Photo: Beached boat on Bai Sao.

Eat and meet

When it comes to food, Phu Quoc has something for everyone and though the number of eateries are still relatively modest (it is a small island after all), options will only grow with the increase in tourism. If you think you have to eat expensive resort food, think again.

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Long Beach and Duong Dong Town
Duong Dong town is chock-full of cheap local eats, including noodle soup for breakfast and com tam -- "broken rice" with veg and meat -- at lunch, all for no more than 30,000 dong a plate. Look for banh canh, thick noodle soup with pork or fish, or Saigon style pho. Try banh xeo, large yellow savoury crepes stuffed with sprouts, spring onions and meat or seafood served with a diluted sweet-sour fish sauce. Wash it all down with a glass of nuoc mia, sugarcane juice, or a fresh coconut.

However, there is nothing quite like digging into grub while digging your feet into the sand just inches from the water. Beachfront restaurants and bars, some linked to guesthouses/hotels, line the length of Long Beach. The busiest hub is at Long Beach village, a popular, central beach access lane lined with guesthouses and restaurants. Alley 118 leads from Tran Hung Dao Street and deposits you right at Phuong Binh House’s restaurant The Sunset Grill. It’s a relaxed joint with inexpensive drinks and tasty Vietnamese food such as stir-fries and curries with fresh seafood, starting at 90,000 dong. Try the prawn with coconut milk, served with steamed rice, for 105,000 dong.

To give you an idea of how diverse Long Beach is, a couple of spots down is Rory’s Bar, which attracts backpackers like flies to honey. The restaurant’s colourful low plastic seats are lined up like it’s a theatre to watch sunset. You can expect burgers, pizzas and panini sandwiches along with the usual pan-Asian menu. By contrast, its neighbour is La Veranda’s swish bar and fine dining restaurant, The Pepper Tree. Here you can get your foie gras on in a tropical French colonial setting. Fresh local seafood is given a fancy French twist, while Vietnamese fare comes with the white tablecloth treatment. Mains start at 285,000 dong. If you have someone you want to impress, they do candlelit dinners and upscale barbecues in the sand. Don’t forget your wallet.

Seafood of course is the star of the island. The end of the day not only brings Phu Quoc’s signature sunset, it’s the time when beach restaurants start laying out fresh seafood on ice and fire up the grill. It’s just a matter of taking a stroll to see what tickles your fancy, be it a whole fresh fish, squid, clams or crabs, prepared the way you like. Ask what the price by weight is and they’ll weigh it out in front of you. These joints are catering to tourists so yes, it is overpriced, but it’s something a happy holiday-er can excuse for the great location.

The night market in Duong Dong is jam-packed with tourists chowing down on seafood. On the street running from Tran Hung Dao to the marina at Bach Dang, there are live tanks and displays piled high on ice: grouper, crab, squid, prawns, lobster, clams, urchins, scallops, just to name a few. It’s prepared however you like, with a choice of sauces. Before you automatically assume the live tank is the best and freshest choice, one local told us that the seafood in tanks at the night market are given drugs to keep them alive unusually long. We obviously can’t verify this claim, but you know what, we wouldn’t be surprised if it were true. Mind you, hundreds of people enjoy the food every night without a problem.

Another local we spoke to tried to dissuade us from going to the night market and instead recommended we go to a proper (though still local) restaurant for better quality. We thoroughly enjoyed the delicious seafood at Song Xanh. It’s a popular spot for both locals and domestic tourists. A large breezy covered terrace on a great spot overlooking the Duong Dong river, it’s a tidy place with brisk service and someone always close by to refill your beer. It’s still a pay-by-weight seafood joint, with all the available live critters on display in tanks, but when we ate there the restaurant was so busy that it was all moving quickly. Deciphering the “English” menu with comical translations is half the fun. Standouts are the whole steamed fish with soy sauce (130,000 dong) and seafood hot pot. It’s definitely better tackling the big meal with some friends. Our plate of stir-fried morning glory, rice, a couple of beers and heaping plate of prawns cost us only 200,000 dong. Don’t confuse it for Song Xanh 2, located just across the street.

Formerly known as Song Bien 123, Com Bac is a cute covered restaurant in town with a range of tasty Vietnamese dishes eaten with steamed rice and ideal for sharing: braised fish or crab in clay pot (125,000 dong), seafood fried rice (90,000 dong) and steamed chicken with ginger and spring onions (100,000 dong). The chickens out back are a testament to how fresh the food is. It’s a clean, comfortable spot with wooden chairs that will fit Western backsides – no flimsy plastic stools here. There’s a menu in English but it only lists the boring, generic Western dishes they can make. It's best to look and point at what others are having, or find the extremely humble owner/manager who speaks excellent English and is so pleased to welcome foreigners.

Winston’s Burgers &Beer has, you guessed it, burgers and beer. The menu is specialised for one thing only so don’t expect anything but the best burger on Phu Quoc with a side of heavenly waffle fries. Choosing a burger feels like taking a personality test and embarking on an adventure. Which is right for you? “Basic Training” (110,000 dong) is for novices. On the other end of the spectrum is worryingly named The Terminator (365,000 dong). And once in a while, someone will saunter in and take on the chilli-packed The Devil’s Own. Vegetarians can eat... french fries.

