Ha Noi in My!

Hanoi is an exceptional city for eating. An entire book could be written about the street food alone. Much of it is offered by vendors who set up on the footpaths wherever they can and keep whatever hours they please, so all we can say is follow your nose, pull up a plastic kid’s chair, point at what the people next to you are eating and enjoy.
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At the other end of the spectrum, you’ll find a great variety of fine, authentic international cuisine cooked by some top chefs. It’s pretty much standard for a restaurant to have a charming atmosphere with balcony seating overlooking the road, along with great service, and reasonable prices, at least by Western standards.

A good introduction to the Hanoi food scene can be found at the blog Sticky Rice. Their coverage of Hanoi is well-written, and the photos alone will have you drooling for a bowl of bun cha or a sizzling dish of cha ca.

Numerous restaurant reviews and a wealth of other information can be found on the New Hanoian website, which is oriented towards expats but also useful for travelers.
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Hanoi’s best known Cha Ca restaurant, Cha Ca La Vong is in a cramped little two-storey house on, appropriately enough, Cha Ca St. In the guidebooks for eons, it’s a testament to their tasty fare that this place remains more often packed with Vietnamese than foreigners. When Westerners arrive, they’re presented with the menu: a small laminated card that reads, “The only thing we serve here is fried fish.” But what fish! It comes to your table sizzling in a delectable dill sauce and accompanied by fresh herbs, noodles and crushed peanuts. At 120,000 dong per person, this certainly isn’t the cheapest dish in town, but if you’re planning on trying just one authentic Vietnamese place, this should be it.

The first place people often go for a traditional Vietnamese meal is Little Hanoi. There are actually two Little Hanois under separate ownership. The Hang Giay location is, we think, a bit better. The one on Ta Hien actually has two locations on the same street, and is more of a tourist processing facility. But, while the food is okay, these places don’t capture the heart and soul of Vietnamese eating that a good hotpot outfit does.

We don’t hesitate to steer people straight for New Day Restaurant on Ma May. It has a wonderful combination of beauties: the menus are in English, but the food is still authentically Vietnamese, along with the atmosphere. They specialise in hotpots, which are great with a group, but individual dishes are on the menu for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and they are all consistently good. Revealingly, this place fills up in the evening with local Vietnamese and expats in the know.

If you want some satisfying traditional Vietnamese food on sparkling clean plates, prepared in a spiffy-looking kitchen by staff wearing hair nets, don’t overlook the restaurant in the lobby of the Hanoi Youth Hotel on Luong Van Can street next to Minh’s Jazz Club. They also have a decent selection of wines, and the prices aren’t much more than you’d pay at one of the more hygienically challenged local places.

A few very popular steak joints are on Hang Giay (Shoe St) at the junction with Hang Buom. This is about as authentic as street food in Hanoi gets. Who knows how many cows a night they go through, but the streetside restaurants here are packed nightly. The grease and grime (on the floor, not the plates) may deter some, but the food is excellent, particularly the thin marinated steaks swimming in gravy and piled with steak fries. Don’t neglect the other items on the menu. We enjoyed a delicious steaming bowl of Chinese-style veggies and noodles with beef (my xau bo) and some meaty, finger-licking chim (a small game bird). No English menu, but if you can’t speak Vietnamese, just point and smile and they’ll figure it out.

If you want to rub shoulders with the local Vietnamese lunch crowd and knosh on a tasty bowl of beef and noodles, head for Bun Bo Nam Bo on Hang Dieu St at midday. This place is popular with office workers and it’s a frenetic scene at noon. Just squeeze into a seat on a shared bench and they’ll bring you a bowl of noodles, beef and herbs topped with crispy fried onions. This place is only open for lunch.

Bun cha is the signature dish of Hanoi. At lunchtime you’ll find just about all of Hanoi sitting on kid-sized stools and slurping down this combination of grilled pork, salty-sweet broth, slices of green papaya, rice noodles, and fresh herbs. Every neighbourhood in Hanoi has a bun cha place — just follow your nose to the smoky streetside grill. One place that offers dependably good bun cha is found in an alley just off the north side of Hang Bac St between Ma May and Ngo Pha Loc. But really, you can’t walk far without stumbling on bun cha anywhere in Hanoi.

