Eat and meet
HueGiven the heavy influx of tourists Hue receives, it's no surprise there are a large number of dining options available, with a good mix of western and authentic Vietnamese dishes on offer.
Banana Mango Restaurant on Le Loi isn't much for atmosphere, but gets a thumbs up from regular customers for its cheap and good dishes, some of which are well-designed to please western palates. Just up the road, a brand new place, Little Fish (which bills itself as the 'New Fish in the Old Town') offers a clean, downright cute atmosphere and more tourist friendly cuisine -- too early to say yet, but it looks to hold promise, especially for western breakfasts and comfort foods -- apple crumble. Mmm.
Banana Mango: 106 Le Loi, Hue. T: (054) 820 154.
Little Fish: 40 Le Loi, Hue. T: (054) 837 888;(0925) 002 028. Hours: 06:00 to 22:00
Pham Ngu Lao
Pham Ngu Lao runs parallel to Side Street 66, just a block to the west, and is the main drag on the south bank when it comes to eating and drinking. On the corner with Le Loi is the DMZ Bar, which is the de facto hangout in the evenings, but it's under the same ownership as Little Italy, and anything they serve there is available here as well. Little Italy has moved back into its old location on Vo Thi Sau, at the other end of Pham Ngu Lam, and continues to serve up good Italian fare, though we liked the atmosphere at the old temporary location better. In the middle of Pham Ngu Lao,Ngoc Anh has an upscale atmosphere, but still has a lot of good, cheap Vietnamese food on offer, as well as western fare. Its next door neighbour, The Friendly Restaurant, offers very much the same thing, with the option of ordering set menus for three to seven people. Mai Huong Patisserie, also on Pham Ngu Lao serves French and Vietnamese style pastries, as well as western food, in a small shop with a nice atmosphere -- they don't overcharge for drinks either, making it a pleasant and affordable alternative to the bar scene in the evenings. La Carambole is an old stand-by in the Italian food category, and we quite like the pizzas here, and the atmosphere and location make it one of the most popular places on the block. The new Le Caramel at the Asia Hotel suffers from the fancy hotel restaurant curse of never having any customers, but we were surprised at the very reasonable prices of the food here, so check it out. The Fancy Restaurant, on nearby Tran Cao Van is yet another pizza-pasta-burger-fruitshake French-style patisserie that comes recommended by locals.
A block to the east is the sole sushi option, simply called Japanese Restaurant, which also has a limited menu of other Japanese dishes. It's run by a Japanese expat who has set up a home for street-children on the other side of the river and is teaching them job skills in a sewing shop above the restaurant. If you're curious to learn more, the owner, Michio Koyama, can fill you in. In the meantime, the best way to help out is to eat heartily at the restaurant, and think of the slightly inflated prices as a way of donating to a good cause. It's only standard Japanese restaurant fare, but satisfying.
DMZ Bar: 60 Le Loi, Hue. T: (054) 826 928.
Fancy Restaurant: 38 Tran Cao Van, Hue. T: (054) 849 852; (0905) 444 464. Hours: 0:700 - 22:00
Friendly Restaurant: 07 Pham Ngu Lao, Hue. T: (054) 831 548.
Japanese Restaurant: 12 Chu Van An, Hue. T: (054) 828 177, F: (054) 828 087. http://www001.upp.so-net.ne.jp/jass/
La Carambole: 19 Pham Ngu Lao, Hue. T: (054) 810 491; (0914) 079 192, F: (054) 826 234. Hours: 07:00 to 23:00.
Le Caramel: 17 Pham Ngu Lao, Hue. T: (054) 241 134, F: (054) 252 284. Hours: 06:00 to 22:00.
Little Italy: 2A Vo Thi Sau, Hue. T: (054) 826 928; (0913) 496 238. http://www.littleitalyhue.com
Mai Huong Patisserie: 11 Pham Ngu Lao, Hue. T: (054) 848 772.
Ngoc Anh: 05 Pham Ngu Lao, Hue. T: (054) 822 617.
Ben Nghe is walking distance from Pham Ngu Lao and offers some fine options. The Stop and Go Cafe remains a sure bet, both to meet other travellers and enjoy a meal, with a menu featuring western breakfasts, burgers, sandwhiches, veggie dishes, hot pots, and softshell tacos with guacamole (if avocados are in season). Hue specialities like Banh Khoai are also on offer, along with frosty bottles of beer. But if you want to go where the locals go, try Chau Loan at the end of Ben Nghe near the traffic circle -- just a noodle shop, but a cut above the rest in terms of quality, attracting a steady Vietnamese clientèle.
