"Pho Heaven, but don't forget them taco's."
I had to leave Chiang Mai. My belt was groaning under the weight of 2 weeks of intensive carnivorous desecration. I still had a long list of places to try, but my visa was running out and I had to find cheaper pastures to graze. I found a ridiculously cheap ticket direct from Chiang Mai to Danang, which mean't avoiding having to transit through Don Mueng (aka Hell's own private hell), and booked it for the next day.
Back in 2009 when I visited Vietnam for the first time I had only passed through Danang on the way to Hoi An and ended up having lunch and leaving, so the city was fresh to explore. From what I remembered, the city had grown like a mushroom army perched on the most fertile dung on earth. This sleepy seaside town was now a monstrously modern sky-scraper-goliath of Asian engineering. Every inch of the beach-side was either a resort, a Korean restaurant or a high rise building with lazer beams lighting up the low cloud cover.
Full to the brim with tips and insiders advice, I was looking forward to days of gorging on local delicacies, however, Delhi-Belly struck after one of those aforementioned "local meals" and this was all I managed to try in the remaining days.
Places to Eat
Pho Container ($$)
I'm not kidding. It's called Pho Container aaaaaaand: It's in a replica ship container. All sounds a little bit too gimmicky for me, but the reviews were solid and being a 2 minute ride from the apartment I had to give it a go. Especially after yesterdays crushing disappointment, I needed to redeem Pho for Vietnam!
I decided to splash out and order the "Aussie Beef" bowl which was 1 dollar more expensive than the others, but turned out to be the size of a bathtub. Fear shot through my pores at the size of this behemoth landing at the table carried by strong arms. First impressions, this looked pukka. I stirred the broth a little and took my first sip, unadulterated. Bingo! It had that clear, rich, slightly sweet broth that I had come to know and love with hints of star anise and other spices coming through gently. I tore apart the basil, coriander, red chillis, bean sprouts and loaded my bowl ready for attack.
3/5th's of a way down I had to throw in the towel. This was fantastic food, I just couldn't manage any more. I made my excuses, took some photos and left with a stomach equal parts content and at breaking point.
Pho Viet Beo ($)
The night before I had met a delightful Vietnamese girl at a bar who's boyfriend was a rich American-Vietnamese cocky idiot, so while he bragged to a fellow American about his business acumen, I stole tips off her for places to eat in Danang. This was the first place she recommended.
The interior left little to the imagination, the kind of place you'd imagine getting sick if you touched anything that wasn't over boiling point. I crossed myself out of habit rather than belief. A steaming bowl of broth, noodles, greens, onions and beef pieces arrived at my table and I dove in headfirst. Broth was rather complex, a tiny bit thin in flavour but you got hints of where this was going. Possibly if it was left reducing another couple of hours it would be spot on. The noodles were the usual fare, the beef a little on the scary side so I left most of it.
All things considered it was a decent bowl of Pho, and definitely the second best I had in Danang after the Container place that shook my stereotypes to their foundations.
Taco's Ngon ($)
My sister and brother in law found this spot on a trip a few years ago, and I trust their opinions implicitly. Fate threw the dice, and my hotel ended up being 30 meters from the restaurant, so I headed there to sample this Taiwanese-Fusion-Taco. It was crowded with mostly ex-pats, gargling their stories out to uninterested recipients. I sat right in the middle but had my back turned to everyone, which I can understand can be seen as rude, but at midday on a 34 degree Monday there are plenty things i'd rather do than engage in small-talk with a bunch of rural hicks from Alberta. The stories I overheard during my wait for the food patted me on the back with assurances that I made the correct call. People can be such fucktards.
Food-wise I ordered way too much. Here I was sitting under a sign of "Sergio the God" with his photo emblazoned with the words "KING OF TACO'S HE ATE 20 IN ONE SITTING", and I couldn't barely put a dent in 3. These were not normal Mexican size taco's. These were half way to a burrito and stuffed with so much cabbage that your daily 5 were taken care of in the first bite. I digress. The food was solid. The pork and chicken with wasabi mayo were winners, the fish taco had that slight smell that you might regret later.
Service wise everyone was super friendly and quick, and i'd definitely go back there if I ever visited Danang again.
Burger Bro's ($$)
Another tip for my injured stomach was to try the burgers at this small place in My An. One of the best burgers I had eaten in Vietnam before was in Saigon at the Burger Joint Saigon, but this wasn't far off. The meat was super tasty and well seasoned, the bun a tad on the sweet side, but everything else was above expectation. Who doesn't love a cheeky cheeseburger every now and then?
