One of our absolute favorite things about Vietnam in general, and Hanoi specifically, is the food. It is (mostly) fresh, it is (mostly) healthy, it is (mostly) cheap, and it is (mostly) delicious. If you are visiting Hanoi, here is what we think you absolutely must try (in alphabetical order because we can’t decide on our absolute favorites — ok, we probably could, but we wouldn’t agree, so there is no point):
Bánh xèo. A savory pancake-like concoction made with rice flour and tumeric. In Hanoi, the filling is typically pork and shrimp and bean sprouts (although we also saw chicken and beef). In the north, you eat it by wrapping the banh xeo and some greens and herbs in rice paper, and then you dip the whole thing in some fish sauce based dipping sauce. Banh xeo is better in the south of Vietnam, but it is one of those dishes that I think you have to order every single time you see it on a menu…. Our personal favorite in Hanoi was at an upscale place called Grandma’s Restaurant at 6A Đường Thành Street. It was big, it had high quality and lean pork in it, and it was delicious. But a complete meal there is quite expensive (by Hanoi standards). So, if you don’t feel like a splurge, we also really liked the banh xeo at Mr. Bay Mien Tay restaurant at 79 Hàng Điếu (pictured below). About 100K VND ($1 currently equals about 23K VND). (You will see lots of recommendations for Banh Xeo Zon. We thought the banh xeo there was just plain weird — not folded, no tumeric so it was an odd white color, not very crispy, too thick so only one side was done, short on fillings — and don’t recommend it, although we didn’t hate it).
Bo Bia Ngot. We don’t have a picture of this, because I ate it too quickly to take a photo — seriously, I inhaled it in about 20 seconds. This is a street food snack that tends to be around more in the evenings and consists of honeycomb and coconut and sesame seeds wrapped up in rice paper. It was delicious! It should be about 5K VND, but the vendors will like try to overcharge you (we stupidly paid 10K VND before we knew what the price should be, but I’m not going to get worked up about 20 cents….).
Bún Bò Nam Bộ. This is basically a combination of rice noodles, greens, and beef in a sauce made of fish sauce, lemon, sugar and chilies with peanuts and fried shallots on top. We really liked the version at Bun Bo Nam Bo restaurant at 67 Hang Dieu — look for the blue sign. About 60K VND.
Bún Chả. This is a specialty of Hanoi. It is grilled fatty pork in a broth of vinegar, sugar and fish sauce, served with a side of rice noodles and various greens. Dip the noodles and the greens in the broth and have one of the best meals of your life. (Note this dish is served on the cold side — the broth is not supposed to be piping hot). A great version of this will be smoky, caramelized, yummy, goodness. A bad bowl in Hanoi will still be pretty damn good. It is also generally served with nem (deep fried spring rolls) filled with pork and crab. We highly recommend Bun Chah Hang Quat at 74 Hàng Quạt — note they are pretty much only open between 10-2. About 60K VND for both the bun cha and the nem.
Bún riêu. I’m not a huge fan of this, but Robert is. It is a tomato and crab soup in a pork broth with vermicelli. The crab is from the rice paddies, not from the sea. This bowl was from Banh Xeo Zon at 25 Lò Sũ, Lý Thái Tổ, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội. Robert says it was above average, but he thinks you can do better. (He only managed to get the one bowl, because I don’t eat this and most good restaurants serve only one or two dishes). About 55K VND.
Bún Thang. This is another chicken noodle soup. An authentic bowl will supposedly have chicken of a particular age (hens that have laid eggs for about a week, which apparently means chickens that are between 6.05 and 6.27 months old), some dried shrimp in the broth, and a hint of beetle extract (apparently, some kind of pheromone), as well as some shredded egg and vegetables. We recommend Bún Thang Bà Đức restaurant at 48 Cầu Gỗ (be warned, you go down an alley and up some stairs). About 35K VND.
