The map to this treasure starts with the international landmark for chicken – KFC. The location you’re looking for is at the north end of Hoan Kiem Lake. There is a large fountain in a traffic circle and you’ll also see the HSBC in a large white build. Walk north past the building turning left at the end. Now on Hang Gai street, you’ll feel the neighborhood closing in, making it difficult to really see what you’re looking for. Glide down the block a few doors and look for a shop that sells art supplies. You may miss it, in which case cross the street and scan the storefronts across the way. When you find it, enter the art store and look for a doorway in the back with a sign over it that says “cafe.”
You’ll pass into what appears to be an ancient alley with no apparent access, yet there are scooters parked along the walls. The light filters in from the open expanse above and there is a small alter and desk that acts as a reception area. A collection of art and plants clutters the confines and the melody of activity drifts from an undisclosed source. Standing in confusion, a young woman before you with menus in English. You order and then she motions you toward the stairs.
This is where the fun begins, if it hasn’t already. The steep steps carry you skyward past what appears to be residences. Kids are playing on landings, there are antiques and hanging gardens, and seating areas, but no end to the stairs, so keep going. You’ll reach the spiral staircase, delivering you to the rooftop patio. The lake stretches out past the veranda as incense burns on a small alter in the corner. You’ll probably have the place to yourself; locals tend to congregate on the lower levels. The sights, sounds and smells signal your brain to relax. The view is as serene as the jasmine hanging in the air. Hanoi hustles below as food and drinks make their way to the table from some mysterious kitchen. Fresh French pastries, Vietnamese coffee dripping and fruit smoothies that taste like they were just picked from the orchard now join you in the bliss. A breeze draws corduroy waves across the water sending a cooling effect to your patio perch. The canopy of green growing beyond the balcony muffles street din as blossoms dot the vines. So splendidly habit forming, Cafe Pho Co is an effort well worth making.