Iine Ramen ($$)
A man from Tokyo making Fukuoka style Tonkotsu Ramen in Danang. Whats not to love. I had to try it. He was an absolute star, super friendly, his staff were amazing, the ramen was good. Not amazing. Good. One of those typical times where the noodles, pork (even tho it was cut quite thick), the egg, everything else was on point to within certain parameters, but the main culprit.... the broth.... was one that seduced salarymen and ex-pats love, thick almost like turkey gravy.... fine for 1-2 spoonfulls and then you start honestly asking yourself "Do I really want another spoonfull of gravy, it's so thick it's going to coat my throat and arteries for the next 20 days"..... but you do, out of false inherited Japanese politeness, out of the crushing fear that if you leave even one suffocated morsel on the remnants of your bowl, someone might commit Seppuku....so against all greater judgement you finish it, pay, smile, walk 2 blocks down the road and seriously consider why you are still alive, and how your choices affect your life-quality in a practical way. Do you throw heed to cultural expectations and be honest 100% of the time, and therefore alienate 98.4% of the world, or do you suck it up and feign positivity just to keep the wolves at bay, and protect your reputation or friendship with common folk that you actually have known for 3 fucking minutes.
Look. The ramen was good, all things considered. Would I eat it again ever? Potentially not. Too rich, but for someone who was craving a bowl then it was a sufficient band-aid on an ever-evolving sore of cultural misunderstandings, racial tension and complete and utter DONTGIVEAFUCKEDNESS.
Places to Drink
Wanderlust Cocktail Bar
With ridiculously cheap Happy Hour prices where a solid, well made cocktail costs around 60k, this is definitely a spot to hit on your crawl around My An. The classics are done well here, the service is friendly and attentive and they have an outdoor area for those cool nights with the sea breeze rolling up the street.
Probably not an affiliate of Heaven in London (tongue in cheek, or wherever else), this hippie spot caters to the ex-pat community of Danang. Offering low tables and socially-interactable design, people are encouraged to talk to their neighbour and spread the love. Unfortunately they play a lot of Bob Marley here, but the bar is actually a pretty good spot to meet locals and foreigners, and if you prefer your herbs to your liquor there is always someone sparking up the righteousness nearby.
As close to a true American dive bar as you'll ever find. Semi-alcoholics mingling with full blown narcotically dependent obtuse figures of social "interaction" all summoned under the holy lights of a pool table. Grab a beer, listen to Screaming Jay Hawkins (Hey! Fucking better than Bob Marley), and grab a solo table, join the pool competition or ask to join a table of questionable congregants where one might be a thoroughly acceptable companion for your nights intoxications, but the next person that arrives could end up being a complete self-loathing reject from whatever "hill" they came from in Ontario hell bent on ruining your night with "interview questions" and no fucking social antenna's at all.
It's completely a lottery. Some nights are great, some nights the bartenders really should tell these ex-pat idiots to fuck off home and sleep it off.
Ironic clothes? TICK
Judgmental stares upon entering? TICK
Love craft beers? TICK
This is your place.
Bamboo 2 Bar
Bars on this side of the river are pretty difficult to recommend. Over in My An, you might end up in the middle of a fist fight, knife fight, or endlessly boring conversation with a drunk English Teacher who forgot that life is about a 2 way conversation, not a monologue. HOWEVER, this side tends to have bars playing extremely loud music and are more prone to being "girlie bars". What Bamboo 2 has going for it, is the view of the river and dragon bridge, outdoor seating, not being a girlie bar. What is lacks is someone who isn't bloody deaf turning the music down from 10 to 3 on a weekday afternoon.
You literally cannot even talk to your neighbour at times which can be a blessing, but sometimes you actually want to and lose your voice after 10 seconds. Further down the street are other bars like Golden Pine, Dude Bar and Universal. Golden Pine is boring, Dude Bar I never went into because as I was opening the door a 60+ year old white man was pulling his nob out of his pants and swinging it at 3 screaming meagerly dressed local girls. Universal can be O.K. if the girls are not pushy and there are not too many American soldiers screaming at the top of their lungs that they are going to kill people in Africa and stab the police if they try refused him more drinks.
Yeah, quasi-charming city, not so great for bars.
All these recommendations are just personal opinions based on my palate, things change, chefs get fired or replaced, places open-close, relocate, so take it all with a pinch of MSG and discover your own gems too. But please do try a few of these, they have been researched exhaustively.
"Tastes are subjective, so take everything with a pinch of salty tears"
CITIES / Places