I had been on a film noir binge during the days leading up to my meal at Der Imbiss, so I was feeling screwy about concealing my ‘Mystery Diner’ identity from the restaurant owners. What if they rumbled me? Would they take me out back and feed me a brass-knuckle sandwich? I went there with two friends to help with my cover. “Act natural,” I told them.
We sat down at a streetside countertop table and eyed up the painting of a red bear in a non la brandishing a knife and fork. He seemed to grin at me, like he knew something I didn’t. From my seat on the square stool I looked over my shoulder to see a hundred motorbikes, trucks and buses vying for space on Au Co. Meanwhile, the tiny restaurant was an oasis of calm — customers gulping beer and schnitzel.
My German-speaking friend — who shall remain nameless — told me Der Imbiss means “the snack”. “Swell,” I said. “That’s useful intel.” and scribbled it in my notebook surreptitiously.
All in the Sauce
The friendly-looking waiter came out from behind the counter and handed me a menu which boasted a selection of German food and imported or local beers. Its combo platters with a meat and a side dish are a steal at only VND65,000. I got the schnitzel and potato pancake, while my friends ordered the curry wurst and the barbecue sausage, both with fried German-style potatoes. They were fresh out of Munchen draught, so we settled for Hofbrau all around, both dark and light (VND100,000 each).
The waiter poured our wheat beers with loving care, swirling the dregs around the bottle before the final pour, and finishing with a flourish. “That’s a doozy of a pint, fella,” I said. In spite of the cold wintry air and the chill of the beer, I had a cozy feeling chatting with my friends and the restaurant manager, Giang, who had come downstairs to shoot the breeze with us for a while (and suspected nothing). Our food arrived promptly, and the conversation ground to a halt so we could give our meals the attention they deserved. Hearty German fare is the perfect remedy for a cold winter’s evening.
My schnitzel was the bee’s knees; crispy on the outside and meaty on the inside, with mayo, mustard and ketchup to sink it in. The potato pancake was better still, warm and hearty, and accompanied by a dollop of spiced apple sauce that made me want to run away with it to start a new life together. I also managed to steal some of my friend’s curry wurst while she wasn’t looking. The sausage was fine — sure, sure — but I was cock-a-hoop over the flavourful sauce, which I wanted to put on everything I would eat from then onwards... salad, ice cream, corn flakes.
Small and Cozy
Although the menu is not extensive, the open-air establishment makes the limited number of options exceedingly well. I didn’t even miss starters or desserts, and was happy to use the Hofbrau as a substitute for both.
Towards the end of the meal, the owner also came down from the bar upstairs, which also serves Der Imbiss food and beer. I was worried he’d figure out why I was there (I should have worn a trench coat and sunglasses). The owner let it slip that the restaurant could use more publicity (My cover is blown! Abort the mission!), but that with such a small space he was satisfied with a modest but sustainable stream of customers. We sat there for a few hours, and the seats were never empty for long.
We spotted a fellow we knew walking along the road, and hailed him, drawing him over for a couple of more drinks. Der Imbiss is just that kind of a place — friendly and accessible, a place you’re happy to stay to while away a few hours rubbing elbows with strangers.
Der Imbiss is located at 53 Au Co, Tay Ho, Hanoi
Food, Decor and Service are each rated on a scale of 0 to 15.
13 — 15 extraordinary to perfection
10 — 12.5 very good to excellent
8 — 9.5 good to very good
5 — 7.5 fair to good
0 — 4.5 poor to fair
The Word reviews anonymously and pays for all meals