There's a brand new Italian restaurant in town, at the top of Ben Nghe Street, that's set to give the other Italian places a run for their money. Mediterraneo D'Hue is run by two bona fide Italians who already run a successful place in Hanoi. The interior of the restaurant is beautifully designed, and they cook pizzas in a traditional brick oven. The prices are a little high, but you're paying for atmosphere, authenticity, and high quality. You'll get Italian specialties here that you wouldn't elsewhere, such as fresh, home-made mozzarella and sun-dried tomatoes. The antipasto platters are superb.
Mid-way down Ben Nghe around the corner on Ngueyn Tri Phuong Street is a unique place for Vietnam -- a take-out salad and fresh-juice bar called Missy Roo. They have some tasty salads (Greek, Potato, Pasta) and the fresh carrot juice is recommended, as well as the chocolate mouse. They also serve less-healthy consumables like burgers and beer. One complaint -- they seem to run out of things a lot even in the middle of the day.
Chau Loan: 78 Ben Nghe St, Hue. T: (054) 822 777.
Mediterraneo D'Hue: 7 Ben Nghe, Hue. T: (054) 819 849, F: (054) 819 849. http://www.mediterraneo-hanoi.com
Missy Roo: 62 Nguyen Tri Phuong, Hue. T: (054) 228 628, (0914) 202 421.
Stop and Go Cafe: 18 Ben Nghe, Hue. T: (054) 827 051, (0905) 126 767.
Heading a bit west, on Hung Vuong, there are some good options. The Hung Vuong Inn is a popular place among those who travel to Hue regularly. They offer rooms, but the large restaurant on the first floor is a draw in itself, offering an affable, English-speaking staff, icy beer, and a menu with western items -- the Gorgonzola pizza here had us making yummy noises. On the other side of the spectrum, the Imperial Hotel has two restaurants offering breakfast and dinner buffets from US$8 to 12 a ticket if you'd like to fill up on fine food for a change of pace. Right across from the Imperial Hotel, the eponymously-named Minh &Coco Mini Restaurant on Hung Vuong is run by two hard-working, feisty ladies who create a lively atmosphere and attract a steady clientele of tourists passing through. Chilly beers and good cheap food, along with western breakfasts and tourist services. Just off Hung Vuong, on Tran Cao Van (south side of the Imperial Hotel) is the deservedly renown Mandarin Cafe. Mr. Cu is a very talented, self-taught photographer who's iconic pictures of Vietnam deck the walls of his restaurant and are available in printouts of various sizes, including post cards. Some of the photos are so deftly composed it's hard to believe they are all candids, taken without any direction from the photographer. The cafe itself is beautiful, if a bit touristy, but it attracts the crowds simply because its that good.
The Long Cafe across from the Duy Tan Hotel on Huong Vuong is a polished-up version of a local noodle stand, with a travel-agency and a bit more on the menu, such as curry dishes. If you keep heading down Huong Vuong through the traffic circle, on the left is a large restaurant with seating around a small lagoon and banquet tables inside -- there's no English menu, but it's a great place to go with a group and order up an excellent seafood feast.
Near the backpacker quarters on Nguyen Phi Truong is Hue's sole Indian restaurant, Omar's. It's Indian owned and run, and quite good.
Omar Khayyam's Indian Restaurant: 10 Nguyen Tri Phuong, Hue. T: (054) 821 616; (0914) 159 627. Hours: 11:00 to 22:00
Hung Vuong Inn: 20 Hung Vuong, Hue. T: (054) 821 068, 827 899 F: (054) 821 068.
Long Cafe: 19 Hung Vuong, Hue. T: (054) 830 800.
Mandarin Cafe: 24 Tran Cao Van, Hue. T: (054) 821 281. Hours: 06:00 to 22:00
Minh &Coco Mini Restaurant: 3B Hung Vuong, Hue. T: (054) 821 822, Hours: 06:00 to 24:00
Some of the best Vietnamese food in town is across the bridge from Le Loi. Three famous places clustered altogether are Lac Thien, Lac Thanh, and Lac Thuan. All three are run by members of the same extended family, most of whom are deaf. The charismatic leader of the pack is Trung, one of the most happy-go-lucky guys you'll ever meet, and one of the most gregarious, especially considering he can't really speak. It's surprisingly easy to communicate with him, and the others, using hand gestures. Trung makes bottle openers out of a stick of wood and a bolt which he hands out to guests for free. They then take them all over the world and send back photos of themselves with the bottle opener -- in front of the Taj Mahal, the Eiffel Tour, the Grand Canyon, etc. The whole procedure is as absurd as it is heart-warming, and it seems to bring Trung endless delight. Participation in the scheme is highly recommended. Oh, and the food -- amazingly good local specialities. Just start at the top of the menu and work your way down.
