Eat and meet
Da NangSome of the best eateries in Da Nang are the streetside cafes and of course the ubiquitous bia hoi joints scattered across town. Da Nang also has a few smarter and more sophisticated restaurants. Many travellers also head to My Khe beach in the evenings to take advantage of the excellent seafood.
Without a major flow of visitors, Da Nang's restaurant scene is mainly geared toward locals. And while there are a good range of cheap shops to get your pho, you shouldn't expect to just walk outside and find a restaurant -- large portions of the city can feel pretty deserted, both during the day and at night. For fruitful hunting, try the avenues and alleys between the Cham Museum and the Han Market -- Tran Phu in particular is lined with hole-in-the-wall eateries. Around lunchtime, the area around the intersection of Dong Da and Hai Phong sees crowds of locals enjoying cheap and tasty meals -- grab some chopsticks and join in.
Keep an eye out for be thui (grilled beef) joints around town. They typically offer meat dishes served 'lau' (in a hot pot) or 'nuong' (grilled), often at a hibachi in the centre of the table. We had good luck at Gia Lang, a festive spot next door to Truc Lam Vien. It's hugely popular in the evening with the locals, though hardly a word of English is spoken. Locals swear by the authentic Vietnamese food and pleasant atmosphere at Vietnamese Home on Bach Dang street, and there's also one more option that is only known to those in the know, Bamboo Restaurant and Bar on Xuan Dieu. The English-speaking owner here just happens to be an excellent cook, and it's a great spot for a quiet drink in the evenings.
For Vietnamese dining in a more upscale setting, your options are limited. Da Nang's sole fine dining establishment is Apsara Restaurant, located on Tran Phu Street. However, though it is set in an attractive colonial building, the Cham-themed decoration inside (think stone urns and archaeological murals) verges on being tacky. Despite this, the food is very good, though prices are higher than you'd find elsewhere. It's very popular with Da Nang's up and coming (or already arrived) hi-so crowd.
Au Lac is another interesting choice -- it has a huge, funky, modern interior and an attentive staff, favoured by those who find Apsara a bit pretentious, and many claim the food here is better. The wide-ranging menu include Japanese dishes, such as sushi, and Western food such as burgers, pizza and spaghetti, in addition to the standard repertoire of Vietnamese dishes, and specialty options like dove, goat, duck, tortoise, and crocodile -- all of which, they assured us, were in stock on our visit. Every Sunday starting at 18:00 there's an all-you-can-eat buffet for 105,000 VND, excluding drinks.
Da Nang city itself has a notoriously small Western expat community, which means that Western-style offerings are at a minimum, but can be found with a little industrious exploration. Centrally located on Tran Phu Street across from Minh Travel, the Cool Spot and Christie's restaurant is the longest-running and most obvious choice, but not always the best. The Cool Spot is a hole-in-the-wall bar noted for its ice-cold beer -- Christie's is the restaurant upstairs, under the same ownership -- you can also eat down at the bar if you like. They serve predominantly Western and Japanese food -- decent if you really have a craving that needs to be sorted out, but it's overpriced, and the dark interior isn't exactly appetizing. This is probably a better spot for a cold drink. And, even then, on any given day, the place has a tendency to attract gloomy, older expats brooding over their beers. It's a better bet on Friday and Saturday nights for a lively, mixed crowd. The bar has a few internet terminals at the rear, though they're overpriced at US$1 per hour. They have a Saturday 'happy hour' from 16:00 to 20:00, two-for-one draught beer.
Bread of Life, on Tran Phu near the intersection with Le Hong Phong, employs deaf workers and proceeds help support projects for the deaf. It has an excellent cafe atmosphere, offering fresh-baked bread and cake, fried chicken, and divine sandwiches -- try the tuna melt or the pastrami and cheese. If you happen to know any American Sign Language, the Vietnamese version is similar (both derive from French sign) and you might actually be able to communicate here better than trying to speak Vietnamese. At least one hearing staffmember is always on duty to translate orders for customers. They no longer offer WiFi or Wednesday night movies, and the big breakfasts have moved to their other store, Pizza Plus, around the corner.
