This is Saigon today. Refreshed and reinvigorated, with lots of cool concepts. Many have a distinctly Japanese-theme, thanks to the love of our Asian neighbor’s aesthetic elegance and cultured cuisine.
Đọc bài viết bằng tiếng Việt
Sure, there’s a little apprehension in the air, but that’s not stopping these F&B pioneers from fulfilling their dreams. And ours too.
Here are 11 unmissable new places to eat, drink and get creative in Saigon today.
“Social gatherings over simple drinks,” the N5 team modestly describes their purpose. At least that was the original idea behind N5, a social club started by a group of high school friends. Soon, hanging out regularly and discovering a love of cocktails became their first venue. The modesty continues with the unassuming, minimalist exterior. But N5, located off the vibrant new riverfront Street 54 in Thao Dien, has lots to be confident about.
Inside, the exterior’s simplicity continues, with gray furniture and black bar counter. And the menu, accessed by QR code, contains five perfectly composed signatures – it’s the kind of place where you’d willingly explore all the menu regardless of your usual preferences – and then there’s the classics, think martinis and sidecars.
Removing the menus emphasizes the minimalism. There’s no distraction, except for the crew or date you’re with, so you can freely admire the precision work of the bartenders. “The outside space is simple, the inside is airy. And our goal was to capture the attention of passers-by with this mysterious feature,” Long, who helps manage the business, explains. Hoang Anh, who’s more creative, tells us about the design: “It’s true we wanted a modest space, not in size, but in design, and I think it’s that lack of fussy decoration that makes N5 unique. And then we added dimmed lighting, soft music, and some brilliant bartenders who can help customers feel even more immersed in the vibe at N5.” Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.
In Short: Mood-altering minimalism and equally intoxicating cocktails.
Address: 5 Street 54, Thao Dien Ward, District 2
Tassui Dining & Lounge
Tassui Dining & Lounge is breathtaking, in the same way Bed Supperclub Bangkok used to be; a dazzlingly designed monolith dropped into a dilapidated part of District 1. Across the street, dating couples sip cà phê sữa đá in a coffee shop with a distinct throwback feel, all wooden doors and peeling paint.
Opposite, looking over imperiously, there’s Tassui Dining & Lounge, and the smooth, chic, curved lines of the venue’s exterior. Inside, they’ve incorporated a Kabuki theater from a Tokyo of the near future. But as the Tassui team explain it, they’re as inspired by Japan’s history: “We wanted to make a place where art, culture and cuisine crossover inspired by the land of Phu Tang – ancient Japan and its arts. We wanted the design inside to be as eye-catching as the outside, with images of Geisha girls and Mount Fiji. The whole guest experience is important to us…”
The cuisine, by chef Nakamura Takahito, takes diners on a culinary journey filled with quintessential Japanese flavors. And the sound system – by the founder’s high-end audio company L-Acoustics – provides the perfect soundtrack.
In Short: Modern Tokyo meets Japan of old in this stylish Saigon new opening.
Address: 10 Truong Dinh, Ben Thanh Ward, District 1
You spot NOMU Izakaya immediately. Amid the banking buildings and noodle spots of Nguyen Thai Binh Ward. Its chic, white entrance sign that reads ‘Izakaya’ beckons you right in. Inside, Noor Design have lent their typically opulent and detailed design work to this Japanese-style counter bar with some seating in front and at the back of the house for around 30 guests.
After the Malaysian restaurateur Adrian Chong Yen’s success at Sol Kitchen & Bar, with his Tex-Mex-meets-Asian-ingredients menu, and more of the same with added beach club vibes at Sol District 7 Kitchen & Bar, there’s every chance he can successfully deliver punchy small plates of izakaya-style food here at NOMU Izakaya. So far, they’re introducing a beef tataki, some karaage and cured steaks. “But we’re focused on the bar just as much,” Adrian explains. The objective is to keep it simple. “High balls, classic cocktails and some sake of course,” he adds. Like the best izakayas, it’s dark and conspiratorial. And with a growing bar presence in this part of District 1, with Drinking & Healing, and 419 both close by, NOMU looks like elevating the vibes in this area even more. Campai!
In Short: One of Saigon’s most flavorsome restaurant team’s go Japanese.
Address: 152 Nguyen Cong Tru, District 1
Lockdown was tough. But on the positive side, it gave birth to lots of ideas…like Pickles Eatery. The idea came to Lucas Fays and his friends during those interminable months. “Back then, we had a lot of time to think. One time, staring into the refrigerator, it occured to me – everyone I know has jars of pickles in their refrigerator,” Lucas explains. Then Lucas and friends teamed up with Lab:OM agency for design and Bandit Darling on the branding. And, not far from Pham Viet Chanh, in Binh Thanh Ward, they found the perfect location to bring Pickles Eatery to life – a characterful old house.
There, the old architecture reflects the honesty and authenticity they’ve incorporated into their menu. “I’d describe it as carefully selected ingredients, accompanied by excellent handcrafted wines. This cozy space has two floors, with an outdoor balcony area, which is perfect for dates. The downstairs area is the perfect place to enjoy our delicious dishes, the upstairs space is the perfect intimate place to sip glasses of wine with tapas.”
