Ten cafes you have to try when visiting Hanoi
Forget Rome, Melbourne and San Francisco: the café culture in Hanoi surpasses them all. Nowhere in Asia – perhaps nowhere in the world – will you find such an extraordinary selection of fascinating cafes, from decades-old dives serving up the delicious local brew to elegant new establishments crafting artisan cappuccinos.
Vietnamese café-culture is one of the more palatable remnants of French colonialism, but the Vietnamese have since made it there own. When visiting Hanoi, exploring the cafes is as important as visiting the engaging sights and indulging in the glorious street food. Here are 10 unmissable cafes for visitors to Hanoi from Hanoi Hideaway, a coffee shop blog that explores the café culture of this fascinating city.
Facing the imposing neo-gothic St Joseph’s Cathedral with a ramshackle balcony taking advantage of the view, Hanoi House serves up some of the best traditional Vietnamese coffee in the Old Quarter. Inside, this one-room café is stunningly decorated, with interesting art works placed throughout and mind-boggling Art Deco floor tiles.
After taking in the whimsical wedding cake Opera House, Hanoi’s most precious colonial structure, take a few steps north to the dark and enigmatic Tadioto. A centre of contemporary artistic activities, Tadioto was founded and is managed by Nguyen Quy Duc, one of Hanoi’s more outspoken supporters of the arts.
Overlooking one of Hoan Kiem Lake’s loveliest verdant corners, L’etage has a stunning balcony from where you can make out the Turtle Tower and Ngoc Son Temple, both of which rest delicately on islands in the lake. L’etage makes a mean egg coffee, where egg white sweetened with condensed milk is substituted for fresh milk. The fresh juices are good, too.
Loading T is situated in one of the Old Quarter’s most striking colonial townhouses, which was compartmentalised by the government to accommodate 17 different families after 1954. The unlikely state of the house still persists today, but some of the sections have been converted from living spaces into boutique shops. As well as superb egg coffee, Loading T also serves delicious local coffee flavoured with cinnamon.
Tucked down an Old Quarter alley and housed within and an old French terraced house, Shot has a photography theme (hence the name) but also has regular live music performances in the evening. Shot has a vast selection of interesting drinks and one of the most inventive menus in the city – try the cheesecake coffee for a jolt of caffeine and sugar in equal measure.
To Chim Xanh
To Chim Xanh is Vietnamese for ‘Bluebird’s Nest’ and is sandwiched in between several low-rise apartment blocks. The rooftop terrace affords a front-row view into the happenings of the residents and their fascinatingly cluttered living spaces, as you munch on one of the delicious cakes that are baked downstairs. To Chim Xanh is just a short walk from the Hanoi Citadel and Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum.
Hopper Koffie’s excellent espressos have made this cute café popular with locals and expats alike. The location on a small Island accessible by two bridges and a lovely view over Truc Bach Lake only adds to the appeal.
Offering spectacular views across the expansive West Lake, Café Nhac Xua is also a pleasant lakeside walk from Tran Quoc Pagoda, one of Hanoi’s most important Buddhist temples. Café Nhac Xua (‘Old Music Café’) started out as a speaker repair shop and the owner would occasionally put out some chairs and serve tea while his customers waited for their speakers to be fixed. The atmosphere, along with the music, was so good that people started coming even if they had no speakers to fix, and so Café Nhac Xua was born.
Way out towards the western suburbs, Café Nha San is ideally located for a coffee stop before or after visiting the Museum of Ethnology. It is fitting then that Café Nha San is housed in a phenomenal stilt house, originally build by the Muong ethnic group around 100km south of Hanoi. Another hot spot for artistic activities, Nha San has regular music performances and even the odd exhibition.
When the weather is good, head to Museum Garden. The café itself is rather uninteresting, though there is an excellent selection of wonderfully prepared fruit drinks. The reason to come is the setting: a manicured garden littered by various historical artefacts and overlooked by Hanoi’s most interesting hybrid structure, the Museum of History.