Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh: 12 Top Restaurants & the Tastiest Hawker Food in Vietnam

Vietnamese food rates right up there with some of the best in the world. To have a full foodie experience, though, you need to visit each region. While most areas serve cuisine known by the same name throughout the country, each province has its own unique flavors and preparation style. So, don’t assume that once you’ve been to one city in Vietnam, that you’ve seen – and tasted – it all! Discover the differences, and make a list, because if you’re traveling to this gastronomic paradise, you’ve got A LOT of eating to do!

North Vietnamese food and drink_Hanoi_Mù Cang Chải

NORTH | Hanoi

Simplicity and balance are the key to the tasty dishes served in the northernmost parts of Vietnam. Expect loads of vegetables and seafood dishes, all kicked up only slightly a notch with black pepper instead of chilies. You’ll find fish sauce in many Vietnamese recipes, but in the north, soy sauce, prawn sauce or lime are more prevalent in creating those tangy notes. And because temperatures are cooler in the north, many spices – like the chili pepper – don’t grow well, so traditional cooks adapted, and local cooks carry on the tradition with popular dishes you just gotta try!Legend has it that a home cook named Lã Vọng invented this popular recipe, which typically is made from catfish soaked in a lemony-garlic marinade and served alongside vegetables and a sweet and sour dipping sauce that is to die for.

1. Bún riêu

Bun Rieu_Hanoi_Vietnam

Bún riêu is a traditional noodle soup with a rich tomato broth. The sour flavor combination is popular in summer and is generally embellished with freshwater crab, pork or beef.

Where to try: CNN Travel recommends the street stall run by Ms. Thu in Thọ Xương Alley, near St. Joseph’s Cathedral.

Hanoi Graceful Hotel

2. Chả cá lã vọng

Chả cá lã vọng_Hanoi

Legend has it that a home cook named Lã Vọng invented this popular recipe, which typically is made from catfish soaked in a lemony-garlic marinade and served alongside vegetables and a sweet and sour dipping sauce that is to die for.

Where to tryChả Cá Thăng Long on Duong Thanh in the Old Quarter topped the chart!

MK Premier Boutique Hotel

3. Bún chả

Bún chả_Hanoi Old Quarter

According to folk tales, bún chả originated in Hanoi, and you’ll find the grilled pork and noodle dish anywhere in the Old Quarter. The pork alone is delicious, but the star of this show is a dipping sauce made of fish sauce, crushed garlic and chilies.

Where to try: Hanoi’s first bún chả restaurant was on Gia Ngư in Hanoi’s Old Quarter, and Gia Ngư Restaurant now carries on the tradition.

Essence Hanoi Hotel & Spa

4. Bánh cuốn

Bánh cuốn

Imagine wide sheets of rice noodles, stuffed with seasoned ground pork, shallots and wood ear mushrooms, and then steamed to perfection, and that’s bánh cuốn. Delish!

Where to try: Given 4.7 stars from reviewers, Bánh Cuốn Nóng Kim Thoa is located at 49 Hàm Tử Quan, just outside Hanoi’s Old Quarter, on the banks of the Red River (Hoàn Kiếm Lake).

Boss Legend Hotel

Thu Bồn River_Da Nang_Vietnam

CENTRAL | Hội An, Đà Nẵng, My Son

Cooks in central Vietnam like to turn up the heat! Since temperatures in this region are ideal for growing chili peppers and spices, chefs love to pack a punch in signature dishes. Complex cuisine in areas like Da Nang and Hội An reflect an influence of ancient Vietnamese royalty and is best known for vibrant colors and sophisticated presentations. Dishes are served in smaller portions and garnished with chili peppers and spicy shrimp sauces.

5. Banh mi

Bahn mi_Hội An_Vietnam

The French introduced the baguette to Vietnam, but locals reinvented it to create the country’s most popular street sandwich. Stuff yours with liver pâté, Vietnamese sausage, fried egg, papaya, carrots, cucumber and anything else you spot on the street food cart!

Where to tryNguyễn Thị Lộc, also known as the Bánh Mí Queen in Hội An, has been spooning her secret sauce over bahn mi toppings for more than 50 years. It’s hard to explain where her street stall is, but any local can give you directions straight there.

Vinh Hung Emerald Resort

6. Cao Lau

Cao Lau_Hoi An Market

Similar to the Japanese soba noodle, cao lầu is a regional dish. The noodles are the star, and the combinations are endless. Popular add-ins include pork and fists full of fresh greens topped with scallions, peanuts, fried pork rind and rice crackers.

