Hanoi is worth visiting as much for its cuisine as for its cultural sights. But with hundreds of restaurants and cafes to choose from, it can be daunting to know where to begin. For that reason it can be helpful to have a short list of tried and tested places to cover a variety of eating and drinking options.
If you are new to Vietnamese cuisine, you could hardly find a better introduction than Quan An Ngon. It brings together under one roof cooks who have mastered regional specialities in order to offer customers an unparalleled selection of choice. The only problem? It might take an hour to choose from the menu. For a shorter and simpler selection in a cozy and welcoming environment, head for Essence Cafe in the Old Quarter.
This is a peculiarly Vietnamese concept, which involves disadvantaged kids (many of them orphans) being trained as cooks or wait staff to teach them useful skills. Hanoi’s top two organizations for this are KOTO (“Know One, Teach One”) and the Hoa Sua Training Restaurant.
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Despite the exceptional variety of vegetables used in Vietnamese cuisine, few restaurants offer exclusively vegetarian food. One great find is Com Chay Nang Tam, with some tempting set menus and ridiculously low prices. The Hanoi Social Club is also worth checking out, not only for its vegetarian fare such as mango curry, but also for its laid-back, quirky atmosphere.
For a really top-class meal in a refined setting, you could do worse than head for the Press Club, where the staff treat everyone like royalty. Another place worth considering for a big night out is the Ly Club, where traditional musicians and singers entertain guests.
At the other extreme, Hanoi’s simple street food outlets turn out delicious food for a handful of dong. Two top spots are Bun Bo Nam Bo, offering beef noodles with beansprouts, and Cha Ca Thang Long serving Hanoi’s specialty—fried fish with dill.
When you just need to take five and relax with a coffee or tea, check out Cong Caphe on Nguyen Huu Huan, where the brew is bound to wake you up. To enjoy views of Hoan Kiem Lake while supping, head for City View Cafe, which overlooks the northern end of the lake. All visitors to Hanoi have to taste a glass of the local beer (bia hoi), which costs just a few cents. So in the early evening, head for “bia hoi corner” in the heart of the Old Quarter.
Hanoi’s nightlife is as diverse as its restaurant scene. Jazz lovers should not pass up the chance to visit Binh Minh Jazz Club, tucked away behind the Opera House. If you like surprises, drop by CAMA ATK in the French Quarter, which often hosts international musicians who happen to be passing through.