Must-Eat Vietnamese Food In Saigon And Where To Get It By 20 Chefs, Foodies, Bartenders, And Restaurateurs

“Only one must-eat Vietnamese food in Saigon? And where to get it? Impossible!” was the usual response when we started asking chefs, foodies, bartenders, and restaurateurs in Saigon. But we insisted. Among the diversity of dishes – from phở and bánh mì to hủ tiếu, bánh canh cua and bún bò Huế – our 20 guests could only choose one dish and one restaurant.

Đọc bài viết bằng tiếng Việt

As the world turns on to Vietnamese cuisine’s brilliant balance, complexity of favors, freshness and diversity, it’s noteworthy how much people here are endlessly in love with Vietnamese food too. Just mention your favorite spot to friends, and expect the conversation to bounce around endlessly as they fall into a reverie recalling theirs. Here, you can skip between one-dollar pho and one-hundred dollar fine dining a couple of meters apart, and enjoy each just as much, in their own special way. So, we asked some of the residents of this southern metropolis – chefs, foodies, bartenders, and restaurateurs – to do the impossible, pick their one must-eat Vietnamese food, and where to get it. After much deliberation, discussion, and disagreement here are 20 must-eat dishes in Saigon – from bánh xèo in an disorientating alley in District 10, to balut in cosmopolitan Thao Dien. 

Jay Moir “kicking around the world of mixology.”

Jay Moir, Co-Founder Layla – Eatery & Bar and Summer Experiment

You’ll usually find me kicking around the world of mixology, in some well-known establishments in Saigon. I’m always sharing my love of alcoholic delights…sometimes late into the evening. For me Vietnamese food is delicious, healthy comfort food from the heart. What’s one dish to try in Saigon? There’s the old saying, “When in Rome”, so I’m choosing balut, or fertilized duck egg. The egg is incubated for 14 to 21 days allowing the embryo to develop. Stay with me here. Typically the duck egg is steamed and served with kumquat, and salt and pepper for some extra zing! Looks can be deceiving. It’s full of protein and it really is the bomb. Try the balut at Kim Thao Balut at 104 Xuan Thuy in District 2. The place is rightfully famous among both locals and expats. 

What: Balut

Why: “It really is the bomb.”

Where: Kim Thao Balut, 104 Xuan Thuy, District 2

Christina at the I-Bartender competition.

Christina Mai Ninh, Founder Black Eyes Compass – Operations And Events Consultancy 

There’s lots of events happening, thankfully, after a long period of inactivity. You’ll see me organizing and hosting some like the recent tasting evening for Tre Restaurant that will open in District 2 soon. If I had to choose one word to describe Vietnamese food, it would be…flavorsome! And for one dish, I guess the obvious choices would be phở or cơm tấm. So I’m not going to choose those. One must-try dish in Saigon is bánh canh cua, crab noodles with meat and shrimp. I can wholeheartedly recommend the one at Bánh Canh Cua Út Lệ, 210 Tô Hiến Thành, District 10. 

What: Bánh canh cua

Why: “Not an obvious choice, but it’s one I can wholeheartedly recommend.”

Where: Bánh Canh Cua Út Lệ, 210 Tô Hiến Thành, District 10. 

Trang To, Chef at Madam Kew says “Vietnamese food is simply a harmonious combination of elements.”

Trang To, Chef at Madam Kew

Right now you’ll usually find me cooking at Madam Kew. It’s different to what I’ve done before in the kitchen, but the change is exciting. For me, Vietnamese food is simply a harmonious combination of elements. Each dish has its own characteristic flavor. Of course, for any guests coming to Vietnam they have to try the iconic dishes – bánh mì and phở – but beyond that I’d recommend them to discover Vietnamese noodle soups like hủ tiếu. It’s familiar to anyone in the south or southwest of Vietnam. There’s the broth that’s cooked for many hours. The chewy noodles. Try the hủ tiếu served at Hu Tiu Dì Năm – Hủ Tíu Mì, 34D Yersin Street, District 1. After a long shift, this is the place I go to. I don’t even have to order any more, I just sit down and they know exactly what I want!

What: Hủ tiếu

Why: “Beyond the classics, I’d recommend them to discover Vietnamese noodle soups like hủ tiếu.”

