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Chef Ann Ahmed has spent the past 18 years introducing Twin Cities foodies to her delectable Asian delicacies, including her hyper personal take on Laotian American cuisine at Khâluna and Gai Noi. Now, she is exclusively sharing the story behind her culinary journey with Artful Living readers, along with her list of favorite Laotian restaurants across the globe. From Atlanta to London to Luang Prabang, Laos, here are her top 8 picks in her own words, as well as her recommended dishes at each eatery.

Artful Living | Chef Ann Ahmed’s 8 Favorite Laotian Restaurants Around the World

Photography provided by Bio Bamboo

Bio Bamboo

Luang Prabang, Laos

I love everything about this restaurant because I think in my past life I was a panda. That’s how much I love bamboo in every form — soup, salad, snacks, hot sauce, everything. At Bio Bamboo, all of their dishes are made with some form of bamboo; even the utensils and plates are made from the material. My favorite dish here is the or lam, a classic Laotian stew made from the royal recipes of the Luang Prabang region that features buffalo skin, beef, game meat, quail or chicken, eggplant, wood ear mushrooms, yardlong beans, and lots of herbs. The star of this dish is the chili wood; in Lao it is called sakahn, which is a species of black pepper plant. The plant’s woody stem has a hot, peppery flavor, with a lingering aftertaste and slightly numbing sensation. Bamboo Bio cooks its or lam in a hollow bamboo tube and serves it tableside. It’s the best or lam I’ve ever had in my life — just don’t tell my mom, since she thinks hers is the best.

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Photography provided by Le Calao

Le Calao

Luang Prabang, Laos

Whenever I’m in Luang Prabang, I always make a reservation at Le Calao, which is situated in a house built in 1904 with a view overlooking the Mekong River. My favorite dishes are the red weaver ant larvae omelet (kai mot daeng) and Luang Prabang river weeds (kai phen). The kai mot daeng is a delicacy, because red weaver ants produce their eggs only once a year during the cooler months of December and January. The eggs, which are laid in mango trees and coconut palms, are sold in the markets at a premium price because harvesting them can be a challenging experience.

Artful Living | Chef Ann Ahmed’s 8 Favorite Laotian Restaurants Around the World

Photography provided by Snackboxe Bistro

Snackboxe Bistro


Snackboxe just earned a spot on the Michelin Guide for 2023 — a very worthy accolade for chef/owner Thip Athakhanh, who is incredibly talented and creative. I love the Lao platter, which comes overflowing with an assortment of items like cured pork nam, fried chicken, egg rolls, crispy pork, papaya salad, noodles and laab. It makes it so much easier to decide what I want to eat. My favorite dessert here is nam van, made with fresh fruits, sweet coconut milk, jelly and tapiocas.

Artful Living | Chef Ann Ahmed’s 8 Favorite Laotian Restaurants Around the World

Photography provided by Padaek


Falls Church, Virginia

Chef Seng Luangrath, who is also the owner of Thip Khao is Washington, D.C., founded the Lao Food Movement and put Lao Food on the map. One of my favorite dishes at Padaek is the kua mee, wok-tossed thin rice noodles in a caramelized sugar sauce with ribbons of egg omelet, scallions, cilantro and bean sprouts. This is a very classic Lao-style noodle and a playful twist to a pad Thai. I love a good lettuce wrap, and Padek is one of the few places that does Lao-style wraps well. Chef Seng’s mieng is offered with fried catfish, collard greens, thin slices of lemongrass, cherry tomatoes, rice noodles and a delicious pineapple padek sauce — the perfect balance of spicy and funky umami.

Artful Living | Chef Ann Ahmed’s 8 Favorite Laotian Restaurants Around the World

Photography provided by Le Padaek

Le Padaek

Vientiane, Laos

This restaurant in Laos’ busy capital city has the ambiance of a calm village. It is made up of small thatched bamboo huts that are built on stilts sitting above a large pond filled with giant lily pads. To get from one hut to the other, guests walk on a boardwalk above the pond. The chill, relaxed vibe here really reflects sabai sabai, the Lao way of life. My favorite dish on the menu is the khao poon; I love that they offer six different varieties. The rice noodles are freshly made every day, and the selection of fresh veggies and herbs to add to each bowl is endless. The only downside is that you might have a hard time deciding what to eat because you want it all.

Artful Living | Chef Ann Ahmed’s 8 Favorite Laotian Restaurants Around the World

Photography provided by Larb Thai-Isan

Larb Thai-Isan

Fort Lauderdale, Florida

The Isan region of Thailand was once Laos, so the food there is heavily influenced by Lao culture. I love that it’s so spicy and funky; there’s no such thing as going light on the fish sauce or the padek. When I was recently in Fort Lauderdale, I went to Larb Thai-Isan two days in a row because the food here is so intensely good. My favorite dish here is the mok nho mai, steamed bamboo shoots in banana leaves. The shredded bamboo is seasoned with an herbal extract of yanang leaves and accompanied by pork belly and a sticky rice slurry. The cutest little lady makes fresh papaya salad to order here; she is so petite that she needs to stand on a box while making the salad.

Photography provided by Sang Dao

Sang Dao

San Diego, California

I really enjoy the no-fuss feel of this restaurant because the focus is on the food. You just show up because you’re hungry. I particularly love the snack counter at Sang Dao; it is so dangerous because it’s right when you walk in. I always grab too many things then order more off the menu and end up with so many goodies. My favorite item here is the khao piak sen, fresh hand-cut rice noodles with chicken broth — the ultimate Lao comfort dish. San Diego has a large Laotian community, and if Lao Temple of San Diego has a festival going on nearby, it’s the perfect place to try a wide variety of Lao street food.

Artful Living | Chef Ann Ahmed’s 8 Favorite Laotian Restaurants Around the World

Photography provided by Lao Cafe

Lao Cafe


I love the diversity of the food scene in London, and Lao Cafe is a must. Chef/owner Saiphin Moore cooks a lot of Thai Isan dishes, which are heavily influenced by Lao flavor profiles. I love her intense, pungent, spicy flavors. It’s like she’s not holding anything back. My favorite dish here is the tum zaap gai, a spicy and sour chicken soup. The broth is seasoned with roasted smashed chili, shallots and lots of umami from the padek; the sourness comes from fresh lime juice and tamarind. The chicken is cooked bone-in for more flavor. Each slurp of soup is absolute perfection.

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