Dubai, UAE: Skip five-star hotel dining, go for this quirky Thai noodle shop
Finding quirk and character in new Dubai—where everything is luxe, five stars and ten minutes old—is a bit like seeing a silicone-free topless show in Vegas: Rare and refreshing, a respite from the pretty but soulless surroundings.
Smiling BKK serves Thai street food out of a small room off an alley behind a gas station. There's no official address—you track down the Emarat Garage and cast about behind it, past Ghuram Sadraf Gents Hairdressers and a tanning salon.
The room is painted black and wallpapered with photos of patrons (it's a cult favorite among expat locals), framed magazine shots of mostly 1980s celebrities (Madonna is popular here) and untold renditions of the Mona Lisa (inexplicably, Smiling BKK's mustachioed mascot). There's a Christmas tree blinking colored lights near the entrance, 365 days a year. In other words, it actually feels like you're in some wackadoo back-alley Bangkok noodle shop.
Summon a server using the little bell provided, and order from a menu riddled with wink-nudge names like Fook Mi (prawns with garlic and noodles) and Six Inches of Glory (sticky rice), which would be funnier if the place served booze.
A warning: "Spicy" is no joke at Smiling BKK: This place is Thai through and through, from the owner to the chef, and the heat level is serious.
Time it right, and you'll hit on a themed evening at Smiling BKK, such as Thursday's "non-man non-lady night, where nothing is what it seems."
The cheap, tasty food isn't the best Thai meal you'll ever have, but it's one of the few authentic experiences you'll find in this patina-free part of Dubai—and that alone makes it an oasis in the desert. Literally.