When eating and drinking in Saigon, don’t believe the guide book: there’s plenty more to this vibrant city than the restaurants and bars of District 1.
Take a taxi to Thao Dien – the heart of Ho Chi Minh City’s District 2 – and you’ll find a menagerie of eateries to set your taste buds alight.
That’s not to say, of course, that District 1 isn’t home to a host of splendid spots where you can grab a bite and a beer – in fact, there are a fair few that we love.
All the same, sometimes one needs to venture a little further afield. District 2 is a quick, 15-minute Uber ride from Saigon’s downtown and, with a growing collection of hip bistros, cool kitchens and enticing restaurants to be found along its suburban streets, it’s a journey worth making.
In need of inspiration? Here are 8 of our favourite District 2 haunts to get you started.
36 Thao Dien, An Phu Compound | boathousesaigon.com
Where better to start than on the banks of the Mekong, sipping Frozen Margaritas as boats chug gently by? With a riverside perch that provides the perfect place to watch the sunset reflected between the floating fauna, Saigon’s Boathouse is a fine spot to start – or end – your evening.
Situated within the An Phu compound, you’ll need to smile at the guards to get in (if you don’t have a membership card), before strolling down a tree-lined street that’s worlds away from the bustle of District 1.
Once there, there’s plenty to get the palate excited. Our preference? A scrumptious burger, washed down with happy hour helpings of red wine – best enjoyed as twilight becomes night, at around 8pm.
24 Thao Dien | kokois.com
A trendy joint that’s good for sipping and snacking, the upstairs store inside Kokoïs’ renovated warehouse setting might also see you squeezing in some shopping.
It does get a little toasty in the afternoon – the perfect time to duck inside the small, air-conditioned area (if you can find a seat) – but there’s a persistent buzz about this urban-chic eatery that makes it worth a little heat.
Come in the evening for something delicious from the experimental cocktail menu, or arrive in the day to delve through the lovely lunch options. If you’re a fan of café working, you’ll be no sore thumb bringing your laptop, whilst shopaholics will have a field day with the fashion and fabrics on the mezzanine.
97B Thao Dien | luburestaurant.com
Eating European in Saigon isn’t always your best bet, but Lubu‘s Mediterranean cuisine is truly titillating – from olives to octopus, chorizo to chicken – and sure to see your hunger happily satisfied.
What’s more, with a wine list that’s delightfully lengthy, the only problem with Lubu is just how easy it is to wile away the night (and your bank balance), absorbing the aromas and atmosphere of this picturesque place.
White-washed walls and a relaxed verandah add to the continental vibe, making tapas the smart choice for those in the mood for something special.
RELISH & SONS
105-107 Xuan Thuy Street | relishandsons.com
A relatively new arrival in District 2, Relish & Sons – with a sister joint in D1 – is the go-to destination for lovers of bulky burgers.
Curious murals and a wall lined with knives give this cosy food-house heaps of character, whilst local craft ales are the ideal compliment to the range of ridiculously good meat-and-bun combinations on offer.
Using only the highest quality ingredients, Relish, well, relishes building burgers that astound, putting paid to the bad reputation perpetrated by fast food joints the world over.
Once you’ve finished, it has to be time for one of the signature “Mugtails”: delicious alcoholic mixes served in glass jars as heavy as the drinks are strong. Go for the burgers, stay for the cocktails.
10 Tran Ngoc Dien | ancafesaigon.wordpress.com
Peeling wooden shutters, half-rolled bamboo blinds and down-lit benches: An Café is the place to take lunch if you’re looking for an almost open-air experience with ample ambience.
Recently renovated and extended, An‘s is more covered patio than closed café – and all the better for it. We love munching on fresh spring rolls as rain drips down the central opening, a refreshing Saigon breeze providing all the natural ventilation needed.
The best bit? Delicious dishes made with local ingredients. Well-presented, sublimely seasoned and mouthwateringly moreish, there’s little on the menu that won’t leave you with a satisfied smile. What’s more, herbs and vegetables are core components, not added extras, of almost every dish – showing that good flavours can be healthy ones, too.
49 Thao Dien | theloop.vn
Menus shaped like the loopy logo might be a nightmare to balance, but the air-conditioned cool of District 2’s The Loop is far from a crazy choice.
Head there for a mid-morning iced coffee and, chances are, you’ll end up staying for lunch and a smoothie. The indecisive might struggle with the multiple menus, but fans of fine flavours will have no complaints with the food.
A Lebanese chicken burrito was nothing short of divine last time we dropped in, whilst the belly-friendly fruit juices help lessen the guilt of a day spent sitting at a laptop (which The Loop‘s free Wi-Fi all but encourages). It’s not a cheap lunch, but it’s certainly a tasty one.
23 Thao Dien | facebook.com/mmsaigon
Set around an open-air courtyard lit by strings of lights and hanging lanterns, Mekong Merchant couldn’t be more atmospheric if it tried – which, perception tells you, it doesn’t: laid back is the mood, and delicious is the food, at this subtly fronted den of delectable cuisine.
On our last visit, we opted for tapenade to start, followed by a pizza, washed down by – whisper it – a few too many cocktails, and left feeling utterly relaxed – and pleasantly full. It’s good for lunch, dinner or just a quick coffee and, whilst the twilight vibe is different to that of daylight hours, a visit at any time is sure to be a chilled one.
Wine aficionados will relish the chance to cut their teeth on the Merchant‘s retail price vino list, whilst the desserts are truly tempting (like the chocolate and pistachio pud we devoured), whether you’ve a sweet tooth or not.
6/1/2 Nguyen U Di| facebook.com/madsaigon
Finally, meet MAD House – out of the way and all the better for it: part-jungle den, part-Danish delight, this gently-lit restaurant is the perfect hideaway for an evening of feasting in secret surroundings.
You’d be forgiven for thinking you’re eating beneath an Amazonian canopy, such is the proliferation of plant life in MAD House‘s garden – and, as insects screech and the moon arrives, it’s easy to loose yourself in the captivating location.
Prices are less than they could be, given the setting and just how good the edible options are, whilst service is up there with the best. There’s wine aplenty – and no rush to finish it: if you can find this urban escape, you’re in for a treat.
WORDS & IMAGES BY CHRIS ROWLANDS
Content correct at time of publication. A changing world is one of the joys of travelling!