The post-Tet explosion of new openings might have slowed a bit. But with so many coffee shops opening up, there’s likely to be a heavily-caffeinated kick to the summer months in Saigon.
Đọc bài viết bằng Tiếng Việt
And the city’s bar and restaurant scene continues to diversify and grow outwards. For example, there’s a restaurant in an alley in District 3 with counter seating outside, a bar through a wardrobe in Binh Thanh, a hip vinyl listening bar above a Thai gastropub on the edge of District 4 beside Co Bac’s old apartment blocks, and the usual mix of buzzing new Japanese izakayas in our list of 9 of the best new places to eat, drink and dance in Saigon.
Shoku By Maguro Studio
It was love at first sight between The Dot Magazine and Maguro Studio. There’s the all-Vietnamese team, that downtown location, the funky decor with that huge tuna hanging outside, the pink-lit dry-aging fridge, and then the food – perfectly paced omakase sets and lots of lick-smackingly good Narutotai Ginjo Nama Genshu sake.
So, when we heard the same team were opening Shoku, a couple of blocks away on the resurgent Ngo Van Nam Street, we headed straight over. There’s always been a gap. Between high-end omakase and highstreet sushi chains there’s not many places to get a la carte cuts of fresh fish.
And they retained the fun and unfussiness of Maguro Studio too, with almost-toppling-over tuna towers, crispy plates of fried gyoza, and golden brown grilled tuna wings served at the counter, or in the downstairs dining room, or in the private dining rooms or event space upstairs. The neo-industrial decor resembles fish scales and adds to the energy as well..
In Short: Contemporary Japanese cuisine on resurgent Ngo Van Nam.
Location: 22 Ngo Van Nam, District 1
Bakes Thao Dien
Downstairs, on the ground floor, tables of in-the-know early guests order tamarind cold brews and caramel lattes, and pile pastries, cute cannelés and salted duck egg croissants, onto their self-service trays and talk a seat outside. There’s a small bakery here too, which is partly functional (because most of the baking happens up on the second floor), and partly there to permeate the whole space with the smell of freshly baked bread. There’s a grab & go area that’s soon to be stocked and shelves of carefully curated products by local brands – boxes of Building Coffee and bottles of Song Cai Gin.
Upstairs, on the 2nd floor, The Bakes team are busy R&Ding new ice cream flavors. And in between, on the first floor, a couple sit at stools at the bar, and the chef pushes an eggs Benedict out onto the kitchen counter.
This is the beginning of Bakes Thao Dien, the pastry brand’s second store after their first, near Turtle Lake in District 3, opened back in October 2020. Back then we warned our readers that if friends don’t get you a Bakes cake for your birthday, they’re not real friends. And now there’s no excuse, even if you rarely leave District 2.
In Short: Like the brilliant Bakes in District 3…but much bigger.
Location: 16 Thao Dien, District 2
As the bar and restaurant scene in Saigon spreads outwards, Amare is exactly the kind of green shoot you’d hope to see from the growth spurt.
For one, it’s in a totally un-gentrified Saigon alley. And two, the counter seats are outside, so as you sip some of their fine wines, like the ones from 75cl who take inspiration (and some fine bottles) from the bad boy of Bordeaux, Jean-Luc Thunevin, and chomp down flavorsome plates of ravioli in tom yum soup, pan seared duck breast, and beef tataki, kids wheel around you on bicycles and moms in doorways linger to watch the action. This, we decide, is alley cuisine!
In Short: Alley cuisine!
Location: 88/4 Vuon Chuoi, Ward 4, District 3
Naturally, along with the resurgence in vinyl records has come some hip vinyl listening bars – not just here, where there’s Roka Fella and Kanpai – but also regionally, with Modern Day Culture in Bangkok and or Vertigo 26 in Singapore. It’s that contagiously crackly analogue sound. And suddenly these places have started to create cocktails as good as their soundtrack.
At Vintage Culture, above Kin Đee, aside from the good music, and even better drinks by Huy Thanh, it’s fun playing name-the-album displayed on the shelves behind the bartenders. Founder Nam Khuat is unashamedly in love with the ‘90s, which is reflected in the records, although there’s Frank Sinatra and Elvis on the shelf too. “Order a ‘Hotel California’ cocktail,” he recommends, ‘and choose a record to accompany it,” he nods.
In Short: Darkness, hand-crafted drinks, and deliriously good music.
