Eat and meet
Hoi AnHoi An has some excellent places to eat and drink — on the riverfront, scattered throughout town, across the water on An Hoi islet and lining both Cua Dai and An Bang beaches.
Hoi An flourished thanks to its port, attracting traders from China, Japan and the Mediterranean. Out of this mixture of cultures, a unique style of Vietnamese cooking developed, drawing upon a wide range of flavours, influences and cooking techniques. Hoi An is home to a number of specialty dishes, many of which can be traced to foreign origins. The most famous is cau lau, a combination of thick wheat noodles, roasted pork, bean sprouts and herbs in a thick gravy. Local lore says that the dish must be made from the water of a specific well — others argue that it is simply the distinctive noodles that make it unique. A dryer version of the dish, mi quang, is also widely available. Chinese influenced rice-flower dumplings called banh beo and banh vac (white rose) are also common. Much less publicised is com ga, a tasty stir-fry of rice, chicken, garlic and vegetables.
It can often seem that these dishes are all the restaurants in Hoi An can serve. Many are geared toward customers simply passing through town, and many have little concern for quality, making it hard to find exceptional versions of any of the dishes, but new, quality, places are springing up all the time.
If you're after the real deal, try hunting down more local options. Cau lau is available at street stalls around town; try the stalls in the central market food hall where Tran Phu meets Nguyen Duy Hieu or one of the local one-dish restaurants that line the northern end of Phan Chau Trinh Street. A good tip is to look out for vendors with a black and gold sign which are awarded to families with the best examples of these dishes, which generally means they have been producing that one dish for generations.
That said, the long-running Cafe Des Amis continues to dish out excellent and huge meals — the five-course meal will leave you bursting at the seams. The menu is set — you can choose from vegetarian, meat or fish and head chef Mr Kim will dish out whatever he happens to feel like cooking that day. Mr Kim is quite a character, chatting up his guests in French and English, and if you eat lunch he'll invite you back for an excellent dinner and guarantee a different menu — as if you'd actually need to eat again so soon. Get there early if you want one of the two riverside tables on the upstairs balcony. It's a popular place, and a guidebook sweetie, but still fun and friendly. At 150,000 VND per customer, it's not a cheap night but worth it.
The drink stalls along the riverfront on Bach Dang are another old favourite among the gaggle of cafes that line the street – sip on a cold beer or nuoc mia (sugarcane juice) while watching the locals pile their bikes onto unimaginably small boats back to their homes on the surrounding islands. Mobile street food vendors selling delicious cheap snacks like bahn bao (pork stuffed steamed buns), fermented sausage in banana leaf (delicious), and sugar-dusted dried ginger parade past, giving you the opportunity to sample some cheap local dishes.
For a more upmarket local taste experience, check out Lantern Town. An airy place stretching from streetfront to riverfront in length, it has three different areas for eating — two indoors and one outdoor courtyard area. With pale yellow walls decorated with contemporary local artwork and hand-painted silk lanterns, the courtyard is the perfect place for a cocktail or a meal in the sultry evening air. Their take on mi quang and the pizza in a clay pot are particularly good; they also offer barbecued fish, seafood and meat at any time of day. It's a good spot to retreat to if you can't take the peddlers any longer.
Morning Glory, from Ms Vy of Cargo Club, Mermaid and more recently Market Kitchen fame, comes highly recommended, both for its restaurant and cookery courses. The restaurant is simply decorated and airy, with an open kitchen in the centre of the dining area. A non-smoking dining room is available upstairs but in the summer months it can get uncomfortably hot due to restrictions on installing air-con in the traditional buildings in town. Food is inspired from various places around Vietnam -- their cinnamon beef curry is one of the most raved about on the menu and definitely worth trying here. It's frequently full so book or arrive early.
The Cargo Club is probably the best place in town for a really delicious leisurely breakfast, an afternoon cake and coffee, or a late-night dessert. Downstairs seating is more tailored to snacking and drinking while upstairs, with views over the river from terrace tables, has more of an evening meal set up. Sample their passionfruit pavlova once and you might find yourself returning for every day of your visit. The ice cream is also top-notch and set breakfasts are good value -- enough to set you up for hours of shopping.
