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Aug 12, 2010 05:34 PM

Hanoi Help

We start our SE Asia vacation in October with 4 days in Hanoi. First time there, any must do food advice?

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  1. A couple years ago we had a nice long trip to Vietnam and spent the equivalent of about a week off and on in Hanoi, staying in the Old Quarter. None of these places will likely be a life changing experience but we ate really well and very inexpensively there. These are some notes I took upon our return.

    Our favorite place in Hanoi was Ladybird Restaurant, a Vietnamese cafe at 57 Hang Buom Street in the Old Quarter. We always sat upstairs and tried to get the table on the balcony overlooking Hang Buom St. They had a good list of meat and vegetarian dishes. The food was so good and so reasonably priced and it was located so close to our hotel that we ate there at least 3 times. In fact, we ate there so often over about a 10-day period that the owners asked us if we were living and working in Hanoi.

    Right next door to Ladybird was the entry to Bittet, another place we liked a lot. They serve other things but are best known for a Vietnamese version of a French brasseries style steak-frite. You have to order everything here including the moist towellete to wash your hands but it’s all so cheap you can order extra items just to try them. There is a sign for Bittet at 51 Hang Buom but from the street, you have to walk down an alley past open windows of neighbor’s homes and directly through the kitchen to enter the dining room of the restaurant. The soups were good and it was the first place we’ve ever seen that served fried corn as a side. Basically it’s deep fried kernels of corn and was really good. This was a very good local experience.

    We saw the restaurant Cha Ca La Vong included on one of those lists of "1000 places you need to see before you die" and it was across the street from our hotel so we decided to give it a try. It is a very old restaurant that is famous for the only dish they serve: Cha Ca Fish. It’s become so famous that they have changed the name of the street it’s on to Cha Ca Street. You have to walk up very narrow stairs to reach the dining room and when we entered, the first thought that crossed my mind was: “This is the dirtiest restaurant I’ve ever been in” and that’s saying something because we’ve been to some pretty out-of-the-way places. We were seated quickly, and since the waiter already knows what you’re having for dinner we got our food quickly. They place a charcoal burner on the table and set an already sizzling pan of fish that is heavily spiced with turmeric and frying in ghee on top of it. They add some dill and other greens to the pan and basically you stir until you are ready to eat. We also added some of a particularly smelly fish sauce to the mix. The food was really good and the La Rue beer was reasonably cold. In fact, the thought that passed my mind as we were eating was: “I wouldn’t mind eating this again.” Now the follow up to the story is that we didn’t have a serious stomach problem after eating there but beginning the next day, my stomach rumbled for a couple days. It was nothing so serious that it couldn’t be relieved by a couple Pepto Bismol tablets but our suspicion is that we didn’t cook the greens well enough. Or maybe it was the “not-so-clean thing”. Or the fish sauce might have been extra smelly for a reason. Regardless, we didn’t go back to Cha Ca Vong. I think the next time we find ourselves in Hanoi, we’ll try to find the dish at another establishment.

    We had two great Thai meals at Bangkok-Hanoi. It was a little bit of a cab ride from the Old Quarter but not too bad a fare assuming the cabbie knows where it is. The first time we went the driver got lost on the way there and the fare ended up being about double what it was on the return. It’s located in the embassy district…I think the Thai embassy was very near by.

    The food was as authentic as any we’ve had outside of the real Bangkok, the service was great and the Sing Ha beer was very cold. We went back for a 2nd visit with some friends. This one was a little more expensive than most places we ate but still no more than $10 per person including dessert.
    52A Ly Thuong Kiet Street
    Hanoi, Vietnam
    Phone: 04/934-5598

    We had dim sum for lunch a couple days at Dong Kinh Cantonese Restaurant. The entrance is a little hard to find on Cau Go Street but for reference; the back window overlooks the Hoan Kiem Lake. The food was good but nothing spectacular. We don’t normally go for buffets but the price was reasonable and it was nice to sample some items we don’t normally see at our local dim sum. It was certainly worth the price and good enough that we went back for a 2nd visit. 73 Cau Go, Hanoi

    In most cities in Vietnam you will find what you might call “charity training” restaurants. These are places that offer schooling and restaurant training to unfortunate kids. Our guide in Sapa had trained at one there called Baguette and Chocolate (or it might have been Chocolate and Baguette) and we ended up eating at both their Sapa and Hanoi locations (next to our hotel on Cha Ca Street in the Old Quarter.) Both places offered a mix of both French and Vietnamese cuisines and we found the service to be a bit uneven (not so good in the Hanoi location but better at the one in Sapa) but the food and prices to be very good. They served some of the better Western style desserts we saw on the entire trip.

