For every closed sign a new place flips the open sign. And while Saigon has always, rightfully, been known for its street food, classy, design-conscious places are popping up that wouldn’t look out of place in major Asian cities like Singapore or Hong Kong. Here’s your primer.
Đọc bài viết bằng tiếng Việt
It’s dangerous. But someone has to do it. While navigating the city on two wheels, we’re always keeping one eye trained, looking out for new places opening. Fortunately, with their chic, eye-catching designs and incredible locations, lots of these new places aren’t hard to spot. That is except for the odd hidden bar and speakeasy. So, here is our list of Saigon’s best new bars, restaurants, cafés and craft beer spots. Enjoy.
A few doors down from The Brix (owned by the same people), Tinto, with its open side, iconic neon-tinged artwork, its glowing red interior, and chic, minimal design is breezy and brilliant. It’s also introducing the city to Nikkei cuisine – a mix of Japanese techniques and Peruvian ingredients. The food shrugs off the tired ‘fusion’ tag by being a unique cultural product that evolved due to Japanese immigration to the South American country. And with ambassadors like the legendary chef Nobu Matsuhisa and restaurants like Maido which ascended to the World’s Best Restaurants top ten, the cuisine’s star continues to rise. “We just found that whole lineage fascinating,” Sarah, from the Tinto team, tells us. “Theatrical, colorful and dramatically delicious, this is fresh, modern dining, inspired by tradition and waiting to be discovered.”
And so, executive chef Benoit Leloup’s menu features Nikkei-styled share plates alongside a list of sake, boutique wines and Peruvian-Japanese inspired cocktails. “The ingredients of both Japanese and Peruvian cultures complement each other as if they had been born to be one. It is an honest cuisine with unique textures and flavors,” Sarah adds. With so many options, we wonder what to order. “Try the Smoked Salmon from the charcoal grill,” she advises thoughtfully, “or the Slow-cooked Peruvian Style BBQ Marinated Chestnut Pork Ribs, and to drink try a Tinto’s Pisco Sour.”
In Short: The Brix team’s take on Nikkei cuisine and style.
Location: 24 Tran Ngoc Dien, Thao Dien
Paper & I
Paper & I is in an incredible location that never took off…until now. As a ‘cafe for modern thinkers’ with languorous afternoons to be spent out on the terrace, it suddenly makes sense. It’s the perfect juxtaposition. Hip brunch spot opposite the storied Presidential Palace. So grab your seat before international tourists return and claim this as their own after an hour or two sightseeing across the street. For a location with historical gravitas, the name’s fitting too – inspired by the history of humans and paper as a medium of expression. “Everything has been put down on paper, from music to words, to design,” the Paper & I team muse.
Despite the name, the vibe, enhanced by the flexitarian menu, is fresh and modern. “The spirit of the name comes through in the creativity we’ve instilled in the space; the dishes are a little familiar, but something new too,” the team continue. The space, in the Nam Thi House, a former villa, looks simple from the outside but inside it’s an enticing maze of staircases and courtyards. “We especially recommend you check the 2nd floor balcony with views of the Palace and its gardens and ancient trees, and while you’re there order the Món Bún Hoa Thiên Lý. It has a Japanese furikake-flavored umami broth. And try one of our juices, like our Blush, a gorgeous concoction of purple cabbage, pear and passion fruit, or flavored cold brew.”
In Short: Park views and cafe perfection.
Location: 152 Nam Khi Khoi Nghia. District 1
“Rusty, like a garage,” co-owner Lucas Truong laughs when we ask him to describe The Mechanic, “or maybe we’re just trying to embody the spirit of perfection imperfection.” The decor is all steampunk cogs and screws and industrial fans. “We really wanted it to feel like every time you visit, you discover something new,” Lucas adds. And like a true workshop, there’s lots of alchemy going on with the drinks.
“We ferment and play around with ingredients, and offer a menu tailored to our guests, and the fusion Aussie grub, like the snail burger with ginger fish sauce is very popular too,” he adds. At one end of the room, a live band plays some nights. “But for a first visit pull up to the bar, which we’ve set at a lower height than most bars to enable you to converse more easily with our talented ‘mechanics’ behind the bar,” he recommends looking around.
In Short: Rusty and real.
Location: 2nd Floor, 176 Le Lai, District 1
To the list of Saigon’s best omakase restaurants – Sushi Rei and Kiyota – add Maguro Studio. “But we deliberately avoided the name ‘restaurant’ in favor of ‘studio’,” Lanh, CEO of Yamanaka Vietnam and co-founder of Maguro Studio tells us. Yamanaka import premium fish sourced from Miyagi “where the cold Oyashiro current and warm Kuroshio current meet the rocky and mountainous coastline…” Having supplied other Japanese restaurants here for some time, Lanh decided to partner with head chef, Lam, both formerly of Towa, and open their own place. ‘Studio’ captures the creative, theatrical spirit of the place much better perhaps because the duo are Vietnamese but fluent in Japanese, the space is more carefree, less hushed and reverent.
