Vietnamese food has grown to be world-famous in recent years. Who doesn’t love bánh mì and phở at this point? But while those dishes are popular for good reason, there are so many other delightful traditional Vietnamese foods that most travelers there don’t even know about, or ever get to explore.
Truth is, traveling around Vietnam is an immersive gastronomic adventure that varies with every region you visit. What are the essential regional dishes to know? And where should you go to find these delicious foods?
Here’s your guide to 15 must-eat traditional Vietnamese dishes to seek out in Vietnam (and your own local Vietnamese restaurants!), beyond the bánh mì.
Bánh cuốn (steamed rice paper rolls)
A favorite Vietnamese breakfast hailing from the North, bánh cuốn is a fast and tasty way to start the day. It’s a steamed rice paper roll traditionally filled with minced pork and shredded wood ear mushrooms that’s usually served with scallion oil, fried shallots, Vietnamese sausage (chả lụa), cucumbers, assorted fresh herbs, and fish sauce dipping sauce (nước mắm cham).
Where: Bánh cuốn can now be found on street corners and in restaurants around Vietnam. Some of the best, though, is found in Hanoi. We like this spot:
Bánh Cuốn Nóng Kim Thoa, 49 Hàm Tử Quan, Phúc Tân, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội (map)
Bún chả (grilled pork cakes and rice noodle)
A true specialty of Hanoi, bún chả is a traditional Vietnamese dish of grilled pork and noodle. The grilled pork cakes (chả) are placed in a bowl of sweet, salty sauce and served with a plate of white rice noodle (bún) and herbs. There’s typically a side dish of vinegary dipping sauce, plus green pickled papaya and crispy pork spring rolls.
Pour some vinegar into the soupy sauce. Throw in some fresh herbs. Grab some rice noodles with your chopsticks and dip them into the sauce. Add the pork cakes, the rice noodles, and voilà! It’s one of the tastiest dishes in Vietnam.
Bún chả is very simple to make and can be found any time of the year, throughout Vietnam. Whether you eat it in a restaurant or from a small cart on the street, you’ll remember and crave it forever.
Where: There are so many good options for this dish in Hanoi, where it’s a specialty dish, but these are some of our favorites:
Bun Cha Hung Thai, 107 B1 Thanh Cong, Ba Dinh District, Hanoi (map)
Bun Cha Binh Chung, 299 Bach Mai & 88 Le Van Huu, Hanoi (map)
Phở gà (chicken noodle soup)
The noodle soup phở can easily be considered a national symbol of Vietnam, and phở bò, made with beef, could be called the national dish. It’s certainly the most recognized Vietnamese dish around the world. For many Vietnamese, particularly in the North, it would be unthinkable not to eat phở every day for breakfast. On bustling corners in the early hours of the morning throughout Vietnam, street vendors and makeshift stalls can be found ladling this soup from large pots to hungry waiting customers.
But did you know there is a version of this famous soup with chicken?
A bowl of phở gà consists of soft, thin flat rice noodles, sliced or shredded chicken, and a light, aromatic, and clear broth. Topped with bean sprouts and fresh herbs, this is a dish not to be missed when in northern Vietnam.
Where: Northern Vietnam is the traditional home of phở, so you must eat it in the North! We like:
Phở Gà Nguyệt, 5b Phủ Doãn, Hàng Trống, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội (map)
Phở gà Hoài Trang, VMJJ+GM6, TT. Mậu A, Văn Yên, Yên Bái (map)
Bánh đa cua (rice noodle and crab soup)
This colorful rice-noodle soup is a local specialty of Hai Phong province, on the northeast coast of Vietnam. Bánh đa cua consists of a flavorful pork-based broth topped with a variety of ingredients such as crab meat, fresh herbs, pork balls, chả lụa sausage, and/or ground meat wrapped in betel leaves (bò lá lốt).
The components may vary, but each bowl must have a serving of locally made noodles (bánh đa) that are characterized by their light red hue. It’s served with the typical side plate of lime wedges, assorted fresh herbs, and sliced chili, to be added to taste.
