The culinary scene in Vientiane caters to virtually every taste, from sausage and sauerkraut to Korean BBQ. Vientiane also has a large concentration of French and Italian restaurants, the best of which compare favourably to those in Bangkok. If you plan to head out to the remote provinces for a while, take the opportunity to indulge in the capital’s Western culinary offerings before hitting the trail.
For cheap eats, the zone around Heng Boun and Khoun Boulom roads is home to a good night market, mi pét (duck noodle) restaurants, fruit stands and French bread vendors, and don’t miss the ice cream and pastry shops of Chao Anou Road, between Setthathilat and Heng Boun roads.
Food stalls and markets
For cheap, home-style cooking, seek out the outdoor food stalls found near any of the city’s markets. Riverside food stalls can be found along the Mekong on Fa Ngum Road approximately opposite Wat Chanthabouli, with most offering Lao staples like tam màk hung (spicy papaya salad), pîng kai (grilled chicken) and refreshing fruit shakes from morning until nearly midnight. These stalls also provide an excellent spot to enjoy sunset over the Mekong.
A night market offering similar fare, and with tables on the street, sets up on Khoun Boulom Road and along Heng Boun Road in the early evening and stays open till about 10pm for cheap Chinese, Lao and Vietnamese food with several fõe (noodle soup) stalls. A more extensive night market for good Lao food is at Dong Palane Market on Dong Palane Road near Wat Ban Fai – you’ll find all the Lao standards on offer. For daytime food, try the market stalls on Mahosot Road near the bus station: here you’ll find good Lao-style khào pûn (noodles with sauce), tam màk hung and excellent shakes.
Crusty baguettes (khào ji) are a speciality of Vientiane, and vendors selling these French-inspired loaves, plain or filled with Lao-style pâté, can be found around downtown.
Minimarkets and wine shops
For many travellers, especially Europeans, one of the great pleasures of returning to Vientiane after a long journey upcountry is the availability of cheeses, wine and other imported goods to accompany those crusty baguettes which are a speciality of the capital. There are several minimarkets where you can stock up. Maningom Supermarket (corner of Khoun Boulom and Heng Boun), Riverside Minimarket (Fa Ngum Rd, near the Orchid Guesthouse) and Phimphone Minimarket (with outlets on Samsenthai Rd and Setthathilat Rd) all have a selection of cheeses, wine, imported beer and chocolate, as well as imported body-care products you won’t be able to find elsewhere in Laos. The best selections of wine in Laos can be found at Vinothèque La Cave and VanSom, both on Samsenthai Road, opposite the Asia Pavilion Hotel. At either shop it’s possible to find a perfectly drinkable bottle of red or white for around $10.
Bakeries and cafés
The legacy of the French is most deliciously apparent in the range of cafés and bakeries that crop up all over town. The coffee served at these places varies, with some offering Lao coffee and some using imported beans. Cafés and bakeries tend to open early and close by 7pm. At a good café on Setthathilat Road you’ll pay $3 for a breakfast special such as coffee and a couple of croissants. Brunch buffets are on offer at the big international-style hotels like Novotel and Lao Hotel Plaza for roughly $10.
All the places below appear on the “Central Vientiane” map.
Most of Vientiane’s restaurants open for lunch and then again for dinner, but no-frills places usually stay open throughout the day, closing around 9pm. In most Western restaurants you’ll pay on average $4 for each course, and even in more upmarket restaurants you’ll rarely spend more than $15 unless you get into the wine.
The restaurants reviewed below are subdivided for convenience into “Asian” and “Western” places, but Laos isn’t a place for culinary purism, and thus many supposedly Asian places do offer Western snacks and light meals, while even the fancier, supposedly Western, restaurants often have a Lao noodle dish or two lurking in the menu.
All the restaurants below are on the “Central Vientiane” map, unless otherwise specified.