As Hanoi’s international food scene grows stronger, it’s time we celebrated the variety on offer, by looking at one very specific dish; the humble taco.
A few years ago, there were no Mexican restaurants in Hanoi. In 2017, we have several to choose from. Even a few non-Mexican restaurants have jumped on the taco bandwagon, such is the diversity and mass appeal of this dish.
So, let’s talk about tacos.
Hanoi Taco Bar
The first stop of the day, and we are treated to a couple of tacos making their menu debut; Cajun-spiced vegetable (VND30,000 each) and slow-cooked beef (VND50,000 each).
Hector Grimaldo (HG): “This reminds me of a breakfast taco, with the potato. It’s really good.”
Taylor Cavale (TC): “They’re super good. I’d prefer a bit more spice and citrus with the meat, but it’s cooked perfectly; it’s a good sign when the meat doesn’t get stuck in my teeth. It’s tender as ****!”
Irving Torres-Jimenez (IT): “The tortilla is nice and soft, and I’m liking the pico de gallo.”
Edward Dalton (ED): “Cauliflower and potato is normal for a taco?”
HG: “You can put anything in a taco… my dad used to put spaghetti or noodle soup in a taco. These are so tasty.”
Our team are impressed by the presentation, tortillas and fillings. The tacos were easy to eat, with really good optional extras available, such as hot chilli sauce and a cheek of lime.
Find Hanoi Taco Bar at 6 Dao Duy Tu, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi or online at facebook.com/hanoitacobar
Tacos Fresh and More
Our second visit is to the only restaurant on the list serving homemade hard-shell corn tortillas. Our judges get hard-shell chicken (VND30,000 each) and double-decker beef (VND40,000 each) tacos.
HG: “Although the hard-shell corn tortilla is not authentic Mexican, it’s got a great taste to it. It’s a bit messy to eat, but when has that stopped anyone from enjoying a taco?”
TC: “It kind of reminds me of fast food tacos, but the meat has a good spice flavour to it.”
IT: “My grandma came to visit us in the States once, and we took her for hard-shell tacos at Taco Bell. She was furious.”
TC: “For me, the hard-shell tortilla clashes with everything else. A soft, fresh tortilla is just more consistent and uniform with the other ingredients. Although, that double decker taco is for the win!”
The judges are impressed by the menu variety, and seasoning of the meat. The hard-shell tortillas divide opinion, but everyone leaves with a satisfied smile on their face.
Tacos Fresh and More is at 54 Dao Duy Tu, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi and is open daily from 10am until 10pm
Moose and Roo Smokehouse
The famous BBQ joint might not be known for their tacos, but their wagyu beef (VND145,000 for two) and baja fish (VND115,000 for two) tacos might soon change that.
TC: “Good presentation, super smoky beef. If these tacos were on Tinder, I’d swipe right.”
HG: “Wouldn’t consider it authentic, but I know it’s not meant to be. Great to see tabasco and homemade hot sauce here!”
IT: “The fish is a bit bland, maybe too much batter? The sauces are really good, and I love the queso fresco with the beef. It’s just the fish that needs to be more… fishy.”
HG: “Lettuce is not something I would put on a taco, but it works well; I really like when there are different temperatures through the taco.”
Somehow still hungry by this point, the taco team are happy to see some quality condiments and good, smoky meat. The tortillas did not really stand out, but overall, a great experience.
Find Moose and Roo Smokehouse at 21 Hai Ba Trung, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi. For more info, go to facebook.com/mooseandroosh
Salt N’ Lime
Determined to make the most of this pig-out opportunity, we try four more tacos; slow-roasted pork Mexican (VND30,000 each), grilled steak Gringo (VND45,000 each), smoked salmon (VND50,000 each) and fresh shrimp (VND50,000 each).
TC: “Good to find some soft, corn tortillas!”
HG: “The salmon taco is a really great surprise. This is a taco I could eat at the beach with a cold coconut juice.”
IT: “The pork would be better if it was served in its own juices; it’s a bit dry at the moment.”
TC: “I’d prefer if the prawns and steak were cut up more after cooking, and maybe tossed in their own juices for a better flavour to surface area ratio. But overall, it’s really good.”
IT: “The steak is nice and soft, it doesn’t get stuck in your teeth. The tortillas are really good too, they’re well-seasoned.”
Our Mexican and Californian judges come down on different sides of the authenticity fence, but the delightful surprise of the salmon and prawn options satisfies everyone.
Find Salt N’ Lime at 12 Tu Hoa, Tay Ho, Hanoi. For more info, go to saltnlime.com
Everyone’s favourite West Lake pub and sports bar has two varieties of tacos for us to try, battered snapper with mango salsa and ‘slaw (VND260,000 / three), or pulled pork with salsa and ‘slaw (VND260,000 / three).
ED: “Finally! Big pots of extra sour cream and guacamole on the side!”
HG: “Is it authentic? No, but it’s still so good. The pulled pork… I really like it. There’s a good creaminess to this taco.”
IT: “I can really taste the fish in the taco; the batter compliments the fish, and makes it even better.”
TC: “The ratio of pork to everything else is a bit off, not enough spiciness or acidity; they’re really well-presented, though.”
HG: “We’re getting so good at this now, huh? Like proper food critics.”
TC: “The fish is cooked perfectly; for a fish taco, I think it’s really up there in authenticity.”
Our penultimate restaurant impresses everyone with overall flavour, and we’re all sure we will come back again some time. Bonus points for the triple serve per order.
The Republic is at 7A Quang An, Tay Ho, Hanoi. For more info, go to facebook.com/therepublicvietnam
It might be our last stop, but our greedy gang digs in to five more tacos. We get carnitas (pork), beef, pumpkin and black bean, spiced potato (all VND30,000 each), and this week’s special; crab cake tacos (VND40,000 each).
HG: “The authenticity is really on point. Salsas, chiles curtidos (pickled peppers) and a good corn tortilla… great.”
TC: “Everything is 10/10 for me here. I’m not biased, I don’t know the owner; it really is just that good!
IT: “Agreed, the carnitas has amazing flavour, really well seasoned.”
HG: “It’s such a homey place, too.
There’s great seasoning and filling in all of these tacos.”
IT: “My grandmother would be happy to know I’m eating these kind of tacos!”
For the first time, our whole team agrees on the solid Mexican authenticity. The complexity of flavours, incredible homemade tortillas and menu variety blows everyone away.
Find Anita’s Cantina at 36 Quang Ba, Tay Ho, Hanoi. Open Thursday to Sunday from 5.30pm until 11pm. For more info, go to facebook.com/anitascantinahanoi
The Taco Team
To ensure this naive British writer doesn’t just wax lyrical about the taco with the most cheese, we have gathered a team of expert tasters, from places where Mexican food is held in high esteem.
Hector was born and raised in Mexico. Aged 15, he moved to Texas and has since lived in eight cities across three continents. As the only child of a mother who wanted a daughter, he knows his way around a kitchen, and especially around tacos.
Born in Mexico, Irving moved to the States at a young age, and lived in Texas since he was 12. Since learning to cook, with his very traditional Mexican mother, he’s always believed food has no language
Taylor is a marketing strategist for #HotTab in Hanoi. Hailing from San Diego, California, he’s lived abroad for eight years. Putting good Mexican food in his face is the thing he misses most about home.
Photos by Julie Vola