Gùsto! How · What · Where Locals Eat (And Drink) In Hanoi
Vietnam's capital offers any visitor a rich culinary experience, featuring in TripAdvisor's top 20 food destinations in the world for 2023. So here's what and where to eat when visiting Hanoi.
But Hanoi also offers a rich culinary experience. The city was even chosen as one of the 20 top food destinations in the world in 2023 by TripAdvisor. That's no surprise since Vietnamese cuisine is renowned worldwide for its fresh ingredients, mix of flavors, and the emphasis on herbs and vegetables. The country's rich food history is reflected in the many traditional dishes that have become popular around the world, such as phở, bánh mì, gỏi cuốn (spring rolls), and bún chả (grilled pork with noodles).
So, if you're lucky enough to be visiting Hanoi, here’s a local's guide to the best places that are guaranteed to blow your taste buds rather than your budget.
Start your day with Pho
Phở is not only the most popular breakfast in Vietnam but is also internationally renowned as a symbol of Vietnamese gastronomy.
Vietnamese Phở is a noodle soup made with rice noodles, beef or chicken clear broth, and various herbs and spices. For the most savory flavor broth, beef or chicken will simmer in a noodle soup for many hours. Then, slices of beef or chicken, bean sprouts, lime wedges, and fresh herbs, including cilantro, Thai basil, and mint, will frequently be added to the bowl of phở.
The legendary Pho Thin restaurant has been serving customers delicious bowls of phở since the 1970s. The restaurant is noted for its tasty broth and tender beef slices and is located in the center of the busiest streets of the Hanoi Old Quarter.
Another breakfast option is Bánh xèo – a crispy, stuffed rice pancake made with flour, water, and turmeric powder. The inside is filled with pork and shrimp, and sprinklings of mung bean, onions and bean sprouts. It can also be called a Vietnamese crêpe.
Although traditionally a dish from the south of Vietnam, Bánh xèo has become a favorite among Hanoians. According to Vietnamese newspaper, Báo Tin tức, the best place to eat the famous Vietnamese Crêpe is Banh Xeo Sau Phuoc, located near the French corner and run by an ex-magician. Come taste the magic!
A sandwich with a twist for lunch
Want to enjoy a Vietnamese delicacy for lunch but you don’t want to spend too much time at the table? Go for Banh mi, arguably the most well-known Vietnamese dish outside of the country. A staple in Vietnamese cuisine, banh mi is the Vietnamese word for “bread”, but people use it to refer to the sandwich.
A small French baguette is cut in half and filled with a variety of ingredients like liver pate, cold cuts, pickled vegetables, cucumber slices, and cilantro. It’s a light sandwich that can also be eaten as a quick snack.
Bánh Mì 25 is located along Hang Ca street in Hanoi’s Old Quarter. You can take it away or sit down to enjoy the dish. Usually packed with tourists, it is also a local’s favorite.
If you’re a fan of phở and a mix of spicy, salty and savory flavors, you must try Bun bo Hue, a popular Vietnamese rice noodle dish with sliced beef, chả lụa (Vietnamese sausage), and sometimes pork knuckles.
The dish originates from Huế, a city in central Vietnam associated with the cooking style of the former royal court. And around Hanoi, shops selling Bun bo Hue are almost as frequent as familiar noodle stalls. Go to ‘Bun Bo Hue An Cuu’ at Doi Can Street in Ba Dinh District, or ‘Bun Bo Hue Ut My’ at Trung Van Street in Nam Tu Liem District for the most authentic flavors guaranteed.
Stop for a traditional tea or coffee
Craving a little peace and quiet after being in the usual hustle and bustle of Hanoi? Stop for a tea at one at Hien Tra Truong Xuan, a familiar venue for local tea drinkers. Hidden in a small street near the Temple of Literature, it provides tranquility in a house built in the style of an ancient rural architecture with a tiled roof, brick wall and a garden.
It offers a diverse menu of teas collected from many regions of the country, which are processed and brewed in a traditional Vietnamese method. The place is famous for its tea with natural flowers such as lotus, jasmine, daisy, and rose.
If you’re a fan of coffee, you must try Vietnamese egg coffee (ca phe trung), which is made by beating an egg yolk with sweetened condensed milk until it becomes airy creamy and the texture is meringue-like fluff. The mixture is then poured over hot espresso or iced coffee. So stop at Giang Café near Hanoi’s old quarter, to taste the first ever ca phe trung. Invented in 1946 by Mr. Nguyen Van Giang, the secret recipe has been passed down for generations.
Craving a snack?
Hanoi offers a variety of street food, and you would never go hungry after a full day of walking around the city.
Nem nuong is a specialty often served as a snack and one of the most popular street foods. It consists of grilled pork sausage or grilled meatballs, sometimes also served with rice noodles or rice as a main course.
According to the Hanoi Times, the best nem nuong can be found inside Au Trieu, one of the most famous alleys in Hanoi. So head over to Nem Chua Nuong Phuong, a great place to enjoy local food.
Banh tom (shrimp cakes), banh goi (pillow-shape dumplings) and ha cao chien (deep-fried Chinese-style dumplings) are a go to delicacy for locals. While banh tom is a little different from the other two, made with shrimps and an add-on of grated sweet potatoes, banh goi and ha cao chien are normally stuffed with pork, mushroom, glass noodles and onions. They are all deep-fried and best served in the dipping sauces with some herbs.
To enjoy a mix of three, head to Há cảo Hàng Bồ from 3 to 5PM and find yourself a seat among the locals to enjoy a fried treat.
Last stop: dinner
Starving after a long day of sightseeing? Bun cha may be just what you need. It is a dish consisting of charcoal-grilled fatty pork served in a soupy bowl with pickled vegetables, along with a side of sticky rice noodles and fresh leafy greens like lettuce, perilla, coriander, and mint.
Fun fact: during a visit to Hanoi in 2016, former U.S. President Barack Obama enjoyed a bowl of bun cha at the Bun Cha Huong Lien restaurant. It was later renamed "Obama's Bun Cha" and the table on which he sat has been under glass. According to French daily Le Point, the restaurant has gained popularity and the famous table has become a real attraction for tourists and locals alike.
Another key dish in Hanoi is cha ca. In a traditional cha ca restaurant, it’s a DIY experience. A searing hot pan with marinated fish will arrive at the table, alongside a basket of sides like vermicelli, fresh herbs, roasted peanuts, chili, and mam nem (a fermented shrimp paste). The fish and herbs will cook right in front of you.
It dates back more than 130 years and was first invented by the local Doan family, who served the dish to troops during French colonial rule. The original restaurant where it all started still exists today under the name Cha ca La Vong.
The dish’s universal appeal has a street dedicated to its name in the Old Quarter, a popular stop among travelers and residents. No matter where you go on that street, you will be bound to find a good cha ca to taste.
Vietnamese cuisine etymology
The French influence on Vietnamese language started during the colonial period when France colonized Vietnam in the late 19th century. French became the language of administration, education, and communication with the colonial authorities. The French language had a big impact on Vietnamese vocabulary, phonetics, grammar, and writing system, leaving many loanwords notably in the field of cuisine.
For example, bánh mì, comes from the French word “pain de mie” meaning bread. Coffee, or café in French is written ca phe in Vietnamese. The notable French dish “pot-au-feu” has even left its mark on Vietnam’s traditional meal of phở.