Saturday, October 22, 2011


by: Karol  

First of all, I'm not a foodie.  That's why I'm not so sure if you should listen to everything I'm gonna say here.  Haha.

For my recent Vietnam trip, our only goal was... to eat.  We didn't have any touristy activity planned, except for a short visit to the Cu Chi Tunnels because I wanted to try firing an M16 rifle (Macy and I only tried the AK47 last year).

For me, food in Vietnam all taste the same no matter where you eat them...  EVERYTHING IS JUST SO GOOD.  Wherever you choose to eat, the ingredients are always fresh and they all end up yummeeh in the tummeeeh!

When Macy and I were in Saigon last year, we bought fresh spring rolls from this street vendor and it tasted just as good as the ones from a fine dining restaurant.

We were not sure though if it comes with free Hepa and LBM.  Thank God we have strong stomachs.  (And actually even if it came with free Hepa and LBM, we'd still eat it.  It's worth it!!!)

Now how are you going to decide where to eat in Saigon if the food taste the same everywhere anyway?  Well, I think it all depends on your personal preference.  You can say "Why eat in high-end restaurants when I can have the same good food for a cheaper price at Ben Thanh Market", or "Why sweat eating at Ben Thanh Market if I can just shell out a few more bucks and eat that same good food comfortably in a restaurant".  Totally up to you!

Here are some dining choices you might want to try next time you're in Saigon.  Each one has a different ambiance, and can give you different dining experiences! 

1. Lemongrass Restaurant 
4 Nguyen Thiep St., Dist. 1
Tel: +848 8220496

This small restaurant is quite popular for tourists and often mentioned in travel guides.  The interior isn't really what I would call romantic, but it's cozy.

Food is relatively expensive compared to other restaurants in Saigon, but still affordable.  Most of the main courses are priced around 150,000-200,000VND or US$7-10.  Serving size isn't really generous, good for one to two, max.

Their coconut rice is amazing, because well, it really does taste like coconut.  Haha.

Their fresh coconut juice is still... just fresh coconut juice.  But I like it because it has payong.  Macy and I love drinks with payong!!

The only dish we ordered that costs more than their usual is the chili lobster.  We got tempted because we saw fresh lobsters being delivered at the restaurant. 

2.  Vietnam House
93-95 Dong Khoi St., Dist. 1
Tel: +848 3829 1623

Vietnam House is actually a restored colonial house.  

Its claim to fame is that a lot of famous world leaders have eaten here, such as US President Bush and our very own President Cory Aquino.

The restaurant has also been featured countless of times and has received awards.

The restaurant, even during lunch time, gives a romantic vibe.  The place is dimly lit and tables are spaced far apart.

Food, serving size, and price range is similar to Lemongrass.  You can view their menu here.

If I can only try one restaurant and I have to choose between Lemongrass and Vietnam House, I'd go for Vietnam House-- for the bragging rights. Hahaha.  "I ate where presidents eat in Vietnam, Hah!!"  

3.  Hai Lua at Ben Thanh Market

This place is open from 7PM onwards.  They serve all sorts of fresh seafood, and everything is cooked in an open kitchen.

Expect the place to be packed, and it can take some time for you to get a table.  You might be rubbing elbows with other diners too, and I meant that literally.  If you get seated near the grill, expect for the smell of the food sticking to your clothes.
A lot of people seem to order this dish.  Steamed prawns in coconut juice!
After heating the prawns in fire, the server will peel the prawns on your table and soak them into the coconut.
Main courses are usually priced below 100,000VND / US$5, though some are priced higher such as crabs, lobsters, and groupers.  The prices may appear to be just slightly cheaper compared to restaurants, but because they have bigger servings, they do actually come out a lot cheaper.
If you ask me, eating in Ben Thanh market is a good experience!  Even if you find the place too uncomfortable, try it at least once during your stay in Saigon! 

4.  Cung Dinh (Royal Court) Restaurant at the Rex Hotel 
148-150 Pasteur St. Dist 1 
Tel: +848 8292185 
Cung Dinh is considered a fine-dining restaurant inside the five-star Rex Hotel.  I've noticed that a lot of business peeps dine here.  Don't worry about dress codes, as I went in shorts and slippers and they didn't seem bothered at all.
If you are somewhere in the area of Rex Hotel, the City Hall for photo-ops for example, you can escape the unforgiving Vietnamese sun for a while and take refuge inside the tender loving air-conditioned hotel to freshen up a bit, which is exactly how Macy and I discovered this restaurant.  There are shops inside Rex Hotel too, so this restaurant is a good stop after ogling at the goodies, and that is the reason why I went back!

Food comes out at 300,000VND / US$15 per person on the average.  Expensive by Vietnamese standards, but still affordable considering you're in a 5-star hotel.  Imagine, the price of eating at a fine-dining restaurant in Vietnam is just like eating at Cibo in Rockwell!  Unless you're a human food shredder, serving size is ample too!
One interesting thing about this restaurant is that there's the Rex logo in all their dinnerware!  Lovvvet!
5.  Bonsai River Cruise 
Saigon Port, 5 Nguyen Tat Thanh Street, Dist. 4 
Tel: +848 3910 5560
Why not spend your dinner cruising the Saigon River?  There are lots of cruise operators in Ho Chi Minh but we were told that Bonsai River Cruise is the best.  They serve buffet dinner while most others serve a la carte.  The boat capacity is also limited to a little over a hundred, while the others accommodate much more.
Most of the other cruises dock on a different port.  Bonsai River cruise, meanwhile, docks at the Saigon Port with the cruise ships.
We boarded at 6:45 and while waiting, we were served drinks and canapes.

