You can find pizza in all corners of the world: deep-fried or deep-dish, flambéed, stuffed, sweet, and spicy. In America, one in 10 people eats pizza every day, and the food was considered a vegetable until 2011. In Italy, there was a major movement to define what “counts” as pizza, and to relegate all imitations to a lesser name. And now, in Hanoi, to the relief and joy of hungry expats and tourists from the world over, great pizza exists.
On a crisp, rainy, and sweater-appropriate Saturday not long ago, a group of four certified pizza obsessives set off to find Hanoi’s best pizza. Representing Italy, we had Fabio Zaca, an overall food aficionado who runs a gourmet import business in Hanoi, and Eleonora Simonato, who worked at a pizzeria in the Italian countryside for years and now bleeds red, white, and green every day at the Italian Chamber of Commerce. On Team USA, we had Jesse Meadows, who worked her way through college in a pizza kitchen, and Noey Neumark, food Instagrammer (@vietnomnom), former New Yorker and eater of many a late-night slice. The premise was simple: eat pizza. The criteria were clean-cut: crust, base, cheese, sauce, toppings, overall taste, presentation and value.
We asked 10 of Hanoi’s favourite pizza establishments, newcomers and strongholds alike, to make us their best pizza. Two of them declined to be involved, eight said yes. Here’s what happened.
Two Italians and two Americans, newly acquainted, sit side-by-side, awkwardly watching sheets of rain bombard Xuan Dieu. So we pose the question: What makes or breaks a pizza?
At once, a cacophony of passionate proclamations: “If the cheese is sticky, it’s no good.” “Good ratios. Too much sauce and I’m out.” “The crust!” Spurred by a healthy debate, we are ready to eat.
36, Xuan Dieu, Tay Ho
“The Bronx” pizza (VND398,000) arrives on the table like the Big Friendly Giant barreling into town. A voice in our heads keeps reminding us “pace yourselves, pace yourselves,” but with every breath of the glorious monstrosity in front of us, the farther into the distance that cautious voice retreats.
We dive in. The pizza’s base (which the Italians clarify is the foundation under all of the sauce and toppings, wholly separate from the crust) seems to wilt under the weight. Too bad, because these toppings are worth supporting, particularly the fatty meatballs and the spicy, tender house-made pepperoni. Linguini Fini’s crust is good but not great, and both Italians feel that the meats overpower the sauce and cheese. The Americans contend that the meats are awesome. Yes, Linguini Fini’s is an American pie: supersized, flavourful and proud.
As we revel in all this pizza’s excessive glory, Chef Vinny arrives and offers us beer. Then sambuca. Whisky? Shots? We regretfully decline, as we’re rushing to the next destination, but a new debate has been ignited. What should we be drinking with pizza?
High Marks In: Toppings (#1), Value for Money
Notable Mentions: Perfect pickled chillies to dollop on your pizza
Perfect For: Feeling American with your hungriest friends, before, during or after a big night of drinking.
24 Ly Quoc Su, Hoan Kiem
Next stop for the pizza train is this stylish bistro, tucked away off Ly Quoc Su among the Old Quarter’s hostels and bia hois. We shake off our damp ponchos and step into the cavernous space, all brick and black leather and seductive low lighting.
The Japanese staff bow politely and usher us to a corner table, where we get a view of two giant wood ovens in an open kitchen. The restaurant’s manager, Taku, gives us the lowdown on the pizza’s ingredients — locally sourced with cheese made by Chef Masa, who studied in France to learn this decadent art. This place is serious about their cheese — they even have their own cows in Dalat.
And oh, the cheese! The Prosciutto Burrata pizza (VND290,000) comes adorned with a plump burrata pouch, perched on a mountain of arugula and flaky prosciutto. The flavours are spot on; the salty meat and bitter arugula are tempered by the creamy cheese and the smoky, buttery crust. 4Ps scores high marks all around, though the judges would like “more crunch,” and have minor bones to pick with the meat (“would prefer larger pieces that didn’t clump”) and the temperature (“the fact that it’s not served hot is confusing”).
