Hue takes Buddhism a bit more seriously here than most of Vietnam -- with more monasteries than anywhere else, and the nation's most famous monks. Famously in 1963, Thich Quang Duc drove to Saigon to protest anti-Buddhist policies of the South Vietnamese government and set himself on fire on a Saigon street.
Beyond the pagodas nowadays, where robed monks and apprentices break in the afternoon for volleyball games you're welcome to join, Hue's vegetarian scene is more developed than anywhere else in the country.
Com chay, or vegetarian food, places pop up on riverside locations and alleys. The best though is right in the heart of the backpacker ghetto (of sorts).
Tinh Tam Restaurant (24 Chu Van An St), run by a Buddhist family, serves fake meats -- the grilled 'deer' with lemongrass is superb, and only $1.50; as is the mixed fig salad served with fake-shrimp cakes to scoop it up (60 cents).
The power of guidebooks has long been known at the corner of Dien Thien Hoang and Tran Hung Dao Streets, north of the river near the Citadel walls, where two bustling-with-travelers (and locals) restaurants with 'deaf mute' owners set up with similar names.
Both are welcoming places serving cheap, Hue-style food -- and can be walked to after a tour of the Forbidden Purple City of the Citadel. The original, Lac Thien (6 Dinh Tien Hoang St) might be slightly better.
They serve banh khoai (about 40 cents), a shrimp and bean sprout 'pancake' served with peanut sauce, and the (tastier) nem lui tom, a delicious shrimp salad dunked in fish sauce and served with cucumbers and rice paper you roll yourself. It's also made with vegetables, beef or chicken and costs about $1.25.
Far better (and more remote), is Cung An Dinh (177 Phan Dinh Phuong St, off the alley at 148 Nguyen Hue, several blocks south of the river), which serves bite-size banh beo, banh uot and banh nam -- variations on glutinous rice rolls coated in dried shrimp and wrapped in banana leaves. At $0.40 a pop, it's easy to try them all.
Hue does have a few fancier -- and Western-style -- restaurants too, generally at the upscale hotels.
One good exception is Y Thao Garden (3 Thach Han St), a French villa locale a few blocks northwest of the Citadel's inner walls.
Y Thao goes for royal-style set meals, with several local delicacies served at $8 per person. A popular start is the lightly battered eggrolls served with pomp atop peacock-style dishes carved out of vegetables and fruit.
It's good, and busy with tour groups, but for the real deal -- as the locals have always eaten it -- you have to go 'poor but luxurious,' as the local mantra dictates. Simple places, cheap prices, rich taste. THAT’S ALL IN HUE, VIETNAM!