For such a small town Muang Ngoi has a good mix of places to eat, though not a lot of variety. Some local-style restaurants seem to share the exact same menu, but what they can actually cook often depends on seasonal availability. Falang fare like baguettes, Oreo cookies and bottled drinks have to be brought in by boat, so expect prices to be higher here than in larger towns.
As the years go by and new places spring up, the standard of food and drink improves and some of the most popular spots change. One of the most popular places for a drink and bite to eat these days is the Riverside Bar with its neatly decked out terrace overlooking the river right next door to the Rainbow Guesthouse and a mere 50 metres from the boat dock. The menu is primarily Lao food with a smattering of Western options. The drinks menu is seemingly endless and contains a large range of Western spirits and wines. The food is generally quite good and cheap and this is certainly a better option than nearby Lattanavongsa.
The incredibly popular Lattanvongsa Restaurant sits overlooking the boat dock and at night it's the brightest spot in town. But don't let the lights dazzle you. It is often overflowing with large groups of people in the high season because it's one of the few spots in town that looks like a real restaurant. The service at times is dire with diners having to search for staff up the road and the menu of predominantly Lao food is not the best we've had. This place is perhaps good for one meal when there is no crowd if you're staying in town for a few days, but be aware that when we last visited waiting times for food were more than an hour and diners were repeatedly walking up the road to find staff who could take their money or their orders for more beer. It was tragic.
For the best deal in town, head to Phedavanh guesthouse around 18:00 for a vegetarian buffet of mixed curries, veggies and rice. It takes place every day during the high season and costs 25,000 kip. Prices have doubled in the past few years making this place not so much of a bargain as it used to be. In fact, unless you're intent on packing down kilos of veges, you're better off getting a meat dish at Boupha for the same price or less. The breakfast buffet is similarly popular and the same price.
Pizza has finally arrived in Muang Ngoi at the Sky Bar. Pizzas are baked in a wood oven and come out crisp and chewy, offering some much-needed variety amid the same-same local dining scene. Sky Bar only opens after 18:00 when electricity allows for music, fairy lights, and chilled Beerlao. The location is a tucked away in a garden toward Aloune Mai guesthouse, so bring a flashlight and some mosquito spray. On our last visit, this place was unfortunately usually devoid of guests, so you might want to BYO friends if you choose to dine here.
Boupha Restaurant is a small shack on the right as you walk along the main street from the dock. The menu is quite basic with baguettes, omelettes, fried rice and bunch of tasty Lao dishes. You'll often find no one else dining here even in the high season, but don't let that put you off as the food is delicious and cheap. As well, the lovely owner, Nang, will make you feel at home particularly if you're a return customer. This is the pick of the eateries in a town with not a great culinary scene.
Ning-Ning Restaurant is further upriver from the popular Lattanavongsa Restaurant and the meals here take just as long to prepare – expect more than an hour's wait for anything that needs to be cooked. The views from the terrace are terrific and particularly stunning as the sun dips below the surrounding mountains – it's perhaps the best place in town to watch it. The food is pretty ordinary at Ning-Ning and is reminiscent of that at Lattanvongsa. Come here just to get some variety if you're sick of the vegetarian buffet, Boupha and Sky Bar.
Boupha Restuarant: Daily 07:00-21:00
Lattanavongsa Restaurant: T: (030) 514 0770. Daily 7:00-22:00
Ning-Ning Restuarant: Daily 07:00-22:00
Phetdavanh buffets: Open 07:00-11:00, 18:00-21:00 or until they run out, baguettes all day;
Riverside Bar: Daily 07:00-22:00
Sky Bar: Daily 18:00-late