You mean there’s more to Vietnamese food than pho? Why yes, of course there is! Food can be found everywhere in Vietnam’s capital city, it’s literally bursting at the seams with deliciousness. It’s difficult to sum up the variety that is Vietnamese cuisine into one small post, but here it is anyway, a list of Vietnamese foods you must try in Hanoi.
The great thing about eating in Hanoi is the lack of pretension. It’s about the food, not the restaurant. You can find most dishes in a simple street food setting or basic eatery for $1-3. It’s remarkably cheap to eat well!
When we first came to Vietnam we didn’t really know what to eat, so we just started trying anything that looked remotely appetizing. We were ready to try anything! Well as long as it wasn’t dog meat, which is locally known as thịt chó, in case you were wondering.
After months of research, living in Hanoi, maneuvering through crazy traffic, and eating around, here are a few of our favorite things. Walk in, pull up a stool, sit amongst the locals, try uttering those five Vietnamese words you learned on the flight and dive in.
1. Bún Chả
When Anthony Bourdain sat down with President Obama to eat this dish it made international headlines. Bourdain chose this dish for a very good reason.
Bun Cha is probably the second most famous dish in Vietnam (other than Pho Bo) and it’s a common lunch item. Who doesn’t like charcoal-grilled pork, fresh aromatic herbs, bouncy vermicelli rice noodles, and pickled green papaya?
When the ingredients are combined in a broth-like dipping sauce, it creates a tangy cool BBQ soup that is absolutely divine.
Vietnamese food is as much about texture as it is about contrasting flavors and bun cha covers both so well. It was the first Vietnamese dish that we truly loved. There were at least three places near our apartment to sit on tiny plastic curbside stools and enjoy this mouthwatering meal for breakfast.
Hai bun cha! Hai tra da! That’s one of the first things we learned to say in Vietnamese, “Two bun cha and two green teas!”.
Try it on the street (which is what we typically prefer) or if you want a cleaner place try: Bún Chả Tuyết 34 Hàng Than, Nguyễn Trung Trực, Ba Đình, Hà Nội, Vietnam or you can try it for novelty where Obama and Bourdain ate: Bún Chả Hương Liên 24 Le Van Huu Hà Nội, Vietnam
2. Chả Cá
You’re in for a treat. This is one of Hanoi’s famous specialty foods that has garnered international acclaim in the last 5-10 years. The main ingredient is fresh snakehead fish that is very delicate and doesn’t taste fishy at all.
It’s then combined with turmeric, dill, peanuts, rice noodle, and scallions, along with chilies, fish sauce, and additional herbs to top it all off.
This is another restaurant that only offers one thing made to perfection. Pairs nicely with white wine or beer. The medley of flavors and textures make this quite possibly the best fish dish we’ve ever tasted anywhere!
Try it here: Chả Cá Thăng Long
19 – 21 – 31 Duong Thanh, Hà Nội,Vietnam (Old Quarter)
120k VND per person
3. Bún Riêu Cua
This delicious tangy tomato-based soup is made with rice vermicelli and topped with pounded freshwater crabmeat, fried tofu, and green onion. Warm chunks of tomato and chopped morning glory float near the top awaiting your spoons tender embrace.
A dollop of chili sauce, fresh herbs, and a sprinkle of garlic vinegar are the finishing touches. Lord have mercy!
Try it here: 11 Hàng Bạc, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội, Vietnam (Old Quarter)
4. Bún Dậu Mắm Tôm
Located in a tiny alley in the Old Quarter, this one took us some time to fall in love with. At first, we didn’t really like tofu that much. We didn’t necessarily hate it, but before living in Vietnam we certainly couldn’t imagine going out in search of it.
Bun dau mam tom changed our minds. Translating literally to “noodles” and “tofu” that’s what it is. Alongside a menagerie of herbs, it includes big cubes of rice noodles, perfectly crispy fried tofu, and fresh cucumbers. The idea is to dip, alternate, and enjoy.
The texture combinations going on are what we love most about it. Also, try the chả cốm cakes (fried seasoned pork and rice). Dip it all into nước mắm (fish sauce) and try the mam tom (very rich dark oily fermented shrimp paste) if you dare!
Try it here: Bún đậu Hương 55 Phất Lộc
55 Ngõ Phát Lộc, Hàng Bạc, Hà Nội, Vietnam (Old Quarter)
5. Phở Cuốn
Pho in a different form! Aren’t you excited? Well, you should be. The first time we had this one of our good Vietnamese friends brought us here. It had been a few blocks away all along and we hadn’t noticed it.
Pho cuon is a salad roll filled with beef, lettuce or mustard greens, and a selection of herbs all wrapped in wet rice paper. It’s served cool and then dipped into a lovely sauce of nước chấm (Vietnamese dipping sauce).
This dish is commonly found within the Truc Bach neighborhood. It’s a great little area that feels more like a small community, much quieter than other parts of Hanoi.
Every time we had a visiting friend we would make sure they tried pho cuon. Even less adventurous eaters will enjoy it. Cheap, healthy, and great for sharing!
Try it here: Phở Cuốn 31
31 Ngũ Xã, Trúc Bạch, Ba Dinh District, Hà Nội, Vietnam
6. Bánh Cuốn
Typically eaten for breakfast and lunch, a delicate white rice flour sheet is lifted off of a hot steamer with a long bendable piece of bamboo and filled with wood ear mushrooms and ground pork.
These dumplings are then brushed with liquid fat, quickly cut with scissors, and topped with fried onions and cilantro. Onto your plate, they go, like a freshly made hot mound of love.
It’s then dipped into (you guessed it) nuoc mam. Mrs. Coi (who has since passed on) earned her reputation here as one of the better shops in the old town.
