The traditional cuisine of land-locked Laos is not widely known outside the country itself. Lao food has simple flavors, composed of fresh, hearty ingredients, and is distinguished by its ubiquitous sticky rice, spicy meat or fish laap. Here are 10 restaurants to discover in the UNESCO World Heritage Site Luang Prabang and capital city Vientiane.
Tamarind offers travelers a true taste of Lao cuisine and stands out in Luang Prabang’s culinary scene as one of the finest establishments to do so. For those unfamiliar with the unique flavors and textures of Lao food, Tamarind promises a gentle introduction to authentic, local home cooking with the freshest of ingredients. It is well known for its tantalizing sampling platters and Friday night tasting events. This family-run business is headed up by Joy Ngeuamboupha and his Australian wife Caroline, who are always happy to explain how the dishes are cooked and, more importantly, how to eat them. For gourmands wishing to recreate the Lao dining experience at home, Tamarind also runs a cooking school, held in a picturesque lakeside pavilion, which includes an informative market tour.
The Apsara is one of the first boutique hotels in Luang Prabang, situated on the quiet banks of the Nam Khan River in a beautiful building that was once a rice warehouse. The stylish and serene ambiance of the hotel spills over into its restaurant. The menu combines the finest of western and Asian cuisine, where dishes like tagine of young goat sit alongside Lao staples such as Luang Prabang buffalo sausages and braised river fish. With wonderful views of the river, not too far from the main attractions of the city, this is the perfect place to luxuriate. The extensive wine list is also a plus.
The Lao National Institute of Tourism and Hospitality (Lanith), backed by the Lao-Luxembourg Development Cooperation, is the country’s leading hospitality training supplier. To that end, the Lanith centre at Luang Prabang unveiled the balcony bar and restaurant to rave reviews. An establishment that is at once an educational concern and a social enterprise, the balcony reinvests all profits back into the local community. The menu is Laos-French fusion and uses the freshest locally sourced ingredients. Though it is situated close to downtown Luang Prabang, the balcony is off the beaten track. It has beautiful views of the rivers and mountains and the restaurant thoughtfully provides a tuk-tuk service to transport its guests.
Tangor has made its name as one of the best French fine dining establishments in the city. Located on the main strip of Rue Sisavangvong, it is a wonderful place to relax and watch the world go by. Tangor has a diverse but well-considered menu of classic French and international cuisine, with their signature dish being ceviche. With great service and a cozy atmosphere, diners can experience the best of western gastronomy and Laos culture.
If you walk from the Phousi Temple hill, along the Nam Khan river, you will eventually stumble upon Utopia, a serene paradise hidden away from the rest of the world. The tropical gardens and riverside decks make for an idyllic dining experience and, as befitting its hippy-ish vibe, there is morning yoga during the day. Every night, the venue transforms into a candle-lit chill-out lounge, popular with backpackers and sojourners, often with live music. As well as the delicious food and drinks, there are tiki huts, beach volleyball, board games, shisha pipes, outdoor movie screenings and community projects to be enjoyed.
The boutique hotel Villa Maly operates two gastronomic establishments of note. The first is its quaint restaurant Le Vetiver, with a small but perfectly formed menu of western food and Lao-style dishes. Housed in what was once the home of Prince Khamtan, built in the early twentieth century, the hotel possesses a certain natural grandeur. It also runs the Nava Mekong lunch and dinner boat cruises; this magnificent experience involves dining on delicious Lao cuisine, served by staff in traditional Lao dress, whilst floating past Luang Prabang’s enchanting landscape. The lunch cruise stops at the sacred Pak Ou Caves, while the dinner cruise transports travelers to a traditional village to see locals perform ancient dances.
Situated in the heart of Vientiane, on a peaceful street behind Ong Teu Temple, L’Adresse de Tinay enjoys tremendous success in the city’s gourmet restaurant scene. The restaurant delivers elegant, contemporary food to match its chic decor, combining modern French gastronomy with quirky Laos accents. Expect creative flavor combinations such as profiterole-style St Jacques scallops served with ginger and lemongrass-infused whipped cream and Luang Prabang algae.
This cafe is a stylish little restaurant that sits above the Phimphone Market, centrally located near the Nam Phou Fountain. Benoni is famous for its affordable but delicious range of lunch dishes, including pesto, pad thai and handmade burgers, as well as its tantalizing menu of home-baked cakes and local, home-roasted coffee – often cited as the best in town. With its airy, laid-back atmosphere, Benoni brings the refreshing spirit of European cafe culture to Laos’ dining scene.
La Scala Fine Boutique Italian Restaurant
| Courtesy La Scala
La Scala prides itself on being the best Italian venue in Vientiane, with courteous staff and the finest food, lovingly cooked by Maurizio Boccoli, a chef with over 30 years of experience. Located on Thadeaua Road a short, 10 minute tuk-tuk ride from the center of town, the restaurant serves a good lunch buffet, which is popular with staff from nearby offices and embassies. The wonderful colonial building offers a comfortable and attractive setting, while the garden is perfect for enjoying dinner under the stars during the dry season.
You cannot have a true sense of Lao food culture without experiencing the local food markets that spring up in the evening. Check out the one at Ban Anou, at the north end of Chao Anou, which sets up at sundown every day and is always alive with locals, expats and travelers. Though the market occupies one short street, it’s the epicenter of the best budget eats. Pho (made from hand-pulled noodles), rice pancakes, BBQ-grilled meat and all kinds of drinks are among the range of local delicacies available.