Aguo Izakaya Is Warm, Welcoming And Colorfully Retro

Aguo Izakaya's team

Izakayas, those post-work purveyors of peace and contentment. And with their please-all menus that go from sashimi to skewers and all points in between, usually served with a liberal dose of sake or ice cold Sapporo. Traditionally, izakayas are the preserve of salarymen – office workers looking to refuel and relieve some stress. So, where better to open Aguo Izakaya than in the shadow of Saigon Centre.

Đọc bài viết bằng Tiếng Việt

Japanese culture has long permeated Saigon. Vietnam and Japan are currently celebrating 50 years of diplomatic relations. And beyond the traditional Japanese enclaves of the city, Japan Town on Le Thanh Ton and Pham Viet Chanh, pockets of Japanese culture are popping up all over the city.

Aguo Izakaya's facade
Aguo Izakaya’s facade

Behind Its Traditional Frontage Aguo Pops With Color

Aguo Izakaya is a good example. Amidst the bacchanalian bars of Huynh Thuc Khang and Ton That Thiep, behind its traditional frontage – with its lanterns and wooden signage and door – is a restaurant that pops with fun retro elements and lots of color. 

open kitchen
There’s the open kitchen drenched in plumes of charcoal grill smoke, and the warm ‘irasshaimase’ when you walk in. 

Besides all that, Nguyen Hue Walking Street is only a few minutes away. And so besides the office and shop workers spilling out of Takashimaya and Saigon Centre, there’s a steady flow of people – lots of them tourists exploring this historic but downtown part of the city.

Sashimi
“Aguo Izakaya is a mix of tradition with something hip and design-conscious.”

Creating A Refuge Amid The Chaos

“We wanted to create a refuge amid the chaos of the city for everyone,” Hung, Aguo’s head chef, tells us. “It’s a place where you can forget the day you’ve just had – deadlines and deals, pressure and politics – and embrace the warm welcome we offer at Aguo.”

‘Drunk food only’ it says everywhere, distilling the attractions of Japanese izakayas down to one simple phrase. It also hints at how friendly and accessible Aguo is. 

Private booths
Private booths upstairs at Aguo Izakaya.

It really is very welcoming here. 

Downstairs is a long counter above which hangs a line of colorful curtains. And upstairs is even more fun, with private booths hidden by blue and red curtains emblazoned with the Aguo logo.  

“Right. We wanted that mix of tradition with something hip and design-conscious,” Hung adds happily. Unlike more austere, traditional izakayas, Aguo Izakaya feels fun. There’s the open kitchen drenched in plumes of charcoal grill smoke, and the warm ‘irasshaimase’ when you walk in. 

“That’s definitely my favorite place to see guests,” Hung smiles. “Seated at the counter, where me and the rest of the kitchen team can talk to them – which is another reason to love izakayas, they’re so welcoming whether you’re in a group or alone.”

Aguo Izakaya's chef
Plumes of smoke billow from the charcoal grill in the open kitchen.

From Lunch Until Late 

And, although Aguo Izakaya opens at 11am, serving lunches to all those hungry office workers – piping hot ramen, perfectly crisp tempura, umami-rich bowls of gyūdon beef and onion bowls – it’s at night that this izakaya really comes alive. 

Japanese traditional izakaya
Although Aguo Izakaya opens at 11am, it’s at night that this izakaya really comes alive.

Then, the evening is punctuated by loud cheersing and contented chatter coming, and the hip hop coming from the speakers – another sign that this isn’t your traditional izakaya – from behind those wooden doors.

Aguo Izakaya table setting with a seafood salad and Sapporo.
Ice cold Sapporo and fresh seafood at Aguo Izakaya.

But still, the food is the big draw. “I recommend our umeshu – apricot wine – some sake, or an ice cold Sapporo. Then, try the seafood salad – a balanced, textural combination of fresh seafood and salad leaves with a splash of sesame dressing.

Aguo's sashimi set
Aguo’s sashimi set offers an exquisite assortment of seven varieties of fresh and visually appealing seafood.

Our sashimi set is a signature too, seven kinds of really fresh fish. Then move on to our perfectly-grilled skewers, lightly seasoned,” Chef Hung recommends. 

A lick of marinade for the grilled fish.
A lick of marinade for the grilled fish.

“Finally, try the pan-fried beef ribs – we marinate the beef in a mix of spices and fry it in butter – and then some udon noodles. Then you can head off, out onto Ton That Thiep, stomach full, and enjoy the night…”

Stir-fried udon noodles
Stir-fried udon noodles tossed with succulent pork can satisfy your cravings

Aguo Izakaya is located at 33 Ton That Thiep, Ben Nghe Ward, District 1. Open daily from 11:00AM – 2:00PM and 6:00PM – 11:00PM. Book a table and get 10% discount for lunch menu. Or enjoy 20% off food and 50% on drinks from the evening menu. 

Images by Nghia Ngo and The Dot Magazine.


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