Soi 38 is one of Melbourne’s best hidden-in-plain-sight eating spots. It’s down a laneway off Bourke Street, in an above-ground concrete parking garage. You’ll know you’re close when you start hearing raucous lunchtime chatter and catch the scent of aromatic soup. You’ve arrived when you see the colourful tables and chairs.
When owners Andy Buchan and Chavalit Piyaphanee opened Soi 38 in 2015, they served just two dishes: the signature Thai boat noodles and tom yum soup with prawn wontons.
The menu has since expanded, with once-limited items like the braised-duck noodles and crab noodles becoming permanent fixtures. There are also two types of laksa (beef and vegetarian). The kitchen has vats of at least five different broths simmering on any given day, with dry ingredients straight from Thailand and fresh noodles sourced locally.
To order, simply tick off the dishes and noodles you want (along with any extras and drinks) on the simple paper menu on your table. The star of Soi 38 is still the boat noodle dish, made with a pork broth (with star-anise and Chinese five-spice powder) and served with either braised pork or beef, a pork ball, crackling, bean sprouts and coriander. Buchan recommends ordering it with sen lek (rice-stick noodles) for a chewy bite.
In 2021, after many years of requests, Soi 38 opened for dinner. Boat noodles leave the menu in the evenings, and Thai barbeque takes centre-stage. You'll be provided with a gas burner that fires up both your hotplate and your broth – which comes filled with your choice of protein, noodles and an egg. The mango sticky rice and the larb and papaya salad are also popular nighttime dishes.
Drinks include Leo (a Thai beer), iced coffee and sweet Thai milk tea. The latter two are mixed from powder, which is the Bangkok way.