Eat & Drink

We Reviewed The Restaurant Where Obama & Bourdain Ate In Vietnam

If it's good enough for POTUS, it's good enough for us.

Hanoi is undoubtedly one of the best places in the world to eat. It’s also one of the cheapest. From plates of deep fried tofu to bowls of steaming pho and kegs of cool beer rolled out onto the street at ‘Beer Hoi’ time (the equivalent of beer o’clock for Hanoi’s hardworking folk), Hanoi is one hell of an easy city to get a good feed on a budget.

With this much quality street food action, it’s comes as no surprise that Hanoi is also the place where everyone’s favourite food troubadour Anthony Bourdain and POTUS Barack Obama recently had a famous bro date that captured hearts around the world. For the purposes of this story, they will now be known simply as ‘Bourdama’.

The world was entranced by a simple image of Bourdama shooting the breeze over a bowl of bun cha and a couple of coldies. Just two bros kicking back on tiny plastic chairs in one of Hanoi’s no-frills eateries. Sure, they could have headed to the hideously overpriced restaurant at the Metropole Hotel to feast on lobster in an air-conditioned, Secret Service-sanctioned environment. Instead, they chose Bun Cha Huong Lien.

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Just like Hanoi, Bun Cha Huong Lien is packed to the rafters. Sitting next to a shop called Fantasy and opposite a place called Tip Top Karaoke, like many other places in Vietnam getting to the front door unscathed is quite an achievement. After making a tactical break for it in between a seemingly never-ending stream of bikes, motorbikes and cars, we head up what feels like five flights of stairs to the top floor. Every single floor is packed with people sitting at tables on tiny plastic chairs, such is the popularity of this place.

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Once inside, Bun Cha Huong Lien delivers a presidential serving on a White House intern’s budget. There’s everything you’d expect from a bun cha place. Pork. Noodles. Broth. Plates of DIY herbs. Chilli to burn your tongue off and cold beers to bring it back to life. It’s hot. Damn hot. Sweat pours from our faces as we slurp down the soup, instantly regretting the liberal application of chilli sauce.

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The owners obviously know how much of a drawcard Bourdama is, so they’ve mounted some images of the famous bro date on the wall of every floor. Despite this, it feels like the type of place that would be packed with punters even without the Bourdama paraphernalia. Sure, Bourdama’s visit here could have been a perfectly orchestrated PR blitz to depict POTUS as ‘just one of the guys’ but with his presidency coming to an end, what could he possibly stand to gain from such Machiavellian trickery?

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It’s easier to believe that POTUS called Bourdain and said, “Yo, where’s the best bun cha in Hanoi?” and Bourdain replied, “Dude, I’ll show you.” Then Obama said, “Let’s roll” and then the Secret Service collectively sighed and said, “Damn, POTUS has gone off-script again.”

And the Bun Cha? Five stars. Would do again.

Bun Cha Huong Lien can be found at 24 Lê Văn Hưu, Phạm Đình Hồ, Hai Bà Trưng, Hà Nội, Vietnam.

(Lead image: Anthony Bourdain/Facebook. All other photos: author’s own.)