Along the top of Nguyen Huu Huan St are several xoi xeo shops, and we definitely recommend giving this dish a try. It’s a kind of Vietnamese sticky rice, topped traditionally with shavings of lotus root and roasted garlic, but nowadays they’ll put anything you like on top: chicken, pork ribs, fish, eggs and so on. It’s a quick, warm, belly-filling meal. The specific place we’re steering you to, Xoi Yen, is open 24 hours, making it a perfect last stop of the evening after you’ve worked up an appetite dancing.

Highway 4, which specialises in traditional food, also takes pride in serving unusual dishes: think camel, crickets, crocodile. They’re not on the menu, but show up as specials at random times. Otherwise the food is best described as Asian fusion, with an emphasis on the eclectic, to be washed down with a wide range of traditional Vietnamese liquors. We had stewed rabbit in wine sauce that was absolutely out of this world, and the less adventurous black pepper pork was also divine. You’ll find a wide range of dishes to suit all palates and the atmosphere is top notch. The old building has a lot of floor seating at low tables, but they’ve opened up more dining salons two doors down that have chairs. This is a great place to come with a big group, especially if you’re looking to please your Vietnamese and Western friends in equal measure. People usually order several dishes and share, and even with the wine, you can get away with paying less than 200,000 dong per head. They recently shut down their location at 5 Hang Tre (3 Hang Tre remains open though), but will be reopening at 25 Bat Su. They have two additional locations: one on Mai Hoc De in Hai Ba Trung district, and on Kim Ma in Ba Dinh.
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Pho 10 is a great place to try Vietnam’s signature dish, if you haven’t already done so at one of the myriad places on the street. The advantage here is that the pho is just as good or better than what you might just happen across elsewhere, and the hygienic standards are decidedly better. You’ll pass by the kitchen and get a look for yourself on your way to the tables, which are on four floors. It’s very popular for a quick bowl of noodles, so don’t plan on lingering too long after you’re done, as someone will likely be waiting for your table. Service is brisk and no-nonsense. Prices range from 20 to 35,000 dong, which isn’t much more than on the street.

Quan An Ngon is a popular place to experience traditional food from all corners of Vietnam. Its popularity is well-deserved. At just about any time of day, you’ll find the shared tables packed with middle-class Vietnamese, expats and tourists. Just don’t expect a quiet romantic dinner as this place is as noisy and raucous as Hanoi itself. Sit inside or at the shared tables outside under a web of sail-like awnings. Surrounding you on all sides are little “food stalls” dishing up specialties like green papaya salad, fresh spring rolls, clams in lemongrass and beef with chilli and salt. Just about anything you order off the huge menu will be delicious (we’ve not yet gathered the courage to order “the grilled swans” however). Plates are small, and in tapas style you should share dishes among friends as you nibble your way through Vietnamese cuisine. Though Quan An Ngon isn’t cheap, it’s very reasonably priced. Highly recommended.

Bun Bo Nam Bo 67 Hang Dieu. T: (04) 3923 0701
Bun Cha stand Hang Bac, between Ma May and Ngo Pha Loc
Cha Ca La Vong 14 Cha Ca St. T: (04) 825 3929 Open 10:00-14:00, 17:00-22:00
Hanoi Youth Hotel 33 Luong Van Can St. T: (04) 3828 5822 http://www.hanoiyouthhotel.com
Highway 4 25 Bat Su. T: (04) 3926 0639 http://www.highway4.com
Little Hanoi 21 Hang Gai. T: (04) 3828 8333, (04) 3928 5333. Open 07:30-23:00 Delivery 09:00-17:30
Little Hanoi 1 9 &14 Ta Hien. T: (04) 3926 0168, (0912) 151 375. Open 10:00-23:00
Newday Restaurant 72 Ma May. T: (04) 3828 0315, (04) 926 2436 Open 07:00-22:00
Pho 10 Ly Quoc Su 42 Hang Voi. T: (04) 3923 4455 Open 06:00-12:30
Quan An Ngon 18 Phan Boi Chau. T: (04) 3942 8162
Steak joints Hang Giay, junction Hang Buom. Open 04:00-22:00
Xoi Van Anh 35 Nguyen Huu Huan. T: (043) 825 1755, (0912) 445 369 Open 24 hours

Cafes, bakeries and grazing
The sweet-toothed will be happy in Hanoi too. Bakeries abound, displaying mouth-watering cakes and pastries at irresistible prices. Plenty are to be found in the centre of the Old Quarter, or head to tiny Anh Hoa Bakery on the corner of Phoung Hung and Tran Phu, where the sesame topped loaves are amazing.

