Hanoi: Eating Royally at the Emperor Restaurant

Emperor Restaurant in Hanoi i i

Housed in an old French villa, the Emperor restaurant in Hanoi offers beautifully prepared and presented Vietnamese dishes. Michael Sullivan, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Michael Sullivan, NPR
Emperor Restaurant in Hanoi

Housed in an old French villa, the Emperor restaurant in Hanoi offers beautifully prepared and presented Vietnamese dishes.

Michael Sullivan, NPR

My daughter Nina and I seldom agree on anything. She is 9; I am considerably older. But we've found common ground on our favorite place to eat in Hanoi: the Emperor restaurant.

It's a two-story affair in a beautifully renovated French villa located just down the street from the Opera House and the Metropole Hotel. We always eat outside at one of the tables on the balcony, overlooking the courtyard. If those tables are taken, we sit in the high-ceilinged, wood-beamed dining room, just behind the balcony.

My daughter is partial to the roasted duck and the roasted chicken with sticky rice. I am fond of the steamed garupa in banana leaves, the green papaya salad and the banana blossom salad. The grilled beef with mango salad is another favorite. All are delicious. None cost more than $8.25.

There are many other fine dishes, all beautifully presented and prepared. But the best reason by far to choose the Emperor is the fresh spring rolls. Forget what you already know, or think you know, about spring rolls. These aren't the deep-fried version you're probably used to back home.

Vietnamese fresh spring rolls — nem cuon — are a heavenly combination of shrimp, pork, assorted greens and a sprig of mint, all wrapped in a delicate, almost translucent rice pastry. They come two to an order, and at $3.25, are a bargain. I have been living in Hanoi for more than three years now and have tried to find fresh spring rolls as good or better elsewhere and have been disappointed each and every time, though the ones at The Garden restaurant in the Old Quarter aren't bad.

Service at the Emperor is prompt and courteous; the women dress in the traditional, high-collared ao dai, the men, in nicely tailored silk jackets. Dress for customers is informal but not overly so; tourists arriving in shorts may be (and should be) turned away. Dinner reservations are strongly recommended. Groups of four or more should ask for the corner table on the balcony.

The Emperor has a sister restaurant, nearly as good, called Club Opera, opposite the Metropole Hotel. The same owners run two restaurants in Saigon, too: The Mandarin and Hoi An.

The Emperor — 18B Le Thanh Tong Street, Hanoi, Vietnam. Telephone: 84-4-826-8801.

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