Eating Out in Saigon
Eating out in Saigon is an absolute delight. While street food rules in Vietnam’s northern capital Hanoi, in the southern Vietnamese city of Saigon, officially called Ho Chi Minh City, you’ll find some of the country’s best restaurants.
We’ve long loved Vietnamese cuisine, having been spoilt with authentic Vietnamese food when we used to live in Sydney, home to a large Vietnamese-Australian population.
Unlike Hanoi, where the street food is the finest in Vietnam and restaurants often disappointed, eating out in Saigon did not disappoint. These were the restaurants where we had some of our most delicious meals and enjoyable dining experiences.
Our Guide to Eating Out in Saigon
Cục Gạch Quán
Our favourite restaurant in Saigon is set in an atmospheric French colonial mansion designed by the architect owner, who specialises in sustainable design, and inspired by his grandmother’s food stall. The ‘countryside restaurant’ is charmingly decorated in a cosy, eco-friendly, country-chic style. Think: recycled timber tables, pre-loved vintage furniture, and no plastics.
The home-cooked, country-style Vietnamese cuisine is also inspired by his grandmother’s cooking: authentic and traditional, it is also eco-minded. There’s a big focus on seasonal Vietnamese produce bought directly from small farmers, organic produce is used wherever possible, and no MSG, preservatives or chemicals are used. The chefs are big fans of smoke and pickling, so expect veg fermented on site and wonderful grilled meats.
The surprisingly long menu can be intimidating if you’re not familiar with Vietnamese cuisine, so ask the waiter for advice. We adored the morning glory with garlic; fried tofu with lemon, salt and pepper; and caramelised Vietnamese braised pork with boiled eggs. All were superb.
While they have a good wine list, with a focus on French wines, they also have a long menu of delicious, freshly squeezed fruit and vegetable juices and a range of teas.
10 Dang Tat, Ward Tan Dinh, District 1, 08 3848 0144, www.cucgachquan.com.vn
Nhà Hàng Ngon
In the evening we recommend you sit in the lush garden courtyard, but by day, when it’s sweltering out, head inside to the big breezy interior of this lovely yellow French colonial-era villa, and snag a table under a ceiling fan or by the pond.
Hawker stands surround diners in the garden and patios around the house, so you can get up and have a wander to see what looks good or simply trust your waiter’s suggestions when you order at your table.
We loved the banh mi ca ri ga, a sweet, fragrant chicken curry served with a French baguette; bo nuong muoi ot, succulent grilled beef sprinkled with chilli salt; and muc nuong muoi ot, melt-in-your mouth squid with chilli and salt.
While I’ve seen the restaurant dismissed as ‘touristy’, the place has been packed with affluent Vietnamese whenever we’ve visited. Note this restaurant used to be called Quan An Ngon.
160 Pasteur, Bến Nghé Quận 1, District 1, o8 3827 7131
Located in a buzzy complex called The Refinery, a former opium factory which houses a handful of busy restaurants and wine bars, Hoa Tuc is set in a beautifully restored French Art Deco space with gorgeous ironwork and antique ceiling fans.
We’ve eaten here both at night and during the day and it’s especially lovely by day when it’s filled with light. The modern Vietnamese and Vietnamese fusion cuisine draws a mix of affluent locals, expats and tourists.
We enjoyed the mixed platter of starters that included fresh spring rolls with prawn and pork, fried spring rolls with pork, taro and mushrooms, fish cake wraps with spicy cucumber sauce, and a lotus stem salad with prawns and pork, that were all traditional. The prawns caramelised with green onions in a clay pot and the BBQ spare ribs in five spice were both delicious.
Upstairs is one of Saigon’s best cooking schools, which we’ll review here on the site soon.
74/7 Hai Ba Trung, District 1, 08 3825 1676 .
Tucked down a dimly lit lane, Tib can be tricky to locate at night, but there’ll usually be a staff member on the curb to direct customers to the door. We heard mixed reports about this restaurant and bafflingly our hotel concierge tried to discourage us from eating here, but we loved it.
It has an atmospheric, retro Sino-Vietnamese interior that wouldn’t be out of place in a Wong Kar Wai film, service was excellent, and the Hue cuisine was scrumptious.
Both the fresh spring rolls and fried Imperial rolls were fantastic; a braised pork in a clay pot was sublime, melt-in-your-mouth stuff; rice tossed with lotus seeds, shrimp and chicken was tasty; and the morning glory with garlic was moreish. Only the stewed shrimp in coconut juice in a clay pot was disappointing – the prawns, still in their shells, were over-cooked and mushy by the time they got to our table.
187 Ter Hai Ba Trung St, District 3, 08 3829 7242, tibrestaurant.com.vn
Cơm Niêu Sài Gòn
You may have seen this restaurant and its owner Madame Ngoc, featured on the Saigon episode of Anthony Bourdain’s Cooks Tour series, however, it was famous well before its starring appearance.
