Where is the best street food in Saigon? It’s contentious. We know. Because, truthfully, it’s impossible to say where the best bowl of pho or the best banh mi is in Saigon. There’s important considerations. Chicken or beef? What time of day is it? Do you mind waiting?
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And then there’s the fact that as soon as you announce where you think the best street food is in Saigon, your friend will quickly correct you while introducing their favorite place into the equation at the same time. But that’s what’s great. In a country of 100 million, it feels like everyone old enough to talk and eat has a passion and some opinions about the food on our plates on the streets.
So, with all that in mind, and with some trepidation, we re-enter the debate about where is the best street food in Saigon. We’ve chosen twelve dishes, and one or two of our favorite places to eat them in downtown Saigon, or as near as we can get, or not near at all, if the bowl merits a cross-town journey.
Where is the best street food in Saigon?
Com Tam is a Saigonese rags-to-riches story; the Vietnamese dream. Neglected and discarded, broken rice climbed out of the trash and onto the plates of the types of working men who were building this city with their bare hands.
These days, a plate of pork chop, broken rice and pickles is beloved by all. It even graces plates at Vietnam’s best restaurant (according to the 2023 Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants Awards), Anan. But, like all of the dishes here, com tam doesn’t need gentrifying. It’s best enjoyed on a grimy street corner as smoke billows around and above you from a BBQ that’s covered in marinated pork in various states of readiness. Like at Com Tam Cô Hong (128 Doan Van Bo, District 4) which opens 4pm to 1am.
Or try com tam in all its gutter glory at Com Tam Bai Rac (73 Le Van Linh, District 4). It’s named after the closeby trash depot, and opens between 4:00pm and midnight. Thankfully, the name was given by cheeky regulars and the trash is safely out of range while you’re eating.
But for the hood dish made good in its finest street food form, go to Com Tam Nguyen Van Cu (74 Nguyen Van Cu, District 1). It’s open from 7:30am to 3:30pm. The queues can be lengthy – so avoid lunchtime. And the wait can be long once you have a seat – give it 30 minutes before pointing to your watch and ten more before remonstrating with the staff. But when that plate of com tam arrives, you’ll immediately forget how hard it was to attain and disappear into broken rice bliss. It’s not cheap, at around VND 150K per person, but the best things in life rarely are.
District 1’s Nguyen Thai Binh Ward is a throwback to Saigon’s golden age. Its sleepy streets and central location make it the perfect place to wander around, alighting on its street food spots, beer clubs and cocktail bars. Bun Rieu Cua Oc Phang Rang (66 Nguyen Thai Binh, District 1) is squeaky clean. That may be because the owner is usually sitting at the back, watching everything with eagle eyes. The noodles come out with a bowl of snails on the side that you can dump in and devour unceremoniously.
Take the intensity of Saigon. Simmer it down in a butter sauce. And then throw in some spice. And that’s District 4’s Vinh Khanh Street, a part of the city that’s on its way to cultural heritage status. There’s the big neon archway at the entrance to prove it. As always, follow the wisdom of the crowd. The busier the place – especially if it’s full of Saigonese – the better. Oc Oanh (534 Vinh Khanh Street, District 4) is a good example.
And for the uninitiated they serve play-it-safe grilled prawns, Thai-style clams, and steaming crabs. Or, for the hardcore snail enthusiast, Ốc tỏi xào bơ – or garlic snails in butter – or Ốc mỡ xào me – a snail, still in its shell, in a tamarind sauce. The picture menu makes picking and pointing easy.
Bun Thit Nuong
Bun Thit Nuong – Nguyen Trung Truc (1 Nguyen Trung Truc Street, District 1) has been quietly nestled by the hoarding close to Ben Thanh Market for some time. But, despite its in-conspicuous nature, and its touristy location, Bun Thit Nuong – Nguyen Trung Truc is regularly referred to as the best in town. And it’s a dish that’s hard not to love – succulent charred pork, silky white noodles, crunchy peanuts and pickles, and a handful of crisp greens drenched in sweet and sour nuoc cham fish sauce loaded with chili. Not far away, Bun Thit Nuong Kieu Bao (139 De Tham, District 1), buzzes. There’s the endless stream of delivery drivers picking up their precious cargo, and if you eat in, you get to ladle your nước chấm out of an oversized bucket into your bowl.
Pho, the ephemeral all-day dish divides opinion more than any other. There’s the choice between Hanoi and Saigon-style. Chicken or beef.
Top of our list, either way, is Pho Mien Ga Ky Dong (14/5Bis Ky Dong, District 3). It’s a pho factory. And it appears to draw even more devotees than the temple opposite. From when it opens, around 5am, to when it closes around 10pm, Pho Mien Ga Ky Dong serves up bowl after bowl of their soulful Southern-style chicken pho. Pho Mien Ga Ky Dong was justifiably featured (among some more questionable choices) on Netflix’s Street Food Asia show.
But, for beef pho, Pho Phuong (25 Hoang Sa, District 1) serves the kind of bowl of pho you dream about. It’s the kind of bowl that would justify a flight over. The beef is stacked like a meat Mount Fuji, the broth is rich and peppery, and the noodles are suitably silky. Kindly, their foreigner friendly menu comes with two easy options: get the small bowl and choose the type of beef they arrange inside, or order the big bowl (VND 90,000) and get all eight. That’s right, inside there’s rare beef, flank, brisket, fatty brisket, soft tendon and crunchy cartilage, and beef meatballs all arranged with the kind of love and attention developed over 43 years in the business. Pho Phuong is right opposite Pho Be Thanh Da, and at the entrance to the alley leading to the legendary lunch lady. You could easily spend a whole afternoon just happily eating around here.
