May 15 2012
Tucked away down a tight alley in the heart of Saigon, one of the city’s most pleasant cafes perches in an upstairs loft. Only a short walk from most of the city’s major sites, like the Notre Dame Cathedral and the Saigon Opera House, L’Usine is a quiet oasis. Although it’s on the major shopping street of Dong Khoi it’s hard to find to the untrained eye. It will require a short walk down a dark alley lined by clothing and accessories boutiques; once at the end follow the signs up the stairs and you’ll find the cafe.
Although it doesn’t look too grand from the outside, inside the simple yet chic black and white decor, so vintage that it’s modern, lends a trendy feel to the cafeteria-style restaurant. The tables and chairs are sleek and fit the retro theme, one wall is a giant blackboard filled with specials and cupcake flavours, and even the menu’s typeface has an old-timey charm.
While it may be one of the hippest places in town, the real reason to visit L’Usine is to partake in some of Saigon’s best salads and sandwiches. Sitting down, you’ll notice that the menu isn’t huge — actually, it’s the placemat — but I have yet to try something from it I didn’t enjoy. My favourite would have to be the mixed vegetable salad with feta cheese. Including eggplant, peppers and tomatoes, among others, the salad’s veggies are some of the freshest you’ll find in a Saigon salad; plus the vinaigrette is a welcome retreat from other salads in the city, some of which use mayonnaise. A cool twist to the menu is that most of the salad options are also available as sandwiches so you can get your mixed vegetables in a bowl or on a baguette.
If you’re looking for something with a little more meat to it, their mushroom and olive stuffed chicken salad/sandwich is also in my meal rotation, though I prefer it as a sandwich. Really, if you order it as a sandwich you basically get enough veggies for a salad anyway. To top it off the chicken is delicious, with heartier flavour than your run of the mill chicken breast sandwiches.
Aside from sandwiches and salads, L’Uisne also offers a selection of coffees and juices as well as some of the finest, fresh baked goods you’ll find in Saigon. Drop in at breakfast or lunch and you’ll bear witness to a large selection of tasty, 50,000 VND cupcakes and, my personal favourite, the 35,000 VND fruit muffin. And, as icing on the cake, this is one of the few places in the city that serves free glasses of iced water [ed: we wish all restaurants did this!].
You’ll see all sorts of customers at L’Usine, from business professionals to backpackers to people working on their computers, as prices, around 100,000 VND a dish, are affordable for such a setting. If you have time to spare, browse through their boutique, which features unique clothes, bags and accessories for bearable prices.
My only gripe with L’Usine is that they only make their salads and sandwiches for breakfast and lunch, so get here before 17:00 or you will only be able to order drinks and cheese platters. During breakfast and lunch expect there to be a constant buzz of people; I’ve never been turned away but there have been some busy days. If it’s too crowded or you’re in need of somewhere to eat dinner, you’re within walking distance of Barbecue Garden or for finer, more expensive dining you can stroll over to Xu Restaurant.
151 Dong Khoi, 1st floor
District 1, Saigon
T: (08) 6674 3565
Daily 10:00–22:00; breakfast and lunch until 17:00
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