Lac Thien: 6 Dinh Tien Hoang, Hue. T: (054) 524 674. Hours: 08:00 to 22:00
There is one far flung option worth seeking out if you're an adventurous carnivore. Huong Lua is set just behind the southern gate of Nam Giao, 2.5km south of Le Loi. It's an attractive, sit down place made of old wood with an adjacent garden that specialises in meats grilled on the table hibachi-style. It's a great place to head with a group, and you can always stick to the beef, chicken and fish if you like. The thit nai (deer meat) comes recommended, and you can go nuts from there: chon (weasel), ba ba (turtle), ky da (lizard), tho (rabbit), and nhim (porcupine), to name a few. To get here, head south on Dien Bien Phu (opposite La Residence on Le Loi) for 2.2km, take a right and an immediate left on Minh Mang. Take the first left on the far side of Nam Giao and it's on the right.
Huong Lua: 2/1 Minh Mang (behind Nam Giao), Hue. T: (054) 887 961; (0914) 019 950. Hours: 06:00 to 23:00
Food and Nighlife
The south-bank bar scene is 'where it's at' in the evenings in Hue, with a number of places to choose from. The old stand-bys are mostly along Pham Ngu Lao, including DMZ Bar, with at nice pool table at the centre, and garden seating in a courtyard where you can order up Italian food from Little Italy, which is under the same ownership. Folks that don't take a shine to the DMZ Bar often head to the Why Not Bar on at the end of the block, across from Little Italy. They play a decent selection of western rock and hip-hop on the sound system and when things get cooking it can be a fun place to hang out. They have a tiny kitchen and there's more of an emphasis on eating than drinking, but we had some satisfying plates of pasta here, and the batter-friend squid or shrimp goes down nicely with a generous glass of Huda beer on tap.
There are a couple of good options you won't necessarily happen across just strolling around: Brown Eyes is great place to go for the bar, the pool table, the dance floor, and garden seating out back along the river. To get there, take Le Loi west across the bridge, where it turns into Nguyen Sing Cung, and it's on the left. They'll pick you up from hotel if you're in a group of four or more and transport you there for free. B4 Bar Cafe on Ben Nghe -- the Beligian expat owner and his Vietnamese partner have set up an elegant, if slightly pretentious, western-style bar that serves mostly drinks and attracts a lot of Francophones. You can get a variety of delicious, somewhat pricey, imported Belgian beers, as well as Huda on tap. It has a reputation for being the place to do if you'd rather not be in Vietnam at all, but we still had a good time here one night playing Jenga and listening to the dubious selection of 'European Rock and Roll' on the sound system.
Another alternative, Violon, on Ben Nghe, is a 'night club', that's popular with Vietnamese couples out for a romantic evening. They serve cocktails and feature live music -- live latin music, according to one source, though the band wasn't playing on our visit, so we can't be certain.
To spend the evening with hard-working Vietnamese, blowing off steam at the end of the day, you can do no better than to seek out Dong Da between Le Hong Phong and the traffic circle. There you'll find a line of down and dirty bia hoi joints, selling 15,000 VND, two-litre jugs of Huda beer on tap. They all sell eats designed to compliment the beer -- few have English menus, so we'll help you out with some important bia hoi-related food terminology: Luon: eel. Ech: frog. Oc: snail. There are a couple of bia hoi places at the end of Le Loi, before the Dap Da bridge, but they get too many foreigners because of the location and they lack a truly local atmosphere.
B4 Bar Cafe: 75 Ben Nghe, Hue. T: (0914) 050 110. http://www.geocities.com/b4hue.
Brown Eyes: 55 Nguyen Sing Cung, Hue. T: (054) 827 494. Call (054) 898 989 for free pick-up from your hotel for groups of four or more.
DMZ Bar: 60 Le Loi, Hue. T: (054) 826 928.
Why Not: 21 Vo Thi Sau, Hue. T: (054) 824 793.
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