Ho Chi Minh City has an incredibly exciting dining scene, thanks in part to entrepreneurial Vietnamese, a sizeable expatriate community bringing with them flavours from all around the world, and risk-taking Vietnamese who have returned from abroad to fulfil their dreams of fusing cuisines from their childhood and adopted homes.
Best cheap eats
Banh Mi Huynh Hoa
Get ready to queue up for one of the meatiest banh mi sandwiches in town. The French-style baguettes here are slathered with homemade mayo and sauce then stuffed with Vietnamese cold cuts, pate and pickled vegetables. They’ll set you back nearly US$2 a piece, but local and international fans swear these filling sandwiches are worth every penny.
Opened in 2006, Pho Hung is one of the city’s best-known pho restaurants, popular for its large and extra-meaty bowls of noodle soup. Both beef and chicken versions are available (a rarity as the broth is slow-cooked using either beef or chicken bones), as well as tons of options including extra portions of concentrated broth or egg yolks cracked into your bowl.
Head down an alleyway and up the stairs of a slightly grungy apartment building to reach this rooftop space that boasts an impressive menu of very authentic Vietnamese food, some better known as home-cooked dishes than typical restaurant fare. The tapas-sized dishes are great for sharing and trying new flavours.
Ben Thanh Street Food Market
If you’re a little apprehensive about trying street food actually sold streetside, the Ben Thanh Street Food Market is a reassuring place to start. With lots of covered seating and a friendly vibe, the two dozen or so stalls just a block away from the iconic market sell everything from classic Vietnamese summer rolls and grilled pork with rice to Korean BBQ and pork carnitas tacos.
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Best high-end dining
Jardin des Sens
Located in a repurposed heritage building right downtown, the menu of this elegant restaurant featuring French and Mediterranean flavours shares some of the same dishes as the original three Michelin-starred restaurant of the same name in Montpellier, France, also owned by the Pourcel brothers. While a five-course meal will set you back about US$100, the three-course lunch is a bargain at just over US$30.
If you’re into meat cooked over an open fire, look no further than Quince. The kitchen team works in impressive concert in the open kitchen, carefully controlling the wood fires and ovens to deliver stand-out meat-centred dishes including Iberico pork chops, organic lamb rump and Omaha prime sirloin. Executive chef Julien Perraudin is known for tinkering with unique flavour combinations so no two visits are exactly the same.
Blanc is a feast for both the palate and the mind, requiring diners to use Vietnamese sign language to interact with hearing-impaired staff. In addition to engaging with an oft-overlooked segment of Vietnamese society, the menu features a twist on Vietnamese classics elevated with premium ingredients like Wagyu beef pho and pan-seared scallops with hearts of palm. A la carte options are relatively easy on the wallet, but splurge on the US$35 set menu for an excellent dining experience served with a side of compassion.
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Top vegan and vegetarian
Hum Lounge & Restaurant
Even non-vegetarians will enjoy a meal at this spacious restaurant near the Saigon riverfront. Fresh local fruits and vegetables are lightly treated and beautifully presented in dishes inspired by Vietnamese flavours as in the delicious winged bean salad and king oyster mushrooms with green apple sauce. There’s also a second, more intimate location at Hum Vegetarian Cafe & Restaurant.
Nhà Hàng Chay Nấm
Previously known as Lien Huong Vegetarian Restaurant (at the same location), Nhà Hàng Chay Nấm still serves up vegetarian versions of some of Vietnam’s best-loved dishes including a hearty mushroom curry, braised shiitake and refreshingly light salads utilising tropical ingredients like young jackfruit and banana blossom.
Royal Rice & Bun Bar
While the menu does include meat options, Royal Rice & Bun Bar is extremely environment-, vegetarian- and vegan-friendly. Rice vermicelli noodles are made fresh on-site with the addition of freshly pressed beetroot, pandan, and red melon juices while tofu and fresh vegetables feature in the extensive list of non-meat dishes including vegetarian pho, vegan brown rice bowls, and gluten-free options.