Where: Hu Tiu Dì Năm – Hủ Tíu Mì, 34D Yersin Street, District 1

Vicky Lam at CTY – Kitchen & Bar

Vicky Lam, Co-Founder and Former General Manager at CTY – Kitchen & Bar

I’m Vicky, and I work with dreams and build concepts. I think to truly appreciate Vietnamese food you need to understand its glorious folkiness and its unique use of fish sauce, rice-based products, and fresh herbs. So, I have to choose one dish? One isn’t enough! But if you’re in Saigon, you have to try cơm tấm. In this dish is the balance, the culture and the very core of our cuisine. Eating it, you’ll get how we can work with humble ingredients and make them grand…but still accessible to all. Vietnamese food, by its nature, is very inclusive, very multicultural, and a successful example of what you might consider a ‘fusion’ cuisine. Where to eat it depends on the time of day. In the evening, I go to this nameless place at the foot of Calmette Bridge in District 4. It’s the real deal – you sit on tiny plastic chairs and blend in with the office workers, cab drivers, delivery men and countless others from all walks of life. The owner, Cô Hồng, grills her pork chops right there on the street every evening between 6pm and 4am. If the smell of pork fat and marination searing on scorching hot charcoal doesn’t do it for you, then I don’t know what does.

What: Cơm tấm

Why: “In this dish is the balance, the culture and the very core of our cuisine.”

Where: Cô Hồng, 128 Doan Van Bo, District 4

George Bloomfield at Stoker.

George Bloomfield, Executive Chef at Stoker Woodfired Grill & Bar

Stoker Woodfired Grill & Bar, where I’m Executive Chef, is a woodfired restaurant specializing in dry-aged meats. We have two locations, one on Mac Thi Buoi in District 1 and the other on Dang Huu Pho in Thao Dien. For me, Vietnamese food is all about super fresh, clean flavors. It’s full of herbs, aromatics and spices. One dish I recommend anyone to try is bánh canh cua. It’s a noodle dish made with crab and loads of fresh herbs, and it has this really punchy broth, with thick tapioca noodles. I get my bánh canh cua at 87 Trần Khắc Chân. The portions are big. The taste is perfect. 

What: Bánh canh cua

Why: “It has this really punchy broth, with thick tapioca noodles.”

Where: 87 Trần Khắc Chân, District 1.

Tyler, Co-Founder of Brick & Barrel and Lost & Found.

Tyler Maurice Kooy, Co-Founder of Brick & Barrel and Lost & Found

These days, I feel what I do changes monthly! Depending on the time of day, I might be kicking it with my baby, cleaning up, bartending or managing a couple of bars and restaurants in Saigon’s District 1. Vietnamese food is f*cking delicious. One dish I would strongly encourage anyone to try is bánh xèo. It looks like a giant yellow pancake. It’s stuffed with shrimp, pork and veggies. And it’s served in a basket with other assorted veggies. You wrap it up, dip it into fish sauce and enjoy. The best place to get bánh xèo is this place I’ve found in District 10, around Hem 606 on Street 3/2. I can’t locate it on Google Maps, and I always get lost looking for it…but it’s there. It’s just one mom and her daughter frying up a ton of bánh xèo.

What: Bánh xèo

Why: “Because it’s f*cking delicious.”

Where: Hem 606, Street 3/2, District 10

Vu Ngoc, Founder at Doozy Hanoi.

Vu Ngoc, Bar Program Director and Founder at Doozy Bar Hanoi

These days I do lots of project management in the F&B industry, but I’m best known for Doozy, Hanoi. Despite that, I’m actually Saigonese, a son of the south! If I had to describe Vietnamese food in one word, it would be ‘incredible’. I especially love hủ tiếu, a noodle soup dish. Inside you’ll find rice noodles, a pork stock and some toppings. You can find hủ tiếu in lots of places: at market stalls, roadside vendors, in restaurants, and old shophouses. It’s distinguished by its beautifully clear broth, an array of herbs, some aromatics and other garnishes and condiments. The price really varies – it can be super cheap or very expensive. That all depends on where you get it, and what toppings you want. For me, eating it in Saigon, it personifies the warmth and friendliness of the people. Try the one at Hu Tieu Nam Vang – Thanh Dat, at 34 Co Bac, District 1.

What: Hủ tiếu

Why: “Eating it in Saigon, it personifies the warmth and friendliness of the people.”

Where: Hu Tieu Nam Vang – Thanh Dat, 34 Co Bac, District 1.

F&B Specialist Lucas Truong.

Lucas Truong, F&B Specialist at Indochine Restaurant and The Mechanic

These days you’ll mostly find me working on concepts for Indochine or at The Mechanic. For one must-try dish in Saigon, I’m choosing something quintessentially Saigonese, cơm tấm. It’s broken rice with pork chop. The taste is unmissable, a complex marination goes into creating this richly seasoned dish, with the saltiness of fish sauce and a sweet touch. The best place for cơm tấm for me is in District 4 at 77 Lê Văn Linh. As soon as you turn the corner to the restaurant you’re hit with the irresistible smell of smoke coming from the grill. 

