As expected, Lai Chau doesn't have a large range of options, but our favourite place is Quan Huy Hoang. It's on the street that meets the main road near the Phuong Thanh Hotel, just a 100m down, on the left. It's not open for lunch but at night they do a fine job with Vietnamese standards like fried rice, and it's a good place to get a whole, fried chicken.
Another option we didn't try, but might be worth checking out, is the cafe/restaurant on the second floor of the Phuong Thanh Hotel — a possible air-con oasis on a sweltering day. For lunchtime pho and com try Le Thuy Restaurant and for an evening — or afternoon — drink, it's all about Cafe Nau Hong, on the Sapa side of the Phuong Thanh Hotel.
Cafe Nau Hong: 11 Pho Phong Chau 4 (Main Road), heading towards Sapa, Lai Chau. T: (0231) 387 5466. Hours: 08:00 to 24:00.
Le Thuy Restaurant: Main Road, near Huyen Trang Hotel, Lai Chau. T: (0231) 387 6072.
Phuong Thanh Hotel Cafe and Restaurant: 2nd floor, Phuong Thanh Hotel, Lai Chau. T: (0231) 387 5235. Hours: 06:00 to 22:00.
Quan Huy Hoang: 100m off the main road, Lai Chau. T: (0231) 3790 411.