There is no Urbanspoon guide to Saigon, or any equivalent, so finding info about restaurants can be difficult. I'm going to use this blog as a constant work in progress, updating it as I try restaurants, so newcomers to the city have a few ideas of where to go. This will not be comprehensive by any means, since I'm not getting paid to do this, but I hope it ends up being helpful. Check out the introductory first post at the bottom, it explains in more detail how this thing will work. The ratings are simple - 5/5 means I would gladly go almost any day of the week, 4/5 means I would go out of my way to eat there, and 3/5 means it's good, but I'd only go if I was in the area. Anything lower sucked, but I really haven't eaten a bad meal yet. Oh and for prices - 1 dollar is roughly 20,000 dong.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011


<iframe src=";byline=0&amp;portrait=0" width="400" height="225" frameborder="0" webkitAllowFullScreen mozallowfullscreen allowFullScreen></iframe><p><a href="">Traffic in Frenetic HCMC, Vietnam</a> from <a href="">Rob Whitworth</a> on <a href="">Vimeo</a>.</p>

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Street Food

Let me be clear: If you come to Saigon and don't try any of the street food, you're an idiot. Street food is a vital part of the culture here, as evidenced by the hundreds - possibly thousands - of street vendors that line sidewalks and streets throughout the city. The array is just as dazzling as the diversity of the city's full-blown restaurants - you can get breakfast or a midnight snack as you stagger home from the bar. Of course, if it's late enough, it would just be drunk breakfast. There really isn't a time of the day where you can't find someone selling something - I'm not even sure what all of the dishes served are, but you can easily find all kinds of pho, banh mi (sandwiches packed with different fillings depending on the time of day), traditional dumplings, fresh spring rolls, noodle dishes, meat cut up like a kebab and grilled on an open flame, etc. etc. You can also find fresh fruits and vegetables at the dozens of street markets located around the city, as well on carts that people push down the streets. A favorite sight of mine is seeing carts loaded down with bananas heading my way. There are also little ice cream carts that people push around, a bell ringing alongside to announce their approach. The people who run these carts are usually old women in conical hats, who probably learned the craft from her mother, who learned from her mother, and so on. This generational commitment is reflected in the quality of the food.

Clearly, you could eat three full meals a day on the street and be totally satisfied - and save a lot of money. Many of these places are mind-blowlingly cheap. I haven't even put the beginning of a dent in the street food scene, but here's where I've been so far. Obviously these carts or stands don't have names, but we come up with nicknames for all them, and I'll just give the street they are on. District 1 is actually a little lacking in street food, at least in the big touristy areas. There is some in Pham Ngu Lao, but you'll find that the majority of street stalls are in the more normal Vietnamese neighborhoods.

1) Banana Lady, District 3 - Head down Vo Van Tan towards Cao Thang. This stall is built into the corner of a building at the entrance to an alley two blocks before Cao Thang, on the right. Open all day until around 10 at night, this stall serves nothing but...bananas, cooked inside a banana leaf on a huge grill. You can get just the grilled banana for 6,000, or get a bag of coconut milk for dipping for an additional 2,000. The milk is totally worth it, as it adds a lot of flavor to the dish. A filling, delicious snack for less than 50 cents. Can't beat that. 5/5

2) Crack Sandwich Lady, District 3- If you're going down Vo Van Tan with the flow of traffic, go one block past the War Remnants Museum and take a right on Tran Quoc Thao. You'll see the cart about 20 feet from the corner on the right. I discovered this amazing woman during training at the LanguageCorps office, and I became immediately addicted (hence the crack-related nickname) to her heavenly egg banh mi. She's only there in the morning, and the sandwhich comes with a fried egg, pate, fresh vegetables and some sort of sauce - for 6,000 dong. When I found out it was that cheap I almost dropped the sandwich. Anyways, she doesn't really speak English, so I just walked up and held up one finger, and she knew what I wanted. After a couple days all I had to do was stand in the general area of the cart and she would whip up a sandwhich for me in seconds. A must-try if you're doing a street food tour of the city. 5/5

