I was thinking about writing this article for a while, but never wrote it. The main reason is that it is hard to find 5 TOP restaurants. It is quite easy to have two or three, but then it gets difficult. So what is my benchmark for a good restaurant? It needs to balance the three main factors well. Those are food, service and ambience. The food must be not only of good quality, but should also show some creativity in preparing and displaying it. The service needs to be customer focussed with at least knowing the basics (and providing this every day). The ambience must be outstanding compared to the mainstream, something special. None of the restaurants in the list below will score highest in all categories, but at least they are close.
1. Acqua Italian Restaurant
The owner Gerado is very ambitious and has high expectations of his staff and work (he co-owned Aria next door before, but opened the new Acqua just recently). The italian restaurant is fin dining at it's best, from homemade paste to finest lobsters and seafood. The owner has highest expectation to service and food quality, and to show that, he installed a big window to the kitchen, so guest can see how their food is prepared. Acqua also offers a huge selection of wines and private rooms upstairs.
10 Rue François Ngin, Ban Mixay, Open daily for lunch and dinner
2. Le Silapa (French-Asian Fusion)
Setthathirat Road, opposite Wat Inpeng. Open daily for lunch and dinner.
3. Fujiwara Japanese Restaurant
Fujiwara was one of the first Japanese restaurants in Vientiane and for a long time the most popular. It lost customers to the recently opened Thai owned Fuji, and both are in the same league of quality of food. Yet, Fujiwara still has some advantage when it comes to ambience and dining experience. It is one of the places where you like to sit just a little bit longer.
Rue Setthathilath, Vientiane, Laos
This might be the best french restaurant in town, yet it has it's problems: It is overpriced, if you are not french you don't feel much welcomed, and a sense of arrogance was in the air when I visited it last time (or better try to visit: We came a bit early before opening at 6.30pm, and were told to come back later).
Yet, if it has to be french cuisine, this place is the hot spot for this type of restaurant. Well decorated, it is a nice place to have dinner. The menu contains the usual suspects, from duck liver to lamb with rosemary, but of good quality.
5. Muzaic Restaurant
This place is a little bit different: It is not fine dining, but something so special that it has to be on this list. They serve outstanding salmon laap, pumkin curry and many other Lao and Asian dishes. It's interior shows that someone cares about it, although it is simple and basic. Its just some special place. For lunch, go to Lao Kitchen, serving Lao food on a higher level.
Manthathoulath street. Open daily for dinner
Those didn't made it to the list:
Le Signature at Ansara Hotel is totally overrated. We always got a terrible service for a place in this category of fine-dining, the menu is boring and the prices are too high. La Scala has quite a nice interior, but service sucks and the menu isn't something special. Yet, the lunch buffet is a pretty good deal.
Makphet is a place where you should eat because they employ street kids. I rather like to eat at a place where they serve good food.
Lao Garden is a very solid place to go, and should be number 6 on this list. Le Opera had it's good times, but the menu is the usual italian dishes, nothing special and for this too expensive. In case you are looking for a good well priced steak, go to Veena Cafe opposite the City Inn Hotel. Avoid the restaurants of the big hotels like Mercure, Green Park, Lao Plaza and Don Chan Palace. Benoni is more Cafe than restaurant, but has a decent and reasonable prices selection of dishes.