For a local experience, head to Quan 33 at 29 Hai Ba Trung Street (formerly at 33 Hai Ba Trung) with friends for a barbecue at the table feast. Grill tender marinated beef and make it into little wraps with rice paper, lettuce and fresh herbs. Your nose will be filled with the aroma of ginger, garlic, chilli and lemongrass when the giant prawns sizzle over hot coals. Try the snails—the snail meat is removed, mixed with minced pork and lemongrass, stuffed back into the shell and steamed. Hotpot is also available. For a dinner for five with beers, excellent service and everyone stuffed to the gills, our total bill was only 600,000 dong.
You can find a slightly fancier version of Quan 33 at Nuong Poc Poc, located at the bottom of Hai Thuong Street, at the corner with Hoang Dieu. A plate of your marinated meat of choice (beef, squid, octopus, chicken, goat, boar, ostrich, frog) to grill is 80,000 dong. The elevated terrace gives a view to the busy street corner and the restaurant is crawling with service staff to ensure you are on the right track with your meal and beers.
Quan Thiet 168, a few blocks from the tourist strip, is a small local restaurant with tasty food and fresh Da Lat vegetables. The mango salad with crispy fried fish and grilled chicken wings with salt and chillies are winners. Dishes are 40,000 to 70,000 dong, while a steamboat is 100,000 dong. If you want to try a popular local dish, have bitter melon soup, which is supposedly good for your health. Be warned—it is bitter! As is common with many small local restaurants, you’ll find mostly men here gathering to eat, drink beer and smoke. It’s nothing to be intimidated about, but if that’s not your cup of tea, then skip it.
Tam 09 is a must for adventurous food lovers interested in real local meals. Tam 09 has specialities that a Vietnamese mama makes at home—you wouldn’t typically find some of these dishes at restaurants. No English is spoken. Try the fried frog with lemongrass (ech nup bui rom / ech chien sa) or vegetable and snake red curry (ca ri ran). Tamer but still tasty options include deep-fried tofu with chilli (dau hu chien), deep-fried eggplant (ca tim chien bot), seafood hotpot (lau hai san) and watercress salad (xa lach xoong tron hanh dau). A meal shared with many will be as cheap as 60,000 dong per person. Do be aware this restaurant does have dog meat on the menu. Tam 09 is located on a small lane running parallel to a canal and To Ngoc Van Street, just around the corner from Le Quy Don Street and the Phuong Trang Futa bus office.
Imagine a thin steak, slices of onion and two eggs flash fried on a sizzling hot plate. Intrigued? Get Vietnam’s hot and fast version of steak and eggs at Bo Ne 3 Ngon. A hot plate, including a small garden salad, pate, baguette and a soda is only 25,000 dong. It’s at 2/4 Nguyen Van Cu, close to where the road intersects with Ba Trieu and Nguyen Chi Thanh Street. You can’t miss the sky-high flames out front. We’re surprised the cook still has his eyebrows.
Goc Ha Thanh is a popular tourist restaurant in the heart of the main tourist street Truong Cong Dinh, which slopes down north from the central market to merge with Phan Dinh Phung Street. The portions are large, the food is tasty and uncontroversial, and the service is cheerful. A stir-fry with meat, vegetables and steamed rice costs 65,000 dong. There are also spring rolls, curries, noodles, nem nuong and traditional claypot, and many of the dishes can be made vegetarian.
Com tam, which literally means “broken rice”, is a quick, simple and delicious meal of cooked broken rice grains served with barbecue pork and pickled veg. It’s definitely worth venturing to popular Com Tam 118 on Hai Ba Trung Street for their 33,000 dong heaping plate served with a side of bitter melon soup broth topped with garlic chives. The pork, grilled out front, is sweet and succulent.
