During his career, there are some iconic spots that Anthony Bourdain visited. Beirut comes to might right off the bat. Iran was a particularly special experience since it’s so hard for Americans to visit. Congo was a work of art. And, of course, Vietnam – his self-described favorite country, and one where the most important meal of his career took place, with President Obama on little plastic stools.
This seminal moment took place in the Vietnamese city of Hanoi; this was a city Tony loved and which his closest Vietnamese friend Linh called home.
Anthony Bourdain visited Hanoi four times, to film season 2 (episode 12*) of A Cook’s Tour, season 1 (episode 3) and season 6 (episode 1) of No Reservations, and season 8 (episode 1) of Parts Unknown. These were his only on-screen visits to the city, though he visited Vietnam many times and explored many other parts of the country during those visits.
If you’re planning a trip to Hanoi, you probably already have the Obama bún chả spot on your list – but Anthony Bourdain ate at lots of places in the city, and you can sample many of them. Here’s a full list of the places visited by Anthony Bourdain in Hanoi, to help you plan your visit.
Want to watch the episodes where Anthony Bourdain ate in Hanoi?
The A Cook’s Tour episode is available on Amazon for free; the No Reservations season 1 episode is available on Amazon and Hulu and the season 6 episode is on YouTube only; and the Parts Unknown episode is available on Amazon and Apple TV.
A Cook’s Tour (2002)
Tony’s first visit to Hanoi took place early in his career, piggy-backing on the two episodes he filmed elsewhere in Vietnam during season 1 of A Cook’s Tour. This episode has two names: “My Friend Linh” or “Gone Bamboo,” the latter of which is an homage to one of Bourdain’s early novels. Whatever you call it, this episode is an incredible introduction to Hanoi.
Hanoi Tết Market
As Tony is visiting for the celebration of Tết – the arrival of spring based on the Vietnamese calendar – he is fortunate to take advantage of the Hanoi Tết market, where celebrants can feast on a variety of Vietnamese foods. He and Linh try corn pancakes, Quail eggs, and bánh tôm, or shrimp cakes.
If you are visiting Hanoi during the time of Tết (usually January or February each year), this is a must-visit.
In addition to some other food experiences (mentioned below), Linh and Tony visit the family-run home restaurant of Madam Tuyet, called Ahn Tuyet Restaurant. This is to try her specialty: gà nướng lá chanh, grilled chicken with kaffir lime leaf.
The pair also try a few other dishes, including cá lóc – fried snakehead fish rolls with pork and mushrooms – and spring rolls, and end the meal with Vietnamese coffee.
Bourdain’s final stop during this first visit to Hanoi is Lu Quán, a restaurant known for another specialty: eel. This is one of Linh’s favorite spots, and the pair sit down to enjoy the best the restaurant has to offer. They start with banana flower, pickle, and sprout salad with sticky rice, then have eel prepared to Linh’s preference: cooked in bamboo, or lươn nướng ống tre.
Local Dining Experiences Tony Had
As mentioned, Tony has two other food experiences in Hanoi that I wanted to mention:
- At an unnamed street vendor (I think near Tran Quoc Pagoda though I could be mistaken), he tucks into a bowl of bún ốc, which is one of his favorite dishes on repeat visits.
- Bourdain is also the guest of Linh’s family for a traditional Tết dinner, which includes banh chung – sticky rice, green peas, and pork –, orange rice, spring rolls with sauce, and sour pickled onions, among others. The men also drink bear bile in vodka, which is supposed to help boost their masculinity (keeping on-trend for the unusual masculinity-boosting foods he tries whenever he travels with Linh).
No Reservations (2005)
Tony’s next visit to Hanoi is just a few years later; again he teams up with Linh to sample the city before striking out to explore other parts of Vietnam (including Mai Châu, Lok Village, and Hạ Long Bay).
Bún Chả Nem Rán
During this trip, the pair visit just one restaurant before leaving the city, which Bourdain shares is Linh’s favorite spot: Bún Chả Nem Rán. There, the pair eat grilled meat and noodles with greens, hot peppers, pickled garlic, and hot sauce.
In addition, Tony mentions the hotel he stays at during this trip: the Hotel Metropol. If you want to go full-Tony in Hanoi, this is the place to stay!
No Reservations (2010)
Bourdain makes another return to Hanoi five years later, as part of a larger exploration of Vietnam’s “Central Highlands” (episode 10 of season 6). This time, he’s joined by Linh and another Vietnamese fixer, Hà, for some of the city’s more unusual dishes and tastes.
The trio starts out at an unnamed and unmarked restaurant – I don’t usually include these, but this meal was too unique not to share. Bourdain says to “follow the sound of birdsong” to find it; this restaurant specializes in a menu of bird and insect dishes.