The menu keeps growing already. Some cool oyster brunches, and now lip-smacking breakfasts have already been added. “And we’ll keep on adding and evolving and changing with the seasons,” Lucas continues. For now, menu standouts include their ‘Terre / Mer’ section. It’s a common concept in French fine-dining, where ingredients from the land are combined with ingredients from the sea, like their addictive prawn with chorizo. And there are over 100 choices on the drink menu to pair the dishes with “with a focus on organic and biodynamic craft wines.”
In Short: The perfect place to get pickled, any time of the day.
Address: 83 Nguyen Cong Tru, Binh Thanh District
Saigon’s Japan Town, off Le Thanh Ton, is showing signs of a rebirth. First, there’s the three-story 7 Bridges Brewing Co. opening soon where Ryu-Shin ramen used to be. And now, across the alley, Sushi Tiger. Owner Tsuruhara Shozo, from Nishinomiya, has been here for four years. First, he became owner-chef at Fume, the Japanese fusion restaurant a couple of blocks away. Then the District 3 donburi shop, Kemuri. And now he’s opened this fun sushi spot with co-owner, Nikichi, of the famous Fujiro tonkatsu restaurant round the corner. “At first, we wanted to call it Sushi Police or Sushi Gangsters,” he laughs. Understandably, there was some pushback. So, he settled on Sushi Tiger, with the Lunar New Year of the Tiger fast approaching.
Taking over another former ramen joint, Sushi Tiger is unmissable with its corner location, bold signage and tiger yellow exterior. Plus, it’s Saigon’s first standing sushi bar, something you might only have experienced in Tokyo.
“In Japan, you might have 30 minutes before dinner, so you’d drop by a standing sushi spot, have two or three pieces of sushi and a beer then move on. Also, after drinking lots, Japanese people want a bowl of ramen or some sushi. And, especially for sushi, that really didn’t exist here,” he explains.
You can stand outside at the open window, or inside at the tables. There, the globe-trotting chef, 67-year-old Mr Maida, serves quality but affordable sushi ready seasoned so there’s no need to add soy sauce and wasabi. Then there’s house sake and Dasai by the glass, and beers. And, because everyone’s standing, there’s a different energy compared to the usual counter-seating sushi restaurants. Currently open till 10pm, they’ll extend the hours to midnight soon. So, don’t be surprised to see your favorite chefs here after hours. Standing room only.
In Short: Affordable, quality sushi and fun times in Japan Town. Standing room only.
Address: 15B Le Thanh Ton, District 1
The Racha Room, District 2
Racha Room in District 1 is ageless. One of the hippest spots for a bite or a cocktail when it opened seven years ago, it’s still packed with fervent fans today. Now, with the explosion in bars and restaurants in Thao Dien, it made sense to park a Racha Room sequel over here, right in the epicenter of the action on Xuan Thuy. “I guess we’re the new kids on the block all over again,” Chris Donnellan laughs.
The team isn’t intimidated, though. That’s because these days, Tribe Hospitality operates with the deserved swagger of OG’s in the game. The team behind Firkin, Stoker and Dram put together some of the best cocktail menus in town, by Gregory Jacobs, and their food, by Chris and Andy O’Brian, is unforgettable too.
Just like the original Racha Room, the new space in D2, designed by The Lab Saigon, has a similarly Thai-influenced menu in a smaller, more intimate venue. And for guests switching from District 1, there’s also the reassuring sight of the same iconic graffiti elephant on the wall. “I’d order an espresso martini to kick-start my evening, and then a plate of duck dumplings…” Andy nods confidently when we ask him what he’d order if he was a guest. And in case you miss Relish & Sons, Tribe Hospitality’s burger joint that occupied the same location, it’s moved over next to Stoker Thao Dien, which means the patties now get a lick of flame from the Stoker grill.
In Short: F&B OG’s take their beloved Racha Room concept to buzzing Xuan Thuy.
Address: 105-107 Xuan Thuy, Thao Dien Ward, District 2
Anh Coffee Roastery
Anh Coffee Roastery is busy. That’s despite the red-brick two-floor venue being only a few weeks old. It’s busy because the team has found the perfect match – Instagrammable design and a coffee menu that includes cold brews and their own roasted coffees.
That confidence betrays the fact the team has been building up to this for a while. They started out in 2017, with their first branch of Anh, called Anh Coffee & Juice, in a corner of Saigon Centre. By 2019, they’d opened Anh Coffee & Dessert in Estella Place. And now there’s this expansive design-conscious location on Pasteur Street.
Anh Coffee Roastery was created by Nguyen Thanh An, who before all this was working in events, while developing a taste for furniture and coffee. Especially coffee. “Well,” Nguyen Thanh An begins about his love of the bean, “Coffee is usually grown in highlands where there’s a mild climate, and when you take a sip of quality coffee, and then you close your eyes, you feel like you are on an adventure.”