Pizza and Italian
There are several spots for pasta and pie lovers around town, all of them good. Torino on Nguyen Chi Thanh has failed to attract a lot of business -- the signs promise 'live jazz music,' but that was eliminated for budget reasons. Still, the food here wins consistent praise and there's a nice air-con-and-table-cloth atmosphere. But the best Italian food in town is at Le Bambino -- it's hard to find, off an alley on Quang Trang, but worth seeking out. The owners are an affable Frenchman, Jena Paul (who does all the cooking himself) and his Vietnamese wife -- she was schooled from birth in French and speaks it better than she does Vietnamese, despite never having been to France. The atmosphere is perfect for a cosy romantic meal -- one of the best-designed restaurant interiors we've seen in Vietnam. The menu includes pastas, pizza, and lasagne as well as French fare like filet mignon. They also have some excellent midrange rooms upstairs, if you want to stay long enough to work through the whole menu.
There are two pizza parlours in the city centre -- Mr Pizza on Tran Phu has a good selection, and is under Western ownership after recently changing hands. The atmosphere is just like a New York pizzeria, though the pies here didn't blow us away. Pizza Plus is on Le Hong Phong, just west of Tran Phu -- it's run by the same folks as Bread of Life, with a mostly deaf staff, and some of the proceeds go toward projects for the deaf. And the thin-crust, 'Mexican' pizza we had here was excellent. We were impressed with the menu, which included burgers, sloppy joes, chocolate cake, ample vegetarian options, and a wide variety of big, Western breakfasts. Hold on to your hats, Aussies and Kiwis, they have Vegemite. They also deliver locally.
Coffee and Ice Cream
A number of cafes around town offer booming pop music all day long and attract a young crowd, especially along Quang Trung. They may be worth checking out, but if the whole point is lost on you, seek out the Garden View Cafe on Le Dinh Duong. This very interesting spot is conveniently set just down the road from the Hoa Hong Hotel. The entrance gives on to an alley lined with young bamboo trees, and as you turn the corner, the street noise disappears and you seem to go a century into the past. It's set in a very pleasing ornamental garden, with seating in several open-air salas made of hard, dark woods in traditional Vietnamese style -- one of them, thankfully, has air-con. The food is very good, with the seafood particularly worth a try, though you can't go wrong with a cup of the rich, delicious coffee. Prices are reasonable for the setting. An attractive outlet of the Vietnamese coffee chain Highlands has recently opened in a new shopping centre just south of the Song Han Bridge -- it's a great spot from which to watch the riverfront traffic.
Ice cream lovers will want to seek out Sa Sa Gelato for a nice sugar rush with seating along a small river feeding into the Han, a popular after-dinner spot for locals. But don't dare call it 'ice cream' in front of the Belgian owner, Patrick. It's gelato, which is creamier and more condensed than ice cream. Choose from around 20 flavours and a variety of toppings It's tricky to find -- it's across the street to the east of Bia Tulip, at the back of the line of restaurants leading up to the Nguyen Van Troi Bridge, where you'll find another smaller bridge, then take a right and it's past the tennis courts.
Next door to Au Lac is Phi Lu -- the interior is one big 'special event' room but more intimate dining is available at the tables in the back. There's a wide variety of Chinese fare on offer, and every Sunday at 18:00 there's an all-you-can-eat buffet for 95,000 VND. Another popular place with a smart-looking interior, attracting a lively crowd of diners each night, is Kim Do on Than Phu Street, one block south of the Catholic church.
Drinking and Nightlife
If you're looking for a good party spot where you can mix it up with other tourists, you'll have to head down to Hoi An. Otherwise, Friday and Saturday nights at the Cool Spot tends to be the one place where local Western expats congregate, though the rest of the week it has a reputation for attracting nothing but older sullen expats and war vets. Red Hot on Nguyen Van Linh was pointed out to us as a possible hang out -- it looks exactly like a Thai girlie bar, complete with girlies, but it offers good music, a nice bar and pool table, and couples and groups could easily spend a fine time here, in addition to single guys looking for inordinate amounts of female attention.
We were pleasantly surprised to find Bia Tiep Tulip on 2/9 Street, just west of the Nguyen Van Troi bridge. It has a great air-con beer garden atmosphere and the highlight is the delicious, microbrewed, dark Czech beer -- the next best thing to Guinness Stout we've had in Southeast Asia. The food here is great too -- stuffed clams, steamed fish, whole crab, BBQ pork ribs, T-bone steaks -- definitely try to show up with a group and share a mess of dishes. Some mains can be pricey -- up to 400,000 VND a plate, but other items are easier on the wallet.
There's another Czech microbrewery on My Khe Beach, next door to the My Khe II Hotel. Van Xuan offers a pleasant atmosphere across the road from the sea, cold, fresh Czech beer, and a standard seafood menu. The vegetarians in our group were alarmed to find a live crocodile in one of the tanks -- it was on the menu for 450,000 VND per kilo. These crocs are raised on farms specifically for consumption and aren't endangered. The 'automatic music' show here, projected onto a jumbo screen, is strangely mesmerising.
