3 Nagas Hotel
Tel: 856 71 253 750
Chef Yannick Upravan oversees four eateries inside Luang Prabang's old district, including the popular French restaurant L'Éléphant (Ban Vat Nong; 856-71-252-482). However, this bistro, occupying a classic colonial building at the 3 Nagas hotel, is the most satisfying. Ceiling fans, French doors, and potted plants supply colonial Asia atmosphere, while the kitchen delivers delicious, delightfully presented Lao favorites like saa moo, a minced pork and banana-flower salad, and aromatic euk kai saille katriem, grilled skewers of lemongrass-marinated chicken served with fresh cilantro, mint, and mountain-grown purple sticky rice. If there's a fault, it's that the small portions seem overpriced. —Updated by Christopher Cox
Open daily 6:30 am to 10:30 pm.
49–3 Sakkarine Road
Tel: 856 71 255 000
Luang Prabang's lineup of pizza places and Lao- and French-heavy kitchens got a bit more diverse with the late 2007 opening of this well-conceived bistro specializing in home-cooked Mediterranean dishes. With an open kitchen and just 40 seats spread over two floors, Arisai achieves a casual intimacy that is reinforced by its hearty dishes, especially North African specialties such as roasted chicken and merguez sausage with couscous and house-made harissa. The eight-seat sidewalk terrace is the place for people-watching.—Christopher Cox
Open daily 12 to 2 pm and 6:30 to 10 pm
Le Parasol Blanc Hotel
Phou Vao Road
Tel: 856 71 252 124
This charming restaurant is part of Le Parasol Blanc Hotel, a little over half a mile from Luang Prabang. The hotel has a peaceful, green garden, and the restaurant is built on stilts over a large lily pond bordered by palm trees, with an open-air terrace looking across the water. The menu blends French and local cuisine with spectacular results: A traditional meal starts with a crispy watercress salad and proceeds through generous helpings of sticky rice flavored with crispy side dishes of chicken and Mekong River fish.
Open daily 6:30 am to 10 pm.
For tasty, cheap food, outdoor stalls are a good bet; many say that's where to find the best grub in Asia. Lining the Mekong River's bank from Nokeo Koummane Road to Khun Bulom Road, stalls offer traditional Lao dishes like tam som (spicy salad of green papaya, chili, garlic, tomatoes, ground peanuts, lime juice, and fish sauce), ping kai (grilled chicken), and fruit shakes from morning until nearly midnight. The kiosk at the junction of Khun Bulom and Heng Boun is popular with the locals for its rice and cassava steamed in bamboo leaves, and its chicken and fish kebabs. At night, try the Dong Palan Night Market on Ban Fai Road near Wat Ban Fai.
Tel: 856 21 215 265
Located in the center of town (there's another branch in Luang Prabang), JoMa is run by a Canadian expatriate couple (note the maple leaf on the sign, which makes this bakery/café easy to spot). Popular with the foreign-aid and business crowd, the bakery serves excellent sandwiches on superior baguettes, as well as quiche, pizza, and fine coffee. (Try the coffee Lao-style: strong, and mixed with sweetened condensed milk). The array of pastries includes brownies, cheesecake, and delicious chocolate-chip cookies. Stop here for breakfast or lunch when in Vientiane, or assemble a picnic for a day trip or long bus journey.
Open daily 7 am to 9 pm.
17/1 Sihom Road
Tel: 856 21 219 689
Sick of noodles and fried rice? Try this French-Canadian restaurant, which could hold its own in Paris. Main courses include tian of duck foie gras with cajun-pepper pineapple jam and ginger bread, tilapia with lemon butter and capers, and scallop carpaccio with mango emulsion; you can wipe your plate clean with the excellent French bread. For dessert, try the crème brûlée. One rarely feels virtuous after eating butter-laden cuisine, but since a chunk of Le Silapa's profits support a medical fund for disadvantaged children, you can gorge without guilt. And be sure to order a bottle or two from the excellent—and incredibly cheap—wine list.
Open daily 11:30 am to 2 pm and 6:00 to 10:00 pm, August through June; also closed one week in April for Lao New Year.
Tel: 856 20 777 0484
As a source for cooking classes, market tours, and a ridiculously affordable menu, partners Joy Ngeuamboupha and Caroline Gaylard may be the town's most enthusiastic promoters of Lao cuisine. Part classroom and part gift shop, their storefront restaurant located one block west of Villa Santi relies on homegrown recipes using local organic products. A typical meal of sticky rice served with oua si kai—stalks of lemongrass that have been sliced open; stuffed with minced chicken, cilantro, and kaffir lime leaves; and then fried—runs about $4, including an ice-cold Beerlao. You'll have plenty left in your budget to buy gift packs of Lao coffee, forest honey, or dried river moss. Tamarind's early hours make it best suited to lunch, although every Friday evening there's a prix fixe feast of pun pa—farm-raised tilapia stuffed with lemongrass then steamed in banana leaves—accompanied by nibbles like river moss and sesame seed crackers with a smoked eggplant spread. —Updated by Christopher Cox
Open Mondays through Saturdays,11 am to 6 pm, later on Fridays.
Tel: 856 71 252 525
After several years along Sisavangvong Road's backpacker strip, this popular place has gone uptown to an elegant, historic structure across Sakkalin Road from Villa Santi. The souvenir-shop decor remains slightly touristy, and the mildly seasoned Thai and Lao food, such as kua maak kheua (fried eggplant with minced pork and spring onion), is still prepared to suit foreign palates. The price is right, however, as most entrees run less than $4. Tables on the second-floor veranda have the best views.
Open daily 8:30 to 10:30 am, 11 am to 3 pm, and 5 to 11 pm.