Aug 10 2012
It’s true that in Saigon you can get some of the world’s best food right on the street; on the other hand, plenty of tourist-trap fancy restaurants are poised ready to pounce and charge you ridiculous prices for average dishes. But if you’re interested in sampling a variety of Vietnamese dishes in better surrounds than what the street offers, there are a few places in town that fit the bill.
Hidden on a back road in an area of District 1 that sees far fewer tourists than elsewhere, Cuc Gach Quan recently became a hotspot of activity after a lunchtime visit from Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie and their family. And as I always say, “If it’s good enough for Brangelina, it’s good enough for me.”
Making its home in a remodelled French colonial mansion, Cuc Gach Quan’s decor is quite unique. The walls are lined with old furniture and knick-knacks, such as a reel-to-reel tape machine and book shelves filled with volumes of old books, and even the seating is out of the ordinary — fancy eating on a table made from an old, four-poster bed? While the interior design is interesting, their menu is particularly impressive; an incredibly thick book, it covers a wide range of countryside cuisine made from fresh, organic ingredients. The menu can be overwhelming, so do yourself a favour by starting with their housemade tofu and try one of their juices, which are sugar-free and served with a jar of honey while you browse.
If you’d prefer finer dining, Xu restaurant on Hai Ba Trung is an upscale spot where you won’t feel out of place wearing your best packed clothes. Perfect for a romantic dinner, the artistically designed restaurant sets the mood with soft lighting, while Xu’s menu is an ever evolving sampling of modern Vietnamese cuisine. Changes to the menu are made weekly, so repeat visits always give you something new to try. Be warned that portion sizes are on the smaller end of the spectrum — not ridiculously so, but be prepared for the possibility of ordering a second dish. Besides food, Xu has an impressive list of wine and cocktails, as well as one of the trendier, downstairs lounges in HCMC; after dinner you can head down and party the night away.
You don’t have to go far if you want to splurge in a more local style, as Lang Nuong Nam Bo is only a 10-minute drive from the backpacker hub of Pham Ngu Lao. A true Vietnamese restaurant, the restaurant is open-air (though it does have a roof), with hundreds of tables spanning two floors. Although they have a mammoth menu, with all your favourite Vietnamese dishes, they are famous for their 800,000 VND roasted suckling pig. Lang Nuong Nam Bo is a family-style restaurant, which specifically caters to big groups, and this is evident when the two-kilogram pig is served up to your table along with a plate of dumplings, easily enough to feed six people. The restaurant has a lively atmosphere, probably aided by the fact that a crate of beer lives under every table, and it’s best to go with a bigger group, both to enjoy the fun and split the bill.
Cuc Gach Quan
10 Dang Tat, Ward Tan Dinh, District 1
T: (08) 3848 0144
75 Hai Ba Trung, District 1
T: (08) 3824 8468;
Lang Nuong Nam Bo
283-285/145 CMT8, District 10
T: (08) 3863 2309
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