    If you find yourself in Hoi An we had a GREAT meal there at a place that definitely had some imagination. The front door of Mango Rooms is on Nguyen Thai Hoc Street but there’s also a back door on the riverfront. It is a Cuban/Asian fusion restaurant with a very innovative menu and is a very hip spot to be in Hoi An. Chef is a young guy with a lot of style who seems to be having fun at what he’s doing. We ordered two different specials of the day and both were great. Good mango with sticky rice for desert. This was a little more expensive than most places we ate on the trip but I think the whole bill was still only about $20 for the two of us.

    And if your trip includes HCMC, Com Nieu Sai Gon, is a restaurant we had seen mentioned on this forum and in Anthony Bourdain’s “A Cook’s Tour” as well as 2 episodes of his TV shows. The seafood was extremely fresh. As I recall, we got shrimp in garlic and a whole fried snapper. The veggie spring rolls were some of the best we ate on the whole trip. If you go there, you have to order the house specialty - com dap: crunchy rice cooked in a clay pot that is broken out of the pot and then flung across the restaurant. It’s not only a good show but the rice with the sauce they serve with it is really good too. We noticed a lot of the locals were also ordering soups and other rice dishes.

    When you get to this place, there is an alley that runs down the middle of it. The more pleasant dining area will be on your left.

    1 Reply
    1. re: mediakzar

      Com Nieu Sai Gon serves up really good sea bass. We got a big piece of the buttery soft fish for only $4!

      IMO, skip the clay pot rice dish. Although the sauce they add to it is tasty, the rice is quite hard.

    2. My advice is to make sure you have one meal at Quon An Ngon, the Hanoi branch of the famous Saigon eatery.

      1. I would definitely second Cha Ca La Vong - it is a unique experience and well worth it.

        If you want a gourmet French meal, try Green Tangerine in the Old Quarter. I always follow a no-forks except on the plane rule in Hanoi, but I make an exception for this particular place.

        If you want an easy introduction to Vietnamese food, try Brothers Cafe. It is a buffet-style restaurant in a lovely setting, with a good variety of dishes to try. I often go with people who are there for the first time.

        Last time I was in Hanoi i ate in a restaurant called Hanoi Hanoi (near the southern end of Hao Kiem Lake), across the street from the Hilton. It was surprisingly good, although I wouldn't say it was a "must eat."

        Finally, there are also a lot of restaurants serving pho, which you can also get in street stalls if you are willing to eat street food. A good bowl of pho for breakfast goes a long way.

        I can't recommend anything else in other cities, but enjoy the trip.

        1. Hanoi has great Vietnamese food, but also everything else. The best Indian food that I've ever eaten was in Hoi An. In Hanoi, I like Foodshop 45 Indian. You don't have to eat fancy in this town to get good food, and the coffee drinks are to die for. Here's a list of some top spots on Hanoi's Expat Website:

          I'll be there again in November for the 4th trip

          3 Replies
          1. re: daawgon

            Ask someone who lives there where they get food. Throw the travel books away. There are unnamed hole in the wall places that are PACKED with locals. This is where you need to be eating. I made the mistake of eating my way through a travel book when I was there and deeply regret it.

            1. re: mrip541

              mrip541 - You are so right. Places open and close overnight in Hanoi. I know a local travel agent who takes me to those holes in the wall that you speak of. Places that cater to the throngs of tourists are the worst. Vietnam is worth the trip just to eat!

              1. re: daawgon

                Absolutely. I was disappointed at almost every "restaurant" I visited, with the exception of the one I mentioned above..
                Follow the crowds and ask the locals...

          2. I highly recommend the bun cha at Bun Cha Dac Kim, 1 Hang Manh Street, Hanoi

            Other one is Banh cuon at Banh Cuon Gia Truyen, 14 Hang Ga Street, Old Quarter

            I just returned from a trip to Hanoi recently. For more information and pictures from these two places, you can have a look at my posts from Hanoi:


            1 Reply
            1. re: gendabean

              Thanks for posting those two restaurants. Tried the banh cuon tonight and it was fantastic! The rice pancake was light and the pork/mushroom filling was really flavorful. We also got a side of the cinnamon pork which was delish.

              Tomorrow we plan to try out your bun cha rec. :)