In some Asian countries, you often see some places that sell food like this

enter image description here

  • This place is often inside a small building

  • It often sells a signature dish or common food.

  • There are waiters or waitresses to serve customers. So, it is not a canteen or a cafeteria.

  • Sometimes, its tables and chairs expand and occupy some area of the pavement in front of the building like this

enter image description here

I would call it a stall if most of the chairs and tables are on the pavement like this

enter image description here

And if most of the chairs and tables are inside a building then I would call it a cafe.

But I am not sure.

Are they called a cafe or a restaurant or a food stall?

  • 7
    I would reserve "stall" for places that expect most customers to get their food and leave. If they sit around and eat it is something else. Commented May 15, 2023 at 1:15
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    Hi Tom !! It's not clear what you're asking. Do you want to know what people in England call places like this in England? Or do you want to know how English people when they are in Thailand (but speaking English, not Thai) refer to such places? (Further, if the latter, it would be completely different in different countries. You'd never call a tuktuk a tuktuk in Mumbai, for example.)
    – Fattie
    Commented May 15, 2023 at 13:00
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    Food stalls can be inside or outside but are usually in the form of a stall. freepik.com/free-photos-vectors/food-stall
    – Lambie
    Commented May 15, 2023 at 14:20
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    @Fattie, I want to know how English people when they are in Thailand (but speaking English, not Thai) refer to such places.
    – Tom
    Commented May 15, 2023 at 16:13
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    The seating area isn't shared with other food vendors, is it? Seating like that makes me think of a "food court" at a shopping mall (common in North America), where there are multiple vendors around the outside of an open area with chairs + tables. But a "food court" is indoors. What you're showing is I guess more like "patio" seating outside. I've seen that at a restaurant in Italy when I visited once: with good weather being common, most of their seating is outside the building for busy summer evenings. Commented May 16, 2023 at 2:36

6 Answers 6


It meets the definition of "restaurant", so you could call it that. However, it seems like a relatively small and informal restaurant, so I'd prefer to call it a "cafe":

a usually small and informal establishment serving various refreshments (such as coffee) (M-W)

It is not a "stall", which typically is even smaller and has a divider between the employees and customers:

A booth, cubicle, or stand used by a vendor, as at a market. (AHD)

I speak Northeast U.S. English. Terminology may vary with dialect.

  • 6
    Yes, as a UK person, cafe or restaurant would be fine. If you want to emphasise the style (that it's not a fancy Michelin-starred place) you could call it a "casual restaurant". "Restaurant" can be applied to anything from McDonald's to something with 3 Michelin stars and bottles of wine the price of a small car. If you want to be more precise, you can of course use modifiers like "fast food", "ethnic", etc.
    – Stuart F
    Commented May 15, 2023 at 15:12
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    US east coast. I would only use "cafe" if the main thing they sold was coffee or tea. Commented May 15, 2023 at 15:41
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    @user3067860 Yes, that's certainly one of the uses of "cafe", but it's also used much more broadly. Here in NYC there are even full-menu restaurants with that word in their names (e.g., Union Square Cafe). Commented May 15, 2023 at 16:03
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    Also US east coast (NYC) but I'd use "cafe" just for smaller restaurants too, even if they didn't have coffee or tea. I've noticed that "cafe" just seems to imply any place where you're also welcome to just hang out while you enjoy your whatever (such as a coffee shop but could be anything). Like, some place where you might be inclined to open up your laptop and do work. As opposed to "restaurants" where you usually sit, eat, leave. @user3067860
    – Jason C
    Commented May 16, 2023 at 15:25
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    @JasonC Yes, IIRC that was exactly why they called it "cafe". However, it was still a full-scale restaurant in the original location. Commented May 16, 2023 at 15:54

The space food selling places isn't so neatly divided. There are also diners, pubs, take-aways, and slang like "joint" or "dive".

The closest analogue in the UK would be fast-food places.