What: Cơm tấm

Why: “The taste is unmissable.”

Where: 77 Lê Văn Linh, District 4

Mary Vu in MAD House Saigon’s tranquil garden.

Mary Vu, Co-Owner of MAD Winebar and Courtyard, and Restaurant Manager at MAD House Saigon 

Vietnamese food? It’s green, fragrant and full of flavor! To understand all this in a single dish, I recommend ​​bún thịt nướng. It normally comes in a bowl which contains fresh rice noodles, crispy spring rolls, home made carrot pickle, roasted peanuts, spring onion oil and crispy onions. It looks simple but so colorful. I can only describe it as a bowl of happiness. The pork is chargrilled on skewers making it tender and smoky, juicy and not dry. And the spring roll, OMG. And it’s served with a side bowl of sweet and sour chili fish sauce. My pro tip would be to keep the spring roll separate to preserve its crispiness. I guess if the BBQ pork and spring rolls are the soul of this dish then the fish sauce is its heart. Overall there’s a perfect balance of sweetness, spiciness, salt and acidity. I recommend the ​​bún thịt nướng at 1 Nguyen Trung Truc Street, in District 1, quite near Ben Thanh Market. It’s good food served by true locals on a buzzing street in the heart of the city. 

What: Bún thịt nướng

Why: “A bowl of happiness.”

Where: 1 Nguyen Trung Truc Street, District 1

Nhan Hien Nhi, foodie @anotherfoodaddict

Nhan Hien ​Nhi, Food Blogger 

I currently blog on Instagram, writing about food and my favorite places. For me, Vietnamese food is very healthy, with lots of fresh vegetables and herbs. When dishes do have meat, it’s usually a smaller amount than in other cuisines. One dish to try is cơm tấm, made from broken rice grains left over in the milling process. Despite its imperfection, the Saigonese have still managed to transform it into a delicious meal. Usually there’s a charcoal-grilled pork chop, an egg – sunny side up, crispy pork lard, fresh cucumber, tomato and pickled vegetables. The other key ingredient is seasoned fish sauce. The meat is so moreish and full of umami flavor. Although the preparation takes a long time, it’s at your table in minutes. Perfect for the hustle and bustle of Saigon. My go-to place is Com Tam Mai, 129 Doan Van Bo, Ward 12, District 4. It’s a local place with a 50-year history. Besides the grilled pork chops they do other toppings like pork belly, Chinese sausage, fish cake and an egg quiche. They’re also open from 9am to 11pm so you can visit any time of day!

What: Cơm tấm

Why:Despite its imperfection, the Saigonese have still managed to transform it into a delicious meal.”

Where: Com Tam Mai, 129 Doan Van Bo, District 4

Lam Duc Anh, also known as Leo, at the recent World Class Vietnam top 20 round.

Leo, Diageo Vietnam Brand Ambassador & Co-owner at STIR – Modern Cocktail 

I’m concentrating right now on preparations for the World Class Vietnam finals, while hosting guests at STIR – Modern Cocktail. Vietnamese food, for me, is delicious and universally affordable. The perfect example is phở. It’s traditional yet remarkable. And the ingredients are healthy…and safe. There’s lots of herbs, some rice noodles, and beef or chicken. No weird stuff. When you’re in Hanoi, try any phở joint. They’ll all have their own take on the recipe for the broth. In Saigon go to Pho Hung at 241-243 Nguyen Trai Street. 

What: Phở

Why:It’s traditional yet remarkable.”

Where: Pho Hung, 241-243 Nguyen Trai, District 1

Tommy Tran, Head Chef at Zion.

Tommy Tran, Head Chef at Zion 

I’m Tommy, and I’m a chef. Vietnamese food, to me, is complex, dynamic, and surprising…and never boring! For one must eat dish in Saigon, I’m going to choose the crab noodle dish bánh canh cua. It’s mild-mannered yet all-encompassing and it has this moreish umami flavor. If Thailand is famous for its crab omelet, then Vietnam should be as famous for its crab noodle soup. I highly recommend the one at 360 Pham Van Chi in District 6, Madam Loan. She’s been in business for over 30 years, and the taste has remained consistent all that time. She chooses every single ingredient with great care – anything mediocre has no place in her pot!

What: Bánh canh cua

Why: “It’s mild-mannered yet all-encompassing.”

