Despite the number and breadth of guesthouses, Son La is surprisingly bereft of food options.
A good place to start though is up near the park which becomes a social centre in the evenings when it fills with tables and chairs and locals gather to sip drinks in the near pitch black. Across from the park, on To Hieu, one of the most tempting things we saw was some grilled chicken, but if you're more in the mood for snails then try the stand on the corner opposite, which opens in the evenings. Plates loaded with fried (Oc Xao) and boiled (Oc Luoc) snails are dished up with chilli dipping sauce, cucumber and mango. It gets particularly popular after 21:00.
Down at the other end of town, near the roundabout on Highway 6, Nha Noi Biro is a pleasant cafe on a small lake round the corner from the Son La Hotel. Food is also available. There are plenty of sugar cane stalls at this end of Chu Van Trinh too.
We didn't try out Hai Tinh, at the north end of Trung Ching, but it claimed to offer hotpot as well as pho and com so worth a look in the absence of any great alternatives.
Nha Noi Biro: 2 Chu Van Trinh, Son La. T: (0223) 857 791, Hours: 06:30 to 23:00.
Hai Tinh: 34 Trung Chinh, Son La. T: (0223) 853 399, (0916) 570 215