Hanoi Food Stories: The Search for the Best Bún Chả
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You can keep your pho: The Best Bún chả in Hanoi
Lots of travelers will tell you that, oh my god, Vietnamese food is JUST. THE. BEST. And, yes, it is good – though, I have to admit, I wasn’t that blown away (come at me, bro!). But for all my general apathy towards Vietnamese food, there’s one dish I will love forever and always: Bún Chả Hanoi, a staple in the Vietnamese capital and a must-have when you visit this buzzing city. We have decided to take a culinary approach to our stay in Hanoi, and eat a bún chả every single da. How else would we be able to give you our very scientific and objective ranking of the best bún chả in Hanoi? So, what you’ll find below are well-documented and detailed findings of 5 bún chả joints we visited while in town.
Day 1: bún chả Nom, at Hàng Buồm Street, 30K
After getting off the tight squeeze that was our bus ride from Ninh Binh, we ventured out into the post-rain, dusky Hanoi streets in search of a cheap and cheerful bite. Maps.me failed us in trying to find the bún chả restaurant where Barrack Obama and Anthony Bourdain ate, in that its location was marked incorrectly on the map. But even though we didn’t find THAT food joint, we found a very fine alternative for very little money. Located on Hàng Buồm street, near the party alleyway on the corner opposite Prague Pub, you’ll find Bún Chả Nom, a simple establishment with a small menu and small prices.
Rating: 4/5. Lots of meat, mainly lean pieces, generous portion of noodles, fair price. Points for improvement: sauce a bit one-dimensional, salad could have been fresher.
Day 2: Bún Chả số Hàng Mành, 90k
Let the following be a lesson learned that even seasoned travelers make newbie mistakes. We’ve perused numerous street eateries around Vietnam to find out that, sometimes, the prices aren’t written anywhere. Neverthelss, you can expect a certain range, let’s say 30-50K. How wrong we were, thinking that this bún chả establishment is one of these places. Ostensibly branding themselves as “bún chả No. 1”, this shop sits on the corner of Hàng Mành. The only reason the ‘No. 1’ moniker is true is because that is the building’s street number. Don’t get me wrong – it was decent bún chả. However, the 90K price tag left a bad taste in my mouth. I should say that we also received a portion of cut up spring roll with our order, which, unbeknownst to us, locked us down for a combo. Of course we found this out way too late (when were paying), and I take issue with this for two reasons: 1.) We ordered 2 bún chả, NOT 2 combos, and 2.) After the spring rolls landed on our table, I asked whether this was included in the price of a single dish, and the waitress said YES.
In any case, we lived through this to tell the tale, and here are my scientific and objective ratings: 2.5/5. Taste-wise, on par with bún chả from day 1, with a bit more meat variety. HOWEVER: the price was 3 (THREE!!!) times as much as the previous day, and really, the added value wasn’t noticeable. Points off for not being honest with customers when answering a question.
Do I have a chip on my shoulder? Yes. Is it wrong to rip off tourists like this? Also yes. What do we learn, folks? IF YOU DON’T SEE A PRICE WRITTEN DOWN, ALWAYS ASK BEFORE ORDERING! No matter how many times you’ve been charged fair prices before.
Day 3: Bún chả Hương Liên, 24 Lê Văn Hưu, 40K
Recovering from the previous experience was an easy feat: just correct any bún chả wrongs with getting the next dish at a better establishment. That’s why we decided to correctly (this time) identify the famous Obama/Bourdain eatery and pay them a visit on our walk around town. With three floors to this restaurant, I quickly scanned the ground floor for the iconic, glass-encased table the famous duo ate at. Not there – let’s head upstairs. The staff could tell I was on a mission to sit next to that and only that table, and they begrudgingly obliged and let us go upstairs.
And, of course, Bún Chả Hương Liên has an Obama Combo on the menu, to commemmorate his visit. Compare this with the 90K bún chả, if you still don’t believe me that our dish from day 2 was a rip-off!
Rating: 4.5/5. Good meat quality, sauce not flat, plus extra garlic and chili provided, fair price. Downside: slighlty smaller portion than at other places.
Day 4: Desperate times call for desperate measures at Gourmet Restaurant & Bar, 35K
So, I should tell you that should tell you that bún chả is a dish eaten rather early in the say, typically for lunch. That means if you’re on the hunt for the tangy noodles in Hanoi after dark, you might stumble into some problems. Those being: bún chả eateries tend to close by 6 pm or so. However, since we’re dedicated to science and research, we couldn’t NOT have bún chả. And that’s when we saw the sign.
Spotting our enthusiasm with a hawk-like precision from 20 meters away, a restaurant employee practically sprinted to us to convince us to eat there. Normally, I would not respond positively to such pressure, but I was hungry and thought the sign was hilarious, so, there we were.
What can be said of a bún chả that relies on the power of Photoshop to sell? Well, exactly as you’d expect: it was more a cheap excuse than an well-executed dish, which is why I’ve decided to go with a rating of 2/5. The price was alright. HOWEVER, the sauce was something else entirely. Way too tangy and with a very strong taste reminiscent of Polish or Anduille sausages, meaning they used something other than the classic lean meat and meat patties to prep the dipping sauce.
Day 5: Bún Chả 74 Hàng Quạt, 30K – the Holy grail
Being married to a German means that sometimes even the most inconsequential of things entail a great amount of research. And that research has indeed borne the fruit of a very good, very cheap and very authentic meal, the holy trifecta of food travel, if you will. Enter: Bún Chả 74 Hàng Quạt. Open only from 10 am until 2 pm, this shit is the real deal. It’s not a restaurant – it’s literally just a bunch of tiny tables and chairs in a narrow alleway that leads to someone’s house (usually the best places to eat in Southeast Asia are just ‘someone’s house’). Since I want you to experience the goodness of this bún chả, here is what it looks like when open.
My objective and scientific rating: 5/5. Generous portion, good quality and variety of meat, sauce with distinct flavor elements and just the right level of tang, great price. I do have to say that here we were also brought the spring roll side dish, which we ended up saying no to from the get-go. But I doubt that it would set you back more than 15K, judging by the price of the bún chả.
The Best Bún Chả in Hanoi: The Verdict
Look no further than Bún Chả 74 Hàng Quạt for the best bún chả in Hanoi! We both concurred that a perfect score is in order, so you can rest assured that this research was conducted with the utmost regard for objectivity. It was my pleasure to undertake this research and evaluation, and I hope to bring you follow-up food stories in the future!