What to eat
You can't visit Hanoi without tasting pho, noodle soup with either beef or chicken, which originated in the city and seen by many as one of the world's most iconic street foods. It's traditionally eaten at breakfast, but it's a great meal any time of day! You can buy a bowl prepared in front of you for as little as VND30,000 from many street corners.
As you wander through the packed streets, make sure you check out what's on offer from the street food vendors, it may be overwhelming trying to work out what things are but it's worth finding out to make sure you don't miss out on something amazing.
There's some dishes you just have to try such as banh it, sticky rice cake usually served with either meat or green beans, and bun cha, a noodle soup with pork, which is available on many streets or in restaurants such as Bun Cha which offers one of the most authentic versions of the dish (1 Hang Manh, near Hang Da market).
The Old Quarter
The Old Quarter, where you'll spend most of your time, has a mix of budget restaurants with western menus as well as street stalls offering better local specialities than found in many restaurants. The weekend night market offers a great chance to wander the streets picking at any food that takes your fancy. If you are feeling unsure, join one of the organized street food tours to get a deeper knowledge of what is on offer.
If you're in a rush, follow the locals to lunchtime favourite Quan An Ngon, a canteen serving street food in several locations around Hanoi offering cheap and quick meals, around VND70,000.
You've probably tried banh mi at home by now, this Vietnamese version of a sandwich has become universally popular. There's a good reason for this, it's an affordable, easy and, most importantly, tasty lunch, so why not join a queue of locals at one of the many stalls in the Old Quarter? If you prefer to sit and eat, the ones at Banh Mi Pho Hue (118 P Hue; 8am–9pm) are excellent.
One dish restaurants
There are tons of regional specialities dotted in and around the city which might interest more adventurous diners, such as Cha Ca La Vong. Everyone can find this place as the street is named after the restaurant and it serves one thing only, fish fried in grease. It's very famous but quite pricey at VND170,000.
Insects and cobras? No problem!
On the outskirts of the city are several villages specialising in slightly more exotic menus. Khuong Thuong has many restaurants with only insect-themed menus, whilst Le Mat has loads of places where you can try cobra inspired meals. Live cobras are killed as they're ordered and although on the expensive side, up to USD50 per cobra, it's a unique experience. You can even try cobra blood wine. Get there by bus 10, 15 or 17 towards Gia Lam station.
Vegetarians should head to Com Chay Nang Tam which offers some of the best veggie options in the city including a fixed price menu at VND80,000 (it's on Pho Tran Hung Dao, just south of the lake).
Anyone wanting to wash down all this food has to join the throng of locals at bia hoi corner, where you'll perch on plastic stools watching the world go by and drinking the cheapest beer in the city. Bia Hoi Ha Noi on the corner is very popular with the locals and offers good meals as well.
Once a bar sells out of bia hoi, that's it until the next batch is ready tomorrow, so get there early to be sure no one else drinks your share. Sometimes the bar’s patrons will migrate on mass to the next bar once one place has sold out!
If you get hungry, flag down one of the food carts that constantly trundle by to enjoy a meal such as fried shrimp prepared on a portable stove next to your feet.
Hanoi Social Club (6 Hoi Vu, open 8am–11pm) is another good spot for a drink, which also offers a great western menu with lots of choice for veggies, such as a tasty mango curry, from VND95,000. The large bar really gets going on evenings when there's live music.
Coffeehouses and cafes
Finally after all that eating, make sure you've saved some room for Vietnamese coffee, it's one of the world's best so you can't leave without tasting some. A word of warning, only order ca phe den (black coffee) if you like it very, very strong. In the summer, iced coffee will help take the edge off the heat.
There are plenty of coffee shops dotted around the city but two of the best are Cong Caphe, a kitsch Vietcong-themed coffee shop where you drink out of tin mugs and sit on military-style camp chairs, and Hanoi House, a local favourite hidden down a side street and up some stairs (2 Ly Quoc Su, Hang Trong). Try to nab the table on the balcony to people watch below.