Where to try: Made from the water of an undisclosed ancient Cham well, cao lầu can only be found in Hội An, and one of the best places to try it is at Bale Well, on the outskirts of Hội An Ancient Town.

Hoi An Village Riverside Boutique Hotel

7. Banh Beo

Banh Beo_Huế_Vietnam

These tiny Vietnamese rice cakes are cute and delicious at the same time. After steaming, a dimple in the middle is filled with savory favorites like fresh shrimp, crispy shallots, scallions and mung bean paste.

Where to try: Go see Madam Ba Do at Ba Do Restaurant in Huế.

Eldora Hotel_Hue_Vietnam

8. Bánh Xèo

Banh Xeo_Đà Nẵng_Con Market

Often mistaken for an omelet because of its color and shape, Bánh xèo is actually a rice cake that is flavored with turmeric. The batter is fried until it’s crispy on the outside and then stuffed with goodies like fatty pork slivers, shrimp, green onion and bean sprouts.

Where to tryẨm Thực Xèo in Đà Nẵng serves up gourmet-style bánh xèo, and locals will tell you, it’s one of their faves.

Sanouva Danang Hotel

Dalat_Ho Chi Minh_Vietnam

SOUTH | Ho Chi Minh, Dalat

Sugar and spice and everything nice is what southern Vietnamese food is all about! With a bountiful supply of fruits, vegetables, livestock and seafood, southern cuisine is loaded with flavor. Rather than spicy, however, dishes in the south tend to be sweeter, as more sugar and coconut milk are added to recipes. You’ll find a hodgepodge of flavors in areas like Ho Chi Minh City and An Giang Province due to historical events and a steady stream of international influence.

9. Cơm Tấm

Cơm Tấm_Ho Chi Minh_Saigon

Broken rice, or damaged rice grains, is used in dishes throughout Vietnam, but it is best known in cơm tấm. The common staple is usually served with grilled pork, either ribs or shredded, greens and pickled vegetables. It’s also not unusual to see this meal topped with prawn paste cakes, steamed egg and grilled prawns. Expect to receive a bowl of soup broth and egg meatloaf (omelet) when you order this dish.

Where to try: Possibly the most popular and readily-available food in all of Vietnam, it’s hard to pinpoint just one great place to try it, but Cơm Tấm Thủy in Dalat is a popular choice. Head down to Bình Thạnh District in Ho Chi Minh to find this favorite local lunch spot that’s been grilling up pork on the street for more than 20 years.

Charm Suite Residence Saigon

10. Bún Bò

Bún Bò_Ho Chi Minh_Saigon_Vietnam

Bún bò originated in central Vietnam but has grown wildly popular everywhere. Preparation is complicated, but in the end, you get beef shank, oxtail or sometimes pork knuckle flavored with lemongrass and swimming in a rich beef broth. Congealed pig’s blood adds to the deep burgundy color of the broth, and popular toppings include lime, cilantro, green onion, chili sauce, sliced banana blossom, red cabbage, mint, basil … and the list goes on and on and on.

Where to tryBún bò Chú Há in Ho Chi Minh serves bún bò in a clear, glass bowl so you get to see every last tidbit that goes into this scrumptious soup.

Fusion Suite Saigon

11. Thịt bò lá lốt

Thịt bò lá lốt_Ho Chi Minh_Saigon_Vietnam

The perfect street food, lolot, or “betel leaf” snacks, are filled with savory Vietnamese beef. While the leaves smell spicy, fans of the bite-size edibles say they have a medicinal taste, which many locals love. Try them, and you might too!

Where to try: Because Thịt bò lá lốt is traditionally served at barbecues, you’ll find it at any market and in tons of street stalls throughout any city.

Hotel Equatorial Ho Chi Minh City

12. Gỏi cuốn

Gỏi cuốn

Vietnamese spring roll, or gỏi cuốn, can contain a number of fillings. The most popular are seasoned ground pork, prawn and various local vegetables. The finger-size treats are often served with crushed peanuts and sweet and spicy dipping sauces, which vary depending on the vendor.

Where to try: Gỏi cuốn is easy to find on any street corner in Vietnam. The preparation alone is a sight to behold. Watch in amazement as local cooks pile on toppings and skillfully roll them up tight in the sticky, tricky rice paper.

Athena Hotel_Ho Chi Minh_Saigon


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