Cà phê trứng. Egg coffee is more a snack than a beverage, so we included it. Yep, you read that correctly — egg coffee. Supposedly, some dude in the 1940’s couldn’t find fresh milk for his coffee, so he threw in some whipped egg. The egg coffees of today typically have sweetened condensed milk and sugar in addition to egg. The coffee cup is served in a bowl of hot water to keep everything the right temperature. Robert says it tastes a bit like tiramisu. I wouldn’t know because I don’t like coffee or tiramisu. You can find these at most cafes and they cost about 40K VND.
Phở bò. Beef soup with rice noodles. You can find this all over Vietnam, but the best is supposedly in Hanoi. The best we had was at Pho Thin. There are at least three places with this name, but we went to the location at 13 Lò Đúc (welcome to Asia, where as soon as one business gets successful, someone copies the name….). The story there is that the owner was the first to saute the beef with garlic to give it some added flavor. We also really liked the version at Pho 10 in Hanoi at 10 Ly Quoc Su, especially because you can order your beef either “half done” (Robert) or “well done” (me). Make sure to add some of the garlic sitting in vinegar! About 50-60K VND, depending on where you go.
Phở chiên phồng. Remember what I was saying about Vietnamese food being healthy? Well, this dish is an exception to that rule and it is 100% worth every calorie and clogged artery. Yummy little pillows of fried rice noodles, covered in beef and greens (and too many onions for my taste but OMG the fried rice noodles…). As we were eating this, we were already planning a return trip for more…. We recommend trying the version at Huong Mai at 25 Ngu Xa Street (the restaurant is actually on both sides of the street and covers multiple addresses, but just look for the big green awning). About 60K VND.
Phở cuốn. OK, this was a revelation. It is so simple — just some beef and greens wrapped in a fresh sheet of rice paper and then dipped in a fish sauce based sauce. But, OMG, was it delicious. The photo doesn’t even begin to do this dish justice….Try it at Huong Mai at 25 Ngu Xa Street. About 60K VND.
Phở Gà. Chicken soup with rice noodles. In Hanoi, I really liked the version at Pho Lam restaurant at 7 Nam Ngu, although Robert thought it could use more greens (Robert is wrong….). Probably one of the best bowls of chicken soup I have ever had (it even beats out Mish Mash soup at the The Bagel (RIP) and that is saying something….). About 50K VND.
Phở Trộn Gà. Chicken and noodles with a sweet and sour sauce (no broth). We tried this on a street food tour at Pho Hanh at 65A Lãn Ông, so we don’t know what it costs, but it was delicious. Huong Mai also does a version with beef, but we liked the chicken version better.
Pizza at Pizza 4P’s. Did you really think I would spend 2 weeks somewhere and not come up with a pizza to recommend???? Oh ye of little faith. And, let me tell you, this was the real deal. Italian pizza chain by a Japanese chef in Vietnam. So good — probably the best pizza we have had in Asia, and better than many pizzas in Chicago. About 150k VND — yep, you read that right — this beautiful pizza that fed both of us was under $7. We went to the branch at 24 Ly Quoc Su. I can’t wait until we get to Saigon so I can have another….
We do have one last addition to the list, but only if you are spending all of your time in the North of Vietnam — if you are headed South, feel free to wait.
Banh Mi. A sandwich made with a baguette, and according to Robert, one of the best sandwiches of your life. The best come with pate and head cheese and La Vache Qui Rit cheese and quite honestly who knows what else and the best generally come from ladies on street corners. There are lots of banh mi ladies in Hanoi — try one anywhere you see locals eating. About 30K VND.
Hanoi is also really well-known for its bánh cuốn, which is ground pork and mushrooms in a rice paper wrapper. We found it kind of disgusting and really don’t understand the love for this dish, but you should probably try it while you are here. Look for a shop that makes it fresh, as some places make them in advance and serve them cold. I can’t imagine how much more disgusting that would be….
OK, for those of you who have been to Hanoi, did we miss anything amazing? (Because you know we will be back someday….).