You normally refer to these by name or type rather than as a "cafe":

I'm going to McDonalds.

There's a new chippie on the high street

Have you tried that place that does Japanese food?

We can get take-way. Indian or Chinese?

I would not use "cafe" for your places. I might use restaurant for those that have a seating area. (inside or out - but for reasons of warmth, in the UK it is usually in)

I would more likely use "Xien Khe's" or paraphrase using the name of the food.

Let's go get noodles at Khe's

  • "Have you tried that place that does Japanese food?" come on we would say "that does Japanese", or "the new Japanese place". But I agree I would. Talking at home, we would use restaurant if the food came on plates, place or just the name of the food category if it came in disposable containers.
    – WendyG
    Commented May 16, 2023 at 16:01

Another American English slang for this kind of local, small restaurant that is known for a specialty is hole-in-the-wall. Here is the Merriam Webster definition

a small and often unpretentious out-of-the-way place (such as a restaurant)

In my experience, the phrase is usually used to contrast the (below-average) appearance and setup of the restaurant with the (above-average) quality of food. A typical usage would be "That hole-in-the-wall next to the laundromat makes the best chicken wings in town."

Separately, the images you provide show different service setups. Restaurants (including hole-in-the-walls) are often describe on a range between:

  • table service. This setup includes waitstaff coming to your table to take your order, providing menus, delivering food and drink, and even handling payment.
  • counter service. The menu is often posted on a board. You wait in line to place your order and pay at the counter or other designated area. When the food and drink is ready, the restaurant will call out your order for you to pick up your purchase and take it back to a table yourself.

Restaurants sometime operate between these two systems. Many counter service restaurants have waitstaff who will bring your order to your table when it's ready (but offer no other service). The main distinction between "table service" and "counter service" is usually focused on how you access the menu and who takes your order (waitstaff or a cashier).

  • 1
    I'd not heard that meaning before! Here in the UK, the term is (or was) more likely to refer to a cash machine (ATM).
    – gidds
    Commented May 15, 2023 at 18:25
  • Likewise, I was surprised at that usage when I searched other dictionaries (like Oxford).
    – ryanyuyu
    Commented May 15, 2023 at 19:46
  • Oxford splits the usage UK/US. I have heard the term used for a restaurant, but unless context clearly indicated I would first assume cash machine [ATM] Commented May 18, 2023 at 7:22

I'd call it a street cafe.

Specifically, a cafe with tables & chairs out on the street. It really only becomes a street cafe when a significant proportion of dining is outdoors - which makes the distinction somewhat arbitrary.
These are not so common in the UK, partly because it's too cold a lot of the time and partly because you cannot just spill out over the public pavement in this manner; there will be a designated portion they are allowed to use. A few places have maybe a few tables outdoors, originally ostensibly for smokers. During covid some local authorities permitted broader use of the pavement outside, so more places expanded in this manner to allow for better separation during the pandemic, and have since been allowed to maintain the practice.

Collins gives the alternative 'pavement cafe' which in US terminology would be 'sidewalk cafe'.

The distinction between cafe and restaurant is harder to determine with any certainty. Formica-topped or fold-away tables, with food delivered on and eaten from individual trays would lean towards cafe. Tablecloths and finer dining would push it towards being a restaurant.

It is definitely not a stall. That implies at last some hint of 'temporary'; for instance if the entire structure was attached to the front of the building and the kitchen was a part of that, rather than clearly indoors, with kitchens behind.

A canteen would normally be some kind of in-house, or establishment structure; available to employees only, for instance. Canteen-style might be used to describe the service, where you walk a line to be served each part of a meal from a series of hot trays. Cafe and cafeteria are almost synonymous, one merely an abbreviation of the other.


Since that type of restaurant isn't common in the English speaking world, we don't have a normal term for it that everyone understands.

The term "food stall" means an outdoor place you walk up to to buy food, usually temporary or mobile, and there's no seating provided -- you have to go and find a place to sit down and eat. Do an image search for "food stall" and the only places with chairs will be in Asia.

