August 28, 2017
The ancient royal capital of Laos may be better known for its rich history and 35 temples, but a range of new restaurants are giving foodies another reason to visit Luang Prabang.
Be they ultra-luxe adventurers or culture connoisseurs, more and more travelers have been using Luang Prabang as their Laos adventure basecamp, and the city, in turn, has been refining its palate.
ABOVE: Conveniently located for both the Royal Palace and the night market, Azerai’s terrace is an excellent people watching spot.
Just a few minutes walk from the Royal Palace, and only steps away from the night market, Azerai Bistro has one of the best locations in town – and a menu to match. Despite its heritage look, the building – combining traditional Lao and French colonial features – was only constructed in 2016, replacing an unloved 1960s-built government structure. The bright and airy space is divided into a downstairs bistro and upstairs bar, while the menu consists of contemporary cuisine with a few local touches, such as the excellent buffalo burger, and an extensive list of cocktails and wines. If you come for dinner, snag a seat on one of the outdoor terraces for an excellent view of the nightlife.
Manda de Laos
ABOVE: Located just outside the heritage zone, Manda de Laos has been in the same family for four generations.
Despite its location just outside of the heritage zone, Manda de Laos has without a doubt one of the most scenic settings of any restaurant in Luang Prabang. The entrance is found down an anonymous suburban street, but as soon as you step over the threshold you discover a hidden lotus pond surrounded by lush vegetation – an especially scenic vista once night falls. Choose between the more formal tables up front, or the lounge seating off to the side, and select some refined Laos fare to share, like the succulent ping dook moo, pork rib served with kaffir lime, or the wok-fried buffalo. Owned by the same family for generations, the name references the matriarch Phiew – manda meaning ‘mother’ in Lao.
ABOVE: Tamarind serves some of the best fare in town and teaches their patrons how to make it.
At the heart of many of the best restaurants is a love story. Tamarind was founded by Laos national Joy, who grew up in the countryside and only saw a foreigner for the first time when he joined a Luang Prabang monastery as a young monk aged 11, and his Australian wife Caroline, who he met in 2001. Together, they decided to open a restaurant that not only showcased the best of Lao cuisine, but also taught visitors how to make it. Besides taking a cooking class, the best way to access the country’s cuisine is to order one of the tasting platters, which include the likes of orlam, a local soup with chicken, eggplant and local vegetables, delicious sai oua (pork sausage), and crispy khai pene – river weed.
ABOVE: Be sure to accompany the Indochine cuisine with one of the Tangor’s signature cocktails.
Laos was only a French protectorate for 60 years, which perhaps explains why you don’t find baguettes sold on every street corner as you would in Vietnam. Nevertheless, it was part of French Indochina, and so retains a few vestiges of its colonial past, which perhaps explains the number of French visitors drawn to Luang Prabang, and Tangor in particular. Named after an indigenous sour-sweet fruit, this retro-themed bar and restaurant is run by a dapper young Frenchman, with wicker chairs that encourage you to relax and watch the world go by. For a small taste of Indochine, try one of their signature cocktails like Little Miss Saigon (vodka, cranberry juice, and lychee liquor), and the meat and cheese platter.
ABOVE: Found on Sisavangvong Road, Boaung’s owners describe their fare as Laos revision.
Run by a pair of young Frenchwomen, Bouang – the Lao word for ‘spoon’ – is probably the hottest table in Luang Prabang right now. Occupying a traditional shophouse on the city’s main drag, the décor is best described as bohemian chic, with wooden chairs painted a variety of bold colors, exposed brick walls, and a bathroom where you’re invited to add your own graffiti. The menu is handwritten on the back of local metal serving plates, with a mouthwatering selection of dishes the owners describe as Lao revision. Order the fresh mango spring rolls, Lao meat balls served with chips and sticky rice, and their delicious Bouang Mess – a rather moreish dessert of yoghurt, meringue, passionfruit, and mango
ABOVE: The fine food at 525, designed for communal dining, comes second to the cocktails.
Every city has its secret cocktail bar, where the locals prefer to hang out, and in Luang Prabang, it’s 525. Run by an expatriate Englishman, the name refers to when he used to signal to his co-worker that it was five to five, and so time to head to the pub. Accordingly, 525 opens at 5pm, when the outside garden seating – replete with fire pits for the cooler winter months – starts to fill up. House cocktails include the refreshing pineapple ginger mojito, Chillychee martini made with chili and lychee juice, and the espresso martini, which features a shot of local coffee. There’s a fairly extensive menu designed for sharing, such as the buffalo sliders, empanadas, Asian prawn balls, and the gin and tonic battered fish.