There aren’t many places in the world where the whole food scene is neatly packed in a walkable area like there is in Hanoi. Navigating the seeming chaos Hanoi Old Quarter, the area in question is a piece of cake for local connoisseurs but a daunting task for first-timers to the city. That’s why we compile this list of best eats in Hanoi, gathering all the most valuable pieces of advice from the city’s seasoned foodies so that you can make the best of your stay in the city.
Pho man Gam Cau
The whole Vietnam runs on pho and bowls of this steaming noodle soup are everywhere you look in the country. But Pho man Gam Cau, a humble eatery on the sidewalk of Gam Cau street, offers an unusual take on this international sensation.
While classic pho is usually laced with a modest amount of sirloin or fillet steak, this stall’s cook decided to replace them with beef shank and use a more generous amount of fish sauce. This completely changes the flavor of pho, making it a challenge to many Western palates. But once you get the hang of it, usually after 2 or 3 bowls, you’ll become one of its advocates, the same way Pho man Gam Cau wins itself a constant number of diners in the last two decades.
At breakfast time, so many people squeeze on the dwarf-size plastic chairs for their share of one of the best pho in Hanoi Old Quarter that you will be hard pushed to order yours. But despite its recent success, this tiny stall has changed so little: 50.000 VND for a large bowl with beef shank, iced tea, and fried dough (quay). It’s still a place that locals frequent and conveniently lacks of tourists.
Address: Gam Cau Str. Near Phung Hung Str, Hang Cot Str, and Hang Luoc Str intersection.
Price: 50.000 VND.
Local tip: Visit between 6 a.m and 10 a.m for the best experience.
Bun cha Phat Loc
Bun cha never fails to rank top on any list of Vietnam’s best food. But it was not until President Obama and Anthony Bourdain shared a meal in a small family-run eatery that Hanoi’s bun cha made the headline.
While locals and travelers flock to Bun cha Huong Lien, the eatery in question, there is a stall set up on the sidewalk on Phat Loc alley that pulls in diners with BBQ-smell smoke wafting from the grilled pork sizzling on the charcoal burner. The making of bun cha here is quite a show and is pleasing to the eye to watch. Pork patties and belly slices are clustered between two bamboo sticks. Due to the lack of space, the burner is put right next to the dining section so diners can have a full view of how the meat is grilled. Bun cha Phat Loc is one of the few stalls left in Hanoi that still retain the traditional way of grilling meat with bamboo sticks to bring out an iconic flavor that is quintessential to bun cha in Hanoi.
Bun cha Phat Loc is not the best eats in Hanoi just because of the view. The meat here strikes the right balance between flesh and fat so it doesn’t taste dry. The dipping sauce is the classic three-flavor sauce that is sweet, sharp, and savory.
Address: Phat Loc alley, at the intersection between Phat Loc alley and Luong Ngoc Quyen Str.
Price: 35.000 VND
Local tip: Visit between 11 a.m and 12 a.m
Vuon Am Thuc
At one end of the spectrum is the street food that is cheap, light, and served fast. At the other end of the spectrum, there is bun thang. More sophisticated than most Hanoi’s ubiquitous street food, bun thang is unfortunately unpopular to travelers to Hanoi, mostly because few people have discovered it yet.
Consisting of a deeply savory chicken broth, rice noodle and four types of topping, bun thang used to be served exclusively for the elite due to the great effort that comes into the making of the broth and topping, putting its price out of the reach of the humble mass. Bun thang’s stock is made by stewing chicken bones and shrimp and extract the maximum flavor. The toppings include shredded chicken, shrimp floss, and fine-cut fried eggs. Before diving in, the city’s connoisseurs always add a small amount of shrimp paste and stag beetle testosterone to boost the flavors.
For the best and most authentic bowl of bun thang, one can never go wrong with Vuon Am Thuc, the restaurant run by the third generation of the family that invented the dish nearly a century ago. It’s one of the best places to eat in Hanoi Old Quarter, the bun thang here is still authentic and it offers a break from the pleasurable but chaos and crowded Hanoi street food stands.
Address: 37 Cua Nam Str
Price: 65.000 VND
Local tip: Vuon Am Thuc offers a wide range of dishes but the best on the menu is bun thang, others are rather mediocre.
Cha ca Phan
Cha ca is considered a luxurious dish for it’s served exclusively at restaurants. Turmeric-laced chunks of ca lang (a genus of catfish) are warmly marinated and then rendered in oil at diners’ tables. Once the fish is cooked, it’s paired with rice noodle, spring onion, dill, peanut, and laced with shrimp paste, creating a contrast of both flavors and texture.
Cha ca is no longer the best-kept secret of the Doan family. Now in Hanoi, a handful of other restaurants have successfully created their own versions of the dish that can rival the original recipe. Cha ca Phan, a small and simple restaurant has won the heart of Hanoi’s foodies for its arresting cha ca. No list of best eats in Hanoi can be complete without a big shout out for this family-run restaurant. The flavors are massive. Fish chunks are well-marinated so diners can taste the turmeric taking center stage on their palate. Spring onion and dill are still fresh and crunchy after being briefly cooked, offering a snap to contrast with the soft fish.
Cha ca Phan offer one of the best food in Hanoi Old Quarter at a reasonable price, plus the free fish congee and coconut jelly, perfect to conclude a hearty meal.
Address: 84 Tran Quoc Toan
Price: 120.000 VND for a serving
Local tip: Remember to leave room for the fish congee, it is no less tasty than the cha ca itself.