Rooftop to Riverside: Here’s Our Selection Of Saigon’s Most Desirous Drinking And Dining Debuts

From phoenix-like rebirths to Taiwanese twists, to fruity rooftops and Arabian nights by the river, this eclectic gang of newcomers is as likely to tantalize your taste buds as it is to have you tapping names into Google Maps. 

Đọc bài viết bằng Tiếng Việt

As the annual arguments subside following the announcement of the list for the latest MICHELIN Guide, get ready for the culinary afterglow. Odd choices aside, the guide shines a spotlight on the industry in Vietnam. And here are a few contenders who might be in consideration next year, plus some outliers – an Arabian nights-themed riverside grill, anyone?

Saigon’s Most Desirous Drinking And Dining Debuts

Expect fireworks. Especially at Fireworks, the born-again raw bar and grill. Besides that, NP Bistro sees Chef Nghiêm Minh Đức closing out his spell offering capsule dining experiences at Nous Dine, with his new, bountiful Binh Thanh bistro. 

Anatolia is reimagining Turkish cuisine as chic downtown dining. And Hybrid Saigon has descended back down to earth at its new location above Tipsy Department (which is from the same team). Then there’s Alibaba Kitchen & Bar, a Middle Eastern mirage by the river, complete with camel.  

Papaya Papa

Single parenting’s no fun. So, we’re happy to announce Banana Mama is no longer alone in this. 

It feels like it was meant to be. After all, these two have so much in common. Obviously, there’s the tropical fruit connection. But both Banana Mama and Papaya Papa’s preferred lifestyle is to linger languidly, preferably in their natural habitat of rooftops – the former at the end of Bui Vien, the latter along Hai Ba Trung (next to the Pizza 4P’s alley).  

Papaya Papa rooftop bar in Ho Chi Minh
Papaya Papa is like a house party in a chic apartment.

It’s no surprise Banana Mama fell in love. Papaya Papa is a restaurant, bar or club (or a mix of all three, depending on the time of night). It’s like a house party in a chic apartment. The place is warm, with lots of wood, plenty of pot plants, there are some curvaceous ceramics on the shelves behind the DJ, and there are sofas everywhere to sink into.

Thankfully, they’ve rainy-season-proofed the space, with half indoors, half outside, with a widescreen view of downtown District 1 wherever you sit.

The menu features some slamming plates of pan-global cuisine – from clams in cilantro butter to spiced cauliflower lathered in spiced mayo. There’s an equally flavored-packed grilled octopus with chimichuri, and a big sharing plate of bone-in ribeye, with potato gratin and a morel sauce. 

“We wanted fun food, dishes you can drink and dance to,” Quentin, the sharply-suited bar manager, nods.

The cocktail menu is full of lots of fun, fruity concoctions: the Hindi Punch comes with Baigur Gin, guava and coconut, the Beer-ly Legal with whiskey-infused hibiscus, tangerine, grapefruit, raspberry syrup, topped with some IPA. The wine list is savvily selected; the house white Le Temps est Venue, as silky and scintillating a ride as the about-to-start DJ set promises to be.

“We can party until around 4am,” Quentin says stifling a yawn, as he’s still getting used to life over at Banana Mama’s more debauched new beau, Papaya Papa.

Chef Guillaume Geneuil's octopus with chimichuri at Papaya Papa
Papaya Papa’s food to dance and drink to, like Chef Guillaume Geneuil’s octopus with chimichuri.

What: A house party in a chic apartment.

Where: 147 Hai Ba Trung, District 3

Contact: Facebook | Instagram

FIREWORKS Raw – Grill & Craft Bar

There’s a fiery phoenix-like rebirth metaphor here somewhere. That’s because the resurgent FIREWORKS Raw – Grill & Craft Bar has been (re)open since November – with a horseshoe–shaped bar in the middle, and above it a sleek metal hood reflecting the action below, and some fold-down windows that allow groups to sit inside and out. 

FIREWORKS - Raw Grill & Craft Bar
Expect fireworks, at FIREWORKS Raw – Grill & Craft Bar.

Or as FIREWORKS Raw – Grill & Craft Bar puts it: this is a social dining resto bar where they serve contemporary Vietnamese-Japanese cuisine in an interconnected space.