Cafe Nola on Ma May is one of the best cafes in Hanoi, and it has a small but delicious menu that includes jambalaya, goat cheese salad and an eclectic mix of dishes and drinks — it’s one of the few places that proudly serves oatmeal. But really, come here for the atmosphere which is one of the best and most unique on the Hanoi cafe scene, tastefully furnished in a mostly old-time style. There’s a piano here for guests to play if they like, and the top floors are decorated with a whimsical canopy of colourful umbrellas. It’s a good place to get out your laptop and hang around all day.

Puku Cafe relocated to ‘Food Street’ in mid June 2010 and, although it’s lost a little of its cosy hideaway feel it’s replaced it with a light and airy downstairs seating area, filled with familiar tables and comfy, brightly coloured sofas, as well as some tables out front. When it’s fully up-and-running, Puku will also offer an upstairs seating area and roof terrace. The menu remains; with terrific sandwiches, the great-all-day Kiwi breakfast and a range of pasta dishes. Prices are reasonable and with free WiFi internet access those burdened with a laptop will struggle to find a more comfortable place in Hanoi. And it’s open 24/7. Friendly staff and welcoming atmosphere make it worth the trip.

Tucked in an alley off Au Trieu St, The Cart serves up tasty sandwiches on delightfully crusty French bread. Try the succulent meatloaf with spicy black bean sauce or the chicken salad with lemon mayonnaise, and then wash it down with one of the many healthy fruit juice concoctions on offer. The carrot-cucumber-pineapple-celery mix is a great pick-me-up. Espresso drinks and vegetarian sandwiches are available too. Got a long train trip coming? Check out their packed lunch deals.

Coffee aficionados will want to make a pilgrimage to Trieu Viet Vuong St a couple of kilometres south of Hoan Kiem Lake and just north of the Vincom shopping center. Known unofficially as Hanoi’s “coffee street,” you’ll find a slew of cafes where Hanoi’s youth while away the hours sipping strong cups of java. Order a classic caphe sua da (iced coffee with sweetened condensed milk) settle in, and watch Hanoi street life passing you by. A great place to sample the magic elixir of Vietnamese coffee is Cong Cafe, a hip little hangout for students, artists, writers and expats. Communist kitsch adorns the walls, an eclectic mix of music plays on the sound system and the seriously strong coffee is some of the best you’ll find in the city.

During the day Five Restaurant is a comfy upscale cafe where you can settle in with your laptop on your own and just order coffee. At night they put cloths on tables and it’s a romantic restaurant. We weren’t blown away by the food at Five. It’s good, but nothing to write home about. Portions were small, and we felt we paid more for the atmosphere. The main reason to head here is the wines by the glass — six to choose from, all very good, and reasonably priced.

La Place inhabits a charming and unexpectedly peaceful spot opposite the cathedral. Head upstairs to the small roof terrace or the light and airy first floor which is scattered with brightly coloured throws, propaganda posters and crayons provided so that children and the young at heart can draw on the brown paper table cloths. Unfortunately the food’s nothing to write home about but it’s a great place to take a breather, and the frozen drinks are an amazing assault on the taste buds: try the temptingly named Frozen Lemon Mint, Citrus Honey Freeze or Strawberry Cooler.

Anh Hoa Bakery 38 Phung Hung. T: (04) 3928 6689 Open 7:00-22:00
Cafe Nola 89 Ma May (down a narrow alley). T: (04) 3926 4669, (0977) 738 835
Cong Cafe 152D Trieu Viet VuongLa Place 4 Au Trieu. T: (04) 3928 5859 Open 7:30-22:30 http://www.laplacehanoi.com
Five 5 Hang Be. T: (04) 3926 3761
Puku Cafe 16 Tong Duy Tan. Open 24 hours.
The Cart 18 Au Trieu (enter through the alley just behind Au Trieu St). T: (04) 3928 7715 http://www.thecartfood.com

Ice cream
Ice cream’s not in short supply either. From local kem outlets, to kiosks, to parlours, most budgets and tastes are catered for. Fanny’s, at the south of the lake on Le Thai To, has a deservedly good reputation for both the range and quality of their offer. They offer 38 heavenly flavours of 100% natural ice cream and sorbet, including vanilla macadamia and peanut and lime. Choose from among a wide range of tempting sundaes, most of which are priced at around 68,000 dong, or create your own from the individual scoops (from 18,000 to 26,000 dong) and toppings. Yes, it can cost as much as lunch and dinner combined, but everyone deserves a treat, right?

