A cart selling one of Laos' unique street foods, a baguette stuffed with a sort of paté.
Vientiane has become home to several excellent restaurants, at remarkably low prices. There are a number of restaurants catering to foreigners in the main tourist areas, along Lane Xang and Samsenthai Roads, as well as along the Mekong River. You'll find everything from small roadside stalls to full restaurants.
Some of the fancier restaurants have menus with prices in US Dollars or Thai Baht, but most eateries sell in Lao Kip. Expect to pay 20,000 ($2) to 50,000 ($4) Kip for a main course, and 5,000 to 10,000 Kip for drinks at most places. Note that wine is quite reasonably priced in Vientiane compared to most other countries in the region. A decent French Bordeaux can be purchased for around $15 a bottle.
With its French influence, Vientiane is naturally a good place to find the continental breakfast experience. There are a number of bakeries, such as Scandinavian Bakery on Nam Pou Place, serving pastries, cookies and other baked goods along with Lao coffee. Scandinavian has a reputation for being too popular, but there are many others in a similar vein. My personal favorite is Joma, on Settathilat Road not far from the fountain.
Vientiane shares a lot of the same common street foods with the rest of Southeast Asia, especially Chinese noodles in various forms. Given the large number of visitors from Vietnam, it should be no surprise that the Vietnamese noodle dish pho is also easily found.
I wouldn't normally list mini-marts in this section, but in Vientiane there are several small "mom and pop" stores where you can find fresh baguettes and other baked goods, paté, imported cheeses and even an extensive wine selection. In short, everything needed to make an impromptu picnic. A good example is Phimphone mini-market on Samsenthai Road on the corner leading to the Tat Dam monument. This market has a whole room just for wine, as well as some great baked goods and other products for sale. In 2007 they opened a shiny new branch on Settathilat Road near the fountain, next to Joma caf&eacut;.
Restaurants come and go, although the market in Vientiane seems more stable than in most tourist centers. Here's a few of the places that I've had a chance to sample:
- Restaurant operated by the charity Friends International. The restaurant serves as a training facility to help street children acquire marketable skills. Not only is dining here a way of doing some good on your vacation, it's also the absolutely best meal I've had in Laos. The menu is sort of Lao fusion, with daily specials on the board. At the time I visited, the restaurant was only open for lunch, from 11:00 to 4:00 p.m.
- Le Provincal
- French (duh!) restaurant facing the fountain, next to Scandanavian Bakery. Specialties are pizza and fish dishes.
- At or near the top end of Vientiane's restaurants, Kualao is located in a restored colonial house on Samsenthai Road near Tat Dam. The decoration is filled with traditional silks and antiques. Traditional music and dance are featured nightly. Telephone 215 777
- A branch of one of Bangkok's oldest Italian restaurants. The food is excellent, as is the wine selection and Italian coffees. On Fountain Circle. Telephone 215 099
See my travel journal for more reviews of Vientiane restaurants.