Less touristy than other places in Vietnam, Hanoi is rich in culture and descends you into the heart of a working city. Roads are busy and noisy but you can find more tranquil areas such as Hoan Kiem Lake and the many parks/gardens. It offers both traditional street food and authentic Asian restaurants for all budgets and also has a number of most westernised ‘trendy’ cafes and foreign food diners.
Out of all the places we visited in Vietnam, Hanoi was up there with some of the best meals we had during our travels. Although you’ll mostly find the same dishes throughout the country there are regional differences in flavour, spices and the way things are cooked. A Banh Mi in Hanoi might not necessarily be the same as Ho Chi Minh!
Hanoi food is regarded as less spicy as central or southern Vietnam due to less readily available ingredients such as chillies, although we actually found some places to have quite spicy food. It really depends where you go to eat; there is something to suit all tastes!
The best street food
The number one thing on your list to try in Hanoi should be the street food. It’s cheaper than any other cuisine we’ve ever experienced and is simply delicious. You fill up on Pho for only $1! Pull up a plastic chair, or eat on the go from one of these fantastic outside eateries.
No doubt the best way to get a flavour of street-side cooking in Hanoi is on the famous Hanoi Street Food Tour. This energetic tour runs every day taking tourists to the hidden hotspots of Hanoi Old Quarter to sample a variety of traditional dishes. Street names are difficult to find and the amount of street stalls can be overwhelming so we recommend the tour as a great place to start. Tours are available throughout the day but we opted for the 4 hour night-time tour. It costs around £16 per person plus the small costs of the dishes you’ll sample. Check out the excellent reviews.
If you’d prefer to sample street food at your own pace, the streets of Hang Dao, Hang Ngang and Dinh Liet near the Old Quarter Night Market are where the magic happens. Pull up a plastic chair and dine alfresco outside one of the busier stalls (busy = fresh). These streets are lined with stands selling satay, spring rolls, Pho and all of the other Vietnamese favourites. The atmosphere is also great! Sit down and people watch with a Ha Noi beer and Pho in hand.
Banh Mi sandwiches are one of the most popular street foods you can get in Hanoi. They’re inspired by a French baguette but with a spicy concoction of coriander, marinated meat, veggies and hot sauce. Banh Mi 25 is the place to go for these delicious sandwiches. It’s a small but often busy street stall hidden in the old quarter but it also has an indoor seating section. We went twice during our visit we liked it so much, and it was very busy each time.
In addition to the above set-in-place street vendors, you’ll find stalls on streets throughout the city. Remember to only buy from busy stalls – there’s a better chance of the food being fresh. To dive deeper into the world of Hanoi street food, Backyard Travel has an excellent guide here.
Restaurants and cafes that you have to visit
Hanoi Social Club is a quirky ‘hipster’ café in the depths of the Old Quarter. It’s an eclectic mix of travellers from around the world, enjoying some home food comforts such as Avocado on toast but also trying Vietnamese favourites, Pho and Tom Yum soup. Hanoi Social Club has a bright and relaxing environment, making it ideal for a late breakfast, light lunch or simply a coffee whilst you update your blog. The friendly staff and relaxed atmosphere make this spot a must on our list, but expect to pay a little more. Food is healthy and there are a wide range of smoothies and juices – making it our favourite breakfast spot in the city.
There are multiple Red Bean Restaurants in Hanoi and they offer a traditional but classier dining experience than the pop-up street food and corner restaurant stalls you’ll also learn to love. It’s a nice setting for a special occasion (our last night in Hanoi for us) with its Indo-china décor and beautifully presented bamboo tables and serving mats. Service is very attentive, as we found in most Vietnamese restaurants, and food is plentiful. We’d recommend anything cooked with lime leaf – we loved the lime leaf fish. If you prefer a more modern setting over traditional, Red Bean Trendy Restaurant is a short walk away.
Home Vietnamese Restaurant is a brilliant place to eat on your first night in Hanoi. It’s considerably more expensive than the average restaurant but so worth it. It’s one of the most popular restaurants in Hanoi and is constantly busy so be sure to make a reservation. It welcomes you with traditional home-style North Vietnamese cooking and a fantastic décor to enjoy your meal. It’s set in a colonial style building on the edge of West Lake, a 10 minute taxi from the Old Quarter/Hoan Kiem Lake. Order the full 3 courses of and leave feeling satisfied!
Again, Ngon Villa isn’t the cheapest restaurant in Hanoi but it’s simply excellent and should be kept for a special occasion or your last night in the city. The colonial villa setting is very romantic and you can choose to dine indoors or outdoors. We opted for the lantern lit outdoors as it wasn’t too humid. What makes the dining experience particularly unique is the ‘all you can eat’ menu. Choose from freshly cooked dishes from across Vietnam. If you’re unsure what to choose, simply ask for a small sample of everything. The menu lists what area of the country each dish is from so you can distinguish the different regional flavours. It was a really cool experience and the service was excellent.