3) Spicy Banh Mi Dude, District 3 - Head down Vo Van Tan (can you tell that I eat on this street a lot yet?)  to the intersection with Cao Thang. Take a right, and this cart is at the entrance to the very first alley on your right. He only sets up in the evening, probably around 6, but stays open very late. This banh mi is filled with pork, pate, cucumbers, cilantro, yellow peppers, and sauce. The peppers add a healthy kick to this sandwich, which is quite delicious. A new regular dinner of mine may be a banana from the Banana Lady and a spicy banh mi - the total for both comes to just 18,000, since the sandwiches cost just 10,000. Amazing. 4/5

4) Fresh Spring Roll Lady, District 3 - Let's play "Guess what street she's on." Answer is: Vo Van Tan. I promise I'll branch out eventually. Head down Vo Van Tan towards Cao Thang - she's on the right, kind of in the middle of a block somewhere between Nguyen Thuong Hien and Cao Thang. Serves up delicious fresh spring rolls of delicate rice paper wrapped around two shrimp, a few pork slices, carrots, and various greens, as well as a bag of dipping sauce. Highly affordable, as expected - 8 sizeable rolls cost 22,000. 4/5

I thought I had eaten at more places than this, but that's all I can think of at the moment. I'm sure I'll be adding more soon as I try to cut back on spending a bit.

District 3

My two weeks of teacher training back in September took place in District 3. I also call this district home, so I've done a fair amount of eating here, especially on Vo Van Tan St. I'd like to take this opportunity to give a shout out to Hien, the LanguageCorps Vietnam manager, for either taking us to or recommedning many of the restaurants listed here. I would've done a lot of aimless, hungry wandering without her tips. This district is very Vietnamese, so most of the restaurants serve only Vietnamese dishes, and there are some real gems in this area.

1) Banh Xeo - Cao Thang St. - I'm not sure if this is the right name, but there is a huge sign over the entrance that says "Banh Xeo" in yellow lights, so that's what I call it. Not sure of the street number either, but it's about 4 blocks down Cao Thang, if you're coming from Nguyen Ti Minh Kai St., on the right. The interior is lovely, and the tables actually have little wood-model scenes of rural life set inside them and covered by glass. The menu is dedicated solely to banh xeo, and it's amazing. Page after page of options are available - you choose either beef, chicken, or seafood, and then narrow it down from a dizzying array of mushrooms, beensprouts, and other vegetables to come up with you final combination. Sizes are either normal or large, and the waiter looked at us funny when all three of us ordered a large. Large they were, as the banh xeo was easily bigger than my head. The way to eat banh xeo is to cut it into individual pieces, wrap it in a lettuce leaf, and dip the wrap into sauce. This is a messy process, but totally worth it, as this has quickly become one of my favorite Vietnamese dishes. A huge dish of said lettuce, along with other greens, is provided. Prices for the large are around 70,000, and the smalls are more like 50-60,000. Probably the best banh xeo I've had here, and definitely worth traveling for. 5/5

2) BBQ 101, Vo Van Tan St. - This definitely isn't the name of this restaurant, but there is a sign out front that says BBQ 101. A block or two past Beto, on the left. I think the staff here wanted to mess with us, since they seated us at one of the tables out front that seems to be made for small children, so my legs were sprawled all over the place. Luckily, the food made up for posture-destroying chairs. The menu has almost any kind of meat you can think of on it, in BBQ form. I went for the deer, and it was amazingly flavorful. A friend got the grilled Tiger prawns, which were huge, and she was very happy, if a tad bit messy. Meals come with a bowl of tasty rice as well. Most dishes are around 70 or 80,000, although certain meals are well over 100,000. The beer, however, is very cheap, and they keep it in a cooler right by the entrance, so there's only about a 5 second lapse between you ordering it and the brew entering your mouth. If you're in the mood for grilled meat, check this place out. 4/5