Plus, Chef Andy Cao has created a new menu, called Ocean Series. It’s underpinned by his four culinary pillars – people, with the focus on sharing plates, nature, and its fresh ingredients, fire, which licks lots of the dishes, and air, with lots of fermentation to add complexity to the dishes.  

As you’d expect from the Ocean Series, the menu is full of fresh seafood. Alongside that are a few plant-based dishes – like the grilled beets carpaccio and a nori-dusted gnocchi – and a succinct carnivorous collection: Ben Tre chicken, dry-aged Long An duck, and Trung Nguyen coffee rubbed striploin.

There’s truffle fries and beef tataki too, if the main objective is snacks to go with the drinks menu – a creative, modern mix of natural and sustainable wine, and cocktails full of seasonal, specially selected ingredients by Phuc Le, with a sober nod to low- and no-alcohol. 

FIREWORKS Raw - Grill & Craft Bar's  design in reflected in its seafood-centric dishes, and modern cocktails.
Stylish and airy, FIREWORKS Raw – Grill & Craft Bar‘s design in reflected in its seafood-centric dishes, and modern cocktails.

What: A breezy contemporary spot with Vietnamese-Japanese cuisine and cooly crafted cocktails.

Where: 61 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia, District 1

Contact: Facebook | Instagram

Hybrid Saigon

Hybrid became a flag-bearer for creative Vietnamese cocktails. First in Nha Trang, where founder Lam Duong infused his drinks with seafood from his hometown, then in Ho Chi Minh City, where the space-age space dispensed with the boundaries between bartender and guest. 

That spot was short-lived. 

But as they were making plans to move out, Lam and the team had already opened Tipsy Department, an iconoclastic dive bar right opposite Saigon’s Notre Dame Cathedral.

Hybrid Saigon reopens
Expect more modernist cocktail alchemy, as Hybrid Saigon reopens.

So, consolidating the team’s creative energy, Hybrid Saigon has reopened in the space upstairs from Tipsy Department. “Start up here, for something more refined,” Lam smiles amidst the smell of Hybrid Saigon’s wet paint as he prepares to open, “then head downstairs for the afterparty.”

The space itself is a return to earth, after the astral energy of the first Hybrid Saigon. There are clay-colored walls and a central table as a bar that’s made from wood reclaimed from old Nha Trang fishing boats. They’ve covered the once airy, open space in, leaving a window at the far end for early arrivals to catch some sunset. 

The Hybrid team in Nha Trang are busy helping to R&D the new menu, but as they do, expect some Hybrid classics to appear on the soft opening menu. 

What: The place for the most exciting Vietnamese modernist mixology makes a comeback.

Where: 57 Nguyen Du, District 1

Contact: Facebook | Instagram

Yeshi Taiwanese Kitchen 

A few pop-up events in to her return to Saigon, and a book half written, chef and consultant Anaïs Ca Dao van Manen, who was born in Paris and raised in Vietnam, who went to school in Singapore, and worked in some of London’s hipper restaurants said Yeshi yes to the chance to open a Taiwanese kitchen in Thao Dien. 

Yeshi – above the large Thao Dien branch of Bakes – offers casual, simple and affordable Taiwanese food to which she’s given the odd twist, like the braised egg with boba. The unctuous fried chicken comes in spicy mala or Yeshi special sauce, the chrysanthemum salad is a surprise hit, and almost all the dishes come in at under 100K.

“The idea was to be 70% traditional and 30% twisted,” Anaïs explains. “So, we braised the egg in boba, which I think’s quite unheard of!” There’s a touch of truffle oil in the hot and sour soup too, “and our vegan dumplings are totally twisted!” she laughs. “That’s from the cashew sauce to the dish itself, with fried garlic in there and some chive oil.”

Yeshi Taiwanese Kitchen in Thao Dien
Anaïs Ca Dao van Manen at her 70% traditional, 30% twisted Yeshi Taiwanese Kitchen.

The novel dim-sum style, mark-your-own menu cards break the options down simply: dumplings, fried chicken, rice and noodles, and xiao cao. “The chicken marks a milestone in my personal quest for very juicy fried chicken. And everyone seems to be in love with the boiled dumplings.”

And the drinks menu has some fun Taiwanese twists on classic cocktails too. There’s a Pineapple Tart Old Fashioned and a Bubble Tea Highball. And beyond that there’s a custom Yeshi Craft Beer, and lots of non-alcoholic options – Virgin Umeshu and Dong Ding Oolong Tea.