3 Dragons is located in a stunning two-storey, ancient colonial family house, in one of the most appealing riverside locations in town. Offering a comprehensive cocktail menu, cheery service and a well honed Vietnamese/Western menu, the proprietors Simon (sports-mad Aussie) and Chung (ever-patient Vietnamese) run a well balanced bar/restaurant with widescreen TVs (for sports) and beautiful riverside dining (for patience). The Vietnamese menu is exceptional, along with the Sunday roasts and Western breakfasts; the pizza we tried was a bit disappointing but the burgers more than make up for it (and they serve late). Being on the outskirts of town, the 3 Dragons operate on a more flexible license which means they are happy to open up for even the most inappropriately timed sporting event so you can watch it live. They also hold a pub quiz every Wednesday night at 20:00 which is popular with both tourists and expats alike, drawing in a decent crowd and some half-decent prizes.
Re-Treats Cafe on Tran Hung Dao is a popular backpacker spot, mostly because of its proximity to the backpacker quarters and the fact that most of the adventure tour guides use it as a meeting spot for their groups while in town. It's a great place to hangout during the day and early evening and serves cheap drinks. The food here is not exactly great, but seems to attract an unusually large population of cockroaches. Still, there are plenty of cheap dining options nearby including a great bun thit heo (five-spice pork noodle in a satay sauce) stall directly opposite on Tran Cao Van.
For pizza and pasta, head to Good Morning Vietnam on Nguyen Thai Hoc. The food is great, though we heard reports of slow service. It can get busy in high season so call ahead or be prepared for a wait. A very good beachside alternative is Luna D'Atunno on An Bang beach, which serves delicious wood-oven pizza and house-made pasta dishes on comfortable, shaded beachside loungers.
There is really only one place in town to eat Indian food -- Ganesh -- and luckily it's excellent. It offers up standard curries, masalas, thalis and whatnot, but the quality is high and some people find themselves eating here every night. Like all good curry houses, Ganesh also offers take-away and a delivery service, a good option after a long day touring or if you've got a bit too comfortable at the beach. If you see another restaurant in town with "Indian Food" on the menu, avoid it and wait until you come here.
Mango Rooms is another place spanning Bach Dang and Nguyen Thai Hoc Streets. It's done up in colourful, Caribbean-style decor with Turkish-style cushion seating and a Latin-influenced fusion menu. It's a bit pricey but a great place to hang out — go for a pitcher of sangria with some friends. Its more recent sister restaurant, Mango Mango, is over the bridge on An Hoi islet and offers a similar menu in a very smart riverside set-up. The latest addition to owner Duc's empire, Mai Fish on Nguyen Thi Minh Khai just over the Japanese Bridge also comes highly recommended, offering a cheaper, more local 'home food' menu -- it's a great place to sample a selection of Hoi An classics without the gristly bits.
Green Mango on Nguyen Thai Hoc in the centre of town is a much celebrated, classy dining option with two successful sister restaurants in Hanoi and on Cat Ba island. The sumptuously renovated wooden traders house provides a stunning backdrop for romantic dinners or early evening cocktails — it's one of the most beautiful restaurants in town — menu prices are on the high side, but the food (at least the Western dishes – weirdly the Vietnamese dishes we've had here have been disappointing) and atmosphere are well worth the splurge.
Over on An Hoi there's a whole swathe of cheap Vietnamese restaurants offering menus incorporating a few Western dishes; stick to Vietnamese food and they are generally consistently good. If you can grab a riverside or balcony table you get some of the best views across to the old town, but be warned street sellers endlessly pound this route; if it bothers you having your meal interrupted by bangle-selling kids, go upstairs (and consider donating to an organisation that helps them).