3) Beto, 57 Vo Van Tan St. - Beto sits a couple blocks past the War Remnants Museum, on the left. There are three floors of seating, so this place can accommodate a lot of diners. By far the best time to go is mid-day, because Beto has an awesome business lunch special: a salad, soup, entree, and vegetable dish for 36,000 dong. The options in each category are numerous, although the kitchen does seem to get a little confused when there are a lot of orders. Twice I've gotten the wrong soup and one time they just never bothered to send out the salads. Still, this is a killer deal, and the food is really good. My favorite salad is the Russian salad, which basically seems to be coleslaw. The soups are the weak point, so I'll leave it at that. I've had two different types of green beans and they were both addictive; the other options look good as well. The entrees are the star of the show, namely the Fried Basa fish. I'm not sure what Basa is, but it's spectacularly good. Definitely a must-try. The grilled squid is excellent as well. Highly recommended overall, especially for lunch, considering how great of a deal Beto offers. 4/5

4) Ga Nuong, 354-356 Vo Van Tan St. - A few blocks before Vo Van Tan meets Cao Thang, on the right. This place seems to have several names, although I think this is the one displayed outside. On the business card there's a picture of a chicken as well as the phrase "Poulet de France." I'm not sure what the chicken business is all about since there is a lot more on the menu besides chicken. I had lamb (this is one of the only places I've seen that glorious animal on the menu) with vegetables and bread. The funny thing about the meal was that they served in a stainless steel tray that reminded of something you would see in a school cafeteria. The food, though, is far better than a cafeteria. I enjoyed my lamb and my dining mates enjoyed their meals as well. I'm not sure what the exact price was but I think it was in the 70,000 range, although there are cheaper dishes on the menu. A solid meal. 3/5

5) Hong Phat, 389-391 Vo Van Tan St. - Just a block or so from Cao Thang, on the left. Has a diverse menu, with all of the usual Vietnamese hits. They also serve a mystery dish at every table when you sit down. It was some sort of meat wrapped around...something. I still don't know what the middle was but the outer meat was pretty delicious. I got a soup of some sort, as did my dining companions, and we were all satisfied. There's plenty of seating inside, and prices are reasonable. 3/5

6) Muoi Xiem, 190 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia St. - Muoi Xiem is very inviting, with a lovely bamboo interior setting the scene for great food. In front you can watch your meal cooking at the out-in-the-open ovens. This place specializes in banh xeo, and the options are extensive. There are many vegetarian options as well as dishes with beef, chicken, and seafood stuffings. The portions are pretty good, and the banh xeo is served on the usual banana leaf accompanied by a huge bowl of greens.  Muoi Xiem's dishes are excellent, and prices are very reasonable as well. 4/5

7) Pho Le, 303-305 Vo Van Tan - Close to Ga Nuong, although a littler farther away from Cao Thang, on the left. This bare-bones joint serves nothing but, you guessed it, pho. There is an open front and all of the furniture is plastic, but the pho is serious business. Actually, if I had to pick the best pho I've had, I would vote Pho Le. It's that good. There are about 30 items on the menu, so you can get almost anything you can think of in your pho, from the basic beef, pork, chicken, or seafood to all kinds of nasty bits and other intriguing options. Your pho is served with a heaping pile of beansprouts, lettuce, and other greens, along with a plate of hot chilis. Throw all of that in, combine it with a liberal squirt of hoisin sauce, and viola, you've got some of the best pho in the city. The magic here is in the broth, which is much more oily than normal. You have to hit this place if you're in Saigon. Expect brusque service. 5/5

There are several other places I've eaten at in District 3 that deserve mention, but I've forgotten their names. This doesn't mean the food wasn't memorable, I just can't remember them all, especially the ones that don't have business cards. I'll talk about them another time.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

District 1

District 1 is the beating heart of Saigon and, naturally, the center of the restaurant scene. The majority of the restaurants serving international fare are located here (especially in the previously discussed Pham Ngu Lao), along with many of the most expensive tables in town. The options are bewildering: you can find sushi and all kinds of other Asian, or choose from one of the many cheap stalls at Benh Thanh Market, or splash out at a 5-star masterpiece. I haven't done any "splashing out" yet, but I've done most of my eating in District 1, so here come the majority of the reviews. Oh and I should point out that I don't have a freakish memory that allows me to remember the name and address of all of these joints. Many restaurants have a stack of business cards on every table, and I always make sure to grab one so I can remember where I've been. Without further ado:
I've decided to do away with the price divider, since I've really never spent more than $7 anywhere.