A typical lunchtime eatery you’ll find through Da Lat is com trua binh dan, one that serves rice with your choice of meat or egg, a wide variety of vegetables, tofu and bamboo shoots. Just point and pick at the buffet and they’ll heap up a plate or a takeaway container for a cheap, filling lunch that usually comes with a small bowl of vegetable soup. Try it at Banh Xeo Chao Co Binh at 434 Phan Dinh Phung, across the street from Trung Vuong school. This joint specialises in banh xeo, a savoury sizzling pancake made with rice flour and turmeric, stuffed with sprouts, onions and optional meat, for only 15,000 dong. You can find banh xeo being made on footpaths throughout Da Lat.
As you’re pounding pavement, also keep your eyes peeled for banh can, mini rice flour pancakes topped with your choice of egg, fresh or dried meat, cooked in round pans over coals. In the late afternoon and evening, you’ll definitely see banh trang nuong, grilled rice paper topped with ingredients like quail egg, green onions, minced meat and Laughing Cow “cheese” for a crunchy, smokey, savoury treat. Get it at the night market, and if you’re lucky you’ll also see women walking around selling dau hu nong, hot soft tofu drowned in caramelised sugar syrup infused with ginger. It’s a simple and simply divine dessert that warms up bellies on cold Da Lat nights. A bowl is around 7,000 dong and they even carry mini plastic stools for you to sit on.
For something different than ubiquitous pho, which you’ll easily find, a local took us for a breakfast bowl of bun gao ga xe at a small shop at 32 Le Hong Phong Street, just off Pasteur and a block east of Tran Le. It’s a thin rice stick noodle soup with chicken, crispy fried shallots and sliced onions. At 20,000 dong a bowl, it hits the spot without hitting the wallet. The address is on the awning, which also advertises “Cafe–Giai Khat–Kem–Diem Tam”, which translates to coffee, beverages, ice cream, breakfast—sorted!
As you’ve probably noticed, local eats often involve a lot of meat. But in Vietnam, Buddhists abstain from meat on the 1st and 15th of the lunar the month, sometimes also the 14th and 30th, so the city has some fantastic cheap and cheerful Vietnamese vegetarian restaurants (nha hang chay). In addition to no meat, there’s usually no alcohol on the menu either.
Nhat Lieng, just a few blocks from Crazy House, serves up 40,000-60,000 dong fresh and flavourful dishes such as rice, vegetables, soup and noodles, with generous portions ideal for sharing family style. Here you can try meat-free hot pot. We also recommend the fried morning glory and tasty braised gluten in traditional Vietnamese clay pot.
In the tourist centre, Hoa Sen Vegetarian Restaurant at 62 Phan Dinh Phung Street is a large restaurant where you can have your fill of meat-free versions of quintessential Vietnamese dishes such as pho and mi quang. The menu is enormous, mostly covering rice, soups, noodles, salads, stir-fried and braised dishes, all hovering between a very budget friendly 25,000 to 40,000 dong. The hot pot is especially popular.
Thien Duyen Vegetarian Restaurant is a small hole in the wall eatery with a buffet of vegetables, tofu and fake meats—just point to what you want added to a plate of rice for 30,000 dong. You can also try noodle soups like bun bo Hue for 20,000 dong. Thien Duyen is located at 131 Phan Boi Chau, walking distance from Bui Thi Xuan Street and The Sinh Tourist Da Lat bus office.
Cafes and bakeries
Coffee coffee coffee. Hopefully you like coffee because Da Lat has plenty. The city has a thriving cafe culture and you will find coffee shops everywhere—and we mean everywhere—ranging from local corners where men congregate to drink thick Vietnamese coffee, smoke and play cards, to youthful hipster joints. One of the latter is Bicycle Up Cafe, a retro-fabulous cafe so hip that the menu is pasted inside an old children’s book. Here, everything battered and old is cool and the space is filled with garage sale bric-a-brac and chairs. The time warp is completed by the sound of “Blue Moon” and other Grease-era tunes. Most importantly, they know how to make a good cup (20,000 dong and up). Find Bicycle Up Cafe on 82 Trong Cong Dinh, at the top of the alley from Artist Alley.
There are a few cafes at the edge of Xuan Huong Lake. Expect expensive drinks, mediocre service and great views from the patio.
