Set among a row of hip student bars and art cafes on Phra Arthit, the tiny restaurant called Roti-Mataba stands out for its worn and shabby appearance. It's a tiny space: there are a few tables staggered on the sidewalk outside, and a cramped indoor dining area. The tables indoors are set across from the open kitchen, so if you're seated at one of the cheap metal tables inside, you'll hear the constant rhythm of the roti dough being slapped out on the counter. Roti-Mataba has all the grungy character of an unknown hole in the wall. Yet, it's actually quite famous: it's featured in most Thailand guidebooks, and always charts on Bangkok top 100 lists. And for good reason. Roti-Mataba serves up delicious Southern Thai cuisine, offering some of the best cheap food in the city.
Admittedly, not all of the items on the menu are winners. The peanut balls lack flavor, and the roti-wrapped-chicken-sausage isn't particularly exceptional. But certain items on the menu more than make up for that. The specialty of course is the roti, thick discs of flaky, buttery bread that are fried on a sizzling wok in the shop's front window. There is a range of mataba, in both savory and sweet flavors. The fish and herb mataba (below right) is a delicious mix of crisp roti, fish, and cabbage, and flavored with kaffir lime leaves. But the tastiest item on the menu is the massaman curry (below left), a rich, sweet, peanuty dish that is best eaten by hand with the roti. Try it once, and you'll see why the cheap metal tables on the sidewalk and in the kitchen are always full.