Vietnamese food is experiencing a just upsurge in popularity and Hanoi is the heart of the country and its cuisine. If only here for the short time, you can enjoy all of the dishes below, as the cuisine rarely discriminates between breakfast, lunch and dinner. If truly hungry, you could manage all in one day!


Pho is Vietnam’s national dish and Hanoians live off the stuff. For breakfast, after a night out or for every meal of the day. It is said that Hanoi runs on Pho.

If you think that you’ve had Pho in England, you can think again. It’s like comparing a Dominos to a Neapolitan. In Vietnam the broths are deep, the best running on 100 year old mother stocks and the exact recipe a closely guarded secret. No two establishments are the same, only adding to the famous dishes’ charm. Pho comes in many shapes and sizes. Click here for our recommendations of where to try different types of this iconic dish.

Bun Cha

By now you’ve probably seen the viral video of Obama enjoying this dish, a Hanoi institution, in a place that people in-the-know frequented long before his and Anthony Bourdain’s visit in 2016. We understand why the then president travelled half way across the world for this dish – barbequed pork, pork mince patties, a sweet, fish sauce based broth, fresh herbs – what’s not to love? Its pleasure lies in its generosity, it’s always huge and filling. Don’t feel obliged to finish it, though why wouldn’t you? Traditionally enjoyed with a side of crispy, crab and shrimp spring roll, this is THE Hanoi dish – it is rarely found, or at least replicated, outside the capital.

Bún chả Hương Liên is found on 24 Lê Văn Hưu.

Banh Mi

Maybe the most familar dish on the list, Banh Mi shops have been popping up all over the world of late, but nowhere does them quite like Hanoi. A freshly cooked, hollow and crispy baguette, with a choice of fillings made in house, it is one hell of a breakfast. Once you recognise it, you’ll see a red plastic bag of banh mi hanging off every Hanoian’s motorbike in the morning. Most traditionally a mix of omlette, pate and pickled vegetables, Banh Mi has the influence of the French at its heart – enjoy next to one of Hanoi’s yellow bricked French colonial buildings for extra effect.

Bun Bo Nam Bo

Refreshing, salad-y and subtle, we love this dish in the summer months when soup is just too warming. Cold noodles, lightly fried beef and the rightly ubiqitious fresh mint are the key components. There is a light, peanut based dressing found at the bottom of the bowl which you have to dig deep to access – mix this in before enjoying and you’re good to go.

Whilst Bun Bo Nam Bo is a southern dish, perhaps the finest version in the entire country is found in Hanoi, at 67 Hàng Điếu.

Cha Ca La Vong

As is so often the case in this city, the one dish wonder restaurants are the best. The original Cha Ca La Vong has been serving this plate for generations. Again, very Hanoian and poorly replicated outside of the city, Cha Ca involves some flavours not necessarily associated with Vietnam – turmeric and fermented rice marinaded catfish. It’s served in a frying pan at the table and with plenty of dill, it’s a real treat.

Notoriously, at Cha Ca La Vong you have to endure brisk, bordering on offensive, service, to get this dish, but that’s part of its charm; you feel like you’ve earned it.

Mien Luon

Eel noodles, to be enjoyed crispy or fresh, dry or with a broth; just don’t come with an indecisive mind! The pleasure of this dish is in that it never gets dull, it’s light enough to eat in large portions, and with varying contrasts in texture, you could eat it forever. The eel is served mixed with noodles and a vast array of extras. The baby kumquats on every shop’s table provide a perfect sweet and sour foil which brings everything together.

Honourable mentions

Hu Tieu

Another southern dish that’s incredibly popular in this proudly northern city, Hu Tieu comes in many guises, and we haven’t yet worked out what gives a Hu Tieu its name, but the one topped with crispy pork belly and a mountain of fried shallots found at 49C Trần Quốc Tuấn is so good we coudn’t leave it off this list.

Bánh cuốn

Ideal for breakfast, this is a steamed crepe made from rice flour and water. It’s stuffed with ground pork and mushrooms and served with a fried shallot-based version of nước chấm, the sweet fish sauce and lime-based sauce. It also comes with sliced chả lụa (Vietnamese pork sausage) which looks a bit like spam, but don’t let this put you off – it’s delicious. The version at 14 Hàng Gà is arguably the city’s finest.

Ca Phe Nau Da

No list of consumption in the capital would be complete without Ca Phe Nau Da, a drink so sensual we are in goosebumps just writing this. Starbucks’ expansion famously failed in this country and here’s why; Every corner of every street of every district has a family run, no frills shop selling filter-dripped Vietnamese coffee with condensed milk over ice, and this coffee is the best coffee in the world as far as we’re concerned. A lesser coffee would buckle under the sweetness of the milk but Vietnamese coffee is assertive enough to cope; the balance is rich, indulgent, thick and perfect. Apart from Pho, it is the must-try of the city.

Joseph Gann
Joseph Gann
Chef and food writer, with an interest in mental health and mindfulness

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