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.
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.
City Side | Upscale American
You’ll love this bijou restaurant tucked way back in an alley barely wide enough for two people to walk side by side. A little hard to find, but once you do, you’ll be glad you have this address.
Beautifully seared Australian steak and smoked duck breast are among my favorites here. The owner, Luc, is generous and welcoming.
Steak, served with potatoes and veg + soda ₫209k or $9
Irini Greek Cafe
Beach Side | Greek + Cocktails
Moussaka, a range of meats and falafel sandwiches wrapped in home made pita, and a menu of creative cocktails. Most of the seating is in a shaded outdoor courtyard, which can be quite hot at lunchtime in the summer months — but enchanting in the evening.
Moussaka, side Greek salad + soda ₫240k or $10.35
River Side | Fusion Seafood Restaurant
An upscale restaurant and bar on the riverfront — Fatfish is the place to go for luscious modern seafood-focused cuisine, cocktails, craft beer and decent wine list.
While they’re best known for their creatively prepared seafood, you will also find pork ribs, slow cooked bbq brisket, duck and other terrestrial delights on the menu.
They also bake their own delicious bread, including, of all things, bagels. You can buy it to take home, but you need to call in advance to place your bakery order.
Miso-honey yellowtail over shiitake soba noodles with courgette ribbon summer salad + soda + affogato ₫511k or $22
Pan seared duck breast with morning glory, minted peas and roasted sweet potato + soda ₫490k or $17.25
Beach Side | French
Classic French rotisserie chicken, cheeses, Pâté en crôute, wine, perfectly cooked Australian steaks — and also more delicate, elaborate dishes you might expect from a French bistro.
Beach Side | Vegetarian Vietnamese
A fresh, modern and meatless take on Vietnamese cuisine. Their focus is on quality ingredients and healthy preparations. They also have a fresh juice and smoothie menu, kombucha and very good espresso.
The restaurant has a quiet, serene feel — which is a welcome respite from the ever present construction dust and noise that has overtaken much of the touristy beach side. At the moment, they are hosting live music on Sunday around brunch time (11-2).
You will need to remove your shoes at the door.
M.Z. German Delicatessen
Beach Side | Sausages + Bakery + Beer
Michael, a Bavarian expat and sausage enthusiast, butchers his own meat to create a menu of delicious, authentic German sausages. You’ll also enjoy potato salad, sauerkraut, and his house baked German style breads, including fat soft pretzels covered in chunky salt.
You can order from their menu and eat at one of the few tables inside or on the patio, or purchase uncooked sausages, European cheese, house made pâté and bread rolls and loaves from the deli counter to take home.
Two brats + your choice of fries, German style potato salad or house made sauerkraut ₫90k or $3.90
Le Bordeaux Bakery
Beach Side | Bakery, Coffee, Sandwiches
This is where I go to get bread, now that my favorite bakery (St Honore) went out of business after the covid-19 lockdown.
Bread is my favorite thing at Bordeaux, whether it’s freshly baked English muffins, whole grain loaves, sandwich slices or baguettes. The croissants are okay, but the other sweets that look so tempting (banana bread, chocolate frosted donuts, canelles, brownies) are all kind of…meh.
Beach Side | Turkish
Pide, donner, lahmacun, kabab, soft pita breads and more. You’ll love their tart yogurt drink and home made pickles!
Beach Side | Vietnamese
Roasted prawns with lemon leaf, dumplings, spring rolls, stuffed rice pancakes…all your fave Viet dishes in a cozy patio-like atmosphere.
LaLa’s Conical Hats
Beach Side | Western
Steak Montreal and Swedish meatballs are my faves. A short, tasty menu and good prices.
Multiple Locations | Thai
Thai noodles, whole fried fish, rice dishes and more. One of my favorite places for a relaxed, casual lunch. You’ll find one in the city and one on the beach side.
Chin Meshi Dragon Ramen
City Side | Japanese
Craving a bowl of ramen with seafood, quail eggs, veg — all in a silky broth? Or home made udon, served hot or cold, with a side of tempura prawns and vegetables? This is a great spot for Japanese style noodles.
Tempura udon + soda water ₫210k or $9
Chin Meshi is featured at the end of this video
Beach Side | Bar & Western Food | Good for groups
Cohibar is a large, sprawling restaurant and bar in the trendy, touristy beach side. Whether you’re craving a bacon cheese burger with fat, crispy fries or a heaping plate of nachos or a round of cocktails with friends — Cohibar is a good place to go. There’s indoor dining and a few different outdoor patio areas that are beautifully designed — an oasis from the heat and ever present construction dust that dominates this beach side area. It’s billed as Cuban, but I’m not really sure why.
