L’Elephant. Run by two longtime French expats, this stylish café-restaurant with a charming colonial atmosphere, friendly service and excellent food is just as good for an iced coffee and a slice of mango-pineapple- apple tart after an afternoon of sightseeing as it is for lunch or dinner. The menu features both French and Lao dishes, and among the standouts are the wild-boar terrine, the lamb shank braised with cardamom, and the superb Laotian salads — don’t miss the kranab pa, fish stuffed with ground pork and local herbs and grilled in a banana leaf. Ban Vat Nong, Luang Prabang. Tel. (856) 71-252-482. Dinner for two, US$120.
Tamarind Cafe. This simple but spotless little restaurant serves the best Lao food in town, and it is an ideal place to discover an Asian cuisine that remains little known. try the sampler platter to start and then the lemongrass stuffed with ground pork and herbs. For those who develop a taste for Lao food, which is often deliciously tangy and a little smoky, the café offers cooking classes. Ban Wat Nong, Luang Prabang. Tel. (856) 20-7777-0484. Lunch for two, US$80.
Makphet. This modest restaurant was the first to make me a fan of Laotian cooking, which tends to be more potently flavored than the food of Vietnam or Cambodia. (Makphet means “chili” in Lao.) Start with the banana flower and grilled pork salad, with garlic-and-tamarind dressing and grilled straw mushrooms in shallot sauce; then try the red curry with pork and eggplant and whiskey- marinated beef with tomatoes and frangipani flowers. Reservations are essential. Sethathirat (behind Wat Ong Teu), Vientiane. Tel. (856) 21-260-587. Dinner for two, US$25.
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