Da Nang Restaurant Guide 2020 {Where to Eat Without Getting Sick}

This site uses cookies. If you continue using the site, I assume you're fine with it. Some links on this site are affiliate links: I might receive a small commission if you make a purchase using a link, at no extra cost to you.

skip ahead to:
Da Nang restaurant recomendations
Food Delivery Apps
Can You Trust Reviews?

Is Da Nang a Foodie Paradise?

The image you have of the Da Nang food scene prior to coming here will depend entirely on what media you consume. Did you watch an endless stream of youtube travel videos that feature delicious and ridiculously cheap local food? Or perhaps you were attracted by more upmarket PR pieces about how Da Nang is quickly becoming the Miami of SE Asia, attracting talented chefs from around the world who are igniting a vibrant food culture.

The truth about cheap food

If you watched a bunch of videos that go something like, I ate all this for under $2!! — it’s true. You can eat at roadside food carts and small local shops for, let’s say, $2. But the quality of the food is very poor. Often, the nutritional value of what you are eating is also very poor. And more often than not, the hygiene standards under which your food and utensils are handled, transported and prepared are entirely inadequate.

I’m not opposed to eating street food — I’ve done so all over the world. In Da Nang, I don’t.

With that said, you can certainly find good local food that is inexpensive, by western standards — which is different than cheap.

I love Vietnamese food

My home bases are San Francisco and Los Angeles, great cities to enjoy delicious Vietnamese food. I’ve always loved it, and was really looking forward to spending some time in Da Nang, eating. After a year here, I have not had any Vietnamese food that was exceptional. 

Food poisoning

Both traveler’s diarrhea and outright food poisoning are things you want to avoid, and sometimes have to work to avoid, when visiting another country. We’ve all been through it.

But never like this. Never. I was continuously sick for the first two months. I was sick until I stopped eating out and ate only what I cooked — then it disappeared. And when I started eating out again (at Vietnamese restaurants, not western ones)…back to being sick. Whenever I felt adventurous and tried something new, almost invariably, I got sick. Constant diarrhea. Until I lost so much weight my clothes were falling off me.

I’m not a newbie. I know how and when to eat safely overseas. And, yes, I take probiotcs.

I spoke with others who experienced the same thing. Four months of diarrhea. Two months of diarrhea. Living with cramps and diarrhea on and off, for months on end. This is not normal. I don’t get this in Thailand, India, Cambodia, Indonesia. If I’m careful about what I eat, the most I experience is a few days of digestive adjustment when I first arrive.

And then there’s occasional food poisoning. Full on. No need to go into any more detail. This is a serious issue here. If you read the local Vietnamese news you’ll regularly come across reports of mass food poisonings and hospitalizations. 

What foods should you avoid?

Chicken: pass. The chicken in restaurants is stringy and dry. The chicken you buy in the grocery is pumped full of water and is soggy and flavorless. Some restaurants source their chicken very carefully. They either buy it from very specific, certified domestic farms or they import it from places like Japan. Both of these kinds of chicken are good, and you normally only see them served in non-Vietnamese restaurants. Regular local chicken is quite awful.

The Vietnamese butcher chicken in a very strange way that results in small, super sharp bone shards all over your food. They serve parts of the chicken we normally discard. Sometimes you’ll find these greasy, meatless bits of skin and bone shards in your mi quang or other dishes.

Beef: pass. Domestic beef is dry, chewy and tastes gamey. Someone said it might be water buffalo, but I can’t say for sure why it tastes like this. Unless you stew it for a long time, it’s not enjoyable.

Many restaurants serve beef from Australia, New Zealand or the United States. It costs more, but it’s really the only beef that is edible.

Pork: Pork is pretty good here, and there are many delicious and interesting ways it is prepared in traditional Vietnamese cuisine. Don’t miss the crispy roasted pork belly.

Seafood: with caution. If it comes out of the sea, yes. Da Nang is on the coast and fishermen go out every morning to haul in amazing fish, lobster, prawns and squid. It’s also very reasonably priced. Delicious, fresh seafood is one of those things you can feast on in Da Nang that really is incredibly inexpensive. Do be cautious about where you eat seafood, though. Make sure it is absolutely fresh — there are few things as awful as food poisoning from dodgy fish.

So, what’s the caution? For heaven’s sake, don’t even think of eating anything that comes out of the river. Looking out my apartment window, I can see fish farms in the river. On my walks along the river, I see fleets of fishing boats go out and in the evening, women haul out plastic tubs of river crabs, prawns, snails and other aquatic life to the sidewalk to sell to passers by.

The river is filthy, smells bad, is full of trash and you can even see brightly colored chemicals being dumped into it through storm drains. Pesticide use is extremely high and largely unregulated — and it runs off into streams and rivers. Make sure you are not eating anything that comes out of the river, like farmed fish, crustaceans, shellfish or mollusks.

