Hanoi eats along the streets. The city’s best meals all take place within a stone’s throw of the curb, at food stalls and casual, open-walled restaurants. Locals congregate on low plastic stools scattered on the sidewalks. As motorbikes zoom by, you’ll see off-duty taxi drivers and multi-generational families slurping from big bowls of noodle soup and scooping up plates of fried rice. For most residents of Hanoi, Western-style restaurants are prohibitively expensive. Regardless, their food isn’t as good, having been designed for tourists.
There is a long list of local specialties, from Chả cá, river fish cooked in oil with turmeric and dill, to Bún ốc, snail noodle soup. Many restaurants specialize in, and serve, only one dish; here quality trumps variety, and makes restaurant hopping extremely fun.
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To get the most from a single day, start as the locals do with a bowl of chicken pho in the Old Quarter, a dizzying warren of streets that spins off Hoan Kiem Lake, the unofficial heart of the city. Eat your way through the city, then take a cue from some of Hanoi’s most famous visitors and end with a drink at the historic Hotel Metropole before wandering home along the wide boulevards of the French Quarter.