Leo Huynh Trinh has been busy. There’s her Sinhtolina fashion brand, Tê Tê TapHouse’s uniforms, managing Broma, and marketing Below. In a breathless break from all of that, she shared her guide to sleepless Saigon.
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Leo Huynh Trinh is one of those tireless women you constantly see darting around Saigon wearing a big motorcycle helmet that looks especially gigantic on her petite frame. Once you know Leo, you’ll realize she’s going from project to project – she wears many hats (besides that oversized motorbike helmet). She’s built a boho style clothing brand called Sinhtolina whose custom-made dresses have become a go-to among the female expat community. She also manages the perennially popular rooftop bar Broma. And she’s the marketing manager for one of the city’s newer speakeasies, Below Whisky Den.
Added to that, lately she’s been using what she learned building Sinhtolina by immersing in herself in her first sartorial side project — designing uniforms for Tê Tê Taphouse’s kitchen staff. “It’s been exciting new territory for me,” Leo explains enthusiastically after we get back from a visit to Trần Hữu Trang fabric market, and sit down in her Sinhtolina office and studio. There we get her insights into where to go and what to do in Saigon.
Leo, can you describe the city in a few sentences?
Saigon is an energetic, sleepless city. They’re traits I think I share with Saigon too!
What I love about this place is that it allows young people like me to start up our own things — start businesses, projects, anything we like. That contributes to nurturing talent in our society. And that’s so important.
Where should we go to feel good?
Personally, to feel good I turn to food. And to feel extra good, I turn to fine dining. That’s usually with my hubby for special occasions like birthdays and anniversaries. But, to be honest, we find any excuse to go to Shri Restaurant and Lounge. The place has panoramic views of the city at virtually every table.
Where do we go for street food?
For a midnight snack, we go to Com Tam Hà. We call it “the smoky place”. It’s in Binh Thanh on a street called Dinh Tien Hoang. And they serve cơm tấm sườn, a meat and rice dish. From 500 meters away, you can already see clouds of smoke billowing out and above the establishment.
Where should we take a date?
Bar Bleu is a romantic little place on the top floor of The Myst Dong Khoi. Find a place by the windows so you can get a bird’s eye view of colourfully-lit nocturnal Saigon. Adding to the charm is the buffet at the centre that is presented on what looks like a huge sushi boat.
Where should we go for lunch or brunch?
An amazing cheap eats place near my District 2 showroom is Bó Né Nano. It’s owned by a super friendly family. They always greet me personally, tell me I’m pretty and give me a little extra something with my order. Try the soup — unlike soup at lots of other street food places, Nano’s soup is made only after you order. Find it on Quốc Hương street in Thao Dien…after you check out Sinhtolina!
Where should we go to meet new people?
I’m most comfortable meeting new people at Broma. It’s my home, and there I am always surrounded by a broad, varied clientele. I like to circulate and mingle. If a particular person hails from an interesting place (like Japan), or shares a unique common interest with me (like a love of The Backstreet Boys), I let the small talk build into in-depth conversations.
Where can we drink the best coffee?
I like my coffee bitter, and Dolphy Café is the only place where I come across the kind of coffee I like. I always order a hot cappuccino. And because I drink my coffee very slowly, I have it delivered to Sinhtolina so I can sip it as I’m working. It’s also decently priced and if you want to drink your coffee in one of their two Thao Dien locations (almost opposite each other) there are great views of the chaos of this part of the street.
Which place can be our little secret?
There is a tiny pocket of the city filled with what seems like hundreds of Japanese bars and restaurants at 15A Le Thanh Ton. The whole alleyway feels like one big speakeasy. My husband, Ruben, used to live at 15B. That’s where we met – at a BBQ thrown by Broma’s owner. Ruben and I used to have a favorite ramen place around there but it has since changed owners and chefs. Our current favorite is just left of the alley’s entrance. It’s called Daichan Ramen and it has just two or three small tables and bar seating — the epitome of cozy. And the sake, of course, is some of the best in town.
Where should we go on a Friday night?
Go to Below Whisky Den on a Friday night. I like my Fridays chill. This cozy, dimly-lit nook is not too crowded and definitely feels stress-free. It also recently won the award for the city’s best Negroni, which is no easy feat these days. There, I can unwind to the sounds of jazz, with live sax and piano, and a cocktail in hand.
Which tourist destination is worth our time?
I’ve always wanted to go to the Mekong Delta’s floating market. I adore the idea of all these merchants earning their livelihood by selling their goods on the water every day. It sounds like a simple life surrounded by my favourite element, water…