Hapro Bon Mua has an open-air outlet next to the lake that also serves scoops and sundaes and is a lovely spot to while away the hours, but the ice cream’s not as creamy and they lack the variety of Fanny’s.

Fanny’s 48 Le Thai To T: (04) 3828 5656 Open 8:00-23:00 http://www.glacefanny.com/
Hapro Bon Mua Le Thai To on the lakeside, corner of Hang Khay

Korean and Japanese
Asahi Sushi has long been a decent option for raw fish and other Japanese specialties, but for our money, it’s now been outclassed by a new place, Kimono, on Ly Thuong Kiet. This place offers daily specials on carousel sushi at $1.20 per selection. They have a number of floors accessible by lift with absolutely gorgeous tatami rooms with leg wells under the tables that are ideal for groups of up to 10. Many sushi places we’ve visited are constantly running out of fish until all they have is salmon, which is the most widely available in Hanoi. Kimono seems to have a handle on keeping a variety of yellowtail and other varieties in stock. Recommended.

For Korean, we’re eager to try out a new, buffet-style, all-you-can-eat Korean barbecue, Seoul Garden, on Tran Hung Dao. You load up as much as you like from the salad bar, which offers typical Korean marinated meats, seafood, veggies and side dishes, with even ice cream for dessert. You bring it to your table — there are three floors of them — and cook it yourself at the grill at the centre. Prices are $10 to 20 per person, and it is recommended to go on the weekends when they offer up even more goodies. Kids eat half price.

Asahi Sushi 288 Ba Trieu. T: (04) 3974 5945 http://www.trieunhat.com.vn/
Kimono Sushi 52-54 Ly Thuong Kiet T: (04) 3936 7629 http://www.kimono.com.vn
Seoul Garden 33 Tran Hung Dao T: (04) 3944 8817 http://www.seoulgarden.com.vn/

For Indian, the spot to head is Tandoor Indian Cuisine on Hang Be. They of course offer a wide variety of vegetarian as well as meat dishes, with a healthy selection of mutton. And the food is top notch, and they happen to have some of the best chutney we’ve ever tasted. We noticed on our last visit that the atmosphere of the restaurant is starting to look a bit tired, so you might want to order something to go or for delivery, which is easy to do because some of the staff are native English speakers and it’s free. For a better atmosphere and tasty Indian fare (with so-so chutney) try Khazaana, east of the lake, on Tong Dan.

Khazaana Indian Restaurant 1C Tong Dan, Hoan Kiem T: (04) 3934 5657 http://www.khazaana.vn
Tandoor Indian Cuisine 24 Hang Be T: (04) 3824 5359, F: (04) 3825 1905. Open 11:00-2:30, 18:00-22:30.

The Tamarind Cafe and associated Handspan Travel Agency have the shiny allure of a well-put-together, well-run establishment. Don’t be fooled. This is often storied as being one of the stand-out vegetarian places in Hanoi, but we found it thoroughly disappointing. Prices are high and service is slow and curt. Yes, the food is tasty but not up to the prices, nor the reputation. There are better vegetarian options, top on our list being the Whole Earth Restaurant on Ta Hien. There’s nothing flash about this place, but we were thrilled at the veggie offerings here. The moussaka was delicious and the ‘no meat’ batter-fried shrimp, was super.

Tamarind Cafe 80 Ma May. T: (04) 3926 0580. Open 05:30-22:30
The Whole Earth Restaurant 55 Ma May T: (04) 3926 1836 Open 08:00-22:00

Traveller fare
Ladybird on Hang Buom comes highly recommended. The upstairs dining area is dim but airy, with traditional paintings and carvings lining the walls. Chairs are comfortable, staff are polite and friendly and a small terrace awaits the lucky few. The menu includes a good selection of Vietnamese food as well as a few Western dishes and portions are generous even given the ridiculously low prices.

Right in the heart of things, very near to bia hoi corner, Gecko on Luong Ngoc Quyen provides a lengthy and varied menu of Western and Vietnamese dishes and drinks. Much of the food is average but some dishes, such as the pork in breadcrumbs served with seasoned mash, are spot-on, and the pleasant atmosphere, good lighting, comfortable seating and relaxing music — of the Beatles and Jonny Cash variety — along with the very reasonable prices take it above being an average choice. Another branch can be found on Hang Quat and the end of Hang Hom.