Location: 3rd Floor, 39A Co Bac, District 1
This end of Nguyen Dinh Chieu has always been a bit hard to love. Places open and close. And the traffic continues to weave down this one-way thoroughfare disinterestedly. That was until Reika opened. The head-turning white signboard confidently lists this restaurant’s raison dêtre – izakaya, skewers. What’s not to love?
With places like Izkaya Ten and Mangestu packed out nightly over on Le Thanh Ton and Thai Van Lung, Reika should lure Japanese food aficionados over to this underserved end of Nguyen Dinh Chieu, especially as fashion photographer Shaun Ang is one of the founders – meaning the branding is especially on-point. Here he’s joined by friend Chef Tung Ngo, to create the kind of place they say they were missing; somewhere casual and comfortable with service that’s as good as the food and drinks – spicy cheese scallops, crab meat pastas, salmon tatakis and sauteed beef, served with Umeshu Mojitos and sake and shochu.
In Short: A cozy but design-conscious izakaya on Nguyen Dinh Chieu.
Location: 5 Nguyen Dinh Chieu, District 1
% Arabica has arrived in Saigon to much fanfare thanks to Kenneth Shoji’s coffee brand’s well-publicized attempt at global domination. The company’s founder and creative director moved to California after graduation as the Starbucks brand was expanding, and he found himself whiling away his time at his local Venice Beach branch. Eventually, he realized his modest requirements for a happy life centered around an amazing cup of coffee every day. And so he founded % Arabica. “Kenneth actually visited Vietnam in 2019,” % Arabica’s general manager Vynce Nguyen tells us, “and, like lots of visitors, he fell in love with the cafe-apartment building on Nguyen Hue.” So, he decided the first branch of % Arabica would have to be opened there.
The design doesn’t stray far from the brand’s signature style of Japanese minimalism. But here, Vynce tells us, there’s some modern Vietnamese touches – low benches like local sidewalk cafes, hand-woven bamboo from artisans in the north, warm lighting and lots of plants. The coffee, as Kenneth Shoji demands, is good too, “with high-performance coffee machines used to create % Arabica’s signature hot and iced coffee.” There’s matcha and cool homemade lemonade too, as an alternative to our favorite caffeinated brew.
In Short: Kenneth Shoji approved arabica coffee in Saigon’s cafe-apartment building.
Location: Level 4, 42 Nguyen Hue, District 1
Boujee is a heady mix of Italo-Disco and Asian nightclubs – think velvet sofas and leopard-print carpets, and kitschy-cool drinks like their rose-gin infused Love Potion or their Barrel Aged Bobby Burns, with blended Scotch, banana and cinnamon notes, and a bitter cherry finish.
And the ladies’ powder room comes stocked with YSL products. That’s if you can find it. Because Boujee is conspiratorially dark, with only the LED lights that vibe to the music – a cultured hip hop selection – as much as the guests to guide you.
In Short: Boogie nights at Le Méridien’s Boujee.
Location: 2nd Floor, Le Méridien, 3C Ton Duc Thang, District 1
Tủ Bar offers a mixology experience with lots of gourmet touches. And they’re served up in a space that’s a dark as a wardrobe, which is where the name partly comes from – but it also sounds like Tửu, the Chinese-Vietnamese word for alcohol, founder Toan tells us. But, true to the wardrobe theme, you have to enter through a line of clothes. Here, Toan says, he wants to give guests a sense of safety and serenity, like when you were a kid hiding in a wardrobe.
The music, that flutters between bossa nova and jazz, is nostalgic too. Tủ Bar was inspired by the set-up of sushi-yas with a counter and 13 seats set around it. And you can order a cocktail tasting set menu, or dive straight into drinks like Tủ Bar’s Brandy Crusta – the rich, lemon zest tinged cocktail that’s one of the oldest classics on record – or their minty, sour, Midori-infused Sunset Over The Hill.
In Short: The bar, the cocktail and the wardrobe.
Location: 160/7 Ngo Tat To, Binh Thanh
Another coffee brand on the rise is Bosgaurus. Their coffee was always good enough to lure guests to their out-of-the-way location beside the Saigon Pearl apartments since it opened in 2017. Now, not far from Shoku – and another sign of the rapid development of this part of District 1 – is Bosgaurus’ second location.
The brand is proud to represent Vietnamese coffee culture that’s far richer than its reputation as the world’s second largest exporter primarily of cheap, mass-market robusta suggests. And its style is representative of contemporary trends in coffee shop design – minimalist and modern – with tables outside to watch this sleepy part of District 1 develop before your eyes.
In Short: Riverside roasters arrive in District 1.
Location: 12 Nguyen Sieu, District 1