For a city of this size and importance, you’d expect an abundance of good eating options but in Udomxai, reality doesn’t exactly meet expectation. There’s a handful of places that will satisfy for a couple of meals but stay any longer and it’s playing roulette, it could be hit or miss.
One thing that’s a firm hit is the Lanexang Bakery, a few shops from the northern bus station (to the left when you walk out of the station, towards the city centre). Here they whip up tasty banh mi sandwiches made to order with freshly baked crusty baguette. Multiple kinds of pork (cold cut, barbecue, pate, pork belly), pickled veg, cucumber, green onions, cilantro, mayo, chilli sauce—they’ll put in the works unless you specify. One is 12,000 kip and it’s definitely worth leaving the bus station for, even if you’re just changing buses.
Those up for an experience, Veo Dao Restaurant does Lao sindad for the Chinese masses, and we do mean masses. A metal hot pot/grill pan is set on hot coals in the middle of the table and you grill meat on top while cooking vegetables, mushrooms, egg and noodles in the surrounding broth. Traditionally sindad is ordered by set—one set of sliced meat and vegetables is usually enough for two. Veo Dao is buffet-style and this joint is an all you can eat mad house.
On a cold evening, expect to see up to 100 people, mostly Chinese, chowing down. And expect to get your elbows up when heading to the buffet. The experience may not be for everyone, in which case it’s possible to try sindad at a more relaxed pay-by-set place in any big town in Laos. But for 55,000 kip per person, it’s not a bad way to fill up, especially on the vegetables which are very fresh in Laos. We asked many locals and they all said Veo Dao was the best, so to get there, head straight to the front gate of the airport (a short walk from the main street), turn right and follow the dirt road as it wraps around the airport property.
Diagonally opposite of Litthavixay Guesthouse is a joint that does brisk business with noodle soups in the morning and simple one plate meals for lunch and dinner, your choice of three items for 15,000 kip. At dinner there’s chicken rice. Opened early until relatively late—well, late for Udomxai that is.
Hidden behind a wall of potted plants and vines is Souphailin Restaurant, a small, casual place serving northern Lao-style food in a town full of restaurants catering to Chinese tastes. The menu includes soups, curries, noodles, papaya salad and laap, all hovering from 30,000 to 50,000 kip. There’s stacks of books full of recommendations by travellers from all over the world praising the very friendly, entertaining woman and her delicious food.
Get there early as it’s only her in the kitchen and everything is made from scratch to order—sometimes she’ll have to send someone to the market to get ingredients for your dish. Plus, Lao food like laap, sticky rice and things cooked in banana leaf take time. Be prepared to wait an eternity for you meal. Ok, not quite but sometimes the wait is in excess of an hour and a half, especially if the person before you has ordered seven completely different dishes (groan). Great food is worth waiting for so chat with your fellow travellers, entertain the kids that drop by, shoo away the cats and add your comments to the books. There’s also a whole page in the menu with northern Lao specialities that need to be pre-ordered at least four hours in advance, something to consider if in town for a while. The restaurant is located just off the main road in the western end of town, on a lane between the post office and Charming Lao Hotel.
Located on a street between the river and Litthavixay Guesthouse is Kanya Restaurant, which serves a large menu of hot wok dishes. Count on fast service and enormous portions—dishes like the fried pork in coconut milk (40,000 kip) are so big that one can easily be shared between two people making it a budget friendly option. There are also vegetarian stir-fry options too, starting at 30,000 kip. Beer is cheap and the seasonal fresh orange juice hits the spot after a day of travel.
On the same street as Kanya Restaurant, at the bend is Miss Phonexay Vongxai, a small shop that does a noodle soup, rice with chicken or stewed pork leg, and fried noodles for 15,000 kip.
From the main road, follow the street that runs off it past the big mansion towards the back of the city/new stadium. Across from Amphon Hotel is a good grilled duck place. Order with sticky rice, or with lettuce, herbs and noodles to make finger-licking wraps.
For something that resembles a modern cafe, Sinouk Cafe in Charming Lao Hotel delivers a caffeine fix. The coffee is espresso, the bread is real and the ice cream a treat.
The local market is located in the heart of town. Pick up perfect looking but bland tasting fruit from China, some local seasonal fruit and fresh young coconut water ready to drink from the shell.
A number of Chinese restaurants are easily found on the major streets, mainly serving Yunnan-style cuisine. There’s no menu and no English spoken. You basically have to choose the ingredients and the way you want it cooked—sometimes there are pictures to help. Have fun and good luck!
Good grilled duck place Across from Amphon Hotel; .
Kanya Restaurant On a street between the river and Litthavixay Guesthouse; .
Lanexang Bakery Near the northern bus station.; .
Miss Phonexay Vongxai On a street between the river and Litthavixay Guesthouse.; .
Noodle shop joint Diagonally opposite Litthavixay Guesthouse.; .
Sinouk Cafe At Charming Lao Hotel; .
Souphailin Restaurant On a lane between the post office and Charming Lao Hotel.; .
Udomxai Market On main road, west of the river; .
Veo Dao Restaurant Near the airport.; .
Cindy Fan is a Canadian writer/photographer and author of So Many Miles, a website that chronicles the love of adventure, food and culture. After falling in love with sticky rice and Mekong sunsets, in 2011 she uprooted her life in Toronto to live la vida Laos. She’s travelled to over 40 countries and harbours a deep affection for Africa and Southeast Asia. In between jaunts around the world, she calls Laos and Vietnam home where you’ll find her traipsing through rice paddies, standing beside broken-down buses and in villages laughing with the locals.