit card payments! Big deal for long-term travellers like us
Credit card payment might be a minor thing for but I loved that Cooking Love accepted credit card, which we prefer using to cash. That’s another selling point on why we kept going back to Cooking Love. They charge a small transaction fee, but you get fees anyways when you exchange money or withdraw from the ATM.
Thanks to Cooking Love for allowing us to pay with credit, that meant one less manual transaction to include in our spreadsheet we used to stay in the budget during our year of travelling.
The story behind Cooking Love
The best part of this restaurant is Lin, the incredibly smart and friendly owner.
Lin is very engaged in the business and is at the restaurant on a daily basis. She makes sure to walk around and talk to the customers, making each one feel welcomed and special.
When you hear her story of Cooking Love, you will understand why she is so proud of her restaurant. She opened Cooking Love with just 13,000 baht ($430 USD) and relied on loan sharks for the rest of the funding. She shared the craziest stories of her struggles in the early years of Cooking Love. Hearing her stories made me so proud of her accomplishments and so happy for the restaurant’s success. Life was never easy for her, but she persevered, trusted her intuition and followed her dream to open this restaurant.
After three years of perseverance, Lin was able to expand the business to twice its size and secure a second location at the BB Mantra Hotel.
When I listened to her speak, I felt as if she was talking to my heart. It’s hard to explain the connection, but hearing her struggles brought back so many memories. I heard my family members’ voice when she spoke about growing up poor and how she had to sacrifice her education to care for her family. And yet, here she is, growing one of the best restaurants in Chiang Mai. The ultimate story of success.
I recommend anyone who comes to Chiang Mai to stop by this restaurant and spend time with Lin. You will learn so much about the human soul and the strength of willpower. When Lin speaks, she speaks with passion; she speaks from the heart.
Tips for when you go to Cooking Love
- If you go to the original Cooking Love, you’ll have to remove your shoes. I know it might feel weird at first but it’s customary in Thailand to remove your shoes before entering a home (it’s the same in most Asian households). If you don’t want to remove your shoes, try the Cooking Love at the BB Mantra Hotel. The food is from the original Cooking Love but the drinks are from the hotel.
- The original Cooking Love has an open concept and it can get incredibly hot because Chiang Mai is very hot. Ask for the air conditioner or the fan if you need to have it on; there’s more than enough for all the customers.
- The later you come, the busier it will get (i.e., expect an hour-long wait). We strategized and would always come around 2 pm to avoid the lunch and evening rush.
- Prices are reasonable, considering the quality and the gigantic portions. You also get free dessert and tea with your meals too.
- The staff member’s English is excellent – they will take care of your dietary restrictions
You can find more posts about my Thailand travels in this link.
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This post was first published in April 2018 and last updated on December 2019
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