Located on Tran Hung Dao at the roundabout, at the entrance to the night market beside Rainbow Divers, La Caffe Deli is a cosy nook with creative upcycled flair. Old chairs are adorned with new cushions, sewing tables have been repurposed into coffee tables while Willie Nelson CDs and an odd assortment of garage sale finds adorn the wall. It’s a lovely, friendly spot to watch Phu Quoc putter by while enjoying a fruit shake (20,000-40,000 dong) or something stronger – a shot of rum can be added to any juice for 30,000 dong. The food menu has Western mains such as pasta and burgers, for around 95,000 dong. The chalkboard sign says it’s open 24/7. We didn’t get a chance to test that out!

It wouldn’t be a sun holiday without ice cream and you can get scoops of New Zealand Natural at Buddy Ice Cream &Info Cafe. You can enjoy typical comfort food cafe fare such as sandwiches, salads and burgers, as well as a proper flat white. The front terrace overlooks the marina but it can be noisy with all the traffic whizzing by. Inside is a pleasant hang out spot and the helpful advice is free. The cafe also produces a handy map of the island that shows routes and road conditions to the beaches.

Outside Duong Dong
If you’re staying on some of the more isolated and remote beaches, dining options outside your own hotel/resort are limited. Luckily there are a few standouts.

Several Phu Quoc residents told us, nay, commanded us to dine at Mango Bay Resort and they did not steer us wrong. The quality, freshness and flavour of the food is worthy of the spectacular view from their wooden deck on Ong Lang beach. Starters, salads and Vietnamese dishes such as crab rolls or grilled beef in la lot leaves hover around 160,000 dong, while fresh seafood dishes such as Phu Quoc mackerel poached in sweet soy bean and shitake broth, served with bok choy, cost 230,000 dong. It’s reasonably priced and if you’re staying elsewhere, well worth the journey.

Sakura Restaurant is also at Ong Lang beach and it’s a cheerful spot with great Vietnamese food delivered with very sweet service. Enjoy chicken, pork or beef stir-fry for 90,000 dong or with seafood for 150,000 dong. Our fresh prawns with coconut milk sauce was a generous portion and delicious. Sakura is located on the same beach access road to Mango Bay Resort and Mia B&B.

On the east coast, Bai Sao beach is popular with daytrippers and if you’re one of them, The Beach House, located beside My Lan Resort, will satisfy cravings for German, Italian and other Western fare. There’s an extensive pizza menu with plenty of topping options, and a medium starts at 95,000 dong. And if you like meat and potatoes, there’s Frankfurters, bratwurst, curry wurst, schnitzel and a few other hearty dishes that will send you into a coma on your sun lounger. For something a bit lighter, five different fresh salads are on offer for 95,000 dong. Bai Sao has a few restaurants that cater to domestic tourists and large groups – we found the service to be poor, the food overpriced and the ambience was either dead or pure chaos. If you’ve got a hankering for Vietnamese food on Bai Sao, you’ll find them.

Serious seafood-foodies, we have a tip for you. Ham Ninh is famed for giant crabs. One local told us to buy them there straight from the boat or at the market, then any restaurant can cook them for you any way you like for a small fee.

The Beach House: Bai Sao beach, beside My Lan Resort; T: (077) 397 2123; thebeachhouse.phuquoc@gmail.com
Buddy Ice Cream &Info Cafe: 6 Bach Dang Street, opposite the Marina, Duong Dong town; T: (077) 3994 181; buddyicecream@hotmail.com; open daily 08:00-22:00.
Com Bac: So 77 Duong 30/4 Street, Duong Dong town; T: (0943) 670 798; phuquochoan@gmail.com; open daily 09:00-22:00.
La Caffe Deli: Tran Hung Dao &Vo Thi Sau, beside Rainbow Divers, Duong Dong town; open daily.
Mango Bay Resort: Ong Lang beach; T: (077) 3981 693; reservations@mangobayphuquoc.com; http://www.mangobayphuquoc.com.
The Pepper Tree Restaurant: La Veranda Resort, Tran Hung Dao, Long Beach, Duong Dong; T: (0297) 398 2988; contact@laverandaresorts.com; https://laverandaresorts.com/.
Phuong Binh House/The Sunset Grill: Alley 118, Tran Hung Dao, Long Beach, Duong Dong; T: (077) 3994 101; bichnt1512@gmail.com; http://www.phuongbinhhouse.com; open daily 07:30-22:30.
Sakura Restaurant: Ong Lang village; T: (077) 6294 856; open daily 07:00-22:00.
Song Xanh: Duong 30/4, Ward KP1, Duong Dong; T: 077) 370 2929.
Winston’s Burgers &Beer: 121/1Tran Hung Dao, KP7, Duong Dong; T: (0126) 390 1093; open daily 13:00-21:00.

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Where to next?

Where are you planning on heading to after Phu Quoc Island? Here are some spots commonly visited from here, or click here to see a full destination list for Vietnam.


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