Chef Long Nhu Phan, who’s been making a name for himself with Bao Wow in Hanoi and his new restaurant tok in Hoi An, shares his insider’s guide to the best dishes, restaurants, bars and more in the small ancient city in central Vietnam. When to visit, what to eat and drink, and (perhaps most importantly) the easiest way to find a babysitter.
A HANOI BOY BORN and raised, chef Long Nhu Phan is one of Vietnam’s most revolutionary young restaurateurs. After moving to Canada at 16, he studied hospitality and culinary arts, earning his cooking chops before returning to Hanoi. His hometown restaurant Bao Wow is one of trendy Tay Ho’s must-visit spots selling “kick-ass fusion bao.” Long’s latest venture, tok., set among the rice paddies of Hội An, has helped up the small town’s food scene in a major way. The upscale Vietnamese fusion restaurant celebrates local ingredients, making this dreamy, boho-chic locale a dining destination.
Long now lives in Hoi An, with his wife and infant daughter, so we thought he’d be the perfect person to give us an insider’s guide to the best dishes, restaurants, bars and more in the impossibly photogenic ancient city in central Vietnam. Read on, then watch the video to get to know Long, and Hội An, better.
T+L SEA: What made you want to become a chef?
Long Nhu Phan: So after high school, I got accepted into a college, and I was doing hotel and restaurant management. You know, Asian parents, they always want you to have a tie-and-suit job. But I always had a love for food. After the first year of hotel and restaurant management, I decided to move to culinary without telling my parents. I only told them after I graduated. And they obviously gave me a bit of a hard time. But I still remember I told them, “Listen, with these skills that I learned and with this certificate, I will never be hungry. I can go anywhere and get jobs and make food for people and make people happy.”
T+L SEA: You moved from Hanoi to Hội An in 2019. What’s your favorite thing about living in Hội An?
Long Nhu Phan: We always wanted to move to Hội An because we came for vacations, and we just love it down here. The air is great, the food and the people are very friendly. We love the nature here. You’ve got the sea, the rice fields, and not far away, you’ve got the mountains.
T+L SEA: What would you say is the best time to visit?
Long Nhu Phan: So, usually, they say the best time of year is the end of February, March, April, the beginning of May. So in those three to four months, it’s not too hot, and it’s still got a little bit of breeze. But I mean, obviously, climate change is happening. And the rainy season last year was a bit longer, and we think this summer is going to be a little bit hotter than normal.
T+L SEA: Is there one dish that encapsulates Hội An that people must try when they come to visit?
Long Nhu Phan: Yes, actually, two dishes. Definitely the cao lầu and mi quảng. Cao lầu, I think, is only in Hội An, but mi quảng is the regional noodle dish for Quảng Nam. It’s definitely a must.
[N.B.: Like most of the world’s best traditional dishes, cao lầu and mi quảng probably have as many recipes as the number of people who cook them. But generally speaking, cao lầu is made of barbecued pork slices, pork crackling, sprouts, lettuce and bits of crispy dough on noodles made from fresh local rice, with a bit of broth. Mi quảng is wide rice noodles with meat, herbs and often peanuts in a turmeric-infused broth.]
T+L SEA: What’s your favorite street food spot to eat in town?
Long Nhu Phan: There’s one spot in the central Hội An market. She’s a cute little old lady, but she pumps out mi quảng and anything you want. I think she’s been featured with Anthony Bourdain when he was here back in 2009 and when she was by the river. Now she has a food stall inside the market. There are three lanes in the market, and she’s in the middle lane. You walk all the way to the back, and she’s the second to last lady on the left. On her side, there are a couple of pictures of Anthony Bourdain and when she was serving him.
T+L SEA: Where should we eat in Old Town?
Long Nhu Phan: The Old Town has loads of restaurants and loads of really cool coffee shops. I think for restaurants, my favorite one is probably Morning Glory. Their service is great. The food is amazing. If I have a visitor, I will take them there. My wife and I, and our little baby, we also go there. CoCo is my little girl’s name, and she’s very famous in there. Anywhere you go, any restaurant you go to in Vietnam, you can pretty much have a free nanny or a free babysitter for like 30 minutes or 40 minutes while you and your partner can enjoy peace and quiet.
T+L SEA: Where else do you take friends from out of town?
Long Nhu Phan: Com Linh is run by a husband and wife. He’s from the north, and she’s from Hội An, and their menu is quite big, but everything is delicious. Especially for me, I’m from Hanoi, so I’m a little bit picky when it comes to phở. I’ve found phở in Hội An a little bit sweet and different noodles, but they do it proper at Com Linh. They’re always busy, so maybe in the high season for tourists, you need to book because I consider myself local and sometimes I can’t get a table.
T+L SEA: Do you have a favorite bar in town?
Long Nhu Phan: We’ve got a few options. For something sports-related, we have 3 Dragons Sports Bar. Our friend is the owner, so we go there, have a few pints and watch some games. For something chill, there’s a gin bar named Market Bar. It’s a beautiful location. It’s on top of the fabric market with a little balcony looking out over the river. For craft beer, 7 Bridges bar just opened up. They’re a local craft beer brewery, and they just opened a tap room at the beginning of the Old Town.
Watch chef Long Nhu Phan’s insider’s guide to Hoi An in the video here.