The Dot Magazine’s Quarterly Saigon Guide For Winter 2019

If the success of a city can be measured by the height of its buildings, Saigon’s Landmark 81 – the world’s 14th tallest – is a huge neon-lit signpost that the city has arrived. Today, Saigon is Vietnam’s stellar southern hub. And as incomes grow (they’re set to quadruple by 2030) lots of bars and restaurants are taking advantage by opening up. Our quarterly Saigon guide might help you find your spot.

So, here, in our Winter Saigon Guide for 2019, we round up the best new openings throughout the city. Find out where to have dinner, or grab a drink or a cup of cold brew below.

Read on in Vietnamese

Where to eat in Saigon

In this where to eat in Saigon section of our Saigon guide, we present a first for the city, a river-side lounge with creative cocktails and cultured cuisine. Then there’s a dessert and dining restaurant that’s upping the standard of gastronomy in the city. Plus, we present a new restaurant that infuses everything with a bit of smoke and fire, a Japanese yōshoku izakaya, a Thai-izakaya, a District 2 steakhouse and a colourful vegan hideaway.

ROS – Dining & River Lounge

Why: Groundbreaking. The first downtown riverside restaurant and bar. 

ROS – Dining & River Lounge is the first development on District 1’s riverside.

Saigon’s District 1 riverfront is underused. ROS – Dining & River Lounge has changed that. It’s the first bar or restaurant development along this strip – right beside the new water taxi terminal. And the vibe is classy but accessible. As you enter the kindly concierges guide you towards a deck area and a two-sided bar. There’s seating for dinner along the side and plenty of space inside, including areas for corporate events and larger groups. 

ROS – Dining & River Lounge’s bar.

And the views are great. Landmark 81 looms away to the left. Behind is the curve of District 1 hotels and high-rises. And across the water the darkness of soon-to-be-developed Thu Thiem. That might have been enough to make ROS – Dining & River Lounge a success. But Elements Management Group – the team behind Sky XX, Towa, Lai and an ever-growing F&B group – leaned on the expertise of people like beverage director Hideyuki Saito and head chef Vinh Nguyen. And the quality shows. 

Address: 10B, Ton Duc Thang Street, District 1

Contact: Facebook | Instagram

The Monkey Gallery Dessert Bar & Dining 

Why: Creative tasting menus to tell your friends about.

Head chef Viet Hong at The Monkey Gallery Dessert Bar & Dining.

Vietnam’s F&B scene is exploding, and it’s places like The Monkey Gallery Dessert Bar & Dining are leading the way. In fact, The Monkey Gallery Dessert Bar & Dining is already a downtown go-to for foodies. Head chef Viet Hong is confident enough to let guests get up close at the top floor counter where he leads diners through his signature tasting menu. After six years working in Saigon’s kitchens, Viet Hong left for a culinary scholarship at FERRANDI Paris. 

The Japanese-style interior at The Monkey Gallery Dessert Bar & Dining.

“There the best French and Japanese chefs helped me begin to think outside the box,” the head chef tells us. You can see the Japanese influence in the minimalist Asian-style decor which allows the intricacy of his French and Vietnamese-inspired food to stand out. “I just call it contemporary cuisine,” he adds modestly.

“No place in the world has dishes like ours.”

Dishes like his sumai, bullot, ngo gai and rau ram were inspired by the street food here. “And I think no place in the world has a dish like ours,” Viet Hong says confidently. Downstairs is the “modern dessert bar”. Expect deconstructed tiramisu and more. 

Address: 91 Mac Thi Buoi, District 1

Contact: Facebook | Instagram

Esta Eatery

Why: Intimate. Inclusive. Indelible flavours. 

Fig with frozen yogurt and maple ginger dessert at Esta Eatery.

Esta Eatery was opened by three musketeers, Thi “Matt” Ton, Thang “Ryan” Nguyen and Francis Tuan a few months ago. The restaurant is in an alley at 18bis Nguyen Thi Minh Khai. And inside the food is Asian fusion – because it was the best description they could think of for the indelible flavours coming out of the kitchen. Most dishes, from the burrata to the cauliflower, and even the rich chocolate mousse dessert, come with a flavoursome lick of smoke. 

The three co-founders, Ryan, Francis and Matt.

The focus is on comfort, from the food to the convivial atmosphere they’ve created inside. “It comes from everything, including the decor and the service,” Ryan told us shortly after they opened.

The hushed lighting and the discreet location do make it the perfect spot for a date or dinner with friends. And the softly-spoken head chef, Francis, is already developing new dishes like his fig with frozen yogurt and maple ginger dessert.