Taking up one of the best plots on An Hoi opposite the night market is Alfresco's, a good stop if you fancy a bit of Tex Mex – they are famous for their ribs, pizzas and high standards in food hygiene. Friendly staff and sundown happy hour cocktail pitchers make it a good place to relax after hitting the market. The company originated in Hanoi (they have branches in both there and in Saigon). The Vietnamese menu is packed full of northern dishes and the breakfast pho, although a bit pricy compared with the street alternative, is one of the best we've found in Hoi An. It's worth checking out their website as they regularly have special offers like buy one, get one free on delivery pizzas and set menus.
If you're really going to sink a wad on a posh meal, check out the riverside Anantara Resort along riverside Phan Boi Chau. Every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday night at 18:00 they kick off with a traditional dance and torch lighting over cocktails at the Heritage Bar – follow it up with some world-class seafood at Lantern's Restaurant. Mains are around US$20 a head.
If you're staying up on Hai Ba Trung or Ba Trieu, don't ignore the restaurants up that way. They might not have the views or the decor of the places in the old town, but there's tasty food available at good prices. Try Gidino's for chicken fried rice and spring rolls; head upstairs for balcony seating and a decent pool table.
If you are after a little beachside dining, Cua Dai is awash with local fresh seafood restaurants. They tend to shut up shop fairly early, so pitch up around sunset or you may well be disappointed. An Bang beach has a great mix of local and Western dining options that stay open late. For incredible seafood, head to Mien Ka (to the left of the bike park), which serves up beautiful lemongrass and chilli grilled scallops, clams and some great barbecue squid. Next door's Soul Kitchen is perfect for families with a French bistro-style menu -- the fish carpaccio is a winner. Le Banyan is great for delicious cocktails, tapas and seafood. To the right Le Plage has a small but well thought out French-Viet (are you noticing a theme here) menu and offers a quieter more relaxed beach cafe environment.
Bale Well serves banh xeo (Hoi An crispy pancake with pork skewers and spring rolls) and should be on your list of places to eat if you are looking for a memorable experience that's also a hit with local diners. Located down an alley off Tran Phu Street, they serve up an all-you-can-eat feast with full instructions (down to chewing) on how to manage your food. The female staff will joke about stealing your husband – it's an entertaining experience worth its weight in gold that you just don't find at the usual tourist restaurants in town. Around 100,000 VND will see you bursting at the seams in both pants and pleasure.
For a lively bar atmosphere try Before and Now on Le Loi, which gets busy after 21:00 and stays open late. There's a pool table, big screens, reasonably priced drinks and, although more of a drinking hole, it has an above average mainly Italian menu.
The Dive Bar, part of Cham Island Dive Centre, is another good spot to socialise, and popular with tourists and expats alike. For sporting events, the 3 Dragons on Phan Boi Chau is the place to head if you don't want to miss a match. Massive screens, great food and a 24-hour mentality (along with refined riverside dining) are set in a beautiful colonial house.
Over on Tran Cao Van (nearer to the backpacker hotels) another newcomer, Mo's Tavern, is a good option for when the bars in town shut up shop. They offer cheap drinks along with stacks of entertainment options, including giant Jenga, board and drinking games plus the usual pool table.
Over on An Hoi (far left of the bridge) is another popular backpacker scene with cheap local buckets, and a shifting series of bar names, don't leave drinks unattended and leave your valuables at home.
Why Not Bar is apparently run by the same team who used to own the now defunct King Kong and it's just as lively, crowded and seedy as its predecessor.
If you prefer sipping your late night cocktails with your toes in the sand, An Bang beach is where it's at. For late-night revelry and a great bar scene, Banyan pulls in the crowds, hosting regular weekend themed parties, live music and Djs – they're popular with tourists and expats alike. There's a pool table and petanque course for the athletic and giant bean bags right on the beach for those less so.
For a quieter and more relaxed beach ambience, head to Soul Kitchen. Here you'll find a romantic environment where you can watch the sunset from a private beach cabana -- it's a far more family-orientated venue than its neighbour Banyan. Unusually for a beach bar, Soul comes into its own during the wetter winter months, when they batten down the hatches in the bar/dining area, creating a cosy escape from the elements.
