Aside from markets, the Mekong and motorbike mayhem, Saigon’s District 1 is home to a positive plateful of enticing eateries.
With free rein to roam Vietnam’s southern super-city in search of superb spots to eat and drink, where should you head for a filling start to the evening?
It’s no secret that Ho Chi Minh City’s cafe and restaurant scene has sky-rocketed over the last few years, with stylish supper spots and trendy diners aplenty opening throughout District 1 (and beyond).
What’s more, the culinary origins of these tempting taverns are as far-ranging as they are delicious: from Dutch to Australian to Japanese to re-imagined Vietnamese.
All of this makes treading the boards of Saigon’s vibrant downtown a rewarding experience for hungry food-lovers in search of something a little bit different.
As ever, the luxury of choice can be a real headache. So, let Modern Traveller help you to get started with 8 of our favourite food halls in central Saigon (and a couple of extras, too).
Nha hang Ngon
Pasteur | Facebook
Can’t decide which local delicacy to try first? Step onto the atmospheric terrace of Nha hang Ngon and you won’t have to.
An outdoor eatery (with some indoor spots) draped with fairy-lights and ambience, the perimeter of this colonial era courtyard is home to a host of local stalls, serving up scrumptious specials of all smells, shapes and sizes.
Take a Saigon Beer as you decide what to start with, before sampling several of the freshly-prepared and dangerously more-ish dishes. Take note: this celebration of sensational tastes fills up quickly – and for good reason.
Just off Hai Ba Trung | therefinerysaigon.com
From one softly-lit square to another, The Refinery is to be found through a subtly signposted archway, discerning drinkers and diners spilling out onto its relaxed veranda as the food hall opposite blares out its karaoke hits.
With a menu that caters to almost every western taste, whether one savours the soups, goes big on the burgers, or delights in the desserts, this is dining in fine form and flavour, in the heart of HCMC.
Wine-lovers will welcome the lengthy list, whilst those hankering for the Saigon of days-past will revel in the French charm of this former opium factory. And the chocolate mousse? Let’s just say you won’t regret it.
Pasteur | Facebook
Don’t double-check your smartphone: just keep climbing. Down an alley and through what appears to be someone’s front room, several flights of decrepit stairs later your efforts will be rewarded with the rooftop sanctuary of Secret Garden.
Serving local dishes in a stylish, open-air setting, the regular wait for tables might suggest it’s not such a secret – but it does give a clue as to just how tasty the Garden’s treats are. From spring rolls to fried rice, old favourites are here made new in delightful fashion.
Leaving the sky-scraping race to the shiny towers of downtown, Secret Garden’s flavour is lantern-lit and stylishly weather-beaten, as crumbling, mud-caked walls and low-lying views over the street outside make for an enthrallingly ethereal evening.
Just off Le Thanh Ton | pizza4ps.com
In search of doughy delight in Saigon? Look no further than Pizza 4Ps. A little tricky to find, and pricier than some Italian joints in town, 4Ps remains a truly titillating place to enjoy wood-fired wonders in stone-walled surroundings.
Using home-made artisanal cheeses, organic vegetables and imported Italian ingredients, the team at 4Ps – which stands for “Platform for Personal Pizza for Peace” – whips up wonderful Neapolitan pizzas for your pleasure.
With salads, pasta and other appetising dishes on offer for those not looking to enjoy a dish of something crusty, as well as an extensive wine list with which to wash it all down, there are few better places to dress up for.
Han Thuyen | propagandasaigon.com
Intriguing wall murals and a tall spiral staircase set the tone for Propaganda‘s quirky world of simple, delicious dishes, where fresh flavours meet enticing presentation in a modern interpretation of Vietnamese cuisine.
Set behind tall, domed windows and mercifully air-conditioned, Propaganda is usually busy for both lunch and dinner, so be sure to head in early.
Perfectly placed for a post-Post Office meal, grab a fresh coconut and peruse the menu, making sure to take a plate of the ever-popular spring rolls, before sampling any of the rice or noodle dishes. Oh, and don’t miss out on dessert.
Ly Tu Trong | huonglai2001saigon.com
Do good deeds as you dine with a trip to Huong Lai: offering employment to orphans, youth from backgrounds of poverty and former street children, here your Dong will do a lot more than just buy delicious local food.
Opened in 2001, Huong Lai offers training to all of its staff – including English language and hospitality skills – which will set them up for a better path in life: many have gone on from the sloping-roofed room here to serve in 5-star establishments.
Head through the shutters at street level to the simple upstairs area, and prepare to savour authentic Vietnamese cuisine from the à la carte menu that truly makes a difference.
Bun Cha 145
Bui Vien | Facebook
Brave the backpacker district for a trip to this Vietnamese finger-food joint and you won’t be disappointed. Hailing from Hanoi, northern specialties aplenty make this a worthy dinner destination.
Whilst space is at a premium, queuing for a seat only serves to increase the appetite as those ahead of you receive their small-but-perfectly-formed plates of meats, vegetables and sweet surprises.
Portions are a little smaller than some might like, but this is fresh, local food with a modern twist your tastebuds will thank you for.
The Racha Room
Mac Thi Buoi | theracharoom.com
To swing open the heavy wooden door from the street and ascend the straight, narrow staircase into The Racha Room‘s first-floor pad is to enter a Thai-tinged suburban space of intoxicatingly laid-back character.
Bare-brick walls – one adorned with an elephant mural – and a bar stocked to the brim with a miscellany of spirit bottles are the essence of this urban chic restaurant, where modish metropolitan diners make merry in the low light.
Expensive it may be, but The Racha Room is worth it for the cocktails alone – not to mention the fantastic fusion food, which, served by the plate, is made to share.
Honourable mention #1: Cafe-Restaurant
Calmette | crhcmc.com
One of our favourite places to grab a coffee in District 1 is also a delicious place to take dinner: with sumptuous steaks, spicy pasta and several Dutch dishes, this upstairs restaurant offers stylish dining just metres from the hectic hoards of the Ben Thanh night market.
Honourable mention #2: Sushi Ko
Vinh Khanh | Facebook
OK, so this isn’t in District 1. But hop in a taxi and this street-side stools affair is just a 5-minute ride across the river into District 4 – and it’s undeniably worth the journey. Besides the pocket-friendly prices and roadside vibe that you’ll find in few other spots across the city, the menu offers almost every kind of sushi going, freshly and deliciously prepared.
Got a favourite place to eat in D1 that’s not on this list? Let us know in the comments below – MT will give it a try next time we’re in HCMC…
WORDS BY CHRIS ROWLANDS
Content correct at time of publication. A changing world is one of the joys of travelling!