Vientiane and Luang Prabang have plenty of eateries, ranging from sidewalk noodle shops and thatch-roofed riverside salas to international-class restaurants. Though delicious French and Chinese-influenced meals are available in the better restaurants, distinctively Lao dishes, including lemongrass, tomato and fish soup; spicy ground-meat laab; lime, garlic and shredded-papaya salad; and, of course, sticky rice, are available at even fairly modest lunch spots.
You'll see street vendors selling whatever fruit is in season and others selling fresh baguettes or crusty pastries. Food from stalls on the street is inexpensive and generally safe to eat, but be wary of any food containing meat or food that has been sitting out all day, as sanitation standards are not the highest. Also avoid fermented fish paste (paadek) and other uncooked fish dishes.
There are many restaurants in Vientiane. They offer a wide selection of cuisines, from Chinese specialities to Tex-Mex. More restaurants are opened all the time, but many are there for just a few months before they go under; a few are successful and stay and may even flourish. It’s a question of offering something special, either in the way of the food served, or the atmosphere, or the friendly and competent service.
Noodle shops can be found all over the town. They typically serve Vietnamese-type noodle soups (pho), often also fried rice and other rice or noodle-based dishes. Prices are very moderate and it is advisable to eat in places where there are many customers – the food is likely to be good and fresh.
Ban Anou Night Market is only about one block long and starts setting up at sundown, but it has some of the best cheap eats in town. There's a wide range of street snacks available, including pho made with hand-pulled noodles, little lettuce wrapped snacks with peanut filling (miang), all types of grilled skewered meats, grilled sticky rice and more.
Along the river, dozens of unpretentious restaurants and beer gardens, from opposite the BCEL bank strung along the Mekong for approximately 2 km upriver. All are pleasant places for a beer and a snack or a complete meal while the sun goes down over the river. All serve inexpensive Lao and some Western food. Among the best is the grilled fish, served by many of them.
In 2005 one of the eateries along the river put Lao-style reed mats on the ground with low rattan tables (ka toke); diners sit cross-legged on the mat around the table. These became so popular that they can now be found at many of these establishments. They are much nicer than the rickety metal tables and plastic chairs that are the standard of all but the better restaurants in Laos.
Phonethip Coca Suki Restaurant, on Thanon Sailom opposite the Lao Telecom Service Centre, is part of a chain that also has restaurants in Thailand and Indonesia. Good Lao, Thai, Chinese and Western food. Reasonable prices and good, attentive service.
Nam Phou is the first and arguably the best of the restaurants around the fountain area, with good food and exceptional service. Le Silapa on Thanon Sihom (the road leading off the Setthathirat/Khun Bulom intersection), is a small atmospheric restaurant with excellent French food and a good wine list. Le Nadao, opposite the Patuxai park, also serves excellent classical French fare. Le Côte d’Azur on Thanon Fa Ngum is a favourite of the expatriate community, serving generous helpings of mainly French food.
Le Croissant d'Or and Banneton Café, almost next to each other in Thanon Nokeo Kumman (running from the river to Thanon Setthathirat) have croissants and pastries and serve simple lunches. JoMa on Thanon Setthathirat, and Scandinavian Bakery in the fountain square, are extremely popular air-conditioned cafés and bakeries with simple lunches and excellent cakes and coffee.