“It’s only been a month and a half since opening,” Anaïs reminds herself about the thrill ride of opening Yeshi. “But the team see the vision. I just feel grateful to them, and excited about what’s next.”

What: 70% traditional, 30% twisted Taiwanese food.

Where: 1st Floor, 16 Thao Dien, District 2

Contact: Facebook | Instagram

NP Bistro 

After his adventures at Nous Dine, a capsule dining restaurant in the old building at 42 Ly Tu Trong (that continues on), Nghiêm Minh Đức is doing something completely different. Out in Binh Thanh he’s opened a big, breezy bistro with an open area on the ground floor and a large dining room upstairs – with a private dining room beside it. 

Chef Duc at NP Bistro Binh Thanh
Chef Đức’s new page, NP Bistro in Binh Thanh.

The food is flavorsome and affordable bistro fare, accented with Đức’s penchant for fine dining techniques. So, there are please-all pastas, a Bolognese and a Carbonara, but also some elevated offerings, ‘with a twist,’ like NP Bistro’s Korean tinged ‘Bibin’ Penne or their Mi Quang with snakehead fish.

Squid rocket at NP Bistro
NP Bistro’s ‘Squid Rocket.’

 “Already the neighbors have been dropping in and the feedback’s been really good,” Đức smiles contentedly. Justifiably, he’s calling it ‘happy food’ – accessible cuisine that’s inseparable from the space, full of smiles, in which it’s served. 

“The Mi Quang Fettuccine is a good example,” Đức explains. The dish, which uses the type of fish his grandma used to cook when he and the family would visit, is comforting yet contemporary.

NP Bistro Saigon
NP Bistro’s welcoming interior.

What: Chef Đức turns a new page at this Binh Thanh bistro.

Where: 80/1 Hoang Hoa Tham, Binh Thanh

Contact: Facebook | Instagram

Anatolia Turkish Cuisine

Consider the gyro. The simple formula: heat, meat and motion. Two of them rotate hypnotically inside the entrance to Anatolia Turkish Cuisine, while inside guests are tucking into shared plates of Iskender kebab and lamb meatballs. 

Lots of cuisines are under-represented in Vietnam. Turkish food is one of them. Although the universal appeal of grilled meat in warm bread means there’s street stall kebabs all over the town, and the occasional stand-alone shop, few restaurants are elevating the experience.

Enter Anatolia Turkish Cuisine, whose authentic dishes are served in chic surroundings in downtown District 1 (right opposite Prime Steak Boutique & Chill and beside the Liberty Central Hotel). 

There’s a half-eaten tray of the flaky Turkish pastry dessert baklava on the counter, a sign of the steady influx of Turkish national seeking some flavors of home, who sit beside tourists intrigued by the scent of Turkish specialities emanating from the front door.

Anatolia Turkish Cuisine in downtown District 1.
Anatolia Turkish Cuisine in downtown District 1.

Linger outside long enough, and the warm-hearted team, including co-founders Ramazan and Ken, who also run restaurants in Danang like the Istanbul Anatolian Kebab House, are likely to beckon you in for a cup of tea and a chat – symbolizing sincerity in Anatolia and beyond. Turkish hospitality in full effect.

What: Turkish dining dialed up to chic.

Where: 65 Pasteur Street, District 1

Contact: Facebook | Website

Alibaba Kitchen & Bar

As the city sprawl stretches its arms outwards, inevitably, eventually, its outer districts will be sprinkled with noteworthy bars and restaurants – the kind of places worth the trip into the unknown for. 

Alibaba Kitchen & Bar, a fever dream in Binh Quoi.
Alibaba Kitchen & Bar, a fever dream in Binh Quoi.

Take Alibaba Kitchen & Bar, along by-the-river Binh Quoi. An Arabian Nights theme pervades – a desert orange riad, with tented dining tables inside, and patterned rugs and cushions outside beside candlelit tables by the water. 

Grilled cuisine from tagines to tomahawks at Alibaba Kitchen in Ho Chi Minh City
From tomahawk steaks to tagines at Alibaba Kitchen & Bar.

The fusion menu skips noncommittally from tomahawk steaks to tagines. And there’s a camel tied to the nearby tree. 

What: An Arabian-nights themed grill restaurant by the river in rural Binh Quoi.

Where: 1143 Binh Quoi, Binh Thanh

Contact: Facebook | Instagram

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