As the self-proclaimed Gastronomer, I’m usually the one introducing friends to unknown eateries and the one in charge of coordinating group meals. However, Hawkins recently turned the tables and planned an awesome lunch at a hidden away bun cha joint in District 1. The two-story restaurant is located in a tight alleyway off of Le Thanh Ton Street next door to Pho 2000.
The Astronomer, Hawkins and I met at noon thirty, placed our order downstairs and found an open table on the second floor. Since this was Hawk’s second time dining here, he knew what the goods were and insisted on a portion of banh tom ho tay and nem cua bien in addition to three portions of bun cha.
The bun cha here is light on the ground meat patties and heavy on pieces of grilled pork. The meats are served dunked in a well-seasoned fish sauce vinaigrette that’s adorned with pickled slices of carrots and green papaya. Although I prefer more patties and less hunks of meat, this was a solid rendition of Hanoi’s specialty. Down the street at 8 Ly Tu Trong is another restaurant serving excellent bun cha.
The nem cua bien (crab stuffed egg rolls) were crispy and delicious, especially dunked in the vinaigrette. While The Astronomer took the time to wrap them up in lettuce leaves and garnish them with herbs, the nem looked so tasty as is, so I skipped out on the greenery and just popped ’em in my mouth.
Here’s a look at the innards (and my dining companions). The nem cua bien weren’t as crab-intensive as the ones at the crab shack, but still totally awesome.
The banh tom ho tay (batter and fried sweet potatoes and shrimp) were just as good as Hawk promised, but I was too stuffed with grilled meats and nem to truly enjoy them.
It’s tough to find quality down-home restaurants amongst the glitz and glam of District 1, but it’s so good to know that they’re still around! The bun cha restaurant is flanked on one side by Cepage (a high-end Asian fusion restaurant) and on the other by a Pho 24 competitor. With rents and inflation rising at unprecedented rates throughout the city (and country), I wouldn’t be surprised if this eatery was booted out of its location by next year. Eat it while you still can!