They assign one server per table, so the service is excellent.  They change your plates and clear your table all the time!

The boat sailed at 7PM and as soon as it did, performers started entertaining the guests with traditional Vietnamese music and dance.

The cruise is definitely a good way of having a good view of Saigon. 
After dinner, a magician approached our table and started doing his tricks.  Before he left, he asked my sister to check his pockets... and there, my sister found our cameras and cellphones.  Hahaha!  We were so entertained that we didn't even notice him hiding our gadgets one by one on his pockets!   

The cruise ended at 9:30 PM and each of us were handed a souvenir for free.
Bonsai River Cruise is US$36 per person.  We booked by phone and in the morning the next day, someone went over to our hotel to pick up our payments and give us the tickets.  Everything is already included.  It comes with a free head/neck/shoulder massage too!  The only thing that you have to pay for separately are the drinks, and the souvenir photo that they sell at 100,000VND / US$6 (only if you want it!).

6.  Xu Restaurant Lounge
75 Hai Ba Trung, Dist.1
Tel: +848 3824 8468
Xu Restaurant Lounge is on the 2nd level of an old soviet style building, which also houses Xu Lounge on the ground level.  The place is perfect for dinner and after-dinner drinks.  I won't really recommend this place if you have kids with you.

Xu has been mentioned in a lot of publications such as the Wall Street Journal and Travel+Leisure.  I'm not an expert in this field, but it seems to me that they have an extensive list of drinks.
It's interesting how they present the salt and pepper. 
Main course is not for sharing, priced from 300,000-350,000VND.  This lemongrass skewered seabass, for example, is priced at 300,000VND.
I like how they imposed on the menu that this lamb tenderloin (350,000VND) is to be cooked medium.  They probably don't want to waste good meat by having people requesting for it to be cooked well-done.  Hehe.
The chili prawns (not too spicy by the way), priced at 320,000VND blends well with the pomelo and mango.  

The tamarind braised beef is also priced at 320,000VND.
7.  Emporio Armani Caffe
Vincom Center L1-24, M -13, 70-72 Le Than Ton Dong Khoi, Dist. 1
I know this is not unique to Vietnam, but why should you try it?  Because this is probably the cheapest (can't confirm this though) Emporio Armani Caffe in the world!  Dining at Emporio Armani Caffe in Dubai can set you back 300-500 dirhams / US$80-140.  In London, meals can cost anywhere between £35 - 45.  Whereas in Saigon, pastas are priced only at 150,000-ish VND / US$7.
We went here for coffee, priced just a little higher than 100,000VND.  Seriously, this is just like Starbucks (which they don't have by the way)!  
Desserts aren't expensive either.  I can't remember exactly, but they are definitely not 200k-ish.
The interior isn't as luxurious as Gucci Cafe.  No leather menus here, but I like the all-black, minimal look!


  1. Oooohhhh!! Drooling!! I miss Vietnamese food!!

  2. i love your posts!! i went to saigon this year but i haven't seen all these restos u post! :( it all look so good. :D i need to go back! :D

  3. Just looking at the food makes me want to go to Vietnam! We haven't been there! :) And we enjoyed Vietnamese food here, na malamang walang sinabi as compared to the food there! ;) How many days did you spent there? Kasi mukhang food trip talaga, literally!

  4. Unknown: Definitely miss-able! Hehe!! :)

    Anonymous: Yey at least you have a good reason to go back! ;)

  5. Aleng, we were there for 3 days lang! Put Vietnam on your list na! What's good about Vietnam is that everything's affordable! Naku, what you probably spend for an average restaurant there is more than enough for a high-end resto in Vietnam, plus super busog. Haha! =)

  6. Oo, promise! Kapag umuwi kami, nakapag-side trip! Kahit para lang kumain. Salamat sa post. :) Teka, kakain muna ako, nagutom ulet ako pagkatingin ko sa post na'to! :))

  7. Great post! can't wait to finally visit Siagon this weekend. Yay! :)

  8. I was hoping Quan An Ngon is in the list. Have you guys tried it?

  9. Thanks Nathalie! Enjoy your Vietnam trip!! :)

    Anonymous, awww not yet! We'll definitely take note of Quan An Ngon. Hopefully we can try it next time we're in Saigon! ;)

  10. Those steamed prawns in coconut had me at hello! Even if you're not a foodie, I'll note your all the photos!

  11. looks like you really did a lot of eating. are you sure you're not a foodie? ;) great job! will surely try some of the restaurants mentioned if i get the chance to return to vietnam!

  12. Thanks turista! For a 3-night trip, I must admit we kinda did a lot of eating haha! Let us know if you get to try any! :) -Karol