I am going to spend two weeks in Vietnam, departing on 20 December. I am looking for restaurant recommendations in the following places: Hanoi, Hoi An, Nha Trang and Ho Chi Minh. I am interested in very cheap, hole-in-the-wall type places, moderately priced restaurants and high end places as well - price doesn't matter on either end of the scale, as long as the place has tasty food and is Vietnamese.
I am not interested in any restaurant recommendations for foreign foods, so please no Italian, French etc restaurants (unless there is a very interesting French - Vietnamese fusion place you know - it would be interesting to see if the colonial legacy has produced any sorts of Franco-Vietnamese culinary cooperation).
Many thanks in advance.
The wonderful Anthonyrza hooked me up with an incredible recommendation for Saigon (HCMC) that fits your parameters perfectly. I'll quote him here:
"NGUYEN TRI PHONG STREET (district 10) (from NGO GIA TU to BA THANG HAI) has several streetside seafood restaurants serving fresh(ly killed) seafood for cheap. Less than $12 US for a kilo of shrimp (200.000 VND) although you can get smaller portions and taste more (i.e. 100 g coconut steamed shrimp, 100g grilled shrimp). Cua Rang Me is a popular crab dish, which is a whole crab stir fried with tamarind sauce- do try. Drinking a beer + noshing on fresh seafood + sitting in your mini-plastic chairs is classic saigon."
I am really kicking myself, because I took the card of the place I chose and now have lost it in the laundry. So I don't remember its name; however, start at Ba Thang Hai and walk Nguyen Tri Phong on the left-hand side toward Ngo Gia Tu. Between one half to three quarters of the way there, you will encounter a large two-room seafood place, with both space inside and on the sidewalk. Go here. It was one of the best meals of my life. The Cua Rang Me is excellent (thanks Anthony!), and I also had snails steamed in a thin coconut sauce as well as dried squid with soy, and a salt-and-pepper and chili dipping dish. Just incredible, especially with a little too much Vietnamese beer.
Maybe Anthony can fill in the name of the place. My hotel staff said it's famous in Saigon.
I've been to Hanoi a few times (going again in a couple of weeks) and I've avoided foreign food as well. For breakfast its fun to go to Au Lac or one of the Pho places around Hao Kiem lake. For dinner, any easy intro is Brother's, which is a beautiful restaurant with a small buffet and some food stations, so you can try various things. However, the best meal I've had has been at Green Tangerine, which is a French restaurant in the same neighborhood. I was skeptical about breaking my vow not to pick up a fork after getting off the plane, but trust me, it's worth trying. Also, don't hesitate to get a croissant wiith your pho.
I haven't been to HCMC, although I'm going there on this trip and looking forward to it.
One more quick note. Green Tangerine is more French-Vietnamese fusion. I was in Hanoi a few weeks ago and I ate there again, and I think it is a phenomenal restaurant. Unfortunately, Au Lac appears to be closed, but Brothers is still open.
In Ho Chi Minh City, I had a fabulous lunch at Tib (11 Tran Nhat Duat, District 1). Also, a very cool place for coffee is An Nam Cafe (52 Truong Dinh, District 3). It's off the beaten path, but if you need a few hours to chill out, read, relax, check email, etc., it's worth the taxi ride.
Enjoy your trip.