Their peppered pork sausage cake is also delectable. Try the Chinese sausage while you’re at it, as it’s only 10k. You can also find cheaper street vendors spread across town and lingering in the alleys.
Try it here: Bánh Cuốn Gia Truyền Thanh Vân
14 Hàng Gà, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội, Vietnam (Old Quarter)
7. Nộm Thịt Bò Khô
This differs from the Thai or Lao version of papaya salad as it’s not so boldly flavored or spicy. Get a side order of nem cuốn (fresh spring rolls). We ordered the pork rolls, which contained pork skin, toasted rice powder, papaya, and Thai basil.
Try it here: Long Vi Dung
23 Nhà Hỏa, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội, Vietnam (Old Quarter)
8. Bún Bò Nam Bộ
Mmmm, Bun Bo Nam Bo, how you have our hearts. Wok tossed beef, crunchy bean sprouts, a sprinkle of peanuts, fried shallots, and pickled veggies. Add a nice squeeze of lime and you’re ready to indulge.
I’m hungry just thinking about it! It tastes like a warm summer afternoon in a bowl. This shop does only one dish and they do it well. One of the best dishes Hanoi has to offer!
Try it here: Bún Bò Nam Bộ
67 Hàng Điếu, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội, Vietnam (Old Quarter)
9. Bánh Xèo
This is a classic Vietnamese snack, made famous around the world by Anthony Bourdain on his No Reservations TV show. Translating to “sizzling cake”, feast your senses on this pan-fried savory crepe filled with crispy bean sprouts, green onion, pork, and/or shrimp.
Meant to be eaten with your hands this is another wonderful DIY dish that comes with rice paper and lettuce to roll your crepe in. Add Thai basil and mint leaves for extra flavor. Dip your rolls in nuoc cham to set your tastebuds flying!
Try it here: Bánh Xèo Sáu Phước
74 Cầu Đất, Hà Nội, Vietnam
10. Bánh Mì
Simple, cheap, and easy. Who doesn’t like a good sandwich? Pickled veggies, cilantro, marinated meat, and pâté all laid on a nice warm French roll. The baguette was introduced by the French during the colonial period in Vietnam and can now be found everywhere.
The owner of the shop told me, “If it doesn’t have pâté, it’s not Vietnamese food. My family’s specialty is pâté.” I recommend trying the bánh mì thịt lợn (pork) with pâté. They also have a honey grilled chicken sandwich or a tofu version for vegetarians.
Try it here: Banh Mi 25
25 Hàng Cá, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội, Vietnam (Old Quarter)
11. Cơm Rang Dưa Bò
If you’re more of a rice person or you’re sick of eating noodles, here’s one dish you can’t miss. It may not be one of the most incredible dishes in Vietnam, but it’s well worth eating. We would eat this dish at least once a week.
Com rang dua bo consists of fried rice, tender chunks of marinated beef, pickled cabbage, some chilies and scallions, and cucumbers on the side. We like it with plenty of garlic and lime. Wash it all down with a Hanoi beer.
Most restaurants and Bia Hoi’s anywhere in Hanoi should have this perfectly simple dish.
Try it here: Bia Hoi
50 Bát Đàn, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội, Vietnam (Old Quarter)
12. Nem Cua Bể
You can find many types of spring rolls all over Vietnam, but nem cua be, made with fresh crab meat, are the best of the fried variety. They are a specialty from Hai Phong, a seaside town north of Hanoi, but they are plenty delicious in Hanoi too.
They come with a side of bun (rice noodle), crunchy bean sprouts, and a plate of raw herbs. These are a great snack with beer!
Try it here: Nem Vuông Phố Cổ
37 Đào Duy Từ, Quận Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội, Vietnam (Old Quarter)
13. Cơm Bình Dân
Food of the common people or “working-class rice” is a staple of Vietnamese cuisine. You will find one of these places on almost every city street in Vietnam. A buffet-style meal priced by weight or a set rice combo.
On offer are a variety of meat and veggie dishes, spring rolls, tofu, and the most scrumptious peanuts you will ever eat, all served on rice with a side of soup. We’ve recommended New Day Restaurant where prices are higher and it’s conveniently located in the Old Quarter, but you can find these places all over Hanoi. Just keep an eye out for a sign that says Com Binh Dan and you’ll eat very well for $1 or $2.
Try it here: New Day Restaurant
72 Mã Mây, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội, Vietnam (Old Quarter)
14. Bò Bía Ngọt
A cheap and light traditional dessert that was popularized many years ago. Bo bia ngot isn’t overly sweet or rich. The combo of a soft thin pancake with crunchy honeycomb, chewy coconut, and toasty black sesame seeds offer a texture unlike anything else.
One of our Vietnamese friends told us that it reminded him of his childhood. Give it a try if you’re in the area near the Tran Quoc Pagoda. Just look for a man or woman on a bike with a styrofoam box that says “Bo Bia” written in red.
Try it here: Thanh Nien Street, Tay Ho
(The causeway between Tay Ho/West Lake and Truc Bach Lake)
15. Tràng Tiền Ice Cream
Lastly, we have to mention this place! Having served ice cream since the 1950s, Kem Trang Tien has become a long-hailed institution among Hanoians for their sticky rice ice cream bars and coconut ice cream scoops served in a crisp waffle cone. Our favorite is the chewy kem cốm (green rice flake) ice cream bar, bet you can’t eat just one!
Try it here: 35 Tràng Tiền, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội, Vietnam
We hope you enjoy eating your way through the city. If you’re interested in discovering the cool cafes, check out Hanoi Hideaway.