Cafés and Breakfast Venues
Le Cafe Ban Vat Sene is located on the main road heading towards the end of the peninsula and is worth seeking out. It's a beautifully atmospheric cafe, especially popular at breakfast time, which serves magnificent fresh bread, baked goods and tasty traditional breakfast options such as fruit salad. The menu later in the day turns to Lao/Western food but is equally as delicious as the breakfast menu. This is a top spot for breakfast with free WiFi where you'll feel like you're tucked in a back alley of Paris. This place oozes style.
Phakdee Bakery next to View Khemkong is a great little spot particularly for breakfast. A selection of bagels, croissants and baguettes is served along with tasty fresh fruit salads and muesli. The staff are friendly enough and can manage a bit of English. Prices are good for this quality and the ambience on the river is peaceful.
It was love at first sip when we tried the coffee at Saffron Cafe, but the food at this Mekong-side cafe makes this a worthy lunch-stop too. They have an impressive menu and their wraps, stuffed with leafy greens and fancy fillings, are great. They now serve Asian dinners like cashew chicken and beef tips, but do Western mains equally well. With a great view and a refreshing river breeze, this is a great place to start or end your day. If you just can't get enough of their coffee, they sell the locally-grown beans. A newer branch of this cafe has open on Kitsalat Road around the corner from the post office.
Tucked away behind Phousi Mountain near the bulk of the bars is L'etranger Books and Tea, a charming bookshop and cafe where you can buy, exchange or rent books, browse art displays or just sit and chat over a cup of tea, brewed from the more than 20 varieties available. To accompany the extensive selection of caffeinated beverages, light fare like sandwiches and pastries is served all day. At 19:00 the tea room does double duty as a cinema with an artsy, independent film being shown. This is great spot to chill out away from the busy main strip and we love their eco-friendly initiatives like bamboo straws and water bottle refills. Free WiFi.
We've met different people who have completely opposite views about Joma Bakery just to the west of the post office and main intersection in town. It's a modern American-style cafe reminiscent of a Starbucks, but not so cheesy. For coffee purists, this place is not the place to come, but the caramel lattes certainly are sweet and milky and just a bit evil. As well, the baked goods don't match those at the French-style patisserie, Le Banneton, in the east of town. But this cafe is not about the purists, but your average punter, and judging by the crowds that gather here, many of us simply want something quick, easy and tasty served in an air-con building with WiFi – just like at home. Sandwiches are tasty and similar to what you'll get in the West, juices and ice coffees are refreshing and the cakes are delicious. A contentious place if ever there was one, but its popularity cannot be denied.
One of the restaurants furthest up on the peninsula is a fabulous French bakery called Le Banneton. A full range of French baked goods is on offer here as well as cooked breakfasts, fancy salads and tasty treats such as homemade ice cream. We were particularly taken by the breakfast sets which proved to be good value for money when taking the quality of the food into consideration. It's a lovely place that doesn't get nearly as many customers as bakeries such as Joma, but that's more a reflection on the location than anything else. The tarts are highly recommended.
The Scandinavian Bakery serves yummy pastries, breakfasts and hearty sandwiches in a family-friendly setting. Serving average coffee and big breakfasts, the bakery is at its busiest in the morning. You can get a typical American-style breakfast with eggs and bacon or a Scandinavian-style set with salami, cheese and fresh bread. Unlike its sister branch in Vientiane, this location has a pizza oven. The selection is staggering and organised by price brackets. This place is not as popular as it once was now that its location has changed to a spot further up on the peninsula.
If you're looking to experience genuine Lao food, you can't do better than Tamarind Restaurant and Cooking School. Their speciality is tasting platters of home-style dishes you won't find on any other menu in town, and the staff will even show you the traditional way to eat it. A must-try is the meuyang, a do-it-yourself wrap bursting with herbs and fresh veggies. Wash it down with Tamarind's custom juice blends featuring local ingredients like hibiscus flower or jujube fruit. This place is made for those with a genuine interest in food and is a fabulous introduction to the food of Laos. Although the restaurant is very Westernised in its service, setting and atmosphere, the flavours dished up are very Lao. Tamarind is an extremely popular restaurant and is always full in high season, meaning that bookings are essential for dinner and often for lunch. For such a popular quality restaurant, the prices here have remained low over the years and we can only imagine that the day will come when they yet again need to move premises to accommodate the flocking crowds. Cooking classes are also offered, but with good reason are often fully booked – book ahead of time.