The irony is that while this restaurant is famous for what appears to be a tourist gimmick – order the rice in the clay-pot and two waiters will theatrically play catch with the dish, throwing it from one to the other before cracking the claypot and throwing it to the other waiter who catches the rice on a plate – the place is always packed with locals, from families to businessmen, and few staff speak English, or even French for that matter.
We were assured by every person we met that, despite the performance, the food is authentic – and it was very tasty, as well as cheap. There is a ridiculously long menu, so we were glad we’d gone with a few good recommendations and our waiter seemed to agree they were the dishes to get. In addition to the rice, a specialty is offal – from tongue to womb – as well as seafood.
19 Tu Xuong, District 3, 08 3932 2799.
There are two stylish spaces where you can choose to dine in this chic restaurant owned by Australian-born Bien Nguyen, son of Mai Lam, whose boutique I wrote about here and here. Downstairs you’ll find a cool space with wooden floorboards, comfy sofas and wooden tables that is a great place for a casual lunch, while upstairs is a glamorous dining room that is a must for a more serious or romantic dinner. The cuisine is a combination of traditional and modern Vietnamese.
We ate here for lunch and liked the tasty fresh spring rolls; minced pork and mushrooms rolled in soft steamed rice flour sheets with bean shoots and roasted shallots; a grilled (and super-succulent) beef noodle salad; and grilled pork and noodles with plenty of fresh Vietnamese herbs. They also do a delicious zingy ginger mojito.
71–75 Hai Ba Trung Street, District 1, 08 824 8468, www.xusaigon.com
If you need a change from Vietnamese (we never have), this relaxed, modern eatery in a yellow colonial-style villa offers a handful of Asian menus: Thai, Cambodia, Laos, and Burmese, along with Vietnamese. While you might not expect it with such an ambitious menu, the food is authentic, and very good, including a mix of standards, as well as hard-to-find dishes.
The ‘Asian tapas’ sharing appetiser plate is a great choice if you can’t decide what cuisine to have, although the fresh Vietnamese springs rolls are light but filling. Stir-fries and noodle dishes are generously portioned and, again, genuine. The pad Thai is as good as the best in Thailand. The Thai owner has another Monsoon in Yangon.
The laidback atmosphere is also a big appeal, with banquette seating, Buddha statues, vibrant art on the walls, a (discrete) kid’s play corner, stacks of magazines, and fresh flowers. Diners include a mix of Vietnamese, expats and savvy tourists.
No 1, Cao Ba Nha, District 1, 08 6290 8899. Monsoon Facebook page.
Four years after its 2011 opening and it is still hard to get a table at Japanese expat Yosuke Masuko’s buzzy Pizza 4Ps. For many, the appeal is the lively atmosphere as much as the delicious Japanese-style Italian pizza.
While the initial popularity of the place was clearly based on novelty – Japanese-pizza in a modern-styled interior (bare brick walls, pendant lamps, purple seats), hidden down a laneway – now it’s all about the food, with Italian expats claiming this is the best pizza in Saigon.
The pizza-style is in the Neapolitan tradition, so it’s made with wheat flour, and is thin and soft, and made with the finest imported Italian ingredients, such as prosciutto, Parma ham, buffalo mozzarella, and Italian tinned tomatoes. They’re also sourcing beautiful vegetables from organic producers in Dalat, and offer homemade, artisanal burrata and mozzarella cheese made in the mountains of Dalat.
Some of the toppings are not so traditional, however, so expect to see Teriyaki Chicken pizza, featuring seaweed, shiso greens, Vietnamese perilla leaves, mayonnaise, olive oil, and house-made mozzarella. The 4Ps stand for ‘Platform of Personal Pizza of Peace’. They now have a branch in Hanoi also.
8/15 Le Thanh Ton, District.1, 0120 789 4444, pizza4ps.com
This waterside restaurant and bar in a sleek, stunning house is a good half-hour’s drive from the city centre and can be tricky to find. Have the phone number handy so your taxi driver can call for directions.
The restaurant came highly recommended by trusted local contacts, yet while we loved the spot for a sunset drink (see our guide here), we were a tad disappointed in the food. We only include the restaurant here as they claimed they were having a bad night (the owner-manager was out of town apparently and the head chef was off; no excuse we know), and because we’re prepared to give it another go next trip.
The cuisine is modern pan-Asian and while there were plenty of dishes that sounded appetising, the tuna in the tuna spring rolls, while not completely off, was on the turn, and was very unpleasant. The prawn tempura, which looked delicious, was actually way too crispy and very oily.
Whatever you order, make sure it’s accompanied by cocktails, which were all superb. We loved the dirty martini and lychee cilantro gimlet.
38 Nguyen U Di, Thao Dien, An Phu, District 2, 08 3 744 6632.
Updated: November 2015