Where to eat in Sapa, from the best Sapa restaurants, local eateries and noodle shops to the tastiest Sapa street food and market eats, from Vietnamese cuisine to the food of the ethnic minorities such as the Hmong and Red Dao peoples, from French to Italian, this is our guide to where to eat in Northern Vietnam’s favourite mountain town.
Our first meal in Sapa on our first trip to Northern Vietnam six years ago was as memorable as meals get. It was breakfast and we slurped steaming bowls of Sapa-style phở gà – Vietnam’s famous chicken noodle soup – from Phở Khuyên noodle house, which you can see in the photos above.
It was unforgettable for the soup itself – the full sweet flavour of the meat from Sapa’s local ‘trekking chickens’ (free-range chickens) and the fragrance and clarity of the herb-filled broth – as much as for the secret location (tucked down a laneway off old Sapa market), the rustic interior with its floor strewn with paper serviettes (a good sign that indicated they’d been busy), the lively atmosphere (it was packed with chatty locals catching up on news and gossip over breakfast), and the fact that we’d had to fight with our guide to get there.
We’d only arrived in Sapa an hour or so earlier after a breathtaking albeit occasionally hair-raising bus ride from Lao Cai railway station, where we’d left the overnight sleeper train from Hanoi to Sapa. We’d checked into our Alpine-like hotel, The Victoria Sapa Resort, where a fireplace blazed in the toasty lobby, freshened up, and skipped the hotel buffet breakfast in favour of eating local – only to learn that our guide intended taking us to a French café.
It took some persuasion to convince the guide that not only did we not want croissants and café lattes for breakfast in Sapa, but that we were not only able to eat a local breakfast, we infinitely preferred eating local to European. Of course we’d forgotten at the time that Sapa had once been a French hill station, so a pastry was sort of ‘local’. But that’s how we found ourselves at Pho Khuyen.
Sadly, Sapa doesn’t have many old-school noodle shops left in the style of Pho Khuyen these days. It’s much easier to find croissants, scrambled eggs or a full American or English style breakfast. When it comes to where to eat in Sapa – now a massively popular tourist destination – most restaurants and cafés are now firmly focused on foreign visitors and the options aren’t as varied as you’d imagine.
You’ll find some good Northern Vietnamese cuisine, including local takes on classic Vietnamese dishes such as phở, along with opportunities to sample the specialities of the region’s various ethnic minority groups, particularly the Hmong and Red Dao. You’ll also see a lot of Chinese food featured on menus due to Sapa’s proximity to the Chinese border and an increasing number of Chinese tourists, as well as a lot of so-called ‘Western’ food – everything from burgers with fries to pasta and pizza.
Here’s where to eat in Sapa, with suggestions for every meal and budget..
Where to Eat in Sapa – Best Sapa Restaurants, Local Eateries and Noodle Shops
Where to eat in Sapa for breakfast, lunch and dinner…
Your best bet for breakfast in Sapa is Phở Khuyên, a true ‘hidden gem’ – a term I rarely use, as they rarely are. Firstly, Pho Khuyen really is secreted away – it’s located in a traditional Northern Vietnam-style wooden house, tucked down an alleyway off the concrete stairs that run beside the new police station, on the site of what was once Sapa’s atmospheric old market. Secondly, Pho Khuyen remains treasured by locals. A favourite of Sapa’s old-timers, this breakfast-only noodle shop opens from just 6am-10am daily and during those four short hours it’s jam-packed with long-time regulars. Many of the most frequent customers are friends or former colleagues of the owner, a retired local government cultural administrator who achieved some renown as a climber before he became a legendary noodle soup seller. Mr Ha Van Khuyen was a member of the first group of 50 climbers, including 17 Eastern Europe, to make a 3-day trek in 1984 to the summit of 3,143-metre Mount Fansipan, the highest mountain in the region. But that’s not why you’re here. You’re here for soup. Phở Khuyên serves just one dish: full bowls of fragrant Sapa-style phở, filled to the brim with chewy flavourful meat from local ‘trekking chickens’, swimming in an intensely-flavoured clear stock, fragrant with fresh coriander and spring onions. Having trouble finding it? Head for the police station then listen for the loud music that broadcasts its location between 6am-10am. Off Tue Tinh Street, Sapa.