Dioxin: What’s this? Da Nang was the second most contaminated Agent Orange storage site in the country. The resulting dioxins got into the soil and food supply. Some kinds of food have a higher concentration of dioxin than others.

The main site of contamination is right next to the city, at the airport. A 2016 study found high levels of dioxin in foods grown around the site. In 2019, the US government carried out a dioxin mediation project at the site itself (not around it), but of course no one knows what that means for agricultural production adjacent the actual site.

A lot of food is grown in other provinces, which are not contaminated. Normally you might look for locally grown produce, eggs, milk. This is how we tend to shop where I’m from, at farmers markets, favoring hyper local producers. I don’t do that here.

Buffets: pass. Just google buffet Vietnam food poisoning for some light evening reading.

Miami of SE Asia?

Not even close. Who knows what the future holds. This city has such potential, it really does. And there are some chefs who have certainly raised the bar. You can definitely find a few posh restaurants and enjoy an experience here and there. But to be a foodie paradise, there has to be a baseline of excellence and innovation (and food hygiene and safety) that defines the food scene in general — not just a few restaurants at the high end.

I hate to write this because I’ve met so many fantastic restaurateurs here. They are really devoted to creating beautiful, welcoming places to eat in Da Nang. Some of the food is good, it’s just not exceptional. It’s not something I can’t get at least as good, if not better, somewhere else.

While I won’t look back longingly on most of the food I’ve eaten here after I’m gone, I will definitely remember these people fondly.

Post Covid Da Nang Restaurant Guide

I list some of the prices here so you can get a general idea of costs. Prices are for one person.

Don’t Trust Reviews

Food review sites in Vietnam are gamed. Many times the pictures uploaded are totally fake, stock photos that have little or nothing to do with what is available at the restaurant. Look for reasonable, balanced reviews that sound like real diners left them and not paid shills or people with unreliable opinions. If someone is claiming they’ve had the best burger of their life, they are either paid to do so or they’ve just never been to a country that makes burgers. Honestly, some of the reviews are just beyond ridiculous.

You’ll notice a lot of negative comments about price. You get local Vietnamese who are used to spending next to nothing on food and get riled up and offended when restaurants who serve mainly tourists and expats charge more than they are used to paying. It’s irrelevant. Another contingent of complainers are comprised of tourists and expats who came here because it was supposed to be dirt cheap and resent anything that costs more than that fabled $2.

Are some restaurants geared toward tourists and expats overpriced? Yes, a little. But generally they are cleaner, more comfortable, more consistent, air conditioned, well staffed and they may have better quality food. Are they charging a premium for it? Sure. Is that premium sometimes a little too much?

You can eat a ban xeo for next to nothing in an ugly hot local joint on those little tiny chairs, where people throw their bones and bottles and whatever on the floor beneath the table…or you can eat a ban xeo for three times as much in a really beautifully decorated restaurant with fans or aircon and staff that speak English. Who knows, they might even have an actual washroom with soap and paper towels to dry your hands.

It comes at a cost. The equation isn’t always about whether I could eat the same dish somewhere else, cheaper. So complaints about food or service might be something you give weight to, but all the griping about price is probably not going to give you any clearer idea about whether or not you want to eat there.

With that said, restaurant prices in Da Nang often appear to be arbitrary. You can enjoy a beautiful imported steak dinner in a charming city side restaurant for as much as a standard egg-meat-toast-coffee breakfast on the beach side. 

Google Maps + Incorrect Hours

So, you find a restaurant on Google Maps and you check the listing to see if they are open. Good luck. For some reason, business owners just don’t care about the accuracy of their google listing, or even their facebook page (facebook is widely used by businesses here). I can’t tell you how many of them say they are open, right now, when they are actually closed. Or they say they are open 24 hours a day (they are not). Or they are listed as open at 8am, when actually they never open before 10. Or they will post a lunch menu, when in fact they only serve dinner and have cut out lunch service entirely.

Unless you know for sure they are open, call. Also, businesses use facebook more than anything here, and you can message them to find out what their actual hours are.

Mosquitoes

Restaurants don’t only cater to hungry humans. Whether you’re dining indoors or on a patio, restaurants are a favorite hangout of dreaded mosquitoes. You usually don’t notice them until after they’ve feasted on you, especially your legs under the table or in humid, dark washrooms. Worse still, they are often day biting mosquitoes…the ones that carry dengue fever. So, be sure to use mosquito repellent before heading out for a meal. I always keep a travel sized spray bottle with me when I’m out. 

Some restaurants have spray bottles of mosquito repellent right on the table. It’s a periwinkle blue bottle. I was handed one of these by my server and dutifully sprayed my hands with pesticide before eating, mistaking it for hand sanitizer. The blue bottle is Ramos brand mosquito repellent. Now you know.

Covid-19

A lot of restaurants (and some of my favorites) went out of business because of the coronavirus lockdowns. Just because their listings are still up on Google, you can’t be sure they are even still in business. Call to confirm, or check facebook for recent activity.

MORE DA NANG

DESTINATIONS