1) Alibaba - 43 Mac Thi Buoi St. As I said in my previous post, I know almost nothing about Indian food, so this is far from an expert review. This place claims to have The Best Indian Cuisine, and although I've only tried one other Indian restaurant I'd have to agree with them. I had some sort of spicy lamb masala with vegetable rice and it was fantastic - and fantastically filling. The table also split three orders of naan - garlic, cheese, and regular. This was also great, and very useful for sopping up the masala sauce. My part of the bill came out to 130,000 dong but, if you're not a bread addict and only order 1 helping of naan, you could escape for under 100,000. There are some rather expensive dishes, but when the 70,000 dong ones are so delicious, what's the point? The menu is extensive, so even the pickiest of eaters should have no problem finding something to nibble on. 5/5

2) Mexico Lindo - 149 Ton That Dam St. Widely considered to serve the best Mexican food in the city, my two trips there have me agreeing with the majority opinion. The chef/owner is American, and he may surprise you by simply plopping down in a chair at your table before articulately explaining the night's special, without even introducing himself. He did this last time we ate there, and at first I thought, "What a strange fellow, he must really be into Mexican food." Then he stood up and walked into the kitchen, and the lightbulb in my head switched on. Anyways, the food is pretty excellent. Nachos with salsa and guacamole as an appetizer are a must, and my two entrees have been faijitas and a special (the chef was very passionate about it), the name of which I've forgotten. Both were delicious and on par with solid Mexican food in the U.S. If you don't order alcohol, you could keep the bill under $5. Most entrees cost between 70,000 and 90,000 dong, a few are more like 130,000, and are definitely big enough to fill you up. The menu isn't huge but it offers all of the usual Mexican highlights: tacos, burritos, quesadillas, etc. Highly recommended if you're a fan of Mexican. 5/5

3) Pho 2000 - This is one of several pho chains located in the city, although the one right across from Benh Thanh market is the most famous because Bill Clinton ate there in 2000 when he became the first American president to visit Vietnam since the end of the war. The usual pho varieties, such as beef, pork, seafood, beef meatball, etc. are served. If I remember correctly most of them were around 50,000 or 60,000 dong. The pho was good, although not quite presidential, and it did cause me to almost ruin a bathroom later that night. That doesn't seem to be the norm though, since my roommates were fine and, presumably, Clinton didn't explode all over the Prime Minister. 3/5

4) Pho 24  - Another pho chain with locations throughout the city, as well as places like Indonesia and Hong Kong. Serves excellent fried spring rolls as well as an array of pho, prepared either as a big bowl or a normal bowl. I ordered one that came with beef (or maybe pork?) and some nasty bits, such as muscle tendon and tripe. I wasn't a fan of the tendon but the rest was fine. Again, not the best pho I've ever had, but it certainly gets the job done, especially once you add the usual condiments of fish or hoisin sauce, beensprouts, greens, and hot sauce. Basically in the same price range as Pho 2000. You could consider them the McDonalds and Burger King of Saigon, since those fast-food chains don't exists here (hooray!). 3/5

5) Quan Com Viet Ngon - 160 Pasteur St. If you're coming down Pasteur from Le Loi St., it's in between Ly Tu Trong St. and Nguyen Du St., on the right. This palatial restaurant apparently used to be a simple garden eatery with tables surrounded by food stalls. The setting has definitely moved upmarket, with multiple levels of well-appointed furniture and walls, as well as a reflecting pool inside the entrance, making for a memorable setting. There is outdoor seating as well and, despite the massive number of seats, we actually had to wait a few minutes here. Despite the beauty of Quan Com, the prices are surprisingly affordable. The kitchen dishes out an extensive menu focused on regional Vietnamese specialities - there are two pages of spring rolls alone! You can get Hanoi-style noodle dishes, Hue Imperial cuisine, Mekong Delta-style seafood dishes, and everything in between. I went for a regional Delta dish and was thoroughly impressed. The spring roll appetizer was delicious as well, and my friends enjoyed their dinners as well. The majority of the dishes were under 60,000 dong, a steal considering the setting and quality of the food. Highly recommended. 5/5