Where: You’ll want to try this dish in Hai Phong province. Some places we recommend include:
Quán Bánh đa Cua Bể Ngõ, 195 Cầu Đất, Lê Lợi, Ngô Quyền, Hải Phòng (map)
Quán Bánh đa Cua đồng, 48 Lạch Tray, Ngô Quyền, Hải Phòng (map)
Bún đậu mắm tôm (rice noodle with fried tofu and shrimp dipping sauce)
When it comes to the street food culture of Vietnam, bún đậu mắm tôm cannot be missed. For this dish, thin rice noodles are served with fried tofu, fried fish cakes, thinly sliced pork belly, and fermented shrimp-paste sauce on the side. It is this sauce, called mắm tôm, that makes this dish addictive for some (and repulsive to others unfamiliar with the flavor profile). But don’t assume it’s not tasty. Try it and I’ll bet you’ll discover why many Vietnamese crave this dish.
Where: You can find this dish all around Vietnam. Some spots we like in various cities include:
Bún Đậu A Chanh, 87 Xo Viet Nghe Tinh, District Binh Thanh (map)
Bún Đậu Cây Đa, 235b Thụy Khuê, Thuỵ Khuê, Tây Hồ, Hà Nội (map)
Bún Đậu Mắm Tôm Lá Chuối, 41 Ngô Quyền, Quận Sơn Trà, Đà Nẵng (map)
Bánh bèo (steamed rice ‘water fern’ cakes)
Bánh bèo is a soft, almost jelly-like rice cake made from rice flour and tapioca flour, which is poured into small bowls and steamed. The rice cake can be topped with a mix of ingredients including dried shrimp, crispy pork skin, fried bread, cooked mung beans, crushed peanuts, fried shallots, and scallion oil. And it’s enjoyed with an array of dipping sauces. There’s something for everyone with bánh bèo!
Where: This dish is a specialty from Huế city, but it’s found throughout Vietnam, including:
Bánh Bèo Nậm Lọc Bà Đỏ, 8 Nguyễn Bỉnh Khiêm, Phú Hiệp, Thành phố Huế, Thừa Thiên Huế (map)
Quán Bèo Nậm Lọc Huế Xưa, 1 Nguyễn Bỉnh Khiêm, Phú Cát, Thành phố Huế, Thừa Thiên Huế (map)
Bún bò Huế (rice noodles with beef, Hue style)
Bún bò Huế is a beef noodle soup that’s regional to Huế, the former imperial capital of Vietnam. Many food blogs and food-loving travelers rave about this popular specialty. It features round rice noodles (bún) and beef (bò), and a broth made from a base of beef bones, pork bones, lemongrass, and a special fermented shrimp paste called mắm ruốc. It’s a perfect balance of sour, sweet, salty, spicy, and umami flavors.
Extras found in this amazing soup include thin slices of marinated and boiled beef shank, chunks of oxtail, pig’s knuckles, cubes of congealed pig’s blood, and pork balls. It’s usually served with a side of lime wedges, cilantro, diced chives, raw sliced onions, assorted Vietnamese herbs, and mung bean sprouts to be added to taste.
Although bún bò Huế is not as famous or as well-known outside Vietnam as phở, if you love that dish and like a bit of spice, then definitely give bún bò Huế a try.
Where: It’s a specialty of (and a must-eat in) Huế city, but you can try this throughout Vietnam. Some spots we like:
Quán Bà Xuân Bún bò Huế, 17 Lý Thường Kiệt, Phú Nhuận, Thành phố Huế, Thừa Thiên Huế (map)
Bun Bo Hue My Tam, 3 Trần Cao Vân, Vĩnh Ninh, Thành phố Huế, Thừa Thiên Huế (map)
Bún thịt nướng (rice noodles with grilled pork)
This noodle salad can be found all over Vietnam. It’s a light, balanced, healthy, and very pretty dish.
Rice noodles (bún) and grilled marinated pork (thịt nướng) are the main components of this beautiful noodle salad bowl, with the addition of pickled carrots and daikon radish, mixed assorted herbs, lettuce, and bean sprouts. It’s garnished with roasted peanuts and fried shallots and served with a side of sweet fish sauce (nước mắm) to dress the salad. Use chopsticks to combine all the different ingredients and textures together, and add the fish sauce to taste. The result is one of the best salads you’ve ever had—and one you will crave forever.
