Date Traveled, February 2013
If imitation is flattery than Hanoi is a very flattering place indeed and no more apparent than in the food places. Imitators abound and if you are going to pay 170,000 dong for Hanoi's famous Cha Ca dish you might as well experience it at the century old original restaurant.
One hundred and twenty or so years old in fact, Number 14 Cha Ca La Vong has certainly popularized the dish that it is named for. Cha Ca or "grilled fish" is the only item that is served in the restaurant. On a side note, restaurants specializing and serving a single dish is a very common theme in Hanoi's old quarter. They name themselves after the dish they serve like Pho or Bun Bo and the only way to identify the place is by the store number or of course their reputation, but that can be challenging to first time visitors to Hanoi. Cha Ca La Vong (Number 14!) has been around for so long and supposedly owned by the same family all this time is more famous than most. Travel guides to Hanoi all recommend it and hotel staff and tour guides often direct people to it. The street it is located on is also named after the restaurant, Cha Ca street. Also on the street complete with Neon signs highlighting Cha Ca La Vong is the competition. I noticed the one with big neon sign but there may be others. Look for the rather nondescript two floor building with the number 14 sign which is the actual place.
Cha Ca La Vong "Number 14", watch out for imitators with different address numbers
The Cha Ca or grilled fish is cooked in front of you
It is tasty, but very greasy
When we first wandered into Cha Ca street in our random meanderings around the old quarter, it was the last day of the Tet holiday and the restaurants were only just starting to open up. Number 14 was closed but the Neon sign was open doing brisk business with tue tourist crowd so maybe the neon sign does work or people like Cha Ca a lot :-). We went there a couple of days later after returning from Ha Long. The decor and atmosphere of the place was more like that of an old home than a restaurant which I liked a lot. It was a bit on the dark side but that only added to the mood of the place. We were sent up a narrow rickety stairway to the seating area upstairs. Ordering food is easy in these single item restaurants and usually signaling one or two will suffice. The marinaded cubes if fish are then brought to your table along with a large bowl of greens, thick noodles and other seasonings. Then a small stove is brought to your table and lit up. The concept is to cook the whole mix together in the stove and transfer to your bowl as you need.
A few things to say at this point. The dish is expensive, at 170,000 dong, a person, no sharing. I don't know if it's true or not but you can't help but get the feeling you are paying the foreigner price. You certainly are paying for the experience of eating at this really atmospheric establishment that is over a century old...not just the food.
As for the food, the fish itself is tasty, but the meal is greasy, so so greasy.