6) The Food Stalls at Benh Thanh Market - Benh Thanh could be considered the center point of Saigon, so it is impossible to miss, especially since so many tourists flock there. In addition to clothes, electronics and souvenirs, you can find dirt-cheap food stalls lining one section of the market during the day. At night, after the market closes, the action moves outside, as tarps are erected and plastic tables and chairs are set out to welcome in the throngs of tourists. Each temporary restaurant has its own promoter, who comes up with a menu and tries to persuade you to come to try their food. Many of these places have enormous menus, although they all serve nothing but Vietnamese food (not that that's a problem). I've eaten at a couple of these places, and they are delicious, especially considering how affordable they are. Many dishes are under 40,000, although you can go big and order a whole fish for 100,000. You can also watch your meal get made, since the grills and other cooking appliances are right in front of you if you eat inside or set up behind the tables outside.

7) Tokyo Deli - 240 Le Thanh Ton St. Le Thanh Ton is one way, so this is about a block past Benh Thanh the only direction you can go, on the right. My roommates and I had been jonesing for some sushi, and some other teachers told us about this gem. The decor is completely white and spotlessly clean, and the sushi is simply inredible - at prices that will blow your mind. I ordered a miso soup (excellent) and split a variety platter and and an order of Spicy California rolls with someone and payed about 120,000. That meal would've cost at least $20 back in the U.S. The variety platter included Nigiri-style salmon, tuna, and some other things I didn't recognize but were amazing. However, the spicy California rolls were the star of the show. I usually consider California rolls a bit of a cop out when ordering sushi, since they are served everywhere, but the spiciness of this dish was perfect, and the flavor was addicting. I like to try different things each time I go to a restaurant, but I'll have a hard not ordering these again when I go back. Prices range from 20,000 dong for soup to around 50,000 for a basic roll to over 100,000 for platters and fancier rolls. 5/5

8) Wrap & Roll - Another high-quality chain. I've been to the one on Hai Ba Trung, behind the Opera House. As you can probably infer from the name, Wrap & Roll specializes in spring rolls and dishes that are wrapped in various vegetables. A word of warning: they will run out of food later in the evening because the place is so popular. I tried to order two different dishes that were no longer being served that night. The spring rolls I did get, however, were excellent, and the dipping sauce that comes with them is one of the best sauces I've had here. Serving sizes are smallish, hence why I was trying to order two dishes. Most of them cost around 40 or 50,000 dong. I definitely plan on returning, despite the ordering difficulties. 4/5

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Pham Ngu Lao

Pham Ngu Lao is sometimes called the "backpacker ghetto". It is an area located around the street of the same name in District 1, not far from Benh Thanh Market. To make this easier to type I'll shorten it to PNL. Unless you're staying at one of the pricier hotels downtown on your visit, you will most likely stay in this neighborhood. It's sole purpose is to cater to the backpacker/Western expat/visitor crowd. There are affordable hotels and guesthouses everywhere, as well as pirated book and movie stores, souvenir shops, hair salons, tailors, oh and about 7,000 restaurants.

If you want international food in Saigon, PNL should be near the top of your list of areas to check out. In addition to places dedicated solely to Indian, Turkish, Italian, Mexican, etc. food, many restaurants have menus that would make the UN proud. The most common multi-ethnic menu is one that is split into Vietnamese, Western, Mexican, and Italian sections, allowing you and your mates to order stir-fried shrimp with garlic and beansprouts, a cheeseburger, beef fajitas and pasta quattro formaggio all in one place. Thanks to this diversity you will often have about 347 options to choose from. That's a rough guess. I have no idea how these restaurants stock the ingredients for so many totally different dishes while staying profitable. Often times, the result of these absurd menus is somewhat sub-par food, although almost everything I've had has been completely acceptable, and there are places that stand out above the crowd. I spent my first two weeks in Saigon at a hotel in PNL, so I've done a lot eating there, and I still go back to the area at least once a week to eat. It deserves it's own section. Oh and a note about the addresses: many restaurants in PNL are on two small alleys that connect Pham Ngu Lao St. and Bui Vien St. So if an address is, for example, 175/10 Pham Ngu Lao St., it is not on the main street but in an alley. Sounds confusing at first but it's not that hard to figure out once you see it.

