where to find the best local food in Luang Prabang, Laos

There are so many options for food in Luang Prabang despite it being a small city…but not all of them showcase the local cuisine. There’s an Indian restaurant, an Aussie sports bar, and a Mexican joint that all have delicious food. But you don’t come to Laos to eat a veggie burger while watching the rugby {although….it makes for a fun night of home comforts, aye?}, do you? Lao food is amazing and often gets overshadowed by its neighbors’ banh mi or pad thai fame. But there’s something special about the lesser known joys of sticky rice and jeow bong on the Mekong washed down with a Beer Lao.

By the time you’re finished reading this food guide, you’ll know more about Lao food culture and all the best places to eat local cuisine in Luang Prabang. Recommending places to eat here can get tricky. While compiling my list of favourite spots for Lao food, I realized pretty quickly that most of my favourite places in the city don’t have names. Most of them don’t have signage either. In fact, some of these eateries are run out of the actual kitchen of people’s homes…which is arguably where you find the best local cuisine in any location.

So, I stuck to places that offer local food, do have official names, and can be found on the map provided at the bottom of this post! Hopefully, that makes it easier for anyone reading this. I may, in the future, put together a post for local food stops that are absolutely hidden and don’t have any posted signage…but let’s ease into this, k?


KEEP READING TO FIND THE BEST LOCAL FOOD IN LUANG PRABANG


COCONUT GARDEN ON MAIN STREET IN LUANG PRABANG

COCONUT GARDEN ON MAIN STREET IN LUANG PRABANG

IMG_9989.jpg
SAIBAIDEE RESTAURANT IN LUANG PRABANG

SAIBAIDEE RESTAURANT IN LUANG PRABANG

about Lao food

Food in Laos, like most other places, varies from region to region. Traditionally, Lao food is eaten alongside sticky rice with your fingers {such a fun, albeit messy way to eat} and is usually eaten “family stye”, meaning everyone sits together on the floor or on low stools and shares different dishes. Traditional food in Laos is dry, spicy and some of my favourite in Southeast Asia, because it hasn’t really been watered-down like other cuisines.

Meat isn’t always available, so eating as a vegetarian in Laos is pretty easy. You usually get a lot of rice and veggies with little bits meat. Food is very low in fat since meat is often grilled or steamed and vegetables. Lao people eat a lot of fish and chicken, which are more affordable and easy to raise.

MY PRICE GUIDE

Price is, obviously, relative. What’s considered expensive in Laos is still cheap af in the states or places like Europe and New Zealand. That’s why I’ve created a guide to help you judge which places you can grab a meal at to fit your budget.

$: 20,000 kip or less

$$: 21,000 kip- 40,000 kip

$$$: 41,000 kip - 60,000 kip

$$$$: 61,000 kip or more

20180912-IMG_1595.jpg

COCONUT GARDEN

Coconut Garden is much more expensive than local joints around town, but tour guides typically bring tourists here thanks to its menu offering both Lao and International food options. It’s the right place to dip your feet in the Lao food pool before jumping into a fully local, hole-in-the-wall experience. Your wallet will feel squeezed though— its reputation for good food and its popularity with tourists mean it bumps up its prices…wah, wah, wah.

WHAT TO TRY: My favourite Lao dish is jeow bong, a chili paste eaten with sticky rice, and Coconut Garden does it right.

PRICE: $$$$ Fried curry vegetarian spring rolls, sticky rice, jeow bong, and a Coke will set you back 70,000 kip {USD $8.26} which is more than I usually spend in an entire day on food here.

pork leg served with rice, morning glory, special sauce, and a hard-boiled egg

pork leg served with rice, morning glory, special sauce, and a hard-boiled egg

Atsalin

Ask any Lao local in Luang Prabang where to find their favourite meal, and they will all say Atsalin. It’s the kind of place that Anthony Bourdain would have eaten. Most tourists wouldn’t be able to find it and, even if they did, they might be a little weary of the look of the place. The kitchen at Atsalin sits out front of the restaurant and so does the bucket sink where the dishes are washed.

In truth, it doesn’t get more Lao than Atsalin, and anyone in Luang Prabang who hasn’t eaten here hasn’t had the full experience. Dishes run around 15,000 kip {less than USD $2}, and they are served in big portions. You’ll leave with a belly full of homemade food, served by happy staff that take pride in how they maintain Lao tradition through the cuisine they serve.