Lien Hoa is a bakery and minimart that does brisk business with its aisles of fresh Asian-style sweet, soft bread, buns and Vietnamese baguette. Wait until you see and smell the cheesy bread sticks. They also do made to order banh mi sandwiches, and you can buy picnic/self-catering type items like peanut butter, pate and drinks. There are a few locations. Find it at 15-17 Duong 3/2 or close to the centre on Ba Thang Hai Street, a few blocks west of Khu Hoa Binh and the market.
Those in need of western comfort food, One More Cafe offers all those scrumptious familiar treats in a cosy space decorated with a touch of cute whimsy. There’s all day breakfast, housemade soups or fresh salads for 45,000 dong and heartier fare such as hamburgers, steak sandwiches and pasta bolognaise, for 70,000-120,000 dong. Save room for dessert—their baked goods are heavenly. Cakes, cookies, pavlova, crumble, mousse and tiramisu will set you back no more than 45,000 dong. There’s free WiFi, light music, several floors and a narrow balcony you can squeeze a chair onto to watch the street below.
Primavera will satisfy those craving Italian food. The pizzas, which range from 125,000-150,000 dong, are perfection and there is also pasta and housemade ravioli, 110,000 dong, and salads starting at 60,000 dong. The restaurant lacks ambience, but there are a few tables on the front terrace to watch the world slide on by in the heart of the tourist street. The restaurant is located at 24 Truong Cong Dinh, across from YOLO Hostel. A decent alternative for pizza is Bingo Pizza. It caters to local tastes but you’ll find familiar toppings on a thick crust and gooey cheese. A medium, which is probably enough for two, starts at 105,000 dong.
Close to Bingo Pizza is the restaurant formerly known as Art Cafe, now renamed Artist Alley. This longstanding restaurant moved and changed names in August 2015. A sweet and humble couple run this artful little place. Pass through the bland bottom floor and head up to the cosy, characterful second floor dining room decorated with the owner’s vibrant paintings which are all done without the use of a brush. The menu features both Western and Vietnamese food, with mains starting at 70,000 dong. The avocado salad topped with crispy fried garlic is out of this world. Treat yourself to a good Australian steak with potatoes for 160,000 dong. There is live acoustic guitar most nights, commencing around 19:30. As you probably guessed, Artist Alley is tucked down a narrow alley from Bicycle Up Cafe. It’s not to be confused by the nearby restaurant confusingly named Art Cafe.
Da Lat is known for natural beauty and relaxation, not nightlife. The scene is very modest, with most restaurants closing up at 21:00 or after the last customer. There are a few bars and backpacker hangouts all clustered on or around Truong Cong Dinh Street and a quick walk down will reveal which spot has some life. Taxi drivers can take you to a local club where you can expect very loud repetitive beats hammering your eardrums.
The owner of 13 Cafe Bar couldn’t really tell us the opening hours, so you can imagine how the relaxed this joint is. Located on a raised leafy terrace at the corner of Truong Cong Dinh and Tang Bat Ho Street, Cafe 13 feels backpacker-loungey at night with string lights and cheerful tunes. A bottle of domestic beer is 25,000 dong, an excellent pairing for their popular 85,000 dong burger, while a cocktail will set you back 99,000 dong. Open from whenever to whenever.
On the ground floor of the same named hostel, Beepub is a narrow cave of loud music, black light and beer on tap. The footpath outside is more conducive to chatter, with a few high tables and chairs, and the crowd tends to spills out here. There’s live music in high season.
Despite the poor lighting and dingy decor, The Hangout can randomly attract a lively horde some nights with its cheap beer and pool table. Otherwise, this place is dead. It is located in backpacker central so it’s worth passing by and taking a look to see if anything is happening. Open until the last person leaves.
