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Buon Ma Thuot

Eat and meet

Buon Ma Thuot

It's not easy to scare up some good grub in Buon Ma Thuot. The market area east of the roundabout may look promising, but most of the wares are fresh fruits, veggies, and raw meat.

Several restaurants on Ly Thuong Kiet near the cheaper hotels specialise in Ninh Hoa, which is veggies and meat wrapped in rice paper and dipped in peanut sauce. There are noodle joints aplenty, but we found some superior eats at Quan Com Tieu Linh, on Hung Vuong, just a couple of doors from the roundabout on the right.

Western food is in very limited supply, but Bon Trieu on Hai Ba Trung, next to Dam San Tourist, has an English-language menu and a few western-style dishes. For more upscale, sit-down, dining options, you'll have to head further away from the centre. Thanh Hung, on Nguyen Dinh Chieu, offers a wide menu of some varied and sometimes exotic fare -- some of the portions are small and pricey, but you'll be able to try dishes here you won't find elsewhere. There's no English menu, though, so bring a phrase book or a guide.

Another popular favourite is Quan Ngon, known for its tanks of rice wine filled with an unbelievable array of disgusting things, including intestines, rats, and a skinned cat. Again, no English-language menu, so check out what other people are eating and try to order the same thing. Some servings are incredibly small, even if the price seems a bit high.

Probably the best place for a tasty sit-down Vietnamese meal is the restaurant at the Damsan Hotel. They serve a vast variety of dishes in a pleasant atmosphere, have English-language menus, some of the staff speak English, and even though it's a three-star hotel, the prices are reasonable. It comes highly recommended by locals.

For fresh baked goods and pasteries as well as some chocolate and a bit of cheese, head to Hanoi Bakery, with two locations -- the most convenient being on Le Hong Phong, but there's a larger branch on Le Thanh Tong as well.

What Buon Ma Thuot lacks in eating options, it makes up for with coffee. It's the cash crop of the region, and the locals here are justifiably proud of it's high quality. It's almost impossible to get a bad cup of coffee here, and no one would even think of serving you Nescafe unless you specifically asked for it. The coffee is incredibly rich and smooth, with subtle hints of chocolate.

If you're near the roundabout, Cafe 50A on the corner of No Trang Long and Ly Thuong Kiet is good choice. For a little variety head up Phan Chu Trinh from the roundabout -- there's one cafe after another to choose from. There's also a good place not far from the town centre on Le Phong Hong St, The Forget Me Not Cafe -- blissfully quiet during the day, things may get a bit more lively with the nightly karaoke from 19:00 to 22:00.

There are so many atmospheric cafes hidden away on obscure side streets throughout the northern part of the city, it makes sense to just wander around and see what you can find. The best of the lot outside the city centre is Polang Cafe -- head 2.5km north of the roundabout on Phan Chu Trinh and take a right on Tran Khanh Du. It's one block down on the left. You'll notice it right away -- there's a huge, Ede-style ladder leading from the street to the second floor -- go ahead, climb it, that's what it's there for. Most of the best seating, though, in on the first floor. The atmosphere is great, the coffee exceptionally good, and the menu features a wide variety of adventurous beverages: kumquat with milk, strawberry seaweed shakes, perhaps some artichoke tea?

If caffeine isn't your thing, there are some cheap bia hoi places around the intersection of Mac Thi Buoi and Phan Boi Chau Sts - down-home joints attracting a rough and tumble crowd with their 5,000 VND pitchers -- but they're safe and friendly, if somewhat short on hygiene and long on old guys who don't know when to say when.

We found a younger crowd and a pleasanter street-side atmosphere at Bach Dang on Quang Trung St. Bia hoi is on tap as well as bia tuoi, which comes in plastic bottles sealed so tight it takes a special gizmo to open them up. It's a cousin of bia hoi that stays fresh for up to nine days before it dies.

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