Banh Trang Tron
The wonder of Vietnamese street food like banh trang tron is that there’s no satisfactory English translation. ‘Rice paper salad’ really doesn’t do it justice. At least it highlights the key ingredient – shredded rice paper – which gradually becomes satisfyingly saturated by the mixture of chili and scallion oils, and tamarind sauce. It’s a textural treasure – the strangely plastic-y rice paper, chewy beef jerky, crunchy peanuts, and soft quail eggs. With some justification, Andrew Zimmern apparently called it Vietnam in a bag.
There’s two places to get Banh Tran Tron. The first is conveniently located opposite the Vincom Centre, and in front of The New Playground. Banh Trang Tre Tron Co Du (26 Ly Tu Trong, District 1) is as street as it gets – with the eponymous Co Du sat on a small stool dispensing freshly mixed bags of banh trang tron to the passengers on motorbikes that pull up, and to a small adoring congregation sat around her. Alternatively, go to another of Saigon’s illustrious food streets – this one was inaugurated last December. As part of that, cars will be banned on Nguyen Thuong Hien from 7pm every evening, allowing you to attempt an epic snack crawl from one end to the other. An essential stop has to be at Banh Trang Tron Long 24 (34 Nguyen Thuong Hien), where, true to the other places on the list, they dispense their delicious wares to passersby and queues of delivery guys at a frenetic pace.
Bun Bo Hue
Some things don’t make sense. Why do cats purr? Why do humans yawn? And how can Bun Bo Hue Huynh Thuc Khang (62 Huynh Thuc Khang, District 1) open 24/7? Those three big vats of broth lined up besides the server might have something to do with it. And the unrefined roadside chaos of the place. There’s usually a queue, whatever time of day, and the kind of carnage produced by a never-ending flow of people – piles of plates, discarded tissues, and spilled greens. Assuming you’re alright with that, Bun Bo Hue Huynh Thuc Khang is one of the city’s most bountiful bowls of the central noodle dish.
Things don’t make sense at Pho Quynh (323 Pham Ngu Lao, District 1) either. Like, why is it named after pho when bo kho is the big attraction? And how come their bowls are so good, when they could be serving substandard food to transient tourists who don’t know any better? Anyway, we’re glad they’re there. And that corner of Pham Ngu Lau and Do Quang Dau is great for people watching too.
Unlike bun cha which doesn’t travel well from the capital, some say Mi Quang is better in Dalat thanks to its influx of immigrants from Quang Nam Province and the infusion of fresh Highland greens and ingredients. And the Mi Quang in Saigon is pretty good too. Take Mi Quang An La Ghien (15A Nguyen Thi Minh Khai, District 1) for example.
Saigon’s lesbian banh mi spot, locally nicknamed Banh Mi O Moi, but officially called Bánh Mì Huynh Hoa (26 Le Thi Rieng, District 1), gets the most name-checks in travel guides. And there’s always a long queue outside from 11am, when it opens, to 9pm when it closes. But lots of visitors say it’s a little oversized, and maybe too overstuffed with meat to be truly enjoyable.
Alternatively, head to Banh Mi Chim Chay (147 Nguyen Thi Minh Khai, District 1) which is a relative newcomer to the scene, at only seven years old. Banh Mi Chim Chay’s profile has rocketed lately thanks to ‘running bird’ banh mi’s brilliant sandwiches stuffed with grilled pork or chicken. The stall was opened by a couple who went all in, and quite their office jobs to dedicate themselves to sandwiches. The corporate world’s loss is our gain.
We get it. Bun cha is better in Hanoi. But we need a fix down south — those perfectly charred fatty strips of pork and a mini-pork ball or two, those innocent bun noodles, and the sweet and sour dipping sauce. When the desire strikes and we’re downtown, only Bun Cha Nem Hoang De AKA Tia To Do – Bun Cha (10 Ly Tu Trong, District 1) will do. It’s hidden in plain sight a few doors before Lush on Ly Tu Trong. Perhaps it’s the foliage. Or the small entrance. But it’s worth looking out for. Inside there’s two rooms with A/C behind an open-fronted room with more tables. And their bowl of bun cha is satisfyingly bountiful. Plus there’s wrist-fat, crispy, flaky fried crab spring rolls. Alternatively, there’s Quan Nem. In case you didn’t realize it, Quan Nem (15E Nguyen Thi Minh Khai, District 1) featured on CNN. It was back in 2012, so there’s a big sign on the wall to remind everyone just in case. And, surprisingly, there’s another passable bun cha in Japan Town near the exit from Thai Van Lung, Bun Cha Hanoi 26 (8A/9C2 Thai Van Lung, District 1).
Banh Trang Nuong
Saigon is way too hot to enjoy the residual heat from the braziers that the banh trang nuong grills on, as you might do in Dalat, the home of the snack. But Co Map (54 Ngo Duc Khe, District 1) cooks up her signature circles of rice paper that are so flavorsome and loaded with ingredients you don’t need any additional incentives to visit. Plus, she pitches up on a side street off Nguyen Hue, making the perfect pitstop on a trip down the city’s main promenade.