Most popular questions that friends ask me inbox are, “What do you recommend for restaurants in SaiGon?” “Could you give me the names of nice cafes in SG?” “Which places serve proper afternoon tea in SG?” “Where are nice places to take pictures in SG?”
I’m by no means an expert on Saigon’s popular and trendy places. In one year I reside in SG, I only commute between district 1 and district 7. I haven’t “travelled” out of these two districts so my recommendation of places to hang out in SG are limited and not a comprehensive list that will give you a full picture of cool and popular places in SG. However, the lists which I shall provide below are suitable for you to take your foreign friends who want to experience the local rich culture (colonial interior design, authentic cultural atmosphere,…) at the same time still have that western modern feeling (fusion food, professional staff, fine dining quality,…). In my list there is no mention of street food or street vendors which I’m sure might have tastier food and give a more accurate picture of our local cuisine and which a true local could give better recommendations than me. I mainly focus on the ambience and the atmosphere . I divide my lists into 2 categories: My Favorite Restaurants and My Favorite Cafes!
I. My Favorite Restaurants:
1. Hoa Túc, 74/7E Hai Ba Trung : Hoa Tuc means opium flower – reflecting the history of its setting in a former French colonial opium factory. The best way to experience Hoa Tuc is to take their cooking classes and enjoy your own cooked lunch. The cooking class starts with discovering fresh exotic ingredients at Ben Thanh Market, cooking with unusual Vietnamese kitchenware, and enjoying lunch in a beautiful setting.
2. Anh Tuk, 23 Dong Khoi : As the youngest restaurant in the Hoa Tuc group, Anh Tuk is introducing modern Thai concept with a collection of Thai-inspired recipe with a modern twist. If you are looking for a true authentic Thai cuisine, Lạc Thái is more frequently visited by locals. For me, I prefer Anh Tuk for their stylish, minimal interior design and their well-trained staff. I disagree when people complain that food here is overpriced; try their lunch set. For 260,000VND/person, you get one appetizer, one main course, and tea/coffee. The price is decent for such an elegant venue and a prime location.
3. Ngon Asia House, 99 Nguyen Hue: I hear so many bad reviews about this food court: overpriced, overcrowded, average food,…I have to agree! This restaurant is like a luxury food court with multiple Asian cuisines on different levels and it’s very inconvenient walking around narrow spaces to order food, wait for your food, find a table, and carry your tray around to get to your table. For many locals, this restaurant is such a disappointment; but i still think it’s a unique place to introduce your foreign friends to a comprehensive menus of Korean, Japanese, Chinese, and Vietnamese cuisines. The restaurant also has great taste in interior design: light bulbs, lanterns, sewing-machine dining tables, dark wood and tiled floor,..all creates a somewhat Hoi-An atmosphere and such an authentic feel.
7. Noir Dining in the Dark, 180D Hẻm 178 Hai Bà Trưng: You will be blind-folded, guided and served by blind or visually impaired staff who have been specially trained to assist and reassure sighted guests who are in complete darkness. I will not write much about the whole dining-in-the-dark experience because it’s meant to be a surprise to new customers. Revealing too much will partially ruin the wow factor!
8. The Log, Gem Center: It’s a wooden structure elevated around the perimeter of the rooftop complex. It provides you with the feeling of intimacy, more of a romantic place. Premium culinary cuisine, immersing the sweet melodies of Jazz songs, and a soothing scent of wood creates such a memorable dining experience!
II. My Favorite Cafes:1. L’usine, 151/1 Dong Khoi or 70 Le Loi Part cafe, part boutique, part gallery, L’usine is a contemporary Vietnamese experience. The café is quite hard to find, as you have to walk up a narrow staircase. Inside the simple yet chic black and white decor lends a trendy feel. The tables and chairs are sleek and fit the retro theme. L’usine hosts the cool crowd of Saigon and is a popular hangout for artists and designers.
3. The WorkShop, 27 Ngo Duc Ke
Like most of the cool cafes in Saigon, to get to the Workshop you’re required to hike up an old staircase. This place is for serious coffee drinkers where you learn about different brewing techniques from Siphon to Aeropress and Chemex.