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Shri Restaurant & Lounge
Located 23 stories above Ho Chi Minh City, Shri has both a hip indoor dining room and an outdoor rooftop terrace. The Spanish tapas tasting menu gets rave reviews as does its seafood paella and grilled imported steaks. Don’t miss their unique cocktails inspired by various Ho Chi Minh City neighbourhoods as well as the whiskey bar hidden behind a sliding bookcase.
Well worth the 15-minute trip to District 2 to hang out by the Saigon River, The Deck’s menu of upscale comfort food including tuna carpaccio in a mojito dressing and crispy-fried salt & pepper Phu Quoc squid, makes it a popular spot with expatriates and well-heeled locals alike, especially at weekend brunches. Enjoy the gorgeous river views or splurge on arriving by speedboat at the restaurant’s own jetty.
Prepare for a double-take when climbing up the stairs to Rice Field. With its red lanterns and exposed brick walls, the interior says Hong Kong speakeasy but the outdoor terrace is the kicker, with rows of rice plants set against the Ho Chi Minh City skyline. The extensive menu features home-cooked Vietnamese favourites from all over the country including a delicious squid stuffed with minced pork in a salted yolk sauce.
Best Vietnamese fusion
Opened by a couple of Japanese friends, Pizza 4P’s has a cult following for its well-prepared comfort food of pastas and wood-fired pizzas, often using its own artisanal cheese. 4P's also experiment with incorporating local flavours into their dishes as in the vegan lotus pizza and the Bun Dau pizza based on a street food favourite, marrying local shrimp paste with house-made camembert cheese.
Meaning “eat, eat”, Anan is all about elevating Vietnamese cuisine using premium ingredients and modern cooking techniques. Order a pho noodle soup with wagyu in a clear, consommé-like broth or try the Vietnamese sizzling pancakes reimagined as beef tacos. The roast duck Dalat pizza is also a hit with mozzarella, roast duck and mustard greens atop an impossibly thin, grilled crust.
Ralf's Artisan Gelato
The German husband–Vietnamese wife team behind Ralf’s uses premium, natural ingredients and raw materials without any preservatives or colourings to create heavenly, artisanal, Italian-style gelato. Because it’s handmade from scratch daily in small quantities, Ralf’s often plays with Vietnamese flavours like in the fish sauce gelato and “pho bo” (beef noodle soup) sorbet.
Nha Hang Ngon
Almost always packed with locals and visitors, Nha Hang Ngon (meaning “Delicious Restaurant”) is housed in a grand ochre-coloured villa with fan-cooled indoor and outdoor seating. Its huge menu represents dishes from all over Vietnam with an additional section of Japanese favourites. The best part is walking around its periphery where you can see the dishes being made in individual street food-like stations.
A charming little bistro serving up modern takes on Vietnamese street food, Propaganda’s vibrant atmosphere comes from its views over a green park just a stone’s throw from the Notre Dame Cathedral and its awesome interior of painted murals of vintage propaganda posters. Its fresh, healthy menu features items like summer rolls filled with chicken, avocado and brown rice and a salad of crab claw herb with BBQ chicken and green mango.
Dining at Vintage Emporium in District 2 is like hanging out at a posh friend’s house. Gleaming hardwood floors, a leafy trellis entrance, vintage tiles and a living room–like ambiance make this the perfect spot for a leisurely meal. All-day brunch items include the popular Moroccan poached eggs, as well as, healthy mains like organic brown rice bowl with smoked salmon. There’s a smaller, two-story location closer to the city centre with an equally appealing retro-chic vibe.
Formerly a guest house for the Hindu temple across the street, Temple Club is an homage to Old Saigon with its exposed brick walls, intimate dining spaces and a gorgeous antique-filled lounge. The extensive menu features traditional Vietnamese classics like pork braised in clay pot and Hanoi-style pan-fried fish seasoned with turmeric and galangal, but the real star here is the Indochine-glam atmosphere.