We went to Miss Ly’s because we had always seen how busy it was and knew it was a very popular place, especially amongst Koreans, so we just had to find out what all the fuss was about.
If you get there at peak dinner time, you can expect to find a queue of people waiting to get in as the place is fairly small inside and the demand is quite high. There are a few seats outside if the weather is fine, but not enough to ease the congestion. Inside, the place is simple but nicely decorated, finished mostly in traditional dark wood, which does tend to make the place a little dark at night, but with lighter coloured walls adorned with traditional art, it is a pleasant place to sit.
As it was a weeknight when we visited I couldn’t go all out and sample the drinks, but what I saw on the menu was a limited but standard menu for the smaller places in Old Town. I had a couple of Larue beers at the standard Old Town price of 40,000 VND. They do have some house wine on the menu which comes out at just under 500,000 VND per bottle for a Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon or chardonnay, which isn’t bad.
The first thing I noticed, was that the menu is a little limited. I guess if you are new to Hoi An, it has all the foods that Hoi An has to offer and therefore is a perfect place to sample the traditional Hoi An staples. After living in Hoi An for several years, though, we were hoping for a little more choice. As one reviewer on Google succinctly put it: “Great option for ones who wants to try street food but not on the street”. This sums it up quite nicely. The menu comprises the traditional Hoi An foods of Cao Lau, White Rose, banh mi, and wontons, fresh starters such as spring rolls, as well as a few other simple fried rice and noodle dishes. They also have a fish in banana leaf, which I am sure is very good, but none of us fancied fish that night.
That said, we were willing to give the restaurant a chance and ordered some food. We ordered the wontons as a starter to share, followed by a banh mi, shrimp fried rice, pork fried rice, and papaya salad. I am not normally a fan of fried rice in Vietnam as they often crisp up the rice on the bottom of the pan, which I don’t particularly like, but it was the only thing I really fancied, and I like to see how different restaurants do the rice anyway.
First of all it is clear that the ingredients they use are fresh. There is good use of vegetables and salads which gives everything an overriding feeling of freshness. The wontons were tasty, they were crunchy and light and not greasy at all, and the toppings were all fresh and tangy. I must say the spring rolls on the other table also looked good, and we kind of got a little bit of food envy over those. The banh mi was good too, although I only had a single bite. I kind of feel strange ordering a bah mi in a restaurant, as I buy them so often as a take-away from other shops and street stalls. I thought the presentation for the banh mi could have been done a little more creatively as well, it looked a little bit lonely sitting on that plate on its own and still felt more like a snack than a meal.
The papaya salad was superb. Lovely fresh papaya and herb salad, with a hit of heat and spice, just as I like it. It’s not the same as a som tam in Thailand, so don’t order it expecting that, but it is still good in its own right. It is the same as you get on the side of a com ga in Hoi An, but bigger, which by extension means better.
I am so glad we ordered the papaya salad, because I ended up mixing it with my fried rice. A possibly heretical move, but one that made my dish infinitely more enjoyable and akin to eating a com ga without the ga (chicken). Both Phuong and I were not overly thrilled with the two fried rice dishes to be honest. They were not crispy enough for her (she likes it the traditional Vietnamese way), and for me they were just a little too bland. They would have made great side dishes, but as the mains They didn’t really wow me. The chili sauce was nice and after mixing it all into the rice of my pork fried rice, it gave it a much better kick, but overall, it wasn’t really my kind of fried rice. The pork seemed a little bit of an afterthought and was drowned by carrots and green beans. It wasn’t too crispy, but it didn’t do anything to change my mind about Vietnamese fried rice. Although saying that, Phuong is Vietnamese and she wasn’t overly thrilled with hers either. It was a more traditional Hoi An style, but it will have to come a long way to beat the fried rice at Hai Cafe in my humble opinion. It was salvaged somewhat by the addition of the papaya salad, but if I hadn’t ordered that I would have been very disappointed.
Overall, then, if you are looking for a place that sells all the traditional Hoi An dishes in one place and uses quality fresh ingredients, then this might be the place for you. If you are new to Hoi An, you will certainly enjoy the food here, as the menu will seem varied and new, and as Old Town restaurants go, the prices are quite reasonable. The problem is that when you have been here for a while, the menu is made up of all things that you can buy from street vendors or specialist shops elsewhere in town, that are usually much cheaper, and frankly, quite often better, and I didn’t see any presentation differences to really differentiate the two.