Banh Xeo + soda water ₫241k or $10.29
River Side | Western Grill & Bar | Good for groups
Panini, salads, burgers, pizzas, and steaks — but also good breakfasts and drinks. You’ll see the Turkish influences of the owner in some tasty pita apps and a Turkish breakfast option.
Grilled rib eye steak, fries and club soda ₫293k or $12.50.
Cookshop is featured at the end of this video
Extra points for their clean, equipped WC.
City Side | Modern Vietnamese | Good for groups
A huge semi-outdoor restaurant by the river featuring a massive menu of delicious Vietnamese favorites. Perfect for groups, but also a lovely, reliable spot to pop in for a solo lunch. Beautiful traditional decor with a lush, garden courtyard feel.
BBQ pork and vermicelli, spring rolls + soda water ₫200k or $8.57
Check out the video here
Beach Side | Italian Restaurant and Bakery
The restaurant: Pizzas, house made pasta, and my favorite…lasagna.
The bakery is next door to the restaurant and has good focaccia, whole meal loaves and decent croissants. Cakes look tempting, but I’ve found them terribly disappointing. Normally bakeries open early, but this one opens on the late side.
Pizza + lemon soda ₫200k or $8.57
Umm Bahn Mi & Drinks
Beach Side | Bahn Mi, Coffee, Fresh Juice
If you’re on the beach side and in the mood for a Viet style sandwich and cold drink, drop in to Umm. They have a short menu of sandwiches served on an oven toasted baguette — from egg and sausage breakfast sandwiches to chicken, bbq pork patties and fish. Free Viet style ice tea, or order one of their delicious cold drinks.
BBQ pork bahn mi ₫29k or $1.25
Com Nha Linh
Beach Side | Vietnamese
Com is the Viet word for rice, and Nha Linh serves up delicious rice dishes with meat, fish and veggie sides. Plus standards like crispy spring rolls.
Seafood fried rice, spring rolls ₫151or $6.50 (easily serves 2)
Com Nha Linh is featured at the end of this video
Art & Gourmet
Beach Side | French Thai Fusion
Run by two French chefs, Art & Gourmet is the perfect place for a nice dinner out, with friends, clients or a date. You’ll love their extensive tasting menus, wine pairings and desserts.
Butcher shop plus
Beach Side | Texas BBQ
They are a butcher shop and a restaurant, serving delicious BBQ and smoked brisket, ribs, chicken and sausages. You can also order custom steaks and they’ll cook them on the grill.
City Side | Italian Ice Cream
I love stopping by to see what the new flavors are here in the evening. It’s hard to choose a favorite, but the owner will always offer you tastes until you finally decide!
Food Delivery Apps
Ordering online and having your food delivered is a huge thing here. And even though I usually prefer to get out of my apartment and enjoy my meals at restaurants, sometimes it’s just more convenient to get a delivery. Sometimes it’s just too hot at lunchtime and the idea of slathering myself with sunblock and mosquito repellent and leaving my ultra-chilled apartment to sit on some sweltering patio for a mid day meal just isn’t appealing. I just grab my phone and usually the delivery arrives within 30 minutes.
These delivery services are robust and work really well. Sometimes you have a choice to pay with an online wallet or paypal, but not always. In any case, you can always pay the delivery person when they show up with your food.
Sometimes there is a delivery charge or minimum order. Sometimes it will say the delivery is free, but the prices are higher than if you order at the restaurant, effectively charging you a delivery fee. It’s minimal, so don’t sweat it. Just know that one way or another, you are likely to pay a couple bucks for delivery.
When you scroll through all the restaurants you can order from, you might be tempted to just…order. From a place you’ve never heard of before and never seen. Well, good luck to you. For all the reasons mentioned above, I would never order food from a restaurant I’ve never even looked at. I would suggest using these apps to order from restaurants you’ve already vetted. If you don’t find your restaurant on one app, it might be on another. I find most of my favorite restaurants on NOW or Vietnamm.com.
Download these apps for food delivery in Da Nang
Facebook is widely used by restaurants here, and many use this as their primary or even only online communication with customers. It’s very likely you can order through a restaurant’s Facebook page by sending them a message. Sometimes they offer free shipping within a certain distance.
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.
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.