Gecko 22 Luong Ngoc Quyen. T: (04) 3926 2382 Open 07:00-late
Gecko 86 Hang Quat. T: (04) 3828 8773
Ladybird 57 Hang Buom. T: (04) 3926 1863 Open 8:00-22:00

No Asian capital would be complete without at least one Irish pub, and now Hanoi has two. The old standby is Finnegan’s Irish Pub. It’s become musty and dusty over the years, but it does have that ‘beer-soaked-into-the-wordwork’ atmosphere that may just remind some of their local public house back home. Staff are top notch, and on a good night the place can get pretty lively. Foodwise, it’s a good spot to head for pub grub. They offer fish and chips, bangers and mash, and daily specials like all-you-can-eat Irish stew on Tuesdays for 90,000 dong.

But there is a new entry from the Emerald Isle — The Irish Wolfhound. There’s a sign above the entrance that says, “Enter only if you have 100,000 dong” in Vietnamese and Gaelic, but don’t let that bother you, they won’t check your wallet at the door. Because it’s newish we can only give it a provisional thumbs up but it augurs well. The new owner has given the old place (which changed hands three times in the last year) a much needed facelift and put a nice pool table on the top floor. There’s streetside seating and an open plan that makes the inside feel like it’s outside. Previous bars at the same spot always attracted crowds thanks to the prime location, so we now expect the Wolfhound to pack them in.

Hankering for a burger? We were disappointed with the offerings at the most obvious place, My Burger My on Hang Bac, but maybe we caught them on a bad day. They also serve some Mexican dishes worth trying. But for our money, the shabby little food shack on the corner of Dinh Liet and Cau Go, Sago Bubble Tea, has the best burgers in town. There’s a cornucopia of items on the menu, and they operate earlier and later than most places. It’s sort of a fast food place, and most of the time, the food is ready fairly quickly. For Hanoi.

Although a bit of a walk to the west of Hoan Kiem lake, R&R Tavern is worth a visit for the scruffy yet comfy first floor lounge, the friendly staff and above-average Western fare: the Mexican is delicious and surpasses the offering from My Burger My, and other options such as fish and chips are well presented, good value and plentiful. It’s usually quiet at lunchtimes but the options in the area are limited, so if you’re visiting Hoa Lo prison or Quan Su Pagoda and aren’t in the mood for street food it’s definitely worth seeking out. A popular expat hang-out, it also hosts a Tuesday night pub quiz and live music on Sundays.

Unique for Hanoi, Au Lac do Brazil II offers an all-you-can eat barbecue buffet, with 12 different kinds of meat prepared by Brazilian chefs. The beef and lamb are imported from New Zealand, and it’s all grilled on charcoal and wood. You’ll end up spending $20 to 30 per person for this carnivore carnival, so it’s a bit of a splurge, but if you love your meat seared and juicy, this is the place to go. It’s just outside Hoan Kiem, but not too far from the centre, on a sidestreet just to the north of the main rail station.

In the area around St Joseph’s cathedral, stylish boutiques and trendy little restaurants are popping up all over and many are worth checking out. Chief among them is Mediterraneo, owned and run by Italians who make their own pasta, mozzarella and bread. Antipasto here is a true treat, the pizza is the best in town, and you really can’t go wrong ordering anything on the menu. They pay exquisite attention to quality, and it shows. Head upstairs and try to snag a seat on the balcony. It’s a bit pricey, but worth it.

Right next door is Salsa Tapas Bar and Restaurant, yet another fine choice. We came here with a group and ate our way through most of Southern France and half of Spain, and only paid about $8 a head, with a bottle of wine. Again, try for some seating on the upstairs balcony.

A relatively new addition to the scene near the cathedral is La, a charming little bistro that focuses on a fusion of Vietnamese and western tastes. It’s a popular place with the expat crowd and it has a cosy feel. Staff are attentive but don’t hover and lurk. The menu is eclectic, and the wine list is brief but wisely chosen. Although this isn’t a cheap restaurant by any standard, it’s much more affordable than a restaurant of comparable quality back home. The pork loin in cilantro and chiles was perfectly tender and had just the right spicy kick. The soups are creative if subtle and the salads and starters unusual and tasty — the thinly sliced cold salmon in a passion fruit and curry dressing was delectable. Remember to save room for comfort food deserts like banana bread topped with whipped cream, ginger and Bailey’s.