WHAT TO TRY: The signature dish at Atsalin is their pork leg served with rice, morning glory, a hardboiled egg, and Atsalin’s special sauce {pictured above}.

PRICE: $

Pha Khao Lak

New to Luang Prabang, Pha Khao Lak is owned and operated by my friends, KK and Harry, who have created an affordable menu that can be enjoyed right across from Wat Visoun. There is a back patio with fans that allows you to enjoy the open air without being directly in the sun.

It’s nice to know that Pha Khao Lak also has WiFi, so if you need a place to work {shoutout to my digi nomads}, you can eat a mean feed and hustle hard here. KK and Harry, the owners of the establishment, are longtime friends of mine, so tell them Tara sent you!

WHAT TO TRY: Fresh spring rolls here are refreshing, not fried, and a good way to up your veggie intake.

PRICE: $

20180916-DSC01104.jpg

Saibaidee

Saibaidee is a beautiful little restaurant near the Nam Khan. The family that runs this place has memorized my order over the years and its their friendliness {on top of the delicious eats} that keeps me coming back time and time again.

Little twinkly lights decorate the ceiling, making it a very pretty place to eat for cheap. I’ve watched the owner’s son, At, grow from a little newborn to a diaper-wearing toddler who waddles around with a menu clumsily trying to place it on your table. There are so many good dishes here for almost no money! Morning glory, mango sticky rice, spring rolls, and any of their curry dishes are all on my list of favorites.

WHAT TO TRY: Saibaidee serves pad Thai vegan-style with extra ground peanuts and a spicy chili sauce I get total cravings for.

PRICE: $$

Bamboo’s fried yellow noodle

Bamboo’s fried yellow noodle

Bamboo Restaurant

Bamboo is owned and run by Tibay who has become a friend over many, many visits to eat the inexpensive meals like pad Thai that he serves up. Tibay’s restaurant is known by every local in the Ban Visoun/Ban Muenna area of Luang Prabang. Despite the popularity of Bamboo, the prices haven’t been hiked! You can get a meal here for less than USD $2 with or without meat, making every entree guiltless.

NOTE: Bamboo does use plastic straws, so if you order a shake or a drink made to order, make sure you ask for no straw to help do your part to keep Laos clean!

WHAT TO TRY: The vegetarian pad Thai at Bamboo is yum and only 15,000 kip. Also off their 15,000 kip menu is their Fried Yellow Noodle with cauliflower, morning glory, cabbage, and carrot, which you can get without egg or meat to make it almost vegan {the noodles are egg noodles, so not quite}.

PRICE: $

20181002-IMG_2217.jpg

Khaiphaen

Khaiphaen is a training restaurant, meaning the students serving you are studying hospitality in the hopes of working in the industry upon completion of their training and certification programs. The profits of every meal enjoyed at Khaiphaen are reinvested into student training programs and partnering NGOs. Named after a favourite Luang Prabang snack: river weed dried in the sun and sprinkled with sesame seeds.

WHAT TO TRY: The spring onion and chili dip with sticky rice was a favourite of the table. Vegan friends might enjoy crispy tofu with khaiphaen and spicy mango dip— I know I did.

PRICE: $$$

20181018-IMG_3533.jpg

BAMBOO TREE GARDEN RESTAURANT

Bamboo Tree Garden is located near the Red Cross massage parlour {where proceeds from each massage go towards the Lao Red Cross}, and feels extra hidden away. It sits down an unpaved alley down an alleyway across from Wat Visoun, where there are a handful of guesthouses no one seems to no about despite them being regularly booked {Lao mystery}. A hand-painted sign and Lao music playing off a boombox lets you know you’ve arrived at the correct location. A handful of tables and chairs sit unevenly near the outdoor kitchen where your food is prepared. The chef is happy to make things “more vegan” by not adding egg to vegetarian dishes, however, this is Laos, meaning your noodles will likely be egg noodles and there is the potential for fish sauce {which contains anchovies} to be used in some dishes.

WHAT TO TRY: Vegetable fried noodles and vegetarian pad Thai {hold the egg} are both great veggie options here. I’ve also heard the chicken fried rice is extremely filling and worth the whopping USD $1.86 you pay.

PRICE: $


As a disclaimer, I haven’t eaten the dishes on this list that aren’t vegetarian friendly. Meat featured in this post is part of traditional, Lao meals that people should try if their diets allow, and come recommended personally by my friends. All photos are my own, as always, meat or no meat.


LIKED THIS POST? PIN IT!

sillylittlekiwi.com (2).jpg