Address: 18bis/16 Nguyen Thi Minh Khai, District 1

Contact: Facebook | Instagram

Kin Đee Thai Izakaya

Why: Two loves. One location. Thai street food and Japanese izakayas. 

Kin Đee combines our love of Thai food with our passion for Japanese izakayas – those fun, fuss-free, after-work watering holes.

Everyone loves Thai food with its coconut sauces and spicy flavors. And Japanese izakayas are hard to resist too – fun, fuss-free, after-work watering holes. Kin Đee combines the two. “It’s a new concept where we’ve combined Thai street food with a twist of the drinking concept taken from Japanese izakaya,” co-founder Dzung confirms.

The funky graffiti decor at Kin Đee Thai Izakaya.

Her partner, Nam, almost settled in Bangkok. But he decided to return and join the exploding F&B scene here while involving his former team in Thailand – interior designer Marisa Kingdonnok and consultant chef Max Wittawat. Sean Halse from Kumquat Bar Hanoi helped too. Pair your pad thai with The Spicy One (a high ball where wasabi cordial adds bite). Or your pad thai with a Koh Passion, a spiced rum cocktail with Thai falernum, passion fruit, vanilla, lime and orange bitters. 

Eat well, live well. Or Kin Đee Yu Đee as the neon sign above the open kitchen suggests. 

Address: 200/23 Le Thanh Ton, District 1

Contact: Facebook | Instagram

Nomu 

Why: Izakayas are in. And this one is “creative, warm and intimate”.

Izakayas are in. And Nomu is “creative, warm and intimate.”

The resident community in District 2 continues to diversify with more and more Japanese are moving into the area. Lots of Japanese eateries are popping up to cater to them – and everyone else here who loves Japanese cuisine. 

The Ponzu Ceviche at Nomu in District 2.

Hidden in plain sight is Nomu. That’s due to the understated entrance. And the modest signage. Inside, the flavours are anything but modest.  Nomu is a yōshoku izakaya – yōshoku means Western-style. So the dishes here are a mix like their addictive Burrata Puff, a puff pastry and burrata cheese starter. Then there are wagyu, salmon, and shiitake skewers, and lots of rice bowls and hearty plates of pasta. 

Eat responsibly the restaurant advises. With a menu this tempting, it’s not easy.

Address: 10 Thao Dien, District 2

Contact: Facebook | Instagram

Stoker Woodfired Grill & Bar – Thao Dien

Why: A steakhouse and Saigon institution now in District 2.

Mad Max: Fury Road, The Bourne Ultimatum, Thor: Ragnarok and…Paddington 2. Sometimes sequels are better than the original. Which is what the owners of Stoker Woodfired Grill & Bar will be hoping too. At the very least, they’ll be aiming to emulate the success of the original Stoker Woodfired Grill & Bar at 44 Mac Thi Buoi in District 1.

The expanded open kitchen and counter seating at Stoker Woodfired Grill & Bar – Thao Dien.

Stoker Woodfired Grill & Bar first set up there with an elaborate backstory about a mysterious patron named Francis Oldric C. Stoker. Inside was a dry-aging room and a menu filled with nuanced smoky flavours that proved especially popular for business lunches and dinner dates.

Stoker Woodfired Grill & Bar Thao Dien is more of the same…except lots bigger and bolder. The kitchen has been opened up and guests can sit at the counter as head chef George Bloomfield works the grill. The dry-aging room is far grander. There’s a bar area. A walk-in wine room (with 250 kinds of wine which you can enjoy during the Monday to Friday 5-7pm happy hour or the weekend happy hour between 3-5pm) and there’s lots of seating in between.

One of 250 wines available at Stoker Woodfired Grill & Bar – Thao Dien.

And upstairs is Dram. This whisky bar, similar to the group’s award-winning Firkin in District 1, is the perfect place for a nightcap or a game of pool as the steak settles.

Address: 2 Dang Huu Pho, Thao Dien, District 2

Contact: Facebook | Instagram

L’Herbanyste

Why: Uplifting. Creative. Ethical. 

L’Herbanyste will make you forget what you thought you knew about plant-based food.

In case you were still thinking eating vegan means flavourless food and fake meats, add a splash of colour to your life at L’Herbanyste. Housed in a funkified villa, L’Herbanyste breathlessy promises “Uplifting plant-based comfort food, creative herbal mixology, ethically sourced ingredients and organic skincare treatments in support of health and a more sustainable planet.” And they deliver. 

Enjoying the vegan mezze beside the free-to-use pool at L’Herbanyste.

Tucked down a Thao Dien side street, L’Herbanyste is an oasis where you can escape the mayhem of District 2’s main streets to sip on coffee or enjoy a vibrant vegetarian brunch in a lush green setting. And if the guilt of your former life as a carnivore gets too much, take a cleansing dip in the villa pool (free of charge). Then dry yourself off and order another sumptuous smoothie.