Ngo Bao Khanh is a picturesque, L-shaped laneway just to the west of the northern tip of Hoam Kiem Lake where you could easily spend the better part of an evening. The cluster of restaurants may look inviting (and the touts outside the establishments are certainly persistent) but just about every place here is geared for tourists and exceedingly mediocre. Best to venture elsewhere if you’re looking for something beyond bland fried rice or overpriced beers.

We found the best pizza we’ve tasted in all of Vietnam at a place called Classico, to the south of the Old Quarter — a small hike but well worth the trip. It’s got a pleasing, mood-lit, upscale atmosphere, and a very cheery and attentive staff (though they struggle a bit with their English). It depends on how you like your pizza, but if you like it New York style — thin crust and generous cheese that forms luscious little puddles of oil on top — you’re in for a treat. Both the chorizo and salami pizzas feature ample meat, and the gorgonzola and black olive is to die for. And the rest of the food on the menu is good, too, along with decent house wines by the glass, and it’s all pretty reasonably priced for a swish restaurant. The courtyard seating out front provides one of the more romantic atmospheres in Hanoi. Recommended.

A good new alternative for a romantic dinner opened at the end of 2009 on Phan Boi Chau near the Hanoi Towers. We had an absolutely excellent meal at Aqua — we ordered the steak and the salmon. Service was quick and the sauces were yummy. They have a ‘picture’ menu, and, miraculously, food comes to the table looking exactly like the picture. They have Western fare and some adventurous Vietnamese dishes we hadn’t seen elsewhere.

Also on Phan Boi Chau St, in the area between Hoan Kiem Lake and the train station, you’ll find the French-Vietnamese fusion restaurant La Badiane. Under the direction of French chef Benjamin Rascalou, La Badiane (the French word for star anise) serves up continental cuisine with a Vietnamese twist. Shrimp ravioli swimming in a dill and cilantro cream sauce and carmelised lemongrass pork ribs are a few of the creations on the menu. Steer clear of some of the more traditional dishes (the bun cha is quite average and who to pays 7 bucks for noodles in Hanoi?). Service is a bit overzealous and nervous (sometimes the staff seem like they’re handling high explosives rather than haute cuisine), but no matter what you order, you’re likely to have a fine meal here. Mains range from $7 to 20.

The area near the high-class Sofitel Metropole Hotel along Ly Thai Tu St offers, not surprisingly, some of Hanoi’s upper crust cuisine. Au Lac House has a garden cafe atmosphere in a restored French colonial setting, and serves up well-crafted Western and Vietnamese dishes on the menu at relatively affordable prices. Nearby are two very swanky eateries, only recommended for those looking to lay down $30 or more per person for a meal: Club Opera has an elegant, intimate atmosphere, and we preferred it slightly over the Press Club, which serves up gourmet dishes, most with a slightly Asian flavor. You’ll pay for an elegant setting and a selection of well-prepared continental and Vietnamese dishes, but for our money we’d recommend either Au Lac House, La Badiane southwest of Hoan Kiem lake or La near the cathedral for a gourmet meal at a much better price.

The decade-old institution, Alfresco’s group, spans Hanoi with its Italian eateries, coffee shops and fine dining. They run the Pepperoni’s pizza chain at six different locations, with a consistent standard of quality throughout. It isn’t the best pizza in town, but it’s good, they have reliable delivery, and two-for-one specials on pizzas to go every Thursday. The barbecued ribs are pricey, but excellent — big, meaty and tangy.

Alfresco’s restaurants are at four locations. A slightly upscale version of Pepperoni’s, they have higher prices, a bit better quality, better atmosphere and similar deals. The children’s menu is a reliable pleaser if the young ones can’t stomach another bowl of pho.

Yet another step up is Jaspas Restaurant in the Hanoi Towers, more of an elegant steak-and-wine dinner place. They also run Papa Joe’s Coffee, which has some good panini, salads and pastas. They are all well-run, convenient, popular and a very safe bet to grab a bite. Some of the more convenient locations follow.

