As Malaysian, we are not new to the typical Vietnamese food. The #1 must drink will be the Vietnamese coffee.
The best way to experience the local coffee is to drink it the Vietnamese style, with condensed milk (try both cold and hot), and take the slow sip sitting on the low stool by the road side. If you prefer up market experience, then go to high tea at the Sofitel Metropole Hanoi Hotel. If you are at the French Quarter, drop by Moca Coffee and order their signature Mocha coffee. This cafe offers the finest arabia coffee beans from the highlands of central Vietnam. Highland Coffee offers good coffee and food, one of the Highland Coffee with good view is on 3rd floor, 5 Dinh Tien Hoang. You can see the entire Hoan Kiem Lake and part of the city view from the balcony.
You can eat your heart out with plenty of Vietnamese, Asian and Western cuisines.
Some of my best meals were taken during dinner and I didn’t take any photo. Below are the list of restaurents offer good food at reasonable price.
1) Hanoi Garden (36 Hang Manh). We have 2 dinners at this restaurent hidden behind the hotel. You can go early or make reservation, sitting at the courtyard by the man-made waterfall. This is a good restaurent if you like Vietname and Cantonese food.
2) KOTO (59 Van Mieu), just next to the entrance to the Museum of Literature. Many tourists visited this restaurent to support the street kids who were trained in the restaurents to give them a chance to acquire skills to be self sustainable. For the good cause, you should visit them. The food that I ordered was ok but not excellent, but I loved the mango lassi.
3) Hoa Sua Restaurent (inside Museum of Ethnology, as well as on 34 Chau Long, near West Lake). Like KOTO, Hoa Sua is also a non-profit group helping the disadvantage kids to be trained. The foods were reasonable price and good. I love the apple crumble with ice cream. If you visit Museum of Ethnology, do drop by and give them support. The spaghetti looks plain but the taste and texture was 9 points out of 10.
4) Pho 24 noodle chain (every where, but the best view was on 31 Hang Khay. You can enjoy the beef noodle and coffee, with the Hoan Kiem Lake view in front of you). The beef noodle was recommended.
5) Hanoi Social Club (6 Hoi Vu, in side the small lane). This was a new hang out place for many tourist. The fusion food was interesting.
If you have time and budget, here are few more famous restaurants:
a) Bobby Chinn (77 Xuan Dieu, on the West Lake side of town)
b) Green Tangerine (48 Hang Be, in Old Quarter)
c) Geen Mango (18 Hang Quat)
d) Tamarind (80 Ma May), vegetarian cuisine
Besides coffee, everyone will order some sort of spring roll. The magic lied in the fish sauce. We tried the crab spring roll in Pineapple restaurent (35 Hang Buom, Old Quarter).
If you are more advanterous, there are plenty of street food for grab.
Most of the food were deep fried. You have no way to tell the freshness of the meat or the condition of the cooking oil (mostly black in color). The good news was 50% of the gems were killed, 50% was added when the food was served.
If you bought any tourist book and research, you may come across one of the highly recommended eatery – “Cha Ca La Vong”.
Insight Hanoi Pocket Guide said, “This no-frills restaurant serves only a traditional Hanoi specialty, Cha Ca (grilled fish) – cooked at the table ona clay brazier – with noodles, herbs and peanuts. Listed in journalist Patricia Schultz’s 1000 Places to see Before You Die, this is allegedly the oldest restaurant in Vietnam (opened 1871).”
Who can resist the temptation no to visit such highly acclaimed restaurant?
My impression? It was the worst restaurant and food so far I ever had in Vietnam. The few tiny pieces of fish cost USD10, and it was tasteless, submerged in half inch thick oil. Cooked for 1 minute in front of you and … that’s it. The cold noodle is blend, you can add oil and peanuts, and some herbs. The service and environment was bad ……
It could be due to personal taste but it taught me a lesson about seeing the real world yourself. Whatever written in book could be very different from reality. I think I should try Cha Ca Thang Long (21 Duong Thanh) on my next visit to restore the resputation of grilled fish noodle.