Aside from seafood, some vegetables and meat, everything is imported to Con Dao when it comes to eating, so the price of a good meal here reflects that. Food is more expensive than on the mainland, but there are some very tasty eats to be had.
Surprising for such a small island with relatively few Western travellers, Con Dao has two restaurants that do excellent Western food. Caffe Infiniti will come to feel like a home away from home after your first visit (for sure there will be multiple visits). This shabby-chic corner cafe is where everything old is cool again. There’s comfy cushioned sofas inside, rustic chairs outside and creative touches everywhere.
If you’ve been to La Caffe Deli on Phu Quoc and this decor seems familiar, that’s because the design is the same handiwork of Dung, an awesome mix of designer, photographer, pirate and dude. His brother Sao owns this joint and his menu has some standouts, including the scrumptious pizza baked in a proper pizza oven, a small for 95,000 dong. Pricier mains include pastas, burgers, salads and some plain sandwiches. For drinks, the works are available, from coffee to mojitos (80,000 dong) to the best mango smoothie on the planet.
Just a block away, Bar200 is the other Western joint occupying the corner next to the main market. This casual, relaxing spot offers all the pub comfort foods all done very well, with quality ingredients and hearty portions. Here you can get a full English breakfast (160,000 dong), proper coffee, salads, burgers and pasta (80,000-160,000 dong). Pizzas are large and come with lots of gooey cheese (125,000-220,000 dong). Run by a friendly mob, this can also be a stop for anyone looking for directions or helpful advice on what to see and do.
For Con Dao’s best pho, head to Nam Dinh on Pham Van Dong Street, in the middle of the block between Caffe Infiniti and Bar200. With a rich, aromatic broth, thin slices of onion and fresh rice noodles, the 30,000 dong bowl for breakfast can’t be beat. The shop also does bun bo hue. Get there before 10:00 to avoid disappointment.
Time for fresh seafood – you’re on an island after all. The best Vietnamese restaurant is Thu Ba on Vo Thi Sau Street, just north of Le Van Luong. It is more expensive than your average local joint, but the restaurant is clean and cheerful, the food fresh and the portions large, each dish perfect for sharing. There’s lots on the menu however it all depends on what they have fresh for the day, which could be squid, prawns and fish (150,000-250,000 dong per dish) or lobster and crab priced by weight. Try the tiger prawns stir-fried with garlic and a medley of delicious veg or stir-fried with spicy, tangy tamarind sauce (250,000 dong). A bubbling hot pot to share is 350,000 dong. For those not keen on seafood or vegetarians, there are other meat, noodle, rice and vegetable dishes, starting from 40,000 dong and up. The warm, welcoming owners speak English and like the other restaurants we’ve mentioned, you’ll probably find yourself a repeat customer.
Those on a tight budget can hit up the night market on Tran Huy Lieu Street running from Red Hotel to the ocean. Seafood is featured heavily, as well as stir-fries and noodle soups. The night market fires up at sunset.
Dam Trau is the island’s best beach. There are three low-key bars/lounges on Dam Trau and you should try the one on the right (as you come in on the path, facing the water). Not only have they tastefully set up sofas, loungers and beach chairs, they’ve got a bounty of fresh fruit for shakes as well as cold beer. Try passionfruit with fizzy soda water for a refreshing drink. We also enjoyed a big plate of fried calamari. Prices are a bit dear, but remember you are digging your feet in the sand and parking your beach bum in something other than a weak, ugly plastic chair. They have also built up the nicest toilet/change room we’ve seen on a public beach in Vietnam. Effort has clearly been made and it’s much appreciated.
Keep in mind that during low season, opening hours are erratic.
Bar200: Pham Van Dong St, northeast corner of the main market; T: (064) 3630 024; divecondao.com; open daily 07:30-11:00.
Caffe Infiniti: Corner of Pham Van Dong & Tran Huy Lieu Sts; T: (093) 3594 246.
Pho Nam Dinh: Pham Van Dong St between Caffe Infiniti and Bar200.
Thu Ba: Vo Thi Sau, Khu 7 (just north of Le Van Luong St); T: (064) 383 0255; (098) 4801 505; firstname.lastname@example.org; open daily 08:00-22:00.