So which term you want to use depends on where the place is, and who the audience is.

If it's in Canada, I'd call it an "Asian-style food stall restaurant".

If it's in Asia and I'm speaking to someone familiar with Asia, I'd just say "a food stall" and expect they know what it looks like because it's in Asia.

If it's in Asia and I don't expect the audience to know what a food stall in Asia looks like, I might say, "a typical Asian food stall". The word "typical" gives the clue that it's not what you'd expect "food stall" to normally mean in English.

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    The word "typical" does not give me (a native British English speaker) any such clue. Commented May 15, 2023 at 11:38
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    Doesn't "food stall" imply something with no dedicated indoor seating? You might get one in an indoor market/mall, or outside, but not with its own tables and chairs.
    – Stuart F
    Commented May 15, 2023 at 15:14
  • @StuartF I'd say it implies something with no dedicated seating at all. In the Asian context, I consider "food stall" a closest-fit compromise because we don't have a proper English term.
    – gotube
    Commented May 15, 2023 at 21:52
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    [in Israel, speaking ~US English] I'd use "food stall" for anything small, serving over the counter, located where people are walking; e.g. inside a mall passage, it can be a "stall" even if it's surrounded by some bar chairs. I'd not use it for a walk-in place with a whole room of tables (as OP's 1st photo). I'd not use "stall" for something with a significant back kitchen. And definitely not if there are waiters. Commented May 17, 2023 at 9:22
  • 'Stall' doesn't work for me at all, as a Brit, for something where the service counter & kitchens are clearly dedicated parts of the building. Commented May 17, 2023 at 12:54

The word I would probably use for all of your examples is actually ‘bistro’. In English it refers specifically to a small restaurant or bar, which pretty accurately describes what I see in all of your pictures. It technically carries some connotation of the establishment being upscale, but this is mostly linguistic baggage that has to do with how places that call themselves bistros present themselves.

As far as your other possiblities:

  • All of them are restaurants. Any business operating out of a permanent building which serves food as it’s primary business is a restaurant (note that this contrasts with a bar or pub, which serves alcoholic drinks as it’s primary business, or a tavern which is kind of a mix of a restaurant and a bar).
  • Café is rather ambiguous. Depending on context, it may be synonymous with either ‘coffee shop’/‘coffee house’ or ‘diner’. The second meaning technically fits what you show in your pictures, but if I were going to use it with that meaning I would just say ‘diner’ instead because it’s less ambiguous.
  • A food stall (or food truck, or food stand) is implicitly a small, typically temporary, place that generally lacks dedicated seating (and thus has the expectation that you either eat nearby while standing up, or you eat as you walk along to wherever you were actually going when you picked up the food). Food stalls are almost always focused on fast service, and typically sell what is commonly known as ‘street food’. In most of the English-speaking world, most of what people think of will be something along the lines of the hot-dog carts you find scattered around New York City, or the small booths at amusement parks or festivals that sell snacks. The closest analogue I know of in Asian culture would be the South Korean 포장마차 (pojangmacha).
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    ‘Bistro’ is from French, and here (the UK) I'd expect it to refer to a small restaurant or bar that primarily serves French (or Italian or Spanish or similar) food. (If it served primarily British food, then it'd be much more likely to be called one of ‘café’, ‘snack bar’, ‘sandwich bar’, ‘coffee shop’, ‘tea shop’, etc. And if it primarily served food from another region, I'd expect a name related to that region.) — Agreed re. food stalls, though.
    – gidds
    Commented May 15, 2023 at 18:24
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    Where I am in the US (NE) "bistros" generally have a French or overall European theme. I think it's more equivalent to an Italian place calling itself a "ristorante" in English or a bar calling itself a "pub" in the US. It's more a fancy word used for the image, not so much a full category of places.
    – Jason C
    Commented May 16, 2023 at 15:36

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