"We went to Laos with a Chinese friend and she was so miserable. Face long and sad from having to eat all that weird Laotian food."
Unless she was facing black curdled goat blood soup or chewy water buffalo jerky, Lao food is great and in general a lot better than Kunming food. Don't know why she had to "seek out" a Sichuan restaurant, which is nice once in a while, but it would have been more interesting to eat some western, Thai or Indian food, which is prepared very well in Laos (at least in the major cities).
Good places to eat in Kunming? Most western owned bars and restaurants including Salvador's, the French Cafe and Prague Cafe. Unfortunately, the Box bar is gone but hopefully there'll be something similar that goes in it's place.
Other good places? The Hong Kong (or is it Guangdong) noodle place next to the movie theatre just around the corner from Wenlin Jie. Don't remember the name right now, but their banana custards are delicious, not to mention their noodles and chai. It's about 30 Yuan for a bowl, but it's a large bowl at that. Definately a big step up from the local noodle places and with far more atmosphere.
Yitianyuan, a chain of Muslim restaurants (one branch is located directly opposite Carrefour Longquan road) is one of the best places in Kunming to eat Chinese food with a few friends around a round table with that rotating glass thing on top where all the dishes are placed.
When I like something, I tend to eat it again and again. When I'm with a friend (or just alone) I tend to go to Salvador's, the French Cafe, Prague Cafe, the Hong Kong noodle place, the Box (until it closed although I never went there very often), A Slice of Heaven etc. With a couple of friends, I tend to go to Yitianyuan.
Mixian? Not my favorite thing...I would never eat them by myself and if it's noodles, then I tend to stick with Brothers Jiang for cross-the-bridge noodles which are actually pretty good.