When traveling to the capital of Vietnam you may picture a bustling city with a side of Pho. Checking out the local food scene should be at the top of your list whether you are here for a quick layover before visiting Ninh Binh, Phong Nha, or Halong Bay, or if this is your final destination. It can be overwhelming finding good meals in this huge city and you don’t need to spend extra money on a guided tour to find the local favorites. The top foodie stops in Hanoi include:
- Egg Drop Coffee at Café Giang
- Crispy Fish Noodles (Cach Lam Bun) at Hai San Pho
- Banh Mi at Banh Mi 25
- Bao Buns at Bánh Bao Bà Mậu
- Jasmine Beer at Luas Craft Beer
- Pho at Pho Suong
- Streetside beer
- Sesame Rice Donuts
Sweet and spicy aromas drift from the steps of homes and draw you in for an unbelievable homemade meal that was perfected over generations. The best part of Southeast Asia is not having to settle for chain restaurants when the city is overflowing with local, homemade cuisine. All these foodie epicenters are walkable within the city making them the perfect stops between visiting Hanoi’s landmarks.
Egg Drop Coffee at Café Giang
Our first stop will take you to the world’s best egg drop coffee. What is egg drop coffee? A Vietnamese classic coffee combination with sweet condensed milk, egg yolk and strong coffee topped with a thick layer of sweet froth that lingers on your lips. The coffee shop is in the back of a long and dark alleyway, but there’s no need to be alarmed. Head straight up the narrow stairs that open onto a beautiful, sun-soaked patio where you can place your order with a server. No need to look at the menu, order the egg drop coffee, hot. Pay at the counter downstairs on your way out and hit the town with a sweet pep in your step.
Crispy Fish Rice Noodles (Cach Lam Bun) at Hai San Pho
Hai San Pho was our first food spot recommended by a lifelong Hanoian we met along our travels. This place is hard to find, but if you listen for the crackle of freshly fried fish you will find the lively corner restaurant eatery. The cook greeted us with a nod as we placed our order and took a seat on a small plastic stool complemented by a matching table covered with spices, pickled vegetables and colorful sauces. We arrived mid-morning and enjoyed dining with the locals at the wobbly communal tables. Within 15-minutes after sitting, crispy fish slivers and a large bowl of hot rice noodles and vegetables greeted us with a savory aromatic steam. The cook gestured to which spices were best and we dove straight into the most delicious breakfast from our trip. Happily eating fried fish noodles for breakfast alongside a live-eel and crab tank with the yawn of the awakening city in the background is something I will never forget.
Banh Mi at Banh Mi 25
The next stop after visiting some historical spots nearby was Banh Mi 25. This was one of the more touristy spots, but there were still locals taking advantage of the quick service and low prices. I recommend the honey chicken with extra meat if you prefer an equal amount of meat-to-bread. We made the mistake of not ordering an extra portion of meat the first time. The fresh crispy, yet soft bread makes these the best banh mi sandwiches in the city.
Bao Buns at Bánh Bao Bà Mậu
I’m a big believer in fresh, steamy bao buns. We excitedly arrived at Bánh Bao Bà Mậu when they opened, and the owner was already resting comfortably inside their home watching TV on the couch. Locals sat on the side of the road just outside the home where they were already finishing up their baos paired with a tall glass of soymilk. The cook jumped off the couch hastily and stepped outside to serve us baos from two huge steel containers sitting on the street. Hot steam rose from the shiny lids into the already damp air. This stop only sells one type of bao bun so if you are here there is no need to order. We sat down and were immediately served two savory baos filled with rice, minced mushrooms, seasoned beef, spices and surprisingly, a boiled quail egg. The owner quickly retreated inside to the couch and we didn’t see her again until it was time to pay. All I need in life is to be sitting on a tiny blue plastic stool outside of a local’s home on the side of the road in Hanoi cradling a steaming bao bun. Rinse your bao bun down with a local beer at Lua craft beer which is a short walk away.
Pho at Pho Suong
Let’s get to the real reason you are reading this blog: homemade, local, delicious, mouthwatering pho. We stopped by Pho Suong during lunchtime, but the cook showed us the door because it takes all day to create this masterpiece of rice noodles, pork and vegetables. Being turned away was a blessing in disguise because this was the best ending to an incredible food tour in Hanoi. There’s an electric air of anticipation when you step up to the window to order and then sit down at little benches across the street to devour your bowl of pho. The bowl is all about the meat. In fact, the broth is served bland so you can add your own sauce and spice to make your definition of perfect flavor. It can get too spicy quickly so go light with the spice! One patron next to us had to order a new bowl because he unknowingly doused his dish with too much spice. There were an equal number of locals and guided food tours stopping in to get a taste of back-alley pho that melts right in your mouth. Be sure to pull up a stool to enjoy the 25-cent streetside beers throughout Hanoi and round out your journey with delicious sesame rice donuts served directly from bakers roaming the streets.
There is more to Hanoi than eating pho and strolling markets for cheap thrills. If you stumble across a local who is willing to strike a conversation seize the opportunity to learn more about their unique lifestyle and favorite food in the area. This destination is more than just a layover for your next adventure if you’re curious enough to step outside of your comfort zone and explore the unknown.