Where: This traditional Vietnamese dish is easily found around the country. Some favorite spots in various cities include:
Bún Thịt Nướng Chi Tuyen, 195 Cô Giang, Phường Cô Giang, Quận 1, Hồ Chí Minh (map)
Bún Thịt Nướng Kiều Bảo, 139 Đề Thám, Phường Cô Giang, Quận 1, Thành phố Hồ Chí Minh (map)
Bún Thịt Nướng Kim Anh Gia truyền, 63 Huỳnh Thúc Kháng, Nam Dương, Hải Châu, Đà Nẵng (map)
Bún mắm (rice noodle soup with fish paste)
Bún mắm is a specialty dish of southwest Vietnam that’s very popular in Ho Chi Minh City. This regionally famous dish combines rice noodles, crispy pork belly, assorted seafood, and fresh herbs in a broth that’s made from mắm, a fermented fish paste. The first time you try this noodle soup, the flavors can be quite confronting, but give it a few tastes. It is very delicious and a must-try dish in Vietnam.
Where: Look for bún mắm in southern Vietnam, including:
Bún Mắm Nêm Dì Bảy Đà Đẵng, 65 Bàu Cát 2, Phường 14, Tân Bình, Thành phố Hồ Chí Minh (map)
Quán Bún Mắm 173, 594 Đường 30 Tháng 4, Hưng Lợi, Ninh Kiều, Cần Thơ (map)
Bánh canh (tapioca noodle soup)
This is an incredibly filling Vietnamese soup (canh) with thick noodles (bánh) made from rice or tapioca flour.
Bánh canh can be found throughout Vietnam and, depending on where you eat it, can contain a wide variety of ingredients. Some of the better-known versions are those with crab (bánh canh cua), crab and shrimp (bánh canh tom cua), snakehead fish (bánh canh ca loc), and pork hocks (bánh canh gio heo).
The noodles for this dish are thick, soft, and sticky. Bánh canh is thicker than most other Vietnamese noodle soups—its broth almost resembles a gravy or sauce rather than a soup.
Where: You can find different versions of this traditional dish all around Vietnam. Try:
Bánh Canh Cua Út Lệ, 210 Tô Hiến Thành, Phường 15, Quận 10, Thành phố Hồ Chí Minh (map)
Bánh Canh Nga, 78 Nguyễn Chí Thanh, Hải Châu 1, Hải Châu, Đà Nẵng (map)
Bánh Canh Nam Phổ, 54 Nguyễn Công Trứ tổ 15, Phú Hội, Thành phố Huế (map)
Bánh xèo (sizzling rice pancakes)
Bánh xèo, Vietnamese pancake, is one of the country’s most popular and widely found traditional dishes. These savory, crispy crepes take their name from the sound of the thin, watery rice-flour batter hitting a sizzling-hot pan—bánh xèo literally means “sizzling cake.”
Due to geographical differences in cooking styles, bánh xèo can take many forms. There is a distinct difference, for example, between bánh xèo in North and Central Vietnam and that in the South. Bánh xèo of southern Vietnam are much larger and are cooked in big woks, whereas the smaller central and northern versions are cooked in specially designed molded pans.
The ingredients added to these delicious creations likewise depends upon the availability of seasonal local ingredients and the region in which they’re served. Crepe fillings might include bean sprouts, mushrooms, shrimp, pork, chicken, chopped duck, marinated beef, or squid.
Wherever you do enjoy bánh xèo, you’ll find the cooking methods are the same. Thin rice batter is evenly spread across a piping-hot pan or wok with a generous amount of oil, creating a crispy exterior when cooked. The result is a thin, savory crepe.
The most notable part of the meal is the basket of herbs. They can serve as the wrapper of bánh xèo or be used as a filling when combined with rice paper. Roll it up like a mini spring roll and dip it into the various sauces to enjoy.
Where: Bánh xèo is found throughout Vietnam. Be on the lookout for different regional variations as you travel around the country.
Bánh Xèo, Nem Lụi 167 quán Sơn Lan, 167 Đội Cấn, Ba Đình, Hà Nội (map)
Bánh Xèo Bà Dưỡng, Kiệt 280 Hoàng Diệu, Bình Hiên, Hải Châu, Đà Nẵng (map)
Bale Well, 45 Ngõ 51 Trần Hưng Đạo, Phường Minh An, Hội An (map)
Bánh Căn Bánh Xèo Cô Tư, 6A Tháp Bà, Vĩnh Thọ, Thành phố Nha Trang (map)
Bánh Xèo 335, 335 Điện Biên Phủ, Phường 4, Quận 3, Thành phố Hồ Chí Minh (map)
Cao lầu (‘high steamer’ noodles)
Every region of Vietnam has its own style of cooking, and is famed for certain dishes—perhaps none more so than Central Vietnam’s Hoi An and its iconic regional noodle dish, cao lau. This mouthwatering noodle dish comprises thinly sliced marinated roast pork, squares of crispy fried noodle, bean sprouts, herbs, and fresh leafy greens, all of which are placed atop the famous chewy steamed lau noodles and, to complete the dish, just a dash of the reduced marinade.
