Thanks to Hanoi Taco Bar (6 Dao Duy Tu, Hoan Kiem), the city now has a place focused on the unusual double act of tacos and cocktails. The brainchild of founders Leo Smith, Will Reeve and Charles Jeammot, Hanoi Taco Bar (HTB) is situated in a bustling Old Quarter street in the heart of Hoan Kiem.
Almost every aspect of HTB is an exercise in fusion, matching complementing flavours, ingredients and traditions. Charles, the master of the kitchen, was impressed by the similarities between Vietnamese dishes and some of the Mexican food he was familiar with back in his most recent home of San Francisco. These similarities paved the way for a marriage of cuisines I haven’t before experienced to quite such a successful level in Hanoi.
At its most fundamental, the fusion part of HTB is evidenced on the food menu. That most quintessential of Hanoi dishes, bun cha, is reimagined as a filling for the delicious bun cha taco (VND45,000). Pork meatballs nestled into a soft shell taco are kept company by locally sourced herbs and with a satisfying crunch courtesy of the fried bun noodles heaped on top.
For a totally different cluster of flavours, I recommend trying the ceviche (VND55,000/100,000 for a cup/bowl). There’s a cutting acidity from the bitter juice of lime and kumquat, which is subdued by the natural sugars in the pineapple-based tropical salsa. The softness of the raw red snapper fish contrasts beautifully with the firm crunch of the jicama, a kind of sweet Mexican turnip.
A journey around most of Hanoi’s districts can confirm the popularity of the humble corn on the cob, with roadside vendors grilling them as popular snacks. In HTB, even the corn (VND45,000) receives the fusion treatment, served with goat’s cheese, smoked avocado and a chilli and citrus salt. The butter is also touched by Charles’ innovative approach to cooking — he prepares carotene butter, for which the whey is skimmed away before combining the butter with the purest essence of carrot.
El Diablo’s in the Details
Each dish comes with an enthusiastic cocktail recommendation from Leo, the resident mixologist and champion of attention to detail. The ceviche, for example, is best paired with the Tommy’s Margarita (VND120,000) due to the agave nectar and lime juice complementing the dish’s natural acidity. Similarly, the divine churros with chilli chocolate and tequila caramel (VND55,000) match well with the horchata cocktail (VND100,000), a light and sweet affair comprising rice water, coconut milk, vanilla and cinnamon. For me, however, beating the Old Fashioned (VND180,000) takes some doing, spruced up as it is by Regan’s orange bitters and maraschino cherries.
In a world where restaurants and chefs fight over the right to label their food authentic or traditional, Hanoi Taco Bar is a celebration in why that is an exercise in futility. The innate snobbery of those who claim to ‘know’ Mexican food would be best left at the door, because the abundance of quality and passion for creating exciting fusion cuisine and cocktails awaiting inside will blow anyone away.
Hanoi Taco Bar is located at 6 Dao Duy Tu, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi and is open Tuesday to Sunday from 11am to 11pm