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. Eating in Saigon (AKA Ho Chi Minh City) did not disappoint. In fact it was an absolute delight. These were the restaurants where we had some of our most enjoyable eating experiences.
Nhà Hàng Ngon
In the evening sit in the lush garden but by day when it’s sweltering head in 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. The place was packed with affluent Vietnamese when we visited. Note this restaurant used to be called Quan An Ngon. 138 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia St, Saigon, 08 829 9449.
Found in a buzzy complex called The Refinery, a former opium factory which houses a handful of busy restaurants and wine bars, Hoa Tuc is located in a beautifully restored French Art Deco space with gorgeous ironwork and antique ceiling fans. We ate here at night but it must be 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 fairly traditional. The prawns caramelised with green onions in a clay pot and the BBQ spare ribs in five spice were both delicious. 74/7 Hai Ba Trung, District 1, Saigon, 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 Hai Ba Trung St, District 3, Saigon, 08 3829 7242.
Com Nieu Sai Gon
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 actually 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, Saigon, 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, Saigon, 08 824 8468, www.xusaigon.com
This waterside restaurant and bar in a sleek, stunning house, came highly recommended by a couple of local contacts, yet while we loved it as a spot for a sunset drink (see our guide here), we were a tad disappointed in the food. We only include it here in case they were having a bad night (the owner-manager was out of town apparently). The tuna in the tuna spring rolls, while not completely off, was on the turn, and was very unpleasant, while 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; 84 (0) 8 3 744 6632.