Eating Hoi An, Vietnam

It is easy to spend a lot on food in Hoi An. While many places there offer wonderful settings, Mango Rooms and Thi Nhan were by far our best—and most expensive—meals. 

Mango Rooms has gotten plenty of well-deserved accolades and guide book endorsements. It's far from traditional food, which can be a welcome break on a long trip. And, it's just plain tasty. The view from the bar on the second floor balcony

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doesn't hurt either. The ever-so-light vegetable tempura—including squash blossoms!--and cocktails with fresh mango and passion fruit, ginger and lemongrass were the standouts. The fish of the day was also very good. The crystal rolls, forgettable. Chef Duc stars (and double stars) "favorites/sexy/yummy" (each page has a different footnote) that did end up being the best of our choices. If in doubt, go with those. Mango Mango, Duc's other lounge restaurant across the river, facing the Japanese bridge, has a different menu but similar food. We ended up there on our last night when searching for the best vantage point to watch the full moon festival that had darkened the center of town. I was devastated when they didn’t have the tempura on the menu. They must had read my mind: we got two tempura squash blossoms as an amuse.

We biked to Thi Nhan (formerly the Quan Nhan restaurant described by New York Times food critic Amanda Hesser--it seems the former co-owner is now out of the picture) for lunch on the way to the beach our second day. We would not have found it without our hotel's instructions to look for Full Moon across the street and the printout of the NY Times review tacked to the door. We were the only customers but didn't mind. We had the choice between a $30 menu for two and a $50 menu, both five courses of fresh local seafood, the difference being "bigger crab." We went with the smaller portions, which we still couldn't quite finish (though the crab was indeed tiny). The crab with the ginger-tamarind-lemongrass sauce, the shrimp with fried garlic, and the clams with I don't know what (I usually don't even like clams!) were outstanding, the fish and calamari also good if ordinary. Thankfully, Thi Nhan also shelled the crab for us at the table.

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As for the rest of our meals: Hoi An Cargo Club was decent but not memorable aside from the particularly pungent fish. We tried the local specialties cau lau,, the white rose, and another noodle dish, as well as spicy eggplant, at Brother's Cafe and found them all rather bland, but it's possible that's the style. We haven't found much heat in the food in Vietnam, despite our best efforts. (Oren also got eaten alive by bugs at Brother's, so we cut short our lingering there.) The beachfront restaurant we visited (the fifth one north of where the main road hits the beach, I believe) was passable, but nothing special.

Mango Rooms
111 Nguyen Thai Hoc
On the street that runs along the north side of the river, just east of the bridge that's towards the center of town. Mango Mango is across the river, facing the Japanese bridge.

Ti Nhan
128 Cua Dai - Cam Chau
3 km from Hoi An, 1 km from Cua Dai beach, on the north side of the main road connecting the two, close to Full Moon (which is on the south side of the street)

Several other restaurants came up as recommended in our research. Of those, here are the ones we wish we had had a chance to try:

  • Cua Dai Restaurant, at the Hoi An Beach Resort, recommended in the book of travel essays, To Asia With Love.
  • Dung, 38 Phan Chu Trinh Street, towards the East end of the old part of town. We did walk by on our last night, but the neon lighting was not what we were looking for during the moon festival.
  • The Mermaid (Nhu Y) Restaurant, where the spring rolls and white eggplant are recommended by Frommers. 02 Tran Phu St.
  • The bun gio cha nam nhieu rau at an area up an alley off Phan Cho Trinh St. (about 100 yards west of Le Loi St.). Recommended by Duc of Mango Rooms, via a post on Chowhound. You have to go between 3:30 and 4 in the afternoon because that's the only time the dish is available—we kept missing the window.