In a meal reminiscent of dishes he also eats in Laos, Tony tries spring rolls with ant larvae, minced turtle dove with prawn crackers, deep-fried sparrows with salt and lime, sticky rice with ant larvae and shallots, and washes it all down with distilled rice liquor with various fermented birds.
Nhà Hàng Phương Dung
Next, they head out to Hanoi’s West Lake area, near Phu Tay Ho temple. There, they dine at Nhà Hàng Phương Dung, enjoying onion ring fried shrimp – which Linh calls “West Lake shrimp cake” – and bún ốc; this time, the dish of Vietnamese snail noodle soup has fried snail and crab roe, the latter of which makes Tony very excited.
Hang Gai Street
The trio continues their food adventures by heading to an unnamed restaurant on Hang Gai Street – Hà shares that this restaurant is known for their incredible bánh cuốn: Vietnamese rice rolls with pork and mushrooms. This is typically served with a sauce that’s enhanced with a drop of water bug essence; Tony tries it – and then also tries water bugs themselves when a plate of them arrives.
This seems to be a bit of a prank, but Bourdain rolls with it… he takes a huge bite, as does Linh, while Hà laughs… he then remarks that it’s uneatable: “hide that in a napkin,” he advises Linh.
Thu Hai Rooster Restaurant
Finally, Bourdain, Linh, and Hà end the episode at a rooster restaurant that might be called Thu Hai (or something similar – please let me know in the comments if you have the correct name so I can fix this section).
This restaurant is known for its rooster – fighting cock – meat, which is a special dish for Vietnamese people. They try it prepared several ways: the majority of the meat is stir-fried with chilis and green onions, the skin is toasted with chili peppers, and the toughest parts are stewed. They also have a lot of rice “wine” – which actually comes in well above 40% ABV and which Tony says is therefore just liquor – and laughter to close out the episode.
Parts Unknown (2016)
Bourdain’s final trip to Hanoi is his most famous: yes, it’s the Obama episode. But that’s not all that happens in this episode – Tony visits a number of other places first.
Bun Oc Pho Co
He starts out at Bun Oc Pho Co, a street stall that specializes in bún ốc. This seems to be one of the first dishes Tony would seek out in Hanoi during every visit. By this point in his career and travels, he remarks on how Hanoi has changed; the place is right next to an Irish-slash-Czech bar (which has closed since his visit).
Bánh Cuốn Nóng Kim Thoa
Next, Bourdain sits down to learn more about Vietnamese history and the heritage of the American war from Thao Griffiths. She is the Country Director of the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation, an Eisenhower Fellow, and Fulbright Scholar – an accomplished and knowledgeable companion for a meal of bánh cuốn at Bánh Cuốn Nóng Kim Thoa.
Bun Suon-Thit-Mong Gio-Luoi
Always impressed by the women who make so much of Hanoi’s incredible dishes, Tony then visits Bun Suon-Thit-Mong Gio-Luoi for a dish of “cussing noodles.” These are so named for the woman who runs the food stall; she has no patience and a short temper for customers and the translations were probably made PG for us American viewers.
Actually, what she makes is “bun chin zou,” according to his dining companion for this meal, Hà (again!). While I wasn’t able to find the full name of this dish, it’s made of pig knuckles on rice noodles in spicy chili broth, and its the specialty of this stall.
Bia Hải Xồm
It wouldn’t be a trip to Hanoi – or Vietnam – without the appearance of Bourdain’s best Vietnamese friend, Linh. The two sit down at Bia Hải Xồm for mugs of fresh-pulled keg beer; bia hải refers to the names of these kinds of local spots where this beer is served.
Bún Chả Hương Liên
Last but not least, Tony’s final on-screen meal in Hanoi is with the one and only President Barack Obama. With plenty of security and lots of trustworthy extras in the background, the pair sit down to enjoy bún chả at Bún chả Hương Liên. (Tom Vitale tells the entire story of this meal in his book, In the Weeds: Around the World and Behind the Scenes with Anthony Bourdain, which is well worth a read for many funny and heartwarming stories.)
Though it’s a meeting of titans – the former President of the United States and one of the most recognizable travel TV hosts of all time – the conversation at its core is a conversation between two fathers of daughters. The pair toast and slurp and discuss the future in one of the best scenes of Tony’s career.
Food Tours in Hanoi to Try
Since we can’t all have a local fixer and friend as good as Linh to show us around Hanoi, a food tour is a good alternative to try some of the foods mentioned above and discover a few of your own favorites. I found these food tours in Hanoi that looked to be in line with the way Tony visited and tried foods during his trips.
There you have it: a complete guide to the places visited by Anthony Bourdain in Hanoi. Have any questions about the places Anthony Bourdain ate in Hanoi, or can you help name some of the places he didn’t? Let me know in the comments below!