Succulent chicken. Tangy hot sauce. Ice cold beer.
All the ingredients for a perfect night. Luckily in Hanoi, there’s an entire street dedicated to sating desires for barbecued food, beer and outdoor dining – Chicken Street.
Officially named Ly Van Phuc Street, the ‘Chicken Street’ moniker has stuck among locals and expats alike as all the restaurants on the street sell barbecued chicken – or ‘ga nuong’ in Vietnamese.
Each one has basic seating either indoors, outdoors or both and a coal-fired grill. Though the street is not one of the city’s top tourist destinations, it’s a favourite among Hanoians.
But which restaurant rules the roost? To find out, I assembled a team of chicken connoisseurs to find out. My partner Amanda has yet to meet a chicken she wouldn’t eat, so she had to come. As did my housemate Ben, a man well-versed in taste tests. And lastly – my friend, translator and all-round superwoman Duyen completed my evening’s A-team.
Binh Minh Ga Nuong
Our first port of call was Binh Minh Ga Nuong at number five. According to owner Vu Ba Hung, this stop was the first restaurant on the street, opening in early 1996. Hung puts his restaurant’s popularity among foreigners down to it being the only one that serves chicken breast on the entire street.
We ordered a chicken leg, breast and wing, with grilled potatoes on the side as well as the ubiquitous hot sauce. While everyone was a little disappointed with the lack of meat on the wing, the leg at Binh Minh was a big hit. The meat was cooked to perfection – juicy on the inside, crispy on the outside.
The potatoes were also well-received, as was the breast, both tasty items that didn’t require fork gymnastics to consume. Undoubtedly though the star of the show was the hot sauce, which had enough of a kick to bring out the food’s flavour but not so much to bring tears to the eyes.
Perhaps the best way to describe Binh Minh is a jack of all trades, a master of none. While no item on the menu stands out, everything is cooked well enough for a delicious meal. It’s the little things that make this place worth visiting. The seating is the most comfortable on the street, the menu has the most variety and out of the four spots we tried, Binh Minh was the only one that served draught beer – a big plus point for us.
Viet Ha Ga Nuong
Next we headed to the end of Chicken Street to number 18 and Viet Ha Ga Nuong. The owner, also named Viet Ha, said her restaurant is the most famous on the street among Vietnamese people. Viet Ha first opened in 1993 on nearby Trinh Hai Duc Street before moving with the times and the other chicken shops to Ly Van Phuc.
With a few young, shirtless men operating the biggest grill on the street, Viet Ha provides a more authentically local experience than elsewhere. Bear in mind it’s slightly difficult to order without some Vietnamese skills. Fortunately Duyen has had a few years practice and ordered us some legs and wings – and a side of ribs.
Our panel had mixed feelings about Viet Ha’s food. Ben and I raved about the succulent and perfectly marinated wings, while Amanda and Duyen were less impressed. The sauce was nothing spectacular but still worth slathering your food in. The production line approach to cooking on the huge grill perhaps led to the legs being slightly undercooked, though the ribs were done to perfection.
Quynh Nga Ga Nuong
For our third serving we made our way back up the street to number two – Quynh Nga Ga Nuong. Like Viet Ha, Quynh Nga is run by a woman of the same name. To avoid being jobless, she decided to open the business in 1997. Twenty years later, the all-female staffed restaurant is still going strong.
With the night winding down, Quynh Nga was out of legs so we settled for some wings and sweet potatoes. Amanda and Duyen lauded the wings here – highlighting the sweet marinade combined with the tangy hot sauce.
Quynh Nga is one of the smaller joints on the street but it’s got a homely vibe. Excellent wings, sauce, service and a warm welcome – Quynh Nga is worth checking out for a snack or at least the takeaway sauce on offer.
Thinh Vuong Ga Nuong
Our bellies heaving, we staggered to our last stop – Thinh Vuong Ga Nuong at number nine.
Established in 1996, owner Ngo Thu Ha said Thinh Vuong had seen better days commenting that sidewalk crackdowns had slowed trade. Nevertheless, Thu Ha told us she sells 20kg of chicken feet a day which, however you slice it, is a lot of chicken.
Almost defeated by our binge, we ordered just a few legs to share, before Duyen insisted we try the feet. The thought of the claw and toes were not doing much for my appetite but grudgingly – I accepted.
Thinh Vuong’s legs were the panel’s unanimous favourite. The mouthwatering meat was glazed in a spicy marinade, no need for hot sauce. The feet – believe it or not – were much tastier than expected. Though they featured a lot more skin than meat, the crispy goodness was worth stomaching the sight of the foot.
Much like Quynh Nga, Thinh Vuong is a small but specialised joint with a limited menu but without a doubt offers the best chicken leg on the street.
As we fought over who was the top chicken shop, we slowly descended into what can only be described as a “food coma”. The ability to even drive home was cramped by chicken-full bellies so we decided to bicker some more. Whenever Duyen asked the restaurateurs why their chicken was the best, they said they weren’t exactly sure. It was becoming impossible to decide – a Sophie’s Choice dilemma almost. Each brought – excuse the pun – something slightly different to the table, whether it was the meat or the marinade. I had slight sentiments towards Binh Minh but as Amanda put it:
“You can’t go far wrong with barbecued chicken and beer.”