The Hill Station Deli and Boutique
The Hill Station Deli and Boutique is where to eat in Sapa for lunch if you fancy local produce but not necessarily local cuisine. Started back in 2011 by Soeren Pindstrup and Tommy Eggen, a couple of Danish guys who fell in love with Sapa, and Vietnam in general, The Hill Station Deli was the first outlet of an enterprise that now includes a boutique hotel and signature restaurant in Sapa, and restaurants and delis in Hanoi and Hoi An. Their inspiration for the Hill Station Deli was Sapa’s early incarnation as a French colonial hill station (holiday resort town), which is why you’ll find wonderful locally-made buffalo cheeses, charcuterie such as air-dried beef, hams and terrines, and smoked salmon and trout on the menu – we highly recommend ordering the tapas-style sharing plates – along with an excellent selection of imported wines (as well as Vietnamese wine from Dalat), Vietnamese craft beers, and different flavoured rice wines and corn wines produced locally. There’s also a glass counter crammed with homemade cakes and pastries, and they do great coffee. You’re able to buy much of this to take away if you have a nice balcony with views, and there are also postcards, art and crafts for sale – hence the ‘boutique’ bit. It’s a very pleasant place to while away an hour or two over lunch. 7 Muong Hoa Street, Sapa.
Thang Co A Quynh
This is where to eat in Sapa if you’re serious about sampling local specialties. Once upon a time, this big rustic eatery with a brick fireplace and furnished with wooden tables and stools, specialised in two Hmong favourites – thắng cổ, a rich horse meat soup comprised of the meat, fat, offal, blood, and bones of the horse, that simmers for hours with a dozen different herbs and spices, including star anise, cardamom, cinnamon, and ginger, and a fiery corn wine, which you wash it down with. (Note that if you get to Bac Ha market, this is mainly what you’ll see groups of locals lunching on there.) As Sapa’s tourist numbers have increased over the years, so have the number of items on the menu. You’ll now see a wider variety of choices, especially hot pot options – the fresh locally-farmed salmon is incredibly popular – as well as stir-fried dishes, such as pork with chilli with lemongrass, and a very popular smoked buffalo meat with myriad spices. Hot pots come with a big serve of fresh green salad, which provides a nice contrast to the rich dishes. The restaurant is open all day, from morning until night, but this hearty sort of food is best suited for a winter’s evening meal. It can get very busy with big groups of friends during holidays so have your hotel book you a table. 15 Thach Son Street, Sapa.
The Hill Station Signature Restaurant
Located within The Hill Station Boutique Hotel, the closest that Sapa has to a boutique hotel in the true sense of the term, the Hill Station’s Signature Restaurant is easily the best restaurant in Sapa, definitely the most interesting, and should be your first choice for dinner in Sapa. This is where to eat in Sapa if you’re keen to try authentic food of the ethnic minorities from the region, served in a casual fine dining setting. Diners have the choice between sitting at low tables and seats, as is the local custom, or at European chairs and tables, so be clear what you want when you book. Expect to sample everything from the fresh local salmon and rainbow trout to the traditional nose-to-tail dining that results from a whole animal being slaughtered, which is customary during seasonal holidays, such as harvest festivals, and celebrations, such as weddings. One dish that is a must-try is the multi-coloured sticky rices that is a specialty of the Nung Din ethnic minority group. They are known for dying their glutinous rice in seven natural colours, all extracted from different leaves, flowers, and tubers. Rumour has it that the restaurant will soon close, so if you’re in Sapa don’t hesitate to book a table while it’s still open. You’re in for a very special experience.
37 Fansipan Street, Sapa
Oui, it’s called Chic, which perhaps shouldn’t be surprising for a restaurant located in the fashionable Sofitel M Gallery Hotel de la Coupole, designed by American hotel designer Bill Bensley, a long-term Asian-based expat considered to be something of a ‘starchitect’ in the region. This is where to eat in Sapa if the restaurant surroundings are as important as what’s on the plate. I’d argue that it’s worth booking a table just to enjoy the jaw-dropping decor, although fortunately the food is also very good. The menu includes French classics made with local produce, such as the free-range confit duck leg with black garlic, croutons, crispy bacon, and a Caesar-style dressing, as well as local specialties with a European touch, such as the Sapa forest mushroom soup, made from a variety of foraged mushrooms with cream, truffle oil, and crispy almonds. The 65ºC Black Chicken Salad comes with apple, onion, celery, carrot, banana blossom, and shrimp crackers, while the Hmong-style air dried beef and green mango salad is very traditional, with celery, carrot, coriander, crispy shallot, Vietnamese herbs, and sweet chilli sauce, but plated in a modern style. Make time to have a pre- or post-dinner drink on the terrace of the cocktail bar, Absinthe. 1 Hoang Lien Street, Sapa.
I included Sapa as an extension on the first Vietnam Food Tour I hosted a couple of years ago and again on the Vietnam Cuisine and Culture Tour I hosted in July 2019, and I’ll also include it on my mid-2020 Vietnam tour. Details coming soon!
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Have you been to Sapa? What are your picks when it comes to where to eat in Sapa? Please feel free to share your tips in the comments below.
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