Great Hanoi cafes to chill out in

What we say: 3.5 stars

A visit to Hanoi shouldn't be all go, go, go. Stopping for lots of coffee is crucial, but where to head? Here are our top spots to hang out in for a couple of hours, where an enticing ambiance is offered along with top-notch food and drink.

If you want to clink coffee glasses with the locals you are certainly spoilt for choice: besides the less-than-comfy roadside joints -- designed for downing and running rather than lounging -- heaps of cafes have sprung up to attract the younger generation of Vietnamese, many of which are themed. While the local places aren't too hot in the food department, the drinks are usually worth writing home about, particularly the coffee.

Yeah baby!
Yeah baby!

Cong Caphe has been a long-standing favourite of ours but it's expanded well beyond its original Trieu Viet Vuong location and now has eight branches across the central districts of Hanoi. Despite the expansion, each branch retains the essence of what has always made Cong Caphe such a great place to hang out: quirky decor, an appealing menu, helpful staff and excellent coffee. The menu is drinks focused, so don't go there if you're hungry, but in a nod to Vietnam's French period you can grab a croissant with fruit or ham to keep you going. The nearest spot to Old Quarter is on Nguyen Huu Huan, but also check out nearby branches on Dien Bien Phu, between the Mauseoleum and the War Museum, and Truc Bach Street, next to the lake. They can get very busy in the evenings but during the day it's possible to find a quiet spot.

Take it easy at Cong Caphe.
Take it easy at Cong Caphe.

If you want a really cosy place, there's no place like Home. Home Coffee Shop (192A Quan Thanh Street, Ba Dinh District, T: (04) 3715 4356) on Quanh Than has so much charm it should be lining the pages of House and Home. In line with the name, the decor features homely touches, with a library on the ground floor, ornaments adorning shelves and sofas upstairs. Haphazard furnishings -- maybe not so common in your home, but a favourite for coffee shop owners -- and chalkboard menus complete the look. On our first visit the coffee blew our minds -- the smoothest, most chocolately cafe nau we've tasted -- and we're looking forward to testing out the jelly freezes when the weather's warmer. Light snacks are available: fries, fish nuggets, dried beef and seeds -- not what we'd call coffee snacks, but they'll keep you going until your next bowl of pho.

Another spot popular with locals, but with comfy sofas, is Align 3D Graphics Cafe (6B Duong Thanh, Hoan Kiem District, T: (04) 3923 4231) on Duong Thanh. Occupying an attractive, detached house, its exposed brick walls, dark panelling, classy artwork and blossom trees -- yes, really -- provide the perfect setting for a cafe sua da or two, perhaps accompanied by a bowl of Fanny's ice cream. Tucked away down an alley, it's both a cool and a cosy spot and a convenient respite from wandering the streets of Old Quarter.

If you're after more than just finger food, then you're best off heading to one of the tourist or expat orientated coffee venues. But don't worry -- there are still plenty of places with ambiance to choose from.

Despite being a bit of a way from Old Quarter, Commune (201 Trich Sai Streeet, Tay Ho District) makes it on our list. The coffee is high-quality local produce, the beer is cold, the cocktails are delicious, the staff are welcoming and the view of West Lake from the roof terrace is outstanding. To top it off, the food menu consists of breakfasts, sandwiches, salads and snacks, all made to order with fresh ingredients and fantastic bread. We'd happily while away a good few hours on the roof with a bucket of beers and some tasty nibbles or take our time over an all-day Sunday ‘hangover' breakfast.

Cosy and arty at Align 3D Graphics Cafe.
Cosy and arty at Align 3D Graphics Cafe.

Just as welcoming, but without the views, is Hanoi Social Club (6 Hoi Vu Street, Hoan Kiem District, T: (04) 3938 2117). Located on Hoi Vu Street in Old Quarter, Hanoi Social Club is spread over three floors, with a range of seating from standard tables and chairs to sofas. Its relaxed vibe, eclectic decor and wholesome food, topped off with a bottle of cider or real ale and often accompanied by live music, makes it a spot worthy of a diversion.

Also located near West Lake, but on the other side to Commune, Tet Decor Cafe (Villa 25, area 1.3 Ha, Dang Thai Mai St, Tay Ho District) is a lovely spot popular with expats. Decorated with art and furnishings designed by co-owner Dinh Khac Tiep and with an emphasis on healthy and wholesome home cooking, it delivers on both environment and cuisine. The drinks are good too, with a wide range of quality Vietnamese- and Western-style coffees and teas, plus fresh smoothies and juices on the menu. And if you have a sweet tooth, this is your place as the cakes are to die for. The cafe is near Phu Tay Ho, which is well worth a visit if you're keen on temples. Note it's closed on Mondays, closes at 17:00 every other day and gets busy, particularly at the weekend.

It is not often a salad makes my mouth water, but Commune's does.
It's not often a salad makes my mouth water, but Commune's does.

Long-standing PUKU (16 Tong Duy Tan, T: (04) 3938 1745) deserves a mention here too. Our favourite area of this large cafe on Hanoi's Food Street is the courtyard out front, particularly when it's warm and dry, and while the food's not got the wholesome appeal of some of our other picks, its wide menu choice will keep most patrons content.

The Kafe (2nd floor, 18 Dien Bien Phu, Hoan Kiem District, T: (04) 3747 6245) is the newest venue on our list. The creation of the owners of Kitchen Art -- a high-end kitchen equipment retail outlet -- The Kafe combines a bright and modern environment with a lively atmosphere and some tempting, world-inspired dishes, from tapas to delicious cupcakes. We wouldn't call it cosy or relaxing as the acoustics aren't great and the space is quite cramped, and the food gets variable reviews, but the style, atmosphere, menu and location still get it a recommendation.

Cosy seating upstairs at Hanoi Social Club.
Cosy seating upstairs at Hanoi Social Club.

Joma is a chain of cafes originating from Laos. It now has three branches in Hanoi, with another on the way. While the sandwiches and salads are mediocre at best, we love their breakfast "bagel egger" and cheesecake -- though not usually at the same time. All three venues are spacious and comfortable -- although mostly hard tables and chairs, some soft seating is available -- and on a mild day the outside table at the To Ngoc Van branch is a lovely spot. The icing on the cake? Ice cream sundaes.

Our final pick is Hanoi Cooking Centre (44 Chau Long Street, Ba Dinh District, T: (04) 3715 0088). As well as being an excellent choice for a cooking course or street food tour, the cafe is a wonderful place to hang out for a while. The courtyard at the back is shady and peaceful and has the added bonus of being adjacent to Bookworm, so you can browse their book collection or start on a new novel at the same time. Get there for a breakfast of scrambled eggs with smoked basa and stay until lunch.

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