Kung's Cafe, Vientiane

I wonder what the neighbours of Kung's Cafe make of this very popular little eatery? There must be a regular stream of large-footed falangs passing the shuttered windows and hung out washing in this narrow, ubiquitous Vientiane alley. From the street, it doesn't look anything special. It's little wonder that Trip Advisor reviewers bemoan finding this place.

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Which is of course what I was thinking as I moseyed down the alley on a Wednesday lunchtime. But then I spotted the marker - a big green flag with a red K at the end of the lane.

Stepping inside the small, cement floored cafe is like stepping into a greenhouse - cool, shaded and very, well, green. From the bamboo slatted roof above to the dozens of pot plants lining the walls and hanging from beams, it feels wonderfully refreshing after the bright glare of dusty Vientiane. It is essentially an outdoor extension tacked onto a house. 

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I love the cornucopia of hanging birds' nests, dried gourds, wind chimes, shells, and wicker baskets strewn from the rafters. Brightly striped tablecloths cover the ten or so small tables with plastic chairs and fans in tow. A mural of flowering trees next to a river covers one wall.

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Kung's is a popular spot for Lao food and a smattering of Western usuals. The first day I visited was a weekday lunchtime and it was almost full with locals from nearby businesses, and resident falangs. I sat down at a small today and waited for a waitress. One eventually wandered past and handed me a battered laminated menu. More savvy regulars would know to help themselves.

I ordered two vegetarian dishes and a lime juice and all three arrived quite promptly. The juice was refreshing as cold, slightly sweet lime juice always is in tropical countries. My phat Lao thin rice noodles were fried in a spicy tomato sauce and unfortunately partly under-cooked. I preferred the potato in peanut sauce, served with rice, onions and carrots. Both were liberally dosed with shards of peanuts.

Portion sizes are normal and I didn't finish either dish. A hungry person or a falang male would probably happily polish off two dishes. While I didn't feel a wow factor, it is reliably good, cheap food with dishes around the 20,000 mark ($A3-4).

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For me, the location and the green tranquility were its best points. So, on that note, I decided to drag the family along for Sunday breakfast. I'd heard that Kung's also does great sticky rice pancakes.

Sunday brunch had a completely different clientele - backpackers and a couple of falang families. We ordered fresh juices and coffee, a mango pancake, a cheese baguette, and a second baguette with scrambled eggs. The same indifferent waitress took our order and disappeared round the back to the outside kitchen (see below).

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The biggest difference between the two experiences was the wait times. We waited a long time for our food, and it seemed even longer with the kids in tow. When the baguettes finally arrived, they were simply that - fresh, unbuttered baguettes accompanying food. Disappointingly, in a land of abundant fresh cheese, my cheese baguette had only cream cheese, and tomato. 

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The food, though fresh and appetising, was rather unfilling, especially after such a long wait. Last to arrive was the famous sticky rice pancake - light, fluffy and delicious with fresh mango and maple syrup. There was only really enough for a bite each. We could happily have ordered five more but I didn't want to chance waiting an extra hour.

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Our drinks never arrived, the juices or the coffee. But we decided to just let that go, take the memory of mango pancakes, and move on with our day.

Must try: Mango pancakes
Tip: Pick a weekday over a weekend; the chilled weekend vibe seemingly extends into the kitchen resulting in leisurely and sometimes absent service. 

Kung's Cafe is on Rue Simuang. If facing the river, it's at the end of a narrow lane about halfway along Simuang, on the right side. Look for the green K flag.