3Dragons: 51 Phan Boi Chau, Hoi An. T: (01275) 050 400. http://www.3dragonshoian.com
Alfresco's: 43 Nguyen Phuc Chu, An Hoi Islet, Hoi An. T: (0510) 3914 742. http://www.alfrescosgroup.com
Lanterns Restaurant, Anantara: 1 Pham Hong Thai Street, Hoi An. T: (0510) 391 4515. http://www.anantara.com
Bale Well: Track 45-51 Tran Hung Dao, Hoi An. T: (0510) 386 4443.
Before and Now Bar Restaurant: 51 Le Loi, Hoi An. T: (0510) 910 599. http://www.beforennow.com
Blue Dragon Restaurant: 46 Bach Dang Street, Hoi An. T: (0510) 391 0742. http://www.bdcf.org
Cafe Des Amis: 52 Bach Dang, Hoi An. T: (0510) 386 1616.
The Cargo Club: 107-109 Nguyen Thai Hoc, Hoi An. T: (0510) 391 1227, (0510) 391 1844. http://www.restaurant-hoian.com
Cham Island Dive Bar: 88 Nguyen Thai Hoc, Hoi An. T: (0510) 391 0782. http://www.chamislanddiving.com
Mo's Tavern: 130 Tran Cao Van, Hoi An. T: (0128) 465 7092.
Ganesh: 24 Tran Hung Dao, Hoi An. T: (0510) 386 4538. http://www.ganeshindianrestaurant.com
Gidino's: 113 Ba Trieu Street, Hoi An. T: (0510) 391 1167.
Good Morning Vietnam:102 Nguyen Thai Hoc, Hoi An. T: (0510) 391 0227.
Green Mango: 54 Nguyen Thai Hoc Street, Hoi An. T: (0510) 392 9918. http://www.greenmango.vn
Faifoo Restaurant: 104 Tran Phu, Hoi An. T: (0510) 386 1548.
Lantern Town: 49 Nguyen Thai Hoc Street, Hoi An. T: (0123) 991 2212. http://www.lanterntown.com
Le Banyan: Far left An Bang beach, Hoi An. T: (0935) 100 337. http://www.lebanyanbar.com
La Plage: Far right An Bang beach, Hoi An. T: (0510) 392 8224. http://www.laplagehoian.com
Luna D'autunno: Left side An Bang beach, Hoi An. T: (0165) 9470 374.
Mai Fish: 45 Nguyen Thi Minh Khai, Hoi An. T: (0510) 392 5545.
Mango Rooms: 111 Nguyen Thai Hoc, Hoi An. T: (0510) 391 0839. http://www.mangorooms.com
Mango Mango: 45 Nguyen Phuc Chu, Hoi An. T: (0510) 391 1863. http://www.mangomango.com
Mermaid: 2 Tran Phu, Hoi An. T: (0510) 386 1999. http://www.restaurant-hoian.com
Morning Glory: 106 Nguyen Thai Hoc Street, Hoi An. T: (0510) 224 1555, (0510) 224 1556. http://www.restaurant-hoian.com
Red Bridge: Thon 4, Cam Thanh, Hoi An. T: (0510) 393 3222, (091) 452 092. http://www.visithoian.com
Restaurant Cafe 96: 96 Bach Dang St, Hoi An. T: (0510) 391 0441, (0914) 082 390.
ReTreats Cafe 69 Tran Hung Dao St, Hoi An. T: (0510) 910 527.
Soul Kitchen: Far left An Bang beach, Hoi An. T: (0906) 440 320. http://www.soulkitchen.sitew.com
Streets Restaurant Cafe: 17 Le Loi St, Hoi An. T: (0510) 391 1948. http://www.streetsinternational.org
Tam Tam Cafe: 110 Nguyen Thai Hoc, Hoi An (alternate entrance at 121 Tran Phu). T: (0510) 862 212.
Why Not Bar: 10B Pham Hong Thai, Hoi An. T: (0906) 515 229.
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