First published April 2018 | Words and photos by Vietnam Coracle
INTRODUCTION | GUIDE | MAP | RELATED POSTS
Arriving in Phong Nha recently, via the incredible scenery on the Western Ho Chi Minh Road, my friends and I slammed on our brakes as we entered a cloud of barbecue-scented smoke. Through the fog, we saw meats rotating on a spit above hot coals and we instantly knew we had to stop and eat. Quán Bình Hoa is a local BBQ joint about 5-10 minutes’ ride north of all the mini-hotels, hostels, and Western-oriented bars and diners of Phong Nha town proper. Located on the south side of the Ho Chi Minh Road (QL16) as it passes through the small settlement of Phúc Trạch, Quán Bình Hoa is a classic informal Vietnamese roadside eatery, specializing in grilled meats and good times. We had one hell of a meal here as dusk fell on the limestone karsts of Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng National Park. Crunchy roast pork, whole spit-roasted duck, barbecued quail stuffed with lemongrass, heaped plates of baby clams with fiery chillies, freshwater ‘sucking’ snails, and grilled ox tail. This place is a meat feast, and the atmosphere – groups of locals huddled around low tables chatting, drinking, and gnawing – is half the fun.
GUIDE: LOCAL BBQ IN PHONG NHA
Address: Ho Chi Minh Road, Phúc Trạch village, Quảng Bình Province
Phone: 0911 271 913 | Open: dusk till late | Price: 50,000-150,000vnd per person
Quán Bình Hoa BBQ, near Phong Nha:
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Quán Bình Hoa should be easy to find: just look for the signage by the roadside. Unfortunately, my GPS wasn’t working when I was there, so the marker on my map is only an approximate location, but I’m pretty confident it’s within 100m or so of the actual location. It really shouldn’t be difficult to go to the general area where my map marker is and find it within minutes; it’ll likely be engulfed in a cloud of meat smoke. If you’re struggling, you can always ask a passing local, ‘Quán Bình Hoa ở đâu?‘ (Where is it?).
Quán Bình Hoa is actually quite a large eatery, with two bare concrete structures housing dozens of tables and chairs for diners to sit, eat, drink, and be merry. Try to get here around sunset (5-6pm is about right), when the light is starting to fade and local life begins to animate the shopfronts, stalls, schools, and cafes lining the Ho Chi Minh Road.
Hardly any English is spoken but that shouldn’t be a hindrance to ordering: Vietnamese, especially in the countryside, are generally excellent at communicating by gesticulation and sign language. Just point at the meat rotating over the coals and that will get the ordering process started. As a rough guide, here are some translations of what you can eat at Quán Bình Hoa: heo quay (roast pork ribs and belly), vịt quay (whole barbecued duck), cút quay (whole roasted quail), đuôi heo/đuôi bò chiên (fried pig/ox tail), hến xào (baby clams fried in lemongrass and chilli), ốc hút nhỏ (tiny snails that you suck out of the shell). There’s more besides, and all of the above are served with various sides and accoutrements, such as large sesame rice crackers, heaps of fresh herbs, pickled green papaya, steamed rice, and homemade dipping sauces to die for, including chilli, garlic and lemongrass paste, and a fiery garlic fish sauce. Oh and there’s local beer too: Huda is the preferred brand here, served over ice, of course.
The family running Quán Bình Hoa are nice and friendly. Every family member has their role: the wife takes orders and deals with the fried dishes in the kitchen, while her 14-year-old son takes charge of the BBQ on the sidewalk; her daughters (babies in their arms) serve drinks to customers, and grandma stands over the wood-burning hearth out back, heating the rice porridge.
Prices are very reasonable: our meat feast for three people worked out at around 100,000vnd ($4) per person. Try to come here with a group of friends; be hungry, order everything, and enjoy it. At some point in the evening one of the other groups of diners will probably invite you over for a round of drinks, and from there the night could go anywhere. The food and atmosphere at Quán Bình Hoa are fantastic and, personally, I found it was a relief to be in a local eatery, away from the backpacker enclave that Phong Nha town has become; not that that’s necessarily a bad thing, but it’s nice to be able to access some local life too, not just English-language menus and posters for cave tours. For many visitors to Phong Nha, the go-to BBQ joint is The Pub with Cold Beer, which is justifiably famous for its chicken and peanut sauce, and has received worldwide press. The food at Quán Bình Hoa is, in my opinion, on a par: you don’t get the riverside location that The Pub with Cold Beer has, but you do get a very local atmosphere with local people. If you’re visiting Phong Nha and you like your BBQ, it’s a lot of fun to try both places and see how you find the differences between them in terms of food and atmosphere.
Disclosure: I never receive payment for anything I write: my content is always free and independent. I’ve written this review because I want to: I like this BBQ eatery and I want my readers to know about it. For more details, see my Disclosure & Disclaimer statements here
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