Where: 360 Pham Van Chi, District 4

Cuong Nguyen attending the recent Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants 2022 Awards in Bangkok.

Cuong Nguyen, Sous Chef at Anan Saigon 

I’m Cuong and I’ve been Sous Chef at Anan Saigon for about three years. In my opinion, Vietnamese food is fresh, flavorful and diverse – from north to south. If I had to choose, one must-eat dish is bún bò Huế. It’s exactly what I described, fresh and flavorful, with thick rice vermicelli noodles and a signature beef broth, fermented shrimp paste (mắm ruốc), and lemongrass. Inside you’ll find thinly sliced beef, beef tendon, pork leg, and, my favorite, blood pudding. For balance and texture there’s beansprouts, and sliced banana blossom. It’s everything in one bowl – beefiness and earthiness from the land, and a touch of brininess from the sea. Get a bow at Bun Bo Hue Co Nhu at 274/29 Vo Van Tan, District 3. It’s a lowkey place in a small alley. That’s always a good indicator of deliciousness! Despite being hidden, the hospitality is great, the price is reasonable, the portions are plentiful and the flavor is unmatched.  

What: Bún bò Huế

Why: “It’s fresh and flavorful.”

Where: Bun Bo Hue Co Nhu, 274/29 Vo Van Tan, District 3

Lam Duong at his bar, Hybrid Nha Trang.

Lam Duong, Founder and Owner at Hybrid Bar Nha Trang and Saigon

I’m Lam. At Hybrid we create unique cocktails by combining local ingredients with cutting-edge technology. Describe Vietnamese food in one sentence? It’s an eye-opening experience of a brilliant balance of aromatics, heat, sweetness, sourness…and fish-sauciness! All visitors should try cơm tấm sườn nướng, broken rice with marinated and grilled pork chop. As the name implies, this dish is made of tấm (broken rice grains), topped with charcoal-grilled pork rib, shredded pork rind, steamed egg with meatloaf, and omelet. It’s then slathered with chili fish sauce and a drizzle of green onion oil before being garnished with pickled carrot and daikon. It’s popular in the morning, but can also be found throughout the day for lunch, dinner and even supper. This dish is an art: the soft and fluffy broken rice, the pork that’s tender, sweet, and salty, the meatloaf that’s soft and peppery, and the egg that adds even more richness to everything. Mixed together, the flavors are superb. Sure, it’s not the healthiest, but it puts a smile on your face every single bite. I recommend Com Tam 229 Vinh Vien, in District 10. It’s a hidden gem. 

What: Cơm tấm sườn nướng

Why:This dish is an art.”

Where: Com Tam 229 Vinh Vien, District 10

Francis Thuan Tran, Chef & Founder at Esta Restaurant.

Thuan Tran, Chef & Founder at Esta Restaurant

I’m Thuan, but most people call me Francis. At Esta Restaurant, we’ve created a modern fusion menu where we explore the art of flavor, with a touch of fire and featuring local ingredients. Wherever you come from, you’ll fall in love with Vietnamese cuisine. It’s for everyone, deep in flavor, comforting and unforgettable. One dish you must try in Saigon is bánh canh cua, a perfect combination of sea and land. Try it at Banh Can Cua Madam Loan at 360 Pham Van Chi in District 6, where you get an incredible broth, hand-picked fresh crab meat and claw, tender pork, crunchy tiger prawns, a special house made fish cake, soft boiled quail egg and a silky blood pudding, straw mushrooms, lots of spring onions and a fish sauce dip with white peppercorns. It’s really cooked with heart. If there was to be a Michelin starred street food place in Saigon, like Baan Jay Fai in Bangkok, this would be it. OMG. I’m salivating! 

What: Bánh canh cua

Why: “If there was to be a Michelin starred street food place in Saigon…this would be it.”

Where: Banh Can Cua Madam Loan, 360 Pham Van Chi, District 6

Jérémy Faucan from The Deck Saigon at the I-Bartender competition.

Jérémy Faucan, Bar Manager at The Deck Saigon

I’m Jérémy and I’m Bar Manager at the Deck Saigon, a wonderful riverside bar and restaurant in Thao Dien. Usually, people associate Ben Thanh Market with souvenirs and cut-price clothing stalls. But there’s some really good food in there. The women who run the stall at Kiosk 1006 in Ben Thanh Market are real characters. I take every visitor who comes to Saigon to meet them and to try their bánh cuốn, a kind of rolled up rice cake that contains a mixture of mushrooms, minced pork and shallots. And right across from Kiosk 1006 is a stall selling sinh tố – the thick Vietnamese smoothie usually sweetened with condensed milk. In that beautifully communal Vietnamese approach to commerce, the ladies won’t mind you drinking a smoothie while you tuck into their bánh cuốn.