The architectural space inside has soft, curvy lines and stairs and corners to explore. Visiting is an adventure, just like Nguyen Thanh An said about taking a sip of coffee. And after all the practice at those previous venues, the coffee is really good. “We listen to guest feedback carefully and adjust, to make sure our coffee is of the highest quality and the fullest flavor,” he adds proudly.
The menu has over 100 drinks. But the signature is most famous, a drink dedicated to Mrs Anh. It’s a special latte served cold but without ice after being chilled for 24 hours before serving. That means customers get a full coffee flavor that’s not deadend by the milk or diluted by ice. “Perfectly suited to the hot weather we have here,” Nguyen Thanh An smiles.
In Short: A design-conscious coffee adventure in downtown D1.
Address: 200 Pasteur, District 3
For all the joys of living in Saigon, there aren’t many activities that don’t revolve around eating and drinking. Enter KULA #3065. Founded by a group of four friends, with varying experiences including arts, events, PR and digital marketing, KULA #3065 was founded after they found the perfect light-drenched arts space. The idea came about organically. The four friends used to hang out a lot. “We’d always be at each other’s houses, drinking and chatting. Then, it occurred to us that we should create a common space where everyone could come and have fun,” Ray, one of the co-founders, elaborates.
The name ‘Kula’ means ‘community’ in Sanskrit. And the Pantone color #3065 is sunflower yellow, symbolizing the positive vibes they’re already bringing to the area. “We want people to come and find joy in creativity, to discover their potential through arts…” another of the four co-founders, Ha My, tells us. Behind her, the space is a hive of activity. In the corner, the Brewbar team is turning out creative caffeinated drinks. Some kids are expressing themselves on canvas. And a couple of shoppers are browsing the displays of products and artworks for sale on the walls.
They’ve already put together a diverse range of activities, for all ages. There’s life painting, events and performances, and lots of other craft activities like flower arranging. And at night there are cocktails to unwind over as you express yourself.
In Short: Fun and family-friendly, a funky new art and creative space has arrived in Thao Dien.
Address: 1st Floor, 39 Nguyen Duy Hieu, Thao Dien Ward, District 2
“We’re all born unique – originals!” co-owner Cao Bao Nguyen explains. Original Bar is well-hidden, like any self-respecting speakeasy. This one is down an alley off Nguyen Trai. Downstairs is counter seating and a stellar bar team including Chau Nhat Quang. Upstairs is a lounge. A large map of the world hangs above inviting sofas and there’s a balcony where you can take in the hush of the depths of this alley.
Dispensing with the pre-opening menu, they make us a couple of cocktails based on our preferences. The glassware is on point. The flavors even more so. They change the pictures on the wall depending on the day of the week, to fit the mood. Even though the mood is always good here; hushed lighting, shelves of spirits, and already a few regulars dropping in. The bar food is delicious too. Chau Nhat Quang orders us some fried spring rolls straight from his mother’s kitchen. A perfect refuel before another round of cocktails.
Address: 269/4 Nguyen Trai, District 1
TiMon Garden is in the heart of Thao Dien, in the same block as Kula #3065. When we drop in, the block is a hive of activity; upstairs a painting class in the studio next to an office space, and there’s a lively market on the ground floor selling everything from vintage clothes to coffee to antiques. Inside TiMon, behind the bar, Julian, the co-owner is busying himself pouring a 1664 Blanc for an afternoon customer to enjoy out on the shady terrace.
Julian, former brand ambassador for Pernod Ricard, knows the bar scene well. And with partner Tuan, he’s curated, besides the beers, some tasty house wines. Or if it’s too early for all that, order an espresso on the terrace and enjoy the block’s buzz. The team has tried to evoke the vibes of a laid-back French café with perfect drinking food like olives and homemade tapenade. But you’re just as likely to come back for the service. “To me, simplicity and service are the essence of the business,” Julian shrugs from behind the counter.
In Short: New bar on the block with laid-back French café vibes.
Address: Ground Floor, 39 Nguyen Duy Hieu, Thao Dien Ward, District 2
Yentown is the hip, conceptual kind of space we love. It’s small, but already there’s a lot going on inside. “Initially, we wanted to create a place related to fashion, but that felt too limiting,” Huyen, Yentown’s co-founder, muses.
And so Yentown became a mini-complex, dedicated to creativity, cocktails, and more. Huyen studied in Japan, and wanted to keep the spirit of her journey alive in Saigon, especially Japanese street style. Here, each area has a different concept. Downstairs is a cybercafé and bar. Upstairs is an exhibition space which can also be used for workshops, or even a studio.
“This is a place for you to ‘swim’ in art,” Huyen smiles. It’s true, the Yentown team has resourcefully activated every inch of their new venue. And for a second you could be in Tokyo. There’s food too, like their best-selling karaage, and udon noodles and more.
In Short: Conceptual and cool. Yentown Saigon.
Address: Alley 19/8 Nguyen Thi Minh Khai, Ben Nghe Ward, District 1
Photos courtesy of the venues, and translation by David Kaye.