There’s something both charming and mysterious about Larry’s Bar, named after American billionaire businessman Larry L. Hillblom, co-founder of DHL Worldwide Express. He helped restore the hotel and bar to its former colonial-era glory (it is his portrait near the mantelpiece). Located in the basement of the historic Dalat Palace Hotel, the bar’s stone and brick walls, low ceilings, wood furniture, cosy nooks with cushy sofas and fireplaces herald a bygone era. When we visited it was empty and even the lights in the subterranean hallways leading to the bar hadn’t been switched on, making it all rather eerie. Still, this is a memorable classy spot with a billiard table, dart board, flat screen TVs to watch the game and a walkout terrace with patio tables so you catch the sunset during their happy hour, which only covers beer (50,000 dong) or sodas. Classic cocktails start at 120,000 dong.
13 Cafe Bar 13 Tang Bat Ho St, corner with Truong Cong Dinh.; .
Artist Alley 86 Truong Cong Dinh, down the alley from Bicycle Up Cafe.; T: (063) 351 0089; Mo–Su: 09:00–22:00.
Banh Xeo Chao Co Binh 434 Phan Dinh Phung St, across from Trung Vuong school.; T: (0927) 529 663; .
Beepub 74 Truong Cong Dinh, beside Art Cafe; T: (063) 3825 576; https://www.facebook.com/beepubhostel Mo–Su: 16:30–24:00.
Bicycle Up Cafe 82 Truong Cong Dinh; T: (063) 3700 177; https://www.facebook.com/Bicycleup Mo–Su: 07:00–22:00.
Bo Ne 3 Ngon 2/4 Nguyen Van Cu, close to intersection with Ba Trieu and Ngyen Chi Thanh; T: (091) 768 0579; Mo–Su: 06:00–22:00.
Com Tam 118 118 Hai Ba Trung; T: (063) 382 7318; Mo–Su: 09:00–15:00.
Goc Ha Thanh 53 Truong Cong Dinh; T: (063) 3553 369; Mo–Su: 07:30–22:00.
Hoa Sen Vegetarian Restaurant 62 Phan Dinh Phung; T: (063) 356 7999; .
Larry’s Ba 2 Tran Phu, at Dalat Palace Hotel;; T: (063) 3825 444; http://www.dalatresorts.com/ Mo–Su: 16:00–24:00.
Lien Hoa Ba Thang Hai St, a few blocks west of Khu Hoa Binh and the market;; T: (063) 383 7303; .
Nhat Lien 17 Huynh Thuc Khang, P.4, on the same street at Crazy House; T: (063) 3821 126; Mo–Su: 07:00–21:00.
Night market In front of Da Lat Central Market; .
Noodle soup shop 32 Le Hong Phong, off of Pasteur, a block east of Tran Le.; T: (063) 3601 886; .
Nuong Poc Poc 05 Hai Thuong St, P.5; T: (094) 8979 578; .
One More Cafe 77 (9/12) Hai Ba Trung St, P.6; T: (0129) 934 1835; https://www.facebook.com/onemorecafe77 Th–Tu: 08:00–21:00.
Primavera 24 Truong Cong Dinh, across from YOLO Hostel; T: (0128) 462 1604; Fr–We: 10:00–21:00.
Quan 33 29 Hai Ba Trung St; T: (063) 382 5967; Mo–Su: 11:00–21:00.
Quan Thiet 168 168 Phan Dinh Phung, P.2; T: (063) 352 1139; Mo–Su: 09:30–23:00.
Tam 09 Lo A7 Le Quy Don; T: (063) 3701 708; .
The Hangout 71 Truong Cong Dinh; T: (063) 351 0822; http://thehangout.com.vn/home/ Mo–Su: 09:00–24:00.
Thien Duyen Vegetarian Restaurant 131 Phan Boi Chau, P.1; T: (093) 363 5268; Mo–Su: 07:00–19:00.
Cindy Fan is a Canadian writer/photographer and author of So Many Miles, a website that chronicles the love of adventure, food and culture. After falling in love with sticky rice and Mekong sunsets, in 2011 she uprooted her life in Toronto to live la vida Laos. She’s travelled to over 40 countries and harbours a deep affection for Africa and Southeast Asia. In between jaunts around the world, she calls Laos and Vietnam home where you’ll find her traipsing through rice paddies, standing beside broken-down buses and in villages laughing with the locals.