Al Frescos 23L Hai Ba Trung. T: (04) 3826 7782
Al Frescos 19 Nha Tho. T: (04) 3938 1155
Aqua 30A Phan Boi Chau. T: (04) 3941 2466 Open 08:00-22:30 http://www.aqua.com.vn
Au Lac do Brazil II 6A Cao Ba Quat, Ba Dinh T: (04) 3845 5224 F: (04) 3747 4330 http://www.aulacdobrazil.com
Au Lac House 13 Tran Hung Dao. T: (04) 3933 3533
Classico 68 Quan Su. T: (04) 3941 2327 Free delivery http://www.classico.com.vn/
Club Opera 59 Ly Thai To. T: (04) 3824 6950
Finnegan’s Irish Pub 16A Duong Thanh. T: (04) 3828 9065 Open 11:00-03:00
Irish Wolfhound 4 Luong Ngoc Quyen. T: (04) 2212 6821
Jaspas 4th Fl, Hanoi Towers, 49 Hai Ba Trung. T: (04) 3934 8325
La 25 Ly Quoc Su. T: (04) 3928 8933
La Badiane 10 Nam Ngu. T: (04) 3942 4509 Mon-Sat: 11:00-22:30, Sun: 11:00-15:00
La Salsa Tapas Bar 25 Nha Tho. T: (04) 3828 9052
Mediteranneo 23 Nha Tho. T: (04) 3826 6288
My Burger My 5 Hang Bac. T: (04) 7309 0777 Open 08:00-22:00
Press Club 59A Ly Thai To. T: (04) 3934 0888 http://www.hanoi-pressclub.com
Pepperonis 29 Ly Quoc Su. T: (04) 3928 5246
Pepperonis 31 Bao Khanh. T: (04) 3928 7030
R&R Tavern 10 Tho Nhuom. T: (04) 6295 8215 Open 10:00-late
Sago Bubble Tea 100 Cau Go (base of Dinh Liet) T: (04) 3926 2195 Open 06:30-24:00

Eating for a cause
KOTO is a not-for-profit restaurant and vocational training program that works to train and assist street and disadvantaged youth in Hanoi. Set near the Temple of Literature, this is a convenient spot to drop by for a snack or a full lunch. They have some dishes unusual for Hanoi, such as a Mediterranean mezze platter. The abundant staff are all eager to please. We ducked into the busy kitchen and noticed that everyone was white-hatted and that it all looked quite professional and hygienic. Prices are a bit on the high side, though the food is good and the money goes to a very good cause. A lounge bar upstairs plays light jazz and serves Cooper’s Pale Ale on tap. If you’re in the area, be sure to swing by. At lunchtime, be sure to ask for a seat on the top floor, overlooking the green gardens of the temple next door.

A similar venture, the Hoa Sua Training Restaurant, annually helps more than 500 disadvantaged youth prepare for careers as servers, chefs and restaurant managers. Tucked away on a quiet street in the Hai Ba Trung neighborhood, Hoa Sua offers a vast selection of Western and Vietnamese dishes, with dining either inside or in a lovely outdoor garden. Service is a little slow and spotty, but it’s hard to be too critical considering the restaurant’s mission. The food we sampled was excellent, including ginger-laden fish baked in banana leaves and fresh spring rolls. The Hoa Sua School also runs Baguette et Chocolat, the restaurant, cafe and patisserie on the grounds of the Vietnamese Museum of Ethnology. It’s definitely worth paying a visit for a sandwich or sweet treat if you’re visiting the museum.

Baguette Et Chocolat Vietnamese Museum of Ethnology, Nguyen Van Huyen. T: (04) 2243 1116 http://www.hoasuaschool.com
Hoa Sua Training Restaurant 28 Ha Hoi. T: (04) 3942 4448 http://www.hoasuaschool.com
KOTO 59 Van Mieu. T:(04) 3747 0337 http://www.koto.com.au

Night life
The jazz revolution of the 1940s is reborn every night at Minh’s Jazz Club on Luong Van Can St, which offers nightly sessions of bebop and blues played by some proficient house musicians. They also host any cat with an axe who drops in for a jam, but you’d better be able to keep up with the big boys. If you’re a jazz aficionado, you’re in for a hefty dose of Trane and Bird with a side of Miles. There’s no cover, but the drinks are double what you pay elsewhere, so just nurse your beer and shout, ‘Go, man, go!’ Highly recommended. The band starts at 21:00 sharp and plays two hour-long sets. The second set is usually better, after they’ve had a chance to get cookin’.

The Old Quarter is the place to be in the evening in Hanoi, and there are enough tourists and expats available year round to get any given place hopping on any given night of the week, though some nights are more hoppin’ than others.