Cafe Toui is a tiny little restaurant on a side road which heads down to the river from the Sisavangvong Road at the peninsula side of the night market. The Lao food here is some of the better of its kind to be had in Luang Prabang. Coconut milk curries and meat steamed in banana leaves feature on the menu as do a few appetisers such as spring rolls. It's all delicious and the setting is not dirty and basic like some of the budget options in town. Accordingly, the prices here hover around the 40,000 kip for a main dish and higher when looking for a buffalo steak. But the quality is what you are paying for and the pork and chicken dishes we recently had contained no fat, gristle or bones.
A tourist favourite for more than a decade, Tamnak Lao is one of the best restaurants on the main tourist strip to sample authentic Lao cuisine. Serving a full range of Lao dishes (plus the obligatory pasta and burgers), they are quite popular with tour groups and can get very busy at meal times, so be sure to pack your patience. Recommended are the pork-stuffed bamboo shoots, steamed fish with lime and lemongrass and eggplant dip served with a fresh baguette. Many diners enjoy the tried-and-true Lao recipes so much that they come back for Tamnak Lao's cooking class.
A long-running backpacker favourite, the price of the Vegetarian Buffet has remained stable and the quality is as so-so as ever. And although there are few other places where you can fill up for a dollar, it's probably because there is no meat used here and the flavours are very basic. The menu changes nightly, but you can count on steamed veggies, pumpkin curry, potatoes, salads and rice. Add fresh spring rolls for 1,000 kip each. They have a few tables set up along the street and also sell beer and soda. The buffet sets up around 17:00 and goes until the food runs out around 21:00. A raft of copycat buffets have set up in a nearby alleyway and serve equally cheap but disappointing food.
Formerly the Pond View Terrace Restaurant, Roots & Leaves has kept the pond and fruit trees, expanded the menu and added a dinner show. The performance of traditional music and dance goes from 19:00 to 21:00 and is free for guests dining here. This is one of the better cultural shows to see and the dancers are accompanied by musicians playing traditional Lao instruments. The food is tasty and presentation is as beautiful as the restaurant's gardens. Bookings are recommended as there are often big groups who take up most of the space here.
Still as popular as ever, 3 Nagas presents a menu of truly refined Lao food (without the offal) in a heritage-listed setting. While the prices are more typical of New York than Luang Prabang, the presentation and quality are first-rate and it's an experience you won't soon forget. Staff are highly knowledgeable about the menu and can recommend dishes featuring in-season local ingredients. These days the restaurant is split across two buildings across the road from one another, but the menu is the same. One side is set in a casual garden with candlelit tables while the other is in an old colonial building. On our most recent visit we noticed that drink prices were excessive, with a simple bottle of local water costing in excess of $4 after a 21% tax was added. In fact, this 21% tax is added across the entire menu which is an anomaly in Laos. It's especially disheartening given that headline prices are already quite high for Laos. Still, this is one of the best places in Luang Prabang to eat for the traveller who isn't on a tight budget.
In a colonial-chic building with bamboo shades and hardwood tables, L'Elephant is a longstanding favourite. They serve both Western and Lao cuisine, but on our lunchtime visit the aroma of baking bread was definitely stronger than that of chilli. French fare like frogs' legs and steak tartare grace the menu, but equally popular are their degustation menus of Lao cuisine. Some dishes are traditional like lemongrass pork, while desserts like ginger ice cream are their own creation. The ambience is sophisticated and there's an extensive liste du vin. It's an expensive restaurant by Lao standards with the cheapest set menu starting at 180,000 kip and rising sharply from there. Still, it's a popular restaurant and has a great reputation.
In an elegant setting overlooking the Nam Khan, The Apsara arguably serves the best food in Luang Prabang. A mouthwatering selection of Asian and Western fusion dishes are on offer, many of which you won't find on any other menu in town. For uniquely Asian flavours, try the buffalo cheek massaman curry (85,000 kip) or a whole fish stuffed with lemongrass and drizzled with a tamarind-lime sauce (150,000 kip, suitable for two). You can even try a tagine of goat cous cous and of course an extensive international wine list is available. Definitely recommended for their whole fish in tamarind sauce.