Otherwise, your options go thumpa-thumpa-thumpa-thump, with several discotheques around town, offering expensive drinks, techno music, laser light shows, and crowded dance floors. Tourists are usually pointed to the Camel Club on Ly Thuong Kiet -- it's a fine disco with a good sound system -- you can feel the beat without loss of hearing -- and there's a continuous laser light show, but it's notoriously the most expensive and we were put off by the 20,000 VND fee at the gate. We preferred the New Phuong Dong discotheque on Duong Da Street, just around the corner: It's just as good and the dance floor was packed. Both of these places are notorious pick up joints, but we found a mixed crowd.
A small, less seedy venue right on the Han River is Number One Disco, on the west bank close to the southernmost bridge, at the end of a line of restaurants. All the discos in town get going after 20:00 and should legally close at midnight, but sometimes don't.
Apsara Restaurant: 222 Tran Phu, Da Nang. T: (0511) 3561 409, F: (0511) 3562 001. http://www.aspara-danang.com
Au Lac: Block 4-5,6, 2/9, Da Nang. T: (0511) 3611 074, F: (0511) 611 245. Open daily, 06:00 to 22:00. http://www.aulacgroup.vn
Bamboo Restaurant and Bar: 70 Xuan Dieu, Da Nang. T: (0511) 3537 831. Open daily, 07:00 to 23:00.
Bread of Life: 215 Tran Phu, Da Nang. T: (0511) 3893 456. Open Mon-Sat 06:00 to 18:00.
Cool Spot: 112 Tran Phu, Da Nang. T: (511) 3824 040. Open daily, 10:00 to 24:00.
F.F.C: 15 Phan Dinh Phung, Da Nang. T: (0511) 3840 599, F: (0511) 3840 599. Open daily, 08:00 to 10:00.
Garden View Coffee (Truc Lam Vien): 37 Le Dinh Duong, Da Nang. T: (0511) 3582 428, F: (0511) 3574 102. http://www.truclamvien.com.vn
Gia Lang: 35 Le Dinh Duong, Da Nang. T: (0511) 3561 781. Open daily, 10:00 to 22:00.
Kim Do: 180 Tran Phu, Da Nang. T: (0511) 3821 846, F: (0511) 3561 457. Open daily, 07:00 to 09:30
Le Bambino: 112/11 Quang Trung, Da Nang. T: (0511) 3896 386. http://www.lebambino.com
Mr. Pizza: 45 Tran Phu, Da Nang. T: (0511) 3840 499. Open daily, 08:00 to 10:00
New Phuong Dong: 20 Dong Da, Da Nang. T: (0511) 3825 092. Open daily, 20:00 to 24:00
Phi Lu Chinese Restaurant: Duong 2/9, Da Nang. T: (0511) 3611 888, F: (0511) 3611 889. Open daily, 07:00 to 23:00. http://www.philures.com
Pizza Plus: 12 Le Hong Phong, Da Nang. T: (0511) 3565 185. Open daily, Mon - Sat, 07:00 to 17:30.
Red Hot: 179 Nguyen Van Linh, Da Nang. T: (0511) 3653 340.
Sa Sa Gelato: 9 A2 Khu biet thu Dao Xanh, Da Nang. T: (0511) 3622 922, F: (0511) 3622 992. Open daily, 15:00 to 23:00.
Shiki Restaurant: 18 Dong Da, Da Nang. T: (0511) 3537 325.
Song Han Floating Restaurant: 04 2/9, Da Nang. T: (0511) 3242 717, F: (0511) 3871 069. Open daily, 07:00 to 22:00, cruising times at 18:00 to 19:30, 20:00 to 21:30. http://www.greentravels.com.vn
The Son: 203 Son Tra Dien Ngoc (the beach road), Da Nang. T: (0905) 324 135. Open daily 08:00 to 22:00.
Torino: 283 Nguyen Chi Thanh, Da Nang. T: (0511) 3565 124.
Tulip Restaurant (Bia Tiep Tulip): 174 2/9, Da Nang. T: (0511) 3611 822, F: (0511) 3552 702. Open daily, 08:30 to 22:30.
Van Xuan: 233A Nguyen Van Thoai, Da Nang. T: (0511) 3941 234, F: (0511) 3941 235. Open daily, 10:00 to 23:00.
Vietnamese Home: 34 Bach Dang, Da Nang. T: (0511) 3889 575-7, F: (0511) 3889 576.
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