There are several strata of restaurants in Hanoi, covering a broad spectrum of styles. Street fare is delicious and ubiquitous. Pho (noodle soup) restaurants abound, and you can also get bun cha (rice noodles with salad greens and meat), fried rice (“com rang” in Vietnamese) and banh my (baguette with paté, cucumber and cilantro) almost around the clock. While these places meet basic sanitary requirements, everyone uses a paper napkin (always provided on-table) to wipe off their chopsticks and spoon before eating. Any bones, paper or other refuse are always dropped onto the floor or pavement, from where they are periodically swept away. Though these places slow down in the afternoons, they’re usually open from mid-morning till late at night. Eating on the street costs less than $3 per person.
A mid-level restaurant runs $3-7 per person. It will have nicer tables and décor, and a larger selection of dishes. Even local places at this level usually have English on the menu alongside Vietnamese. You might get spring rolls, salads, and a variety of meat and fish dishes in one of these places.
In the upper third of restaurant choices, you have high-end Vietnamese food, Chinese, Japanese, European and American cuisine. These places range from pleasant to elegant, with prices to match—however, your restaurant dollar goes much farther here than it would in a first-world country—even for $10 per person you’ll have an exquisite meal.
While street fare is everywhere, its greatest concentration is in the Old Quarter—high-end restaurants are found mostly in the Old Quarter and in West Lake.
There’s a fast turnover in the Hanoi restaurant business—places come and go, or move, or get a new chef, or change ownership frequently. The internet is the most flexible way of keeping up with these changes, and the best resource for Hanoi restaurants is the New Hanoian website, with over 500 restaurants reviewed and listed, and maps showing locations:
The “Hanoi Guide,” published by the Hanoi International Women’s Club (http://hanoi-iwc.com) is the best book-guide to Hanoi’s restaurant scene, though inevitably by the time it goes to press some of the information is already out of date!
Also you can grab a copy of Word magazine for updated listings and new restaurant openings. www.wordhanoi.com