It's hard to recommend one riverside restaurant over the others, but we do think the one directly across from View Khem Khong Guesthouse is better than most. The menu is not as extensive as some of its competition, but they do traditional and local dishes very well. Highly recommended are the Luang Prabang sausage, Mekong river weed, and laap, a salad of minced meat and herbs. They can make a vegetarian version using fried tofu, but you're better off with the Luang Prabang vegetable salad instead. The number of local people eating here is evidence of their authenticity and fair price and, of course, there's a great view. Don't confuse this place with a nearby restaurant called View Keamkong Restaurant.
Among the riverfront restaurants with their carbon-copy menus, Hot Pot Restaurant has taken a different approach and specialised in Chinese-style hot pot. Comparable to fondue, the table centres on a boiling pot of spiced broth that you cook your meal in. Choose from skewers of meat, seafood, tofu and veggies, and dip them in the broth until done. It's pretty tasty once you master the process. It's quite a fun and affordable shared dining experience. Eat all you like for a fixed price of 60,000 kip per person, but don't take more than you can eat otherwise the feisty owners will charge you extra.
Cross the bamboo bridge over the Nam Khan for a meal on Dyen Sabai's chilled-out terrace. The menu is mostly light Lao fare, and the eggplant dip and dried sesame pork are the perfect tapas-style partner for a big bottle of Beerlao. Vegetarian options are available or, if you like meat, enquire about sindad, Lao-style barbecue. Happy hour from 12:00 to 19:00 means two cocktails for the price of one. A fee is payable in the dry season when the bridge is in operation. The views are great and this beautiful spot remains undiscovered by the package tour groups, but has become more popular in the past couple of years.
The Pizza serves decent pizzas at around the 50,000 kip mark further down the peninsula from the night market. One pizza here will be enough for two people if they're not too hungry, but one pizza will be too large for most people. Other than pizzas, the menu here is extensive with a range of pasta dishes as well as a huge selection of Lao cuisine. The interior of the restaurant feels a little 80s pizzeria, but the outside terrace overlooking the street is a less stuffy place to enjoy your meal. Overall, an inoffensive and reasonably priced option.
Un Petit Nid on the main road up past the 3 Nagas Hotel towards the far end of the peninsula is a bistro serving up delectable thin crust pizzas, a small selection of tasty spaghetti dishes, a great range of Lao food and some delicious breakfasts. It's a slightly upmarket place, but the vibe is still quite casual. At times when there is a big crowd dining, the kitchen becomes backlogged with orders meaning that you may have to wait well in excess of an hour for your food. We're big fans of this place, but if it's busy, try somewhere else first.
A slice of Paris in Laos, lovely bistro Couleur Cafe is set on the Nam Khan side of the peninsula. Run by a French expat, the menu is a mix of French and Lao dishes ranging from French favourites like filet mignon to regional fare like steamed fish with coconut. Even more compelling than the elegantly presented food is Couleur's atmosphere which, like its cuisine, gracefully mixes Asian influences with upscale French flavour. There's a long list of imported wines and be sure to save room for dessert. Moderately priced.
One of the best East-meets-West places in town, Blue Lagoon offers top-notch cuisine in a lush garden setting. The menu is eclectic, borrowing from Asian classics and European delights, all artfully prepared and presented. Standouts include the steaks, made from the highest quality local beef, and the eggplant gratin. Staff are chatty and known for pampering their guests and, once the wine starts flowing, the evening hours fly by. This level of service comes at a price, with main dishes ranging from 50,000 to 140,000 kip. It's a worthwhile splurge if you have the funds and they do take credit cards.
Asian and Indian
Nisha Indian Restaurant is an Indian joint with a branch in Phonsavan that serves up incredible curries which burst with flavour, crispy and doughy Indian breads and hearty biriyanis. This place wipes the floor of Nazim's in the centre of town on both taste and price and Nazim's is actually pretty good, which is a testament to how good the food and prices here are. The only negative for a place in this price range is the possibility that you might have a run in with the owner. On our two recent visits we felt unwelcome. On the first occasion we asked the owner to clean the table we were about to occupy and he simply swept all the scraps of the table onto the ground in an upset fashion. The second time he argued at length with customers about whether they wanted rice or not and banged the table angrily in frustration. If you can manage not to upset the owner, you'll have a great meal. Just don't ask for anything out of the ordinary, menu alterations or generally cause any extra work or you may well cop it. Located on the main road running south out of Luang Prabang.