Address: 215E4 Nguyen Van Huong, District 2

Contact: Facebook | Instagram

Kiba – Food, Wine, Taste

Why: Redefining casual fine dining in Saigon.

Nguyen Thai Binh Ward is one of our favourite parts of town. It’s like a film set for a film shot in 1960s Saigon. The area is becoming a foodie destination too. Among the ever-growing number of options, are Quince, Into The Kitchens, Biker Shield and now Kiba – Food, Wine Taste.

Pedro Goizueta, head chef at Kiba – Food, Wine, Taste.

It has all the trappings of a modern Saigon restaurant. Open kitchen. Check. Breezy rooftop balcony. Check. Creative cuisine. Check. Well, officially it’s “Fusion Tapas”. Their unique talent is to make guests fall in love with dishes they know all over again. Like their beef rendang, the complex semi-dry curry that’s hard to find in Saigon. And that’s done so well here with tender rib, roasted cashew and coconut rice.

That’s thanks to head chef Pedro Goizueta. His obsession with Vietnamese ingredients has grown, literally. Upstairs is his hydroponic garden of organic greens like basil, cilantro and mustard leaves. And the freshness comes through in the dishes like their signature Kiba Salad with greens, aromatic herbs and granola and nuts. Or their fish tacos with charred fennel and homemade smoked chilli sauce.

Kiba – Food, Wine, Taste’s flavoursome small plates.

Their recently launched lunch set is 180K for three courses. It features mains like pork char siu and black pepper chicken. But it’s during boisterous group dinners that Kiba really comes into its own.

Address: 31 Pho Duc Chinh, District 1

Contact: Facebook

Which bars to visit in Saigon

Lots of new bars have been popping up in Saigon too. So, in this section of our Saigon guide you’ll find a French lounge on a street in District 2 that’s about to become hot property, a boutique rooftop bar in the backpacker district, a craft cocktail bar that’s a game-changer and a hip lounge in Binh Thanh.

WAM Saigon

Why: Fun. Informal. With flamboyant wallpaper. 

“We are monkeys” at WAM Saigon.

A Parisienne house party transplanted to District 2. Or, as French owner Cedric puts it, “A neighborhood bar that looks across the Saigon bridge with beats, drinks…and lots of apery.” This street, for now a sleepy riverside local enclave that the new road has woken up, could become a destination strip of restaurants and bars. But for now, WAM is the only one here.

“A neighbourhood bar that looks across the Saigon bridge with beats, drinks…and lots of apery.”

And the view is special. The traffic flows incessantly over the bridge as the lights of the Landmark 81 dance around. There’s lots of dancing inside too. That’s thanks to a music program curated by Japanese DJ Teruu. And a funky, antique-looking sound system. 

“We are monkeys” the neon sign above the booth says. After one night here, we’ve already joined the troop.

Address: 8/19 – Duong So 49B, District 2

Contact: Facebook | Instagram

Banana Mama 

Why: Saigon’s best boutique rooftop bar.

Saigon’s best boutique rooftop bar has incredible views of District 1.

When the poke pioneers Poke Saigon and award-winning Marcel Gourmet Burger crews team up to open a rooftop bar you know the result will be brilliantly bright and breezy. And who knew the views of downtown were so good from this end of backpacker Bui Vien? 

Bartender Alpha Kourouma serving up a sun-splashed Pink Explosion cocktail.

“Not to sound cliched,” founder Emmanuel Tieu starts, “but I wanted this to be a sunkissed place where East meets West.” The Poke Saigon founder missed the bars of Europe “where you could drop in and strike up a conversation with a good drink in your hand”. In the case of Banana Mama, epic cocktails like their Pink Explosion with rose wine, elderflower syrup, strawberry puree and rhubarb bitter.

And Banana Mama has quickly become the most surprising sundown spot in town. Especially as you have to access the rooftop bar though a nondescript commercial building, the WMC Tower. Grab a cocktail and a burger – from people who know a lot about the perfect patty – as the sun sets. Or turn up late for rawkus parties like the recent Soulection event with the artist collective’s co-founder Andre Power. That’s if you can get in.

Address: 102 ABC Cong Quynh – WMC Tower – 10th floor, District 1

Contact: Facebook | Instagram

Summer Experiment 

Why: Next level craft cocktails where it’s summer all year round.

At Summer Experiment it’s summer all year round and the vibe from the bartenders and team is truly experimental.

The name says it all – here it’s summer all year round and the vibe from the bartenders and team is truly experimental. 

