Styling itself as a south side alternative to the longstanding Asian restaurant mecca of Richmond's Victoria Street district, Hanoi Hannah promises classic Vietnamese hawker-style dishes such as rice paper rolls ($7), vermicelli noodle salads ($10) and the classic bowl of pho ($9). But whilst comparisons can be made from a menu standpoint, the similarity between Hanoi Hannah and its long-standing predecessors end right there, and you'll be wasting your time if you're expecting a brightly-lit, tiled dive where you can get your cheap pho fix and skull cheap BYO wine. Hanoi Hannah places a lot of emphasis on style, and its trendy appearance and cheap menu attracts suitably intense crowds to the modestly-sized outpost near the corner of Chapel and High Streets.
Eating at Hanoi Hannah is certainly a process – be prepared to wait between 30-50 minutes for a table on any night of the week, due to the now-popular (and sometimes frustrating) Melbourne restaurant inclination to avoid taking reservations. There's no room to have a drink while you wait at the bar as every nook is filled with keen diners, but with its great location, at least there's plenty of bars to relocate to around the corner whilst you wait. Once you've secured your table, the service and food are quick in succession, and whilst the staff are pleasant you do get the feeling that after attending to table after table in such quick turnover, there isn't the time for them to take the time to concentrate on recommending the more interesting offerings on the menu, which is a shame due to a fantastic array of tapas style offerings from the rice paper rolls ($7 for two) to excellent sliders in both pork belly or tofu form ($8 for two).
The rushed attitude of the place is only a slight criticism, as it detracts little from the wonderful food and excellent atmosphere of the tiny restaurant. Low lit and with a distinct Vietnamese vibe (but without the tacky themed restaurant appearance), it's perfect for a light dinner and drinks with friends or a bowl of pho that won't break the bank. Whilst it claims to be the Asian-dining salvation for the Prahran and Windsor area, it's less Victoria Street authenticity and more like the stylized offerings of Colonel Tan's nearby: great food, great atmosphere, and very hip.
Like Mamasita is to Mexican, Hanoi Hannah is to Vietnamese; its settings and popular cuisine choice have made it a dining stalwart in a mere 6 months since opening. And you only need to look at that daily line to see the proof.