$1-$5 (almost anything you order to eat in PNL will cost under $5)

1) Bread and Butter - 42/24 Bui Vien St.. Nestled in a tiny alley, this appropriately tiny restaurant is a favorite expat enclave thanks to its British-inspired menu. Don't be put off by the sight of one lonely table when you walk in, as there is more seating upstairs...all of four tables. Oh and when I say "stairs" I actually mean "very steep ladder that is almost impossible to use even when stone sober." Hey, at least the food is worth the death-defying ascent. A popular choice is the Sunday dinner roast, which includes roast beef, roasted potatoes, roasted vegetables and a Yorkshire Pudding, all for just under 100,000 dong. One of my dining companions reports that the hamburger is simply outstanding, so I will definitely try it next time I go. There is only one type of beer served: Huda, a brew from Hue, Vietnam's old imperial capital on the central coast. It goes well with the roasted food. Give this place atry if you're hankering for some heavy Western food. 4/5

2) Chi's Cafe - 40/31 Bui Vien St. Down the same narrow alley as Bread and Butter - in fact they're right across from reach other. I've been here for breakfast on a morning when I was absolutely famished. Luckily, one of the items on the menu is a fully satiating breakfast of eggs, hash browns, toast, fruit, bacon, and ham. The hash browns were rather plain and somewhat tasteless, but everything else was great. It's also one of the few places I've found a chocolate milkshake on the menu - and it was spectacularly refreshing. All of this came in under 100,000 dong. Everyone else I ate with was happy with their breakfasts as well. If you're staying in the area, consider Chi's when you're venturing out for breakfast. 4/5

3) Huong Viet - 175/10 Pham Ngu Lao St. This place is a definite cut above its neighbors. Although it has followed the trend of having enough dishes on its menu to feed a medium-sized country without anyone having the same dish, Huong Viet doesn't fall prey to the problem of average food. I've been there twice: the first time I had a seafood banh xeo, which is basically a Vietnamese pancake made out of yellow rice paper. On the second trip I had stir-fried chicken with chile, lemongrass and rice. The banh xeo was excellent, and massive, but the chicken dish was spectacularly good. Both of my dining companions have loved the place as well. If you're staying in PNL be sure to check it out. It's on the right if you're coming from Pham Ngu Lao St., and easy to pick out because its lovely wooden furniture and gray stone walls stick out among its shabbier neighbors. Prices vary from 40,000 for an appetizer of spring rolls to a little over 100,000 for the big seafood dishes. 5/5

4) La Cantina  - 175/3 Pham Ngu Lao St. Down the same alley as several of the places reviewed here. Also has a massive menu, but the food is definitely above average. As you would guess from the name, Mexican is their specialty, and the decor matches. The furniture looks like it could be from a Mexican beach bar, and the music makes me feel like I should be sitting in a hacienda smoking a cigar after ordering the execution of my rival drug gang. I've had the fajitas, which were tasty, and my friends have had the enchiladas and chicken burrito, both of which earned positive reports. Last time I actually got a cheeseburger, and it was surprisngly quite excellent. Easily the best burger I've had here so far, and it was pretty damn big. Prices for almost every entree are around 75,000, and drinks are affordable as well. 4/5

5) Le Pub - 175/22 Pham Ngu Lao St. A popular restaurant/bar with a Quiz Nite on Tuesdays and distinctive red walls. Your ultimate bill will depend on how much you feel like drinking that night, since Le Pub has some great specials - $2 for any cocktail (and they are strong!) on Thursday, anyone? The food however, is pretty affordable, and it's good enough for a place that emphasizes the drinking. I've had a burger - it was fine, although the beef here does taste a bit different, and a falafel with hummus wrap - I consider myself a bit of a connoisseur when it comes to falafel, and this one was a tad disappointing, to be honest. It certainly wasn't bad, I've just had much better, although it will satisfy your falafel craving if need be. All sandwiches come with fries, and they are tasty. Other food options include traditional Vietnamese dishes, breakfast, and other Western staples. 3/5