Nazim's on the main road in the centre of town serves up delicious Indian food in a large open-fronted restaurant and has been for years. All the usual dishes are here such as chicken tikka masala, malai kofta and Indian breads. It's more professionally run than Nisha a kilometre away, but then again dishes can run up to around double the price. As for the taste of the food, Nazim's is delicious but we still think Nisha has the edge. Come here only if you can't be bothered walking down to Nisha.
Located near the bar area of town just across from Dara Market is the aptly named Lao-Chinese-Vietnam Restaurant. It's one of a few spots in this part of town that do cheap, local food and this place does it better than most. The menu is filled with items such as fried rice, spring rolls, soups and stir-fried tofu and veggie options. The setup is basic and the prices slightly higher than the cheapest riverfront restaurants, but the food here is excellent and perhaps even worth going out of your way for. Come early as it is often closed by about 20:00.
About 200 metres along Sisavangvong Road past the night market towards the end of the peninsula is a small gift shop which sets up a bunch of old tables and chairs at night in order to create their own streetside restaurant. Tha Vee Souk, as it's called, serves up tasty Chinese stir-fries, fried rice and delectable handmade dumplings at great prices. The service here is quick compared to most places in town due to the relatively few people who dine here. This makeshift restaurant is only open during the evenings and is a top spot for some culinary variety.
Popular with the tour-group crowd, Son Phao Restaurant & Traditional Show has a nightly cultural show and popular set menus: choose between Lao and Japanese cuisine. The Lao selection includes laap, fish, soup and fried bamboo shoots, while the Japanese offerings are miso soup, sushi, omelette, and a fish cutlet. A smaller version is available for 60,000 kip or you can order the same dishes a la carte. Drink prices are reasonable at 12,000 kip for beer or 24,000 kip for cocktails. The show only lasts 45 minutes, but nonetheless it makes a fun evening out. Arrive early for a good table.
Bars & Nightlife
Not to be confused with the Lao disco of the same name, chic European bistro and bar Dao Fa Bistro is right at the heart of Sisavangvong Road and offers a full range of wine, beer and cocktails. The cocktails are definitely the standout and are expertly blended from premium spirits (no lao-lao here). They do all the classics, sweet tropical drinks, plus some exotic concoctions like the Brazilian caipirinha, plus they cost only 30,000 kip during happy hour (18:00-21:00). Dao Fa also serves a full range of tasty Euro-cuisine like homemade pasta, sandwiches and thin-crust pizzas.
Garden bar and restaurant Utopia has unbeatable views and boasts a fantastic chilled out vibe. Open all day, it goes from mellow to happening after 17:00 when the drink specials start up. If you tire of the view, there's lots of other diversions, like a riverside volleyball court, darts, foosball table and the hugest Jenga game we've ever seen. The food is underwhelming, but on party nights the barbecue is pretty good. Utopia is tricky to find, but it's worth the effort -- look for the path opposite Wat Visoun and follow the signs.
S Bar Restaurant is as the name suggests a bar-cum-restaurant and a relative newcomer to the Luang Prabang bar district. Seemingly this place is trying to attract a different type of clientele to the surrounding bars with understated music and funky design being their hallmark. We liked the use of vinyl records as drinks menus. A smattering of food is also on offer such as Lao tapas and fusion sushi.
Near the other bars on Phousi Road, The House is a Belgian-owned place with a food and drink menu from around the globe. Chill-out music and a big beer selection are main draws, but the Euro-cuisine from kebabs to schnitzels is quite good and served with fries. We hesitate to agree they're the best in Laos, but they are hand-cut and served with bottles of ketchup, chilli and curry mayo. Prices are a bit high (mains from 40,000 kip), but portions are generous. Free WiFi and petanque, too.
Meet and mingle at Lao Lao Beer Garden -- a bar that caters to people who like to drink a lot at a low price. It's actually quite a pretty place with terrace tables near the road and a lovely candlelit garden inside. Most of the menu is given over to their drink specials -- two-for-one lao lao cocktails, Red Bull and vodka buckets -- but there's food, too. On top of the usual bar snacks and burgers, they do popular Lao barbecues. This do-it-yourself meal is fun regardless whether you're drinking or not. The adjacent sports bar is an extension and also has free pool tables. Due to the curfew, Lao Lao Garden and other bars officially close at 23:30.