I spent six months living and teaching in Vientiane and I am the first to admit that there isn’t a lot to do there – and I can completely understand why many tourists don’t stay very long. The one thing Vientiane does have going for it is some excellent restaurants. Most of these are located downtown where the majority of the accommodation is so their easy to walk to. Please, please avoid the restaurants around the Nam Phou fountain – they are crappy and overpriced and there is much much better food to be had nearby.
It’s likely that Vientiane won’t be your first stop on your Asian adventure, so by the time you get there you might just have had enough Thai/Vietnamese/Cambodian food for a while. Luckily my pick of the best restaurants are mostly foreign ones. That’s not to say that there’s not great Lao food in Vientiane – there absolutely is, but there are just better expat restaurants and the quality is so great that you know you’re getting an excellent deal.
Ray’s Grille. The best burgers I’ve ever eaten – and I’m not the only person to say that. These burgers are seriously huge, and they all come with a complimentary side of fries. I’m not even going to recommend a burger because they are all amazing – though I am partial to the Bleu Bleu Bleu cheese one. Also the Philly cheesesteak was pretty phenomenal. It’s an unassuming little place tucked behind a gas station right at the end of Rue Samsenthai (the main street downtown). To get there walk against the traffic until you get to the end of the road and see the gas station (to your left there will be a mens suit store), cross the road and it will be on your right. It’s often full at peak times but just wait a few minutes and a table will free up.
Ban Gai House of Chicken. This place has probably the best Mexican food I’ve eaten outside of Mexico – it is really really good!. I highly recommend the Chicken Fajitas – they come with at least an entire chicken breast grilled to succulent deliciousness, along with sides of refried beans, guacamole, spicy rice, salsa and cheese. You only get 3 tortillas (though you can order more) but I was never able to finish a plate. The leftovers are delicious the next day so make sure you ask to take it away. Other favourites are the vegetarian burritos, beef enchiladas and the apple cobbler for dessert (not Mexican but absolutely delicious).
It’s worth mentioning that this place is hard to find the first time you go there, and not every tuk tuk driver will be willing to drive you there because it’s off their normal tourist route. It is worth making the effort though and with a little bartering you should be able to find transport reasonably easily. For reference, it’s on the same road as the German embassy (tuk tuk drivers will know this location) and as you approach it from downtown the embassy will be on the right. It’s about 400 feet up the road from the embassy on your left.
Le Banneton. I didn’t discover this place until halfway through my time in Vientiane, but I made up for it by going there for breakfast almost every Sunday for the next 3 months. For 35,000 kip (less than $5) you can get half a baguette (the best baguette I’ve ever tasted) with butter and jam, eggs and bacon, a croissant, a glass of orange juice and a coffee. Yes it is way too much food for one person but you order it anyway and have no problem fitting it all in because it is that delicious. To top it off the service is great, there is somehow always a free table, and it’s right in the centre of downtown.
Via Via. This is an Italian place just up from the night markets along the Mekong River (and on the same road as Le Banneton). It remains one of my absolute favourite restaurants of all time. I cannot recommend the goats cheese, thyme, honey and bacon pizza highly enough. I won’t even try to describe it because no words can do it justice. Just order it, and get one to yourself because you won’t want to share. Close runners up are the Greek salad (it literally has an entire block of feta cheese in it), and the apple and bacon salad. Yum!
Lao Kitchen. Though not the best Lao food in Vientiane (the best I had was at the little nameless family run stores in the suburbs), it is in such a convenient location, and has an extensive menu that in my opinion it’s the best option for Lao food in Vientiane for tourists passing through. Many tourists head straight to Khop Chai Deu as it’s on the main road downtown but I highly recommend you walk a couple of blocks to Lao Kitchen because it really is so much better. The fresh spring rolls are delicious, as is the duck lab and the river fish stir fry. For dessert the mango coconut sticky rice with a Lao coffee is a must.
↑ Morning Glory, Pork Laarb, Noodle Salad ↑
Other places that deserve honourable mentions if you’re hanging around for longer than a couple of days are Makphet, PVO and Soul Kitchen. Also, if you do want to try some authentic Lao food there are several small places tucked away along 23 Singha Road (the road which connects Patuxai and That Luang) so if you can brave the heat it’s worth walking along there and stopping for lunch along the way.
If you’re passing through Vientiane on your way to Thailand or elsewhere in Laos, consider spending a day or two there so you can sample the food – I promise you won’t regret it!