What: Bánh cuốn

Why: “The stall holders are real characters.”

Where: Kiosk 1006, Ben Thanh Market, District 1

Bond Lap Troung who came back to Saigon from Dubai because he missed the food.

Bond Lap Truong, Bar Operations Manager At Irusu Lounge Saigon

My focus at the moment is managing operations and shaking things up with different F&B solutions. I was in Dubai before this, and I would say the main reason I returned is because I missed Vietnamese food so much. The depth of flavor is incredible. I’m choosing cơm tấm as one must–eat Vietnamese food in Saigon. It fits the irregular lifestyle of people working in F&B well! Melt-in-your-mouth ribs, sweet and spicy fish sauce, carrot and radish pickles…if you’ve never tried cơm tấm then I don’t know what you’re doing here, period. Try the one at Com Tam Huyen at 95 Le Van Duyet in Binh Thanh District. It’s deservedly famous. And don’t be surprised if you see some of your favorite bartenders or chefs there too. 

What: Cơm tấm

Why:The depth of flavor is incredible.”

Where: Com Tam Huyen, 95 Le Van Duyet, Binh Thanh District

Dat Thanh Luu who recently opened Plugs Bar.

Dat Thanh Luu, Bacardi Brand Ambassador and Founder at Plugs Bar

I’m Dat Luu, and besides being Brand Ambassador for Bacardi Vietnam, I’m founder of newly opened Plugs Saigon, a cozy, classic cocktail bar located on Yersin Street in District 1. For me, Vietnamese food is fresh, charming and instantly recognizable. I’m going to have to choose bánh mì for one dish visitors to Saigon must try. You get this French-style airy, crunchy baguette that’s stuffed with meat – it could be beef, pork, fish or chicken, and then vegetables, pate and sauce. I guess, for the uninitiated, it’s like a rich ham sandwich that’s full of flavors and textures, and a hint of Asian freshness and spice  from the coriander and chili. Visitors should try because it’s so universally available, and no matter where you are, or what time it is, it’s there. To get the best, most original one, just find a cart on the street – I think this applies to every Vietnamese food. I recommend the Banh Mi Cha Ca in front of Hoa Lu stadium.

What: Bánh mì

Why: “You get this French-style airy, crunchy baguette that’s stuffed with meat.”

Where: Banh Mi Cha Ca, 12 Nguyen Thi Minh Khai, District 1

Linh, Chef de Cuisine of the Events Team at Park Hyatt Saigon.

Linh, Chef De Cuisine of Events Kitchen at Park Hyatt Saigon 

What is Vietnamese food to me? It’s the ultimate stress reliever!  And best of all is the bánh mì. It’s uniqueness is not only in its light and crispy bread, but also the variation of flavors that the fillings provide. And usually priced between VND 10K and VND 15K it’s a perfect and affordable quick meal. Depending on the vendor, the inside might include roasted pork belly, fried egg, grilled pork loin, fish cake, local sausage, BBQ pork, or chicken. It’s rightfully described as the essence of Vietnamese cuisine. And it’s a must-try that even the pickiest of eaters cannot resist! My favorite is Banh Mi Thuan Thao on Dinh Tien Hoang Street, in Binh Thanh District. And, of course, we have a very satisfying one at Park Hyatt Saigon. 

What: Bánh mì

Why: “It’s a perfect and affordable quick meal.”

Where: Banh Mi Thuan Thao, Dien Tien Hoang, Binh Thanh District

Founder of Dot Bar Saigon, Le Ngoc Minh

Le Ngoc Minh, Founder of Dot Bar Saigon

For me, Vietnamese food is all about culture and tradition. Any visitor coming to Saigon has to try bánh mì. I guess it will feel familiar for any guest trying for the first time, something like a burger or hot dog, but the bread is far crispier, and the filling more elaborate. Combined with cà phê sữa đá, it’s the perfect way to start the day here. Vietnamese style. Out of all the places to try bánh mì in Saigon I’d recommend the legendary Banh mi Huynh Hoa, at 61 Le Thi Rieng. The bakery was established 50 years ago, and their quality is their unique heritage.

What: Bánh mì

Why: Combined with cà phê sữa đá, it’s the perfect way to start the day here.”

Where: Banh mi Huynh Hoa, 61 Le Thi Rieng Thao, District 1

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