Things usually start off in the late afternoon at bia hoi corner, the intersection of Luong Ngoc Quyen and Ta Hien streets, just north of Hoan Kiem Lake. There are at least four outfits, one on each corner, offering bia hoi for 4,000 dong per glass. Funnily enough, the bia hoi here is actually not that good, and you’ll get a more refreshing drink if you pay a bit more elsewhere. But the other drinks are fine, the bottled beers are usually cold enough, and this spot is an excellent place to meet other travellers.

Mao’s Red Lounge on Ta Hien is all done up in a traditional Sino-Vietnamese style and seems to split business almost evenly with Hair of the Dog on Hang Giay St, which offers pool, daily drink specials, takeaway buckets, and on Monday and Tuesday you can drink a free beer every time you win at pool. Happy Hour entails buy-one-get-one-free on selected drinks from 17:00 to 21:30 nightly.

Our personal favourite is Half Man Half Noodle. This place dropped off the radar last year, and then came back with a vengeance. They tend to play a lot of classic rock and not too much dance music, which is a refreshing change. Some come here for the ‘ruou coconuts’, coconuts filled with juice and potent rice wine which are deceptively easy to drink and have quite a kick. There’s bar food here — the ham and cheese toasties are sublime — and there’s now a full range of German snacks prepared by a German cook to sample. It’s a great place to meet and converse, rather than dance.

Dragonfly on Hang Buom St packs them in on a good night as well, with a pool table, small, crowded dance floor, and the option of some quieter seating upstairs where you can kick back and smoke a shisha water pipe.

Finnegan’s on nearby Duong Thanh St is the spot to get bottled Guinness, though the amber Halida draft is cheaper and more popular. They also have a good menu of pub grub available. They manage to stay open past curfew until 03:00, and while there’s no dance floor per se, people often wind up dancing here — sometimes on the bar — so it’s a great venue to wind up at the end of the evening.

Another Irish-style pub closer to the centre is the new Irish Wolfhound on Luong Ngoc Quyen. It’s a good spot for eating, drinking and conversation, if you’re not up for dancing. It sometimes stays open late, sometimes not, depending on how long owner Bo feels like hanging around.

The last joint at the end of same street is Roots Reggae bar, a Bob Marley-themed place that plays salsa, Caribbean music and African music in addition to reggae. There’s really no dance floor, but room to dance when people get crazy. Try this place for the rum boats — 10 shots of different flavoured rums for 250,000 dong, served in a wooden boat.

Just in case the party is still not over and it’s time to dance, there are really only two choices, both along the Red River and both good. Phuc Tan bar, formerly known as The Lighthouse, is a big, popular nightclub with a huge area for dancing, along with a large patio out back that’s quiet and offers views of the river and tables where you can sip your drink under the stars. It’s across the highway from Hoan Kiem district. From “bia hoi corner,” head east on Ngoc Quyen St to the highway, carefully crossing and heading north to Thanh Yen St. Follow this past Phuc Tan St to Tu Gian alley. It’s devilishly hard to find, and crossing the highway on foot is treacherous. Luckily, most locals know where it is so definitely hire a taxi to get here.

Pretty much the same goes for Solace Dance Club, which is on an old boat on the Red River. There’s not quite as much room for dancing, but it’s still quite popular. Expect to pay more than you did at the bars in town for drinks. Be very careful at Solace bar. There have been repeated problems with theft and, in some cases, people being drugged and mugged. Keep an eagle eye on your drink. Both these clubs usually stay open until dawn.

Dragonfly 15 Hang Buom
Finnegan’s 16-A Duong Thanh St T: (04) 3828 9065
Hair of the Dog 27 Hang Giay. T: (0904) 400 701
Half Man Half Noodle 62 Dao Duy Tu. T: (04) 3926 1943 Open 10:00-3:00 or later
Irish Wolfhound 4 Luong Ngoc Quyen. T: (04) 2212 6821
Minh’s Jazz Club 31 Luong Van Can T: (04) 3828 7890
Mao’s Red Lounge 7 Ta Hien. T: (04) 3926 3104
Phuc Tan Bar 51 To Gian Alley, Phuc Tan
Roots Bar 2 Luong Ngoc Quyen. T: (0988) 128 524
Solace Dance Club Chuong Duong Do (on the river). T: (0904) 210 794
2 chau cua Bac


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