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Com Chay Ha Thanh

#116 Alley 160
Kim Ma
(after turning into the alley, make the first left, and the restaurant will be on the right within 10 meters)

This is our favorite of all the veg restaurants in town. No joke, it’s the best. See the photo of me (Cristina) in the “about” section? It’s at this place. And I know other people agree, because there are a fair number of tay that frequent it – though few seem to go as often as we do. Down a small alley off Kim Ma, this place turns out delicious set plates, hot pots, and Buddhist vegan and vegetarian food 6 days a week (closed Sunday!) from morning until night. Most items on the menu sound like meat, none of them are.

Little known fact? In 2008 VTV  did a show about vegetarian food in Hanoi, and I (YES! ME!) was the random foreigner they caught mid-meal to interview about the food. That’s right.

set menu (at the top), fried spring rolls, and Hue style bun (noodle soup) with greens at the bottom.

set menu (at the top), fried spring rolls, and Hue style bun (noodle soup) with greens at the bottom.

We’re lunch regulars, adjusting our eating schedule so as to make it time for the bun bo hue (beef noodle soup in the spicy style of central Vietnam). I hesitate, writing this, to even tell you about this dish. It’s my favorite, and here it’s available in limited quantities. If you show up at 12:30 on a busy day, it’s quite likely you’ll get a “het roi” (finished already), and will be stuck with some other delicious but not-quite-as-awesome dish. The rule with this place is as follows: if you want pho of any sort, get there in the morning. It’s gone well before lunch. If you want bun bo hue, have an early lunch…before 12:30.

They make a good “set plate”. This is a plate with rice and an ever-varied assortment of vegetarian dishes, with portion sizes dependent on price. Starting at 30,000 VND ($1.50) and going up to 65,000 VND ($3.25), a plate full of random and delicious things can be yours. If you have a particular dish that you love, it isn’t for you. If you like trying new things, this is for you. If you’re looking for an affordable lunch and don’t want a plate of rice and one dish, the set plate is also for you. Andrew get’s the 40,000 VND plate, and is satisfied and full each time. Today I sat next to a teen eating the 65,000 plate, and I was impressed. It is quite simply two people’s worth of food.

We’ve had many of their soups and probably 1/3 of their extensive menu. Most of it’s inexpensive, though the set plate is the best deal available. Some things are awesome, other just good…but it is the most reliably delicious/inexpensive place we frequent. Several vegetarian hot pots to choose from. We like the beef with lemon celery, the sweet and sour ribs, the fresh and fried springrolls, the baked chicken. There are a dozen tofu dishes if the faux meat is a bit too real.

They also sell a lot of the dried meat substitutes, “chicken” powder for soups, a dozen different faux meat products, vegetarian nuoc mam, non-alcoholic beer, etc. During Tet they make a banh chung (the big square cake for the lunar new year) but a vegetarian or ‘chay’ version…though the glutinous rice is not my cup of tea.

While the alley doesn’t show up, it’s there. Promise. Alley 166.

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And then on one of those long days when I'm tired and reallllllly not in the mood to go home and read 16 essays, I get a text reminder of why I love this job. .
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