As you would expect from such a large city, there is a great deal of choice, far greater than the scope of this article. We have opted to review the medium price range, where a main meal for two (including one alcoholic beverage each) cost around 200 – 350,000 VND, fitting in with many traveller’s budgets.
By far, our favourite restaurant in the backpacker area of District 1 was a superb Indian called Baba’s Kitchen. Found half way down Bui Vien, Baba’s exceeded our expectations in every way. My partner and I returned three times and were never disappointed with any dish. From the roasted masala papadams, chicken tikka and butter chicken to the kashmiri naans, we enjoyed every mouthful. The service was always head and shoulders above any other restaurant we visited in Saigon, even on our last visit when the young waiter was missing two staff (that were off sick). To top it all off, if you fill in a comments card (handed to you with your bill), you will receive 10% off!
Huong Viet, Vietnamese Aroma Restaurant
Huong Viet, also known as Vietnamese Aroma Restaurant is located at 175/10-12 Pham Ngu Lao Street, in the heart of the ‘backpacker district’. Serving a great mix of Vietnamese, Mexican and Western style food, it offers something for everyone. We thoroughly enjoyed our two dinners here, finding the food fresh, tasty, great value for money and the service friendly and consistent. A great choice amidst such a range of very average food in the backpacker area of District 1.
Based again in the backpacker district at 121 Bui Vien Street, Stella Café is well known in the area for its coffee and Italian cuisine. Staying in Saigon Mini 5 Hotel we often popped across the street for a takeaway Ca Phe Sua Da (Iced Vietnamese coffee with condensed milk). Stella offers a range of Italian and Vietnamese food, we tried their salads (very nice home-made dressing), pasta and main course of chicken breast with a creamy mushroom sauce and steamed vegetables (I just didn’t want another bowl of Pho or yet more rice). Although a little pricer than other establishments, we always enjoyed our food and found the staff to be friendly and full of enthusiasm.
Ngon Dac Biet
An absolute gem of a find and a must visit when wandering around HCMC is Ngon Dac Biet. Right next to the Bitexco Tower, this is a truly Vietnamese food corner where the locals come to eat or grab a take-away. It’s hard to miss with the ubiquitous small plastic stools, revolving pork ‘kebab’ style food stall and locals waiting outside on their Scooters. Our favourite dishes were Banh Cuon Nong; (steamed rolled rice pancakes with stuffed meat), served with Vietnamese sausage on a bed of Thai basil and mint leaves, sprinkled with dried onion flakes for 30,000 VND and Banh My Thit; a marinated pork kebab, served in a soft baguette with white cabbage, carrot, onion, lettuce and mayonnaise (burning-hot chilli sauce optional) for 20,000 VND. Their Ca Phe Sua Da certainly packed a punch and the mango smoothies were delicious. Great Vietnamese food at local’s prices. Even more rewarding if you’ve just shelled out 200,000 VND (each) to visit the Skydeck on the 49th floor of the Bitexco Tower. An absolute must – their Banh Cuon Nong!
Street Pho on Bui Thi Xuan
Pho and noodle soups are an absolute staple in Vietnam. The street stalls of Ho Chi Minh City certainly give you the opportunity to sample many variants of this theme. Not far away from the Mayflower Hotel where we stayed was a great stall at 114 Bui Thi Xuan. We were given the choice of 4 noodle types, two broths and a variety of vegetables and herbs. For the sum of 80,000 VND my partner and I each had a huge bowls of Chicken Pho, with meatballs of an unknown meat variety (language barrier), lashings of bean sprouts, lettuce and Thai basil, served with the (optional) home-made fire chilli sauce and two lime Soda’s.
Shi Fu DimSum House
After wandering around the city exploring, we happened upon Shi Fu DimSum House at 139A Nguyen Trai, District 1. We happily gorged ourselves on steamed and fried dumplings, fried radish cake with XO sauce and bean curd skin fried with shrimp, along with a few other Dim Sum items, we didn’t quite pluck up the courage to go for the Szechuan chicken feet. Great concept of being handed a menu and tick list, so you simply tick off which items you would like and hand it to the staff when you are ready. Staff must have been having a big meeting as they were otherwise engaged whilst we were dining, but we were handed two large glasses of complimentary Iced Vietnamese tea, which was a lovely gesture. A little pricer than other restaurant options, but this tends to be the case with ‘Tapas-style’ dining. Service wasn’t great but the food was very good.
BBQ street food on Bui Vien
Street food stalls and carts spring up all over Pham Ngu Lao (the backpacker district) in the early evenings. One such food stall to look out for, usually found near the Saigon Mini Hotels is a barbecue with all sorts of meat and seafood marinated in chilli, cooked to order. From chickens feet to large prawns, each with that distinctive smokey barbecue flavour followed with the kick of fresh chilli, perfect food to nibble on whilst walking around Pham Ngu Lao.
For those with a sweet tooth, we cannot recommend more highly any of the Tous les Jours bakeries found all over Saigon. From custard-filled doughnuts and bread, apple bread muffins, sesame seed sticky doughnut balls to blueberry cream cheese cakes, we had to stop ourselves returning too often for fear of our ever-widening midriffs. Individual cakes, pastries and breads range from 7,500 to 40,000 VND. A dessert lovers dream!