A guide is essential to make sense of Hanoi’s complex gourmet culture, and Nguyen Huy Hoang is the best we’ve come across. Spinning tales of foods’ provenance and preparation, revealing deep and quirky knowledge along the way, he leads clients past grilled dog and live river mollusks in the Old Quarter—the city’s historic heart—to the neighborhood’s top food carts and market stalls and especially to its local restaurants, where low plastic stools spill out onto the bustling sidewalks. Hoang’s three favorites—like so many spots here—specialize in a single authentic (and inexpensive) delicacy. Hoang can be booked through Cazenove + Lloyd starting at $150 a day. For more information, go to cazenoveandloyd.com.
Banh Cuon Gia Truyen
This tiny, open-sided joint is a busy late-evening stop for $2 rolled rice dumplings. Paper-thin layers of batter are cooked over a hot plate, filled with minced pork and wood-ear mushrooms, and topped with salted shredded shrimp, fried scallions, and fresh coriander. The dipping sauce is sweetened with ca cuong, a heady essence harvested from the oil glands of the belostomatid beetle. At a dollar a drop, it’s got to be tasted to be believed. At 14 Hang Ga.
Pho Bo Hang Dong
As the name suggests, pho is the raison d’être of this 100-year-old street-corner restaurant, and it has some of the city’s best—for a dollar a bowl. Largely exposed to the chaos of the street, the scene here can overwhelm, but the queues of waiting locals testify to the quality of the product. The broth, made from pork and beef bones boiled for 12 hours and flavored with ginger, is completely clear, the sign of a soup’s superiority. At 48 Hang Dong.
Bun Cha Nem Cua Be Dac Kim
This two-story (and, truth be told, rather sweaty) lunchtime spot specializes in the spring rolls known as nem cua be: rice-paper wrappers filled with vermicelli, bean sprouts, scallions, pork, and sea crab, then crisply fried and served with a rice vinegar dip. For $3 a head, they come with a plate of raw green papaya, a bowl of pho topped with pork, and a heap of fresh basil, mint, and coriander, which diners add to the broth to taste. At 67 Duong Thanh.