At the very centre is the food court-style Luang Nam Tha night market, open every evening. Check out the very local stuff at the back (here you can buy your requisite sticky rice) and the tasty stands at the front: roast duck, barbecue pork belly and chicken for sale by weight, fresh spring rolls, insanely spicy papaya salad and cold Beerlao. In rainy season the night market is still open but much quieter, with fewer stalls and food options.
Next to Dokchampa Hotel is the brilliant Bamboo Lounge, formerly known as Forest Retreat Cafe. This is the number one place in town for a relaxed vibe, cheap beer, fresh juice, free WiFi and Western food done well. The New Zealand owners source all of their produce locally when possible, but things like real cheese and bacon are imported from Thailand and cheesy-bacon-pizza cooked in their wood fire oven hits the spot when you’re sick of noodle soup. They’ve invested a lot of time into food, service and English-language training, and it’s paid off. Try the perfectly cooked pasta (40,000 kip), salads (20,000 kip) and pizzas after they’ve fired up the oven at 17:00 (starting at 55,000 kip). The menu also has a number of vegan and gluten-free options. Enjoy the food and get the best obligation-free tourist advice in town.
For breakfast there are a couple of cheap and cheerful pho/noodle joints around town. Manikong Bakery Cafe, beside the entrance to Zuela and across from the night market, does brisk business in the morning and it’s the best place to carb-load before your trek with their 25,000 kip breakfast sets or fresh baked bagels and cream cheese. Food comes quickly, it’s proper coffee and their baguette sandwiches start at only 15,000 kip.
In addition to healthy breakfast bowls of muesli-with-the-works and real espresso, backpackers love Zuela for their cheap Asian dishes: fried rice or noodles for 15,000 kip and meat-veg curry with rice for 28,000 kip.
Across from Bamboo Lounge and down a narrow alley, Minority Restaurant specialises in, you guessed it, minority food. Here you can sample dishes from the ethnic tribes in Luang Nam Tha and you’ll find the food to be fresh and full of local vegetables. If you must, they also have Western items. We tried one of their versions of bamboo soup -- it was so authentic we found worms in the bamboo. Service was friendly and helpful and we wouldn’t hold the worms against them.