There are sharing cocktails served in watering cans. Herbs and greens growing on the terrace. Tubs of botanicals line the bar. And jars of liquids and mixtures are labeled like plant pots. 

“At Summer Experiment, we’re taking craft cocktails to the next level.”

There are spheres of watermelon and vodka topped with mint leaves. A mix with Roku Gin that’s frozen with nitrogen and that’s served like an ice cream. And lots of bubbles and other fabulous brews. “At Summer Experiment, we’re taking craft cocktails to the next level,” co-founder Jay Moir told us recently. He’s right. Summer Experiment is a game-changer.

Address: Second Floor, 77-79 Ly Tu Trong, District 1

Contact: Facebook | Instagram

Luu Bar

Why: “The place you go to when you want go out, but you also want to stay in”.

Luu Bar co-founder Etienne Do: “We opened here because we felt this was the coolest part of town.”

Luu has added something extra to the already fascinating neighbourhood of Pham Viet Chanh. “We opened here because we felt this was the coolest part of town,” Etienne Do tells us. He has a point.

In fact, Luu Bar was opened by Etienne and two friends, “one with time, one with money, and one with ideas,” he laughs without revealing which one he is.

Party time at Luu Bar Saigon.

The vibe inside is cosy and casual. “And a little like our combined characters,” Etienne continues, “chill but fiery, hidden but well-known…” There are cocktails and craft, and a DJ booth populated by DJs Etienne worked with organising events at Piu Piu and Lighthouse. 

Address: 108 Pham Viet Chanh, Binh Thanh District

Contact: Facebook | Instagram

Where to drink coffee in Saigon

The city loves coffee. Especially cold brew. Lots of new cafes have popped up serving our favourite slow-dripped coffee, and they star in the coffeeshop section of our Saigon Guide. There a kiosk coffee shop beneath a co-working space, a bright and breezy alley coffee shop perfect for digital nomads and a breezy European-style cafe with lots of greenery too over in District 5.

Nomad Cold Brew Coffee

Why: Bold and bright…like their coffee. 

NOMAD Cold Brew has quickly become our favourite place to grab a coffee.

Coffeeshop menus can be complicated. Page after page of drinks. Boxed illustrations of brewing methods. In the end you panic, and order a cafe sua da. Not at Nomad Cold Brew. “Do you want bright or bold?” Thanh, one of Nomad’s knowledgeable staff, asks from behind the counter. Simple. 

The coffee here is bright and bold, like NOMAD Cold Brew Coffee itself.

The nitro cold brew – where nitrogen adds a rich, creamy head to the gently sparkling coffee – is refreshing and complicated and caffeinated all at the same time. And like their options for choice of brew, bold or bright, the interior is well-lit with clean lines and striking posters. There’s also a stack of design books and Monocle magazines for you to settle into the sofa with.

Address: 93B Vo Van Tan, District 1

Contact: Facebook | Instagram

September Saigon

Why: Instagrammable European interior and minimalist design.

The velvety Strawberry Latte with real strawberries which seems to be the rising star on the menu. 

September Saigon is a little bit of Europe in the center of Saigon. There’s minimalist architecture and neutral interior shades. That all adds up to a soothing place to while away a lazy Sunday (or any day of the week depending on your schedule). Small open spaces sprout with greenery. The aroma of Italian coffee fills the air. And we recommend the velvety Strawberry Latte with real strawberries which seems to be the rising star of the menu. 

September Saigon’s Instagrammable European interior with its minimalist design.

Their cake menu is limited due to their recent opening. But each has a distinctive flavour and texture. Take the Orange Cheesecake where the rich taste is preceded by a waft of orange zest aroma. And September Saigon says no to single-use plastic cutlery. Another reason to fall in love with September Saigon. 

Address: 118/1D Nguyen Trai, District 5

Contact: Facebook | Instagram

WEGO Coffee

Why: Brews with traffic views.

WEGO Coffee is below the CirCO co-working offices.

WEGO Coffee is somewhere between a kiosk and a coffeeshop. Find it at the entrance to the CirCO coworking offices – a “new upscale spot for a professional office environment”. Luckily for the inhabitants upstairs the coffee – especially the cold brew with its “mellow flavor and smooth mouthfeel” – is great. Plus there are views out of the window that present the constant, hypnotising stream of vehicles shuffling along Dien Bien Phu outside. 

WEGO’s cold brew is mellow in flavor with a smooth mouthfeel.

Emerald green wall tiles shine beside warm brown leather seats. The juices come in cool glass bottles and the cold brew in a thin-glass tumbler. 

Address: 222 Dien Bien Phu, District 3

Contact: Facebook | Instagram



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