6) Mumtaz Indian - 226 Bui Vien St. I know next to nothing about Indian food, except that it is delicious. At Mumtaz I ordered mutton jalfrezi because the description: mutton (sheep) cooked in a spicy curry sauce and served with rice sounded quite excellent. My gut instinct served me well, as the meal was delightful. The waiters were Indian and there were also Indians eating there, which is always a good sign. We ordered some naan as well and my total was under the magic number of 100,000. I don't remember exactly where on Bui Vien this is since there is a restaurant about every 5 feet on the street, but it has a large sign and an inviting wooden interior. There may have been some orange paint inside as well, if that helps at all. 4/5

7) Stella - 119 Bui Vien St. On the left if you're walking away from downtown. Claims to have the "Best Coffee in Town," although I can't comment on that since I hate coffee. I do however, love the breakfast and Italian food. I've had a wonderful hazelnut pancake, along with an equally wonderful orange juice, as well as pasta and a pizza (not all at the same time). The pizza was actually rather boring - perhaps my standards are too high. Defnitely a great place to go for breakfast though, and I'm looking forward to trying the  lasagna next time I go for dinner. Extensive breakfast menu, Italian dishes include many kinds of pizza and pasta, and there is a Vietnamese section to order from as well. The fancier Italian dishes like gnocci and lasagna are just a smidge under 100,000 dong. 4/5

There are a handful of other places I've eaten at in this area, but I don't remember their names, since they all kind of run together. I remembered these because I took one of the business cards that they provide on every table. I'll get the names eventually and add them to the list.

Friday, October 22, 2010

An Introduction to the Saigon Restaurant Scene

Saigon's food scene is a wonder to behold. Eating establishments range from world-class, Michelin-star worthy dining institutions to food stalls on a corner run by an old woman, and everything in between. In order to help out people who have never been here before, I will make this blog as idiot-proof and easy-to-understand as possible. I had never been to Asia before my flight on August 26, and the ensuing weeks and months have been an education in a totally different dining scene. Also, I don't have my most trusted websites to help me when I hear about a place to eat: Urbanspoon and Googlemaps. Urbanspoon is a pretty reliable way to find reviews of a restaurant, and Googlemaps is the easiest way to find a place you've never been to before. There are no online dining guides for Saigon, and while Googlemaps can find the right street in the city, it will not give you the exact address. As a consequence, I've circled blocks multiple times trying to find my destination, since many streets here are one-way, and the building numbers don't match on both sides, which gets confusing. For example, if one building takes up a whole block, that whole block will have one address. So, at the next block, the buildings on the right may be 47 Le Thanh Ton, while the buildings on the left will already be at 84 Le Thanh Ton. At least this isn't as bad as Phnom Penh, where buildings numbered 13, 47, and 76, or something ridiculous like that, can be found one next to the other. Given the difficulty inherent in finding a restaurant, even with the address in hand, I'll include my best description of how to get to a place, in addition to how the food is. For now, I'll break restaurants into categories two ways: first, by district, second, by price level.

While menus at most establishments are skewed in the Vietnamese direction, there are plenty of places to get your Mexican, Italian, Middle Eastern, etc. cravings satisfied. If you're worried about the language barrier, don't. Most places have English descriptions under the Vietnamese name of a dish, so if worst comes to worst you can simply point at the name. There are some places that have no menus, but all you have to do is look at what other people are eating and point to whatever you think looks good. It's simple as that. Also, very few places accept credit cards, so make sure you're alway carrying some dong (giggle) when you go out to eat.

I'll do my best when it comes to reviewing the actual food. I like to think I have pretty good taste, although I certainly don't have the most developed palette in the world. One warning: I have almost no sense of smell, so my posts will be completely lacking in that department. Finally, since I'm a tightwad, the restaurants I talk about will mostly be rather affordable. Don't expect to see many of the aformentioned fancy-pants places. Taking all of that into account, I hope you enjoy this guide, and I hope you visit Vietnam! (Or, if you're already here, try some of the places I talk about.)