There’s an octopus mural by the door, a dramatic dry-age cabinet by the window, and a long counter with Chef Lam raised up above you providing the perfect vantage point to hypnotically follow the action. But there is the same obsessive attention to detail as the best sushi spots. Lanh carefully pours our sake into a glass on which the cherry blossom decoration magically blooms when the liquid hits it while barely taking his eyes off the chef. “Getting the best bluefin tuna at auction is important,” Lanh explains, “but expert culinary knowledge is essential to get the most out of the product.”
In Short: Masterful omakase.
Location: 19 Dong Du, District 1
The completion of Landmark 81 and the development of Thao Dien’s riverside has opened up a whole new vantage point on the city. Take it all in from Lunar Lounge. “We always had a plan to open a chilled lounge,” co-founder Nayan Heijmans tells us, “a place where you feel at home and where you can enjoy a refreshing cocktail, somewhere to make new friends and reconnect with old ones…” When they discovered this location, the plan was realized.
“Me and co-founder Sjaak Meulen saw the venue…and the view and we just knew,” Nayan adds. Sjaak is a computer engineer by day. And now lounge owner by night. And just like Sjaak’s lifestyle, the lounge is versatile “chill during weekdays and party till late into the night on weekends.” There are classic premium cocktails to enjoy, some signatures, and a VIP room bookable for sporting events or intimate karaoke evenings. “The biggest compliment is we actually hangout here ourselves,” Nayan adds, “you’ll usually find us on the sofas, enjoying the views, Glenfiddich in hand.”
In Short: Thao Dien’s newest hangout with those views.
Location: 8/3 Street 49B, Thao Dien
A. L. Bar
First the name. A. L. stands for hidden dragon. And so, naturally, the bar is well hidden in Giong Cafe on Ly Chinh Thang Street – another cool part of town where you’ll find Capital Studios and other hidden bars like Phay.
“We were drinking so much coffee in the day time we needed something in the evening to wind down over!” And the name, Ẩn Long, comes from the legendary intelligence officer, Major General Pham Xuan An, whose home was located on Ly Chinh Thang street, and Speak Low, a secret bar in Shanghai – the city that the owner used to call home – and Long for dragon, an endless and fortuitous theme in Asian culture. Its inconspicuous nature gives the bar a sophisticated feel. “Come and chat, and enjoy a few drinks in comfort,” the team advise.
In Short: Conspiratorial cocktails in a spot that’s “hidden but not hiding.”
Location: 180 Lyu Chinh Thang, District 3
To – Hidden Cocktails Bar
Keeping with the hidden cocktail bar theme, next up is To. And it all started with a Negroni. Co-owner Tho had one in Japan with a friend. The place wasn’t particularly special, a roadside cocktail bar. “But it sparked a whole world of possibilities for me,” he shrugs.
‘To’ was the nickname he was given in Japan, and also the English proposition, the concept is you go ‘to’ here and become part of the family. Like Blanche Bar + Dessert the entrance is above a convenience store, making it distinctly hard to find. And that’s the point. “The location just adds. to the mystique,” Tho nods. Once found, you’ll discover they serve some unique concoctions, one inspired by the beloved Hao Hao instant noodles. “Everyone coming through has their own story to tell,” he muses, “and this is a space to share those stories, over cocktails with equally inspired inceptions…”
In Short: Japan-inspired hideaway serving locally-inspired cocktails.
Location: Le Thanh Ton (Above G25)
7 Bridges Brewing Co.
As soon as the ‘for rent’ sign appeared on the former Japanese ramen joint Ryu-Shin, there was anticipation about what would come next. And it felt like our mouths were still buzzing from Ryu-Shin’s spicy ramen soup by the time Seven Bridges had already opened. Back in 2019 we took a tour of Danang with the east coast craft beer legends. And now they’ve descended upon Saigon turning the area around Le Thanh Ton into a real craft beef enclave – there’s Pasteur Street across the street, and Heart of Darkness a block over.
Here, they’ve switched the former motorbike parking lot out front into a terrace, and there’s a taproom with 20 taps out back and upstairs floors to explore. “Downstairs looks out onto Le Thanh Ton and wraps around into ‘Little Tokyo’. Then the first floor decor was inspired by New York subway tiles and there’s an open kitchen to showcase our chef. On the 3rd floor, there’s a hidden cocktail bar, ‘Urban 7’ – with a totally different atmosphere to the rest of the place…” 7 Bridges tell us. The team are really expanding on the possibilities of being a craft beer brand. “True, we’re a craft beer company, but the ‘craft’ mentality goes much further than beer. We built this taproom to showcase what we love – an artisanal and experimental blend of good food, excellent cocktails, and of course craft beer,” they add.
In Short: Danang craft beer company’s epic Saigon taphouse.
Location: 15B Le Thanh Ton, District 1