4P’s pizza is gourmet. It is interesting, balanced, expertly crafted and worth the pain of securing a reservation. With a resounding “Arigato! Sayonara,” off we go.
High Marks In: Cheese (#1), Presentation, Base
Notable Mentions: “Spicy Oil!” — Nora
“The making of the pizza is just as entertaining as the taste.” — Fabio
Perfect For: A business meeting with an international contact that you need to impress.
Pane e Vino
3 Nguyen Khac Can, Hoan Kiem
The sun has escaped us as we approach this unassuming corner building just off Trang Tien, Hanoi’s bourgeois Mecca. Inside we find a candle-lit interior, accented with red curtains and black-and-white photographs of old movie stars. The waiter offers red wine and the Italians’ eyes sparkle in agreement. “No, beer!” shout the Americans, but our French photographer pulls a Switzerland on us. “Tomorrow, we’ll do it your way,” she placates.
Turns out, wine is the right decision, a necessary accent to Pane e Vino’s Caprese pizza (VND211,000). The cheese is the highlight here: big chunks of gooey, fresh mozzarella. The toppings are well-balanced and the base strong. Add the array of house-made oils and herbed butter, and you’ve got a real meal. The orange, herb, and chili-infused accents, in particular, inspire us (or maybe that’s the wine). We file out happy and full into the night, one pizza to go for the day.
High Marks In: Cheese, Base
Notable Mentions: Wine, infused oils, butter
Perfect For: When you’re feeling creative and craving condiment options to modify your pie.
The Sofitel Metropole Legend, 15 Ngo Quyen, Hoan Kiem
On first thought, the Metropole Hotel’s Italian restaurant and bar doesn’t seem the kind of place you would come for pizza. On second thought, this does seem like the kind of place you would come to meet your mistress. And, well, if you’re already being naughty, you may as well add a cheesy, truffley, crispy pie to the mix.
Angelina’s Parma Ham pizza (VND380,000) is as sexy as its decor. The delicately burnt crusts, like the rugged jawline of a young diplomat, are discernable and alluring from across the room. The base is strong enough to support the perfect truffled tomato sauce and succulent porcini mushrooms. The cheese, imported bocconcini, is Angelina’s one downfall; it’s too tough, and compromises the pizza’s otherwise dreamy texture. Even though this is our fourth pie of the day, it’s gone in no time.
High Marks In: Sauce (#1), Base
Notable Quotes: “Fancy as hell.” — Jesse
Perfect For: Meeting your mistress/manstress and discreetly eating pizza in the corner.
Still feeling the aftershocks of yesterday’s pizza-induced acid reflux, we assemble in front of Da Paolo on Sunday afternoon. We wish a cheery “Ciao!” to Paolo and clamber upstairs.
18, Lane 50/59/17, Dang Thai Mai, Tay Ho
Bracing for the pizza marathon ahead of us, we order a round of espresso. On the side: San Pellegrino, scoring a major “bellissimo!” from the Italians. The lake view is soothing and Nora and Fabio are chattering away in their native tongue. Things are off to a good start.
Paolo appears, wielding pizza. It’s a beaut, with an ideally charred crust and a cheesy centre dotted with colourful vegetables. This is Da Paolo’s Baresena pie, and while its concept and straightforwardness scream “real Italian pizza,” as Nora confirms, its ingredients are local. From the juicy fresh Vietnamese eggplant and tomatoes to the cheese, smooth and salty, which Paolo makes in-house using the milk of Vietnamese cows, Da Paolo’s pizza is a harmonious Vietnamese-Italian marriage. The crust is perfect, too, with a flavour mild enough to let the toppings shine, but vibrant enough to hold its own. (Even Jesse, who always leaves crust on her plate, finishes every last crumb.) Fabio is fit to judge this pie, as he comes from the region where it originates, and he gives it a resounding “thumbs up.”
Da Paolo often gets chastised for being pricey, but the judges agree that this is unwarranted. At VND200,000 a pop, Da Paolo’s heavenly, ingredient-driven veggie pie is a steal.