These noodles are traditionally made from local well water, sourced from a few remaining wells in the Old Town, making cao lau truly unique to Hoi An. Vegetarian versions of this dish are also readily available. It’s an absolute must for food lovers visiting Vietnam.
Where: When in Hoi An, eat cao lau! You won’t be able to find it elsewhere. Try one of these restaurants:
Quán Cao Lầu Thanh, 26 Thái Phiên, Phường Minh An, Hội An, Quảng Nam (map)
Cao Lầu Hai, 6a Trương Minh Lượng, Cẩm Châu, Hội An, Quảng Nam (map)
Mì quảng (Quang noodles)
Mì quảng also hails from Central Vietnam, and it’s one of the most underrated dishes in Vietnamese cuisine. Here is a perfectly harmonious combination of fresh ingredients comprising three parts: the noodles, the broth, and the toppings.
Freshly made soft, wide rice noodles are placed atop a bed of fresh herbs in a bowl (or the herbs are on top of the noodles), and then warm, or lukewarm, broth and meat are added. The broth, derived from chicken or pork stock, is usually quite intense in flavor, so only a small amount of it is used, generally enough to partially cover the vegetables and noodles.
Depending on the region, the meat added to this fragrant dish can include pork, shrimp, chicken, fish, or eel, but it can also be vegetarian. Peanuts and rice crackers are common toppings too. Don’t miss mì quảng if you’re in Central Vietnam!
Where: In Quảng Nam province, try these spots:
Mì Quảng Tiếng Quý, ĐT610, Duy Châu, Duy Xuyên, Quảng Nam (map)
Mỳ Quảng Bích, 272 Hùng Vương, Thanh Hà, Hội An, Quảng Nam (map)
Cơm gà xé (shredded chicken with rice)
Another signature dish of Central Vietnam is cơm gà xé, featuring a steamed whole chicken that’s hand-shredded and combined with lime juice, cilantro, thinly sliced white onions, and loads of black pepper.
This Vietnamese chicken salad is then placed atop turmeric-infused rice and served with pickled carrots and daikon radish, chili jam, and garnish slices of cucumber and tomato. Finally, it’s all accompanied by a small side bowl of hot chicken stock, the perfect complement to this tasty, healthy, and refreshing dish.
Where: Cơm gà xé is found across Vietnam, but the best versions are in Hoi An, Da Nang city, and Tam Ky city.
Cơm Gà Xí Hội An, 47/2 Trần Hưng Đạo, Phường Minh An, Hội An, Quảng Nam (map)
Quán Cơm Gà Trang, 195 Đ. Lê Thanh Nghị, Hoà Cường Bắc, Hải Châu, Đà Nẵng (map)
Quán Cơm Gà Tam Duyên, 576 Phan Châu Trinh, Phường Hoà Hương, Tam Kỳ, Quảng Nam (map)
Cơm tấm Sài Gòn (broken rice)
Cơm tam, or broken rice, is literally made from fractured rice grains. Tam refers to the broken grains, while cơm refers to cooked rice. It is usually served with grilled pork cutlet and the Vietnamese dish bì (thinly shredded pork mixed with thinly shredded pork skin) over the broken rice. Cơm tam is accompanied by various fresh herbs, chả trứng hấp (egg meatloaf), pickled vegetables, and fish-sauce dipping sauce (nước mắm), as well as a small bowl of garlic and fresh chives broth (canh).
Where: While cơm tam is popular throughout Vietnam, you’ll taste the best in Ho Chi Minh City. Try this spot:
Cơm Tấm Ba Ghiền, 84 Đặng Văn Ngữ, Phường 10, Phú Nhuận, Thành phố Hồ Chí Minh (map)
About the author: Born and bred in Australia, Pedr Finn has been based in Vietnam for the past 10 years, living and breathing Vietnamese food, culture, and lifestyle while working as a freelance food journalist, tour guide, and food content writer (vietnamfoodsafari.net). He is a chef with over 20 years of experience in the food industry and holds a degree in journalism.