Lantern Lounge is the go-to place for a relaxed environment to enjoy pre-night out drinks, shisha and dinner in a casual but pretty setting. On first impression, Lantern Lounge is nothing special. It’s located upstairs from a less impressive restaurant but very different. Once you climb the staircase you’ll find a colourful array of lanterns on the ceiling and small dining rooms of futons where you can lie back and relax. The music is chilled and food is reasonably priced. We recommend ordering the pineapple rice to accompany your main dish. It’s served directly from a carved pineapple and adds a zest of flavour to your meal.
We always like to add a western restaurant to our food guides. As much as we love tasting all of the different dishes when we visit a country, you can’t beat having a familiar home dish once in a while. The Moose and Roo is a good old Australian burger bar, offering nicely cooked BBQ meats and other western pub grub. The service is good, as is the location.
Snacks and drinks
Vietnamese coffee tastes completely different to the blends we’ve grown to rely on for early mornings. It’s sweet, milky and served in a glass, much like a cappuccino. Not only is The Note Coffee highly rated, the entire interior is filled with coloured post-it notes from visitors. Enjoy a coffee and cake in this trendy café and write your own note to stick on the wall.
South-East Asians love their weird and wonderful desserts, with exciting flavours that are difficult to find back home. Take the opportunity to sample one of Vietnam’s most popular snacks – Roti buns. They’re small soft buns with an assortment of fillings and they come in different colours. Order a selection to try from this store-front takeaway.
As soon as we spotted Wanna Waffle on Tripadvisor and saw the reviews, it was added to Google Maps within a matter of seconds. This eatery is dedicated to cooking up different flavoured waffles with a variety of exciting ingredients. We opted for a chocolate waffle with pistachios and green tea ice cream.
Hanoi’s architecture has a distinct French colonial influence from the French invasions of the 1800’s. In addition to the tall white buildings and Parisian balconies, you’ll find street corners dotted with French patisseries and coffee shops. It’s quite a unique phenomenon. Take a seat in Saint Honore patisserie and indulge with an apple choux pastry and latte. The café has classic French décor and mouth-watering counter of cakes and pastries.
One note about snacking in Hanoi is the seemingly constant bombardment of locals trying to sell you fried pastries and doughnuts. As tempting as they may be, we found them to be very dry and some of the fillings tasted awful! By all means try them for the cheap price, but be warned, they’re not as good as the street stalls and cafes. And of course, make sure you haggle!
Cooking classes are available throughout Vietnam and we highly recommend trying a few in different areas as the ingredients and techniques used can be very different due to local climates. We searched Hanoi for the best, centrally located cooking class and decided on Orchid Cooking Class due to their excellent reviews and array of menu options. Choose a morning or afternoon class and one of 5 different menu options, consisting of Vietnamese spring rolls and soups.
The cooking class kitchen is filled with colourful lanterns and the instructors were very informative. Group classes cost between £35 – 40 per person. Visit their website for full class information.
Must-try foods in Hanoi
Pho (Noodle soup) – A spicy staple to the Vietnamese diet and increasingly popular west, Pho is a hot broth of noodles, meat, spicy chillies and coriander. The Hanoi classic comes with thinly sliced rare beef and garlic.
Xoi Xeo (Sticky Rice) – Xoi Xeo is one of the most popular dishes in Hanoi and it comes in countless variations. The dish consists of rice, turmeric, shallot and various other sticky ingredients to give it a unique texture. It’s bright yellow and notoriously hard to cook.
Vietnamese Spring Rolls – Vietnamese rolls come in all shapes and varieties. They’re generally wrapped in rice papers as opposed to fried and can include shrimp, fish sauce, seasoning and vegetables.
Bun Thang (Rice Vermicelli with chicken) – Bun Thang is another variation of chicken noodle soup but with egg, chicken, pork and vermicelli noodles. It’s less spicy than it’s Pho counterpart.
Banh Mi (Vietnamese baguette) – This spicy Vietnamese take on a French baguette is available throughout the country. Banh Mi 25 in Hanoi old town is the best place to try it.
These are just a sample of the weird and wonderful things to try in Hanoi. We recommend starting with street food sharers and sampling different dishes before choosing one of your favourites in a restaurant.
We hope you enjoyed our eating guide to Hanoi. The city caters to all budgets and tastes and you should definitely mix up your stay in the city with a selection of street food stalls, restaurants, bars and quirky cafes/snack bars. Let us know your favourite Hanoi eateries, we’d love to hear them and we’re sure we’ll be back! Did we mention it’s one of the cheapest places we’ve visited?