High Marks In: Literally everything.
Perfect For: A romantic, delicious, and well-lit lunch date overlooking West Lake.
16 Quang An, Tay Ho
Just a short drive around West Lake and we arrive at Don’s, where the man himself greets us at the door. He takes us upstairs to a room with a view, decked out in decorations for Canadian Thanksgiving. The Chilean viognier (a white wine that even the Americans admit pairs perfectly with pizza) begins to flow, and out comes a Nha Trang Seafood pizza (VND230,000). The Italians are skeptical; just yesterday they lamented the popularity of seafood pizza in Vietnam. But lo and behold, Nora eats her words, along with a second seafood slice. Velvety cheese offsets tender bites of squid and shrimp, while salty anchovies provide an exciting kick to balance the pizza’s richness.
Then Don begins to spoil us. He’s just returned from a trip to Hong Kong with a seasonal surprise; truffles. “You have to come to Hanoi to have Italian truffle pizza made by a Canadian!” he says, before we dig into a luscious black and white Truffle pie, thin and crispy, with slices of truffle sprinkled atop sinful, gooey truffle cream cheese. Just when we think we can’t get any luckier, Don insists on house-made tiramisu. Suffice to say, we roll out of Don’s ready to die happy.
High Marks In: Toppings
Notable Moments: Passing around fresh truffles for the heavenly scent. Don’s special brand of hospitality that makes us feel at home.
Perfect For: Those days when you just need to spoil yourself.
Paolo & Chi
284 Nghi Tam, Tay Ho
After two bottles of wine at Don’s, the Americans decide it’s time for some beer. We are greeted by Chi, the Vietnamese chef and owner, who taught herself to make pizza in her home kitchen before opening Hanoi’s most popular late-night pizza joint. (They deliver until 3am). She brings out bottles of Bia Ha Noi for all, and a colourful Parma Ham pizza (VND270,000).
It’s simple, delicate and crunchy, Italian-style, with a minimal, balanced ratio of sauce to Italian-imported cheese, and salty, thick slices of fresh parmesan and sweet ham on top. The crisp arugula provides a nice green touch that makes you feel not too bad about shoving this pizza into your mouth in the middle of the night when you’ve had one too many. It’s the makings of a perfect pizza party, and when Le Soleil mixes up cocktails and blasts techno bangers downstairs, we just want to stay all night.
High Marks In: Cheese, Base, Sauce
Perfect For: Late night drunken pizza binges. Pizza binges in general.
59 Truc Bach, Ba Dinh
Whether our panel is drunk or not at this point doesn’t count, as we estimate that at least half of the world’s pizza is consumed by drunk people. Besides, drinking makes more eating possible, and we’ve already eaten roughly 14 slices per capita throughout the weekend. Foodshop 45 makes a mean curry, but that’s not why we’re here. This Truc Bach Indian joint recently started making pizzas in their wood-fired tandoor oven, which is a genius business endeavor and a culinary coup.
Foodshop 45’s pie is at the opposite end of the purity spectrum from Paolo & Chi’s trademark Italian simplicity. Atop its thicker crust lies a zesty tomato sauce, heaps of Australian cheese, vegetables, and Indian-spiced chicken. While this pizza is one of the least refined we’ve had — messy, untraditional — it’s one of the most interesting. Even Fabio deems that it’s a “good fusion of Italian and Indian.” Given the slew of international flavours and ingredients featured on this saucy beast, we’re all impressed by the price: at only VND125,000, this pie is some serious bang for your buck.
Best of all, our judges are in agreement: this pizza goes perfectly with beer! Call the United Nations, because peace has been made.
High Marks In: Value (#1), Toppings
Perfect For: When you can’t decide what kind of food you’re craving.
Pizza is the ultimate unifier. Sure, we had our disagreements — wine vs. beer, crust vs. base, excess vs. simplicity — but in the end, we were just four new friends eating our weight in pizza for the course of the weekend. And if you ask us, it doesn’t get much better than that.