Gringo Tacos: Best "Wet" Burritos in HCMCMexican food is the one type of cuisine that we really miss from home when traveling in SE Asia. So we’ve been on a hunt in Ho Chi Minh City to find the best Mexican restaurant. It has been a fun challenge since there are about 40 in the city to choose from. Our quest brought us to Gringo Tacos in District 1, a small restaurant that was started by a Southern California man who had the same craving that we did. He was never satisfied by the Mexican restaurant options around HCMC so he ended up starting his own. And Gringo Tacos does do a few things better than the competition. First of all their tortilla chips are thin, salty, and delicious. The other chips we’ve come across have been too thick and unseasoned for our liking. Plus they actually have refried beans, a delicacy (that can’t be the right word) that few other restaurants in town offer. The Ambiance Gringo Tacos is a small, unassuming restaurant with just a few wooden tables to choose from. It’s a casual setting with a helpful waitstaff and a friendly owner. It would probably be difficult for them to accommodate large parties at one single table due to their small size. The Menu The menu at Gringo Tacos is pretty much what you’d expect from a Westernized Mexican restaurant. Burritos, quesadillas, chimichangas, tostadas, and tacos are all served with your choice of fish, shrimp, pork, chicken, or steak. As mentioned, we started with the tortilla chips and guacamole which was delicious. The guac was thick, spicy, and delicious. For our mains, we had a carne asada burrito but opted for the “wet” style so it was smothered with tomatillo sauce and melted cheese. The meat was tender and seasoned perfectly and the tomatillo sauce gave it a kick. It was delicious and we highly recommend it! Our other main was the vegetable tacos which actually weren’t our favorite because they were rather bland. They were also fairly small considering the price. If you do try their tacos, opt for one of the meat options instead. The Pricetag The prices at Gringo Tacos are moderate by Vietnamese standards. Opting for shrimp will make your bill quite a bit more expensive. Burritos range from 120k – 225k VND (~$5 – 10 USD), plus an extra 50k to make it “wet”. Tacos are 40k – 70k each, chips and guac are 80k VND, and chimichangas range from 165k – 265k. On Taco Tuesdays you’ll get a 10% discount on tacos and on Margarita Mondays you’ll get discounts on glasses and pitchers of margaritas. They also have Happy Hour daily from 5:00pm – 7:30pm with 50% off of selected cocktails, margaritas, and beer. Our total order with the items listed above and two nonalcoholic drinks was 530k VND (~$23 USD), and that was with our Taco Tuesday discount. Note that a 10% tax will be added onto your bill. Our Recommendation If you’re in the mood for something other than Vietnamese food, we would definitely recommend giving Gringo Tacos a try! Go on a Monday or Tuesday during happy hour to take advantage of their food and drink specials. And definitely get the chips and guacamole with a “wet” carne asada burrito, you won’t regret it! Location: 137 Calmette, Phường Nguyễn Thái Bình, Quận 1, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam More Info: TripAdvisor | Facebook
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Concept Coiffure: The Best Hair Salon in Saigon for BlondesIf you have blonde hair and have ever tried to get it dyed in Southeast Asia or South America before, you’ve probably run into some issues. When I was traveling in Bolivia I was determined to get my roots touched up and I figured “how bad could it be?” Turns out it can be really, really bad. The salon that I chose had to run to the store to buy blonde dye since they apparently had never had any blonde customers before. Long story short, my hair turned Ronald McDonald orange and I had no way to fix it. So after that lesson, I do copious amounts of research prior to selecting a salon when I travel. I don’t leave my hair in just any hands anymore. Before my first appointment at Concept Coiffure in Ho Chi Minh City, I read all the reviews I could find, specifically by blondes, to ensure that I was making the right decision. And I found nothing but glowing reviews online. I’ve now been to Concept Coiffure 4 times, and I have had nothing but positive experiences. So blondes, fear not! Your hair will be safe here. The Ambiance Concept Coiffure is a bright, lovely, and clean salon located in District 2. It looks just like any salon you would visit back home but here you won’t have just one hairstylist attending to you. Every time I’ve had my hair colored at Concept Coiffure, I’ve had 3 people at a time putting foils in my hair which makes the process go incredibly quickly. The hair washing at Concept Coiffure is my favorite part of the entire experience. Instead of sitting at an awkward angle in a chair with your neck forced backward, they actually have something similar to massage tables. So you can lay flat while one of the stylists gives you the longest, most thorough hair washing you’ve probably ever had. And finally, after getting a cut, you’ll again have 2-3 people drying your hair at the same time. It normally takes at least 3 hours to get my hair colored at a salon back home, but at Concept Coiffure, it takes under 2. List of Services Concept Coiffure has a team of professionals that do everything from highlights, lowlights, updos, cuts, balayage, ombre, keratin treatments, perms, hair straightening, and other specialized treatments. They most certainly cater to foreigners so no matter what color your hair, they can take care of you. The salon also offers very inexpensive manicures and pedicures if you have some extra time at the end of your appointment. The Pricetag Don’t expect to pay Vietnamese prices at this Western salon. I have medium to long hair and I get half of it highlighted for a price of 1,780,000 VND (~$77 USD). And my haircut costs 580,000 VND (~$25 USD). Check out their complete list of prices on their website prior to making an appointment. Location: 48 Trần Ngọc Diện, Thảo Điền, Quận 2, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam More Info: Website | TripAdvisor | Facebook
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Pho CONG: Possibly the Best Pho in HCMCPho CONG (Vietnamese: Phở CỘNG) is our go-to in Ho Chi Minh City when we are craving a steaming bowl of delicious, homemade pho. Located in District 1, this large, airy restaurant always has plenty of tables available and rarely very many patrons. The wait staff is always friendly and the food comes out fast. You’ll love this spot for a quick, inexpensive, and delicious afternoon bite! The Ambiance As I mentioned, Pho CONG is fairly large considering that we’ve never seen more than a few tables occupied. Granted, we usually find ourselves dining here at random times. And they never seem to close. There are large open windows lining the exterior of the building with tables directly in front of the windows which is great for people-watching but not so great during a torrential downpour. Ceilings are high, bathrooms are clean, and the kitchen is open so you can see one Vietnamese woman constantly stirring a gigantic cauldron of broth. The Menu Pho CONG has offerings other than pho, but we’ve never actually ventured outside of our comfort zone. You can also try their bún chả, bánh xèo, or bò kho. We both really love the Australian brisket pho (phở bò Úc chín) and order it every time we visit. If we are really hungry we’ll also order a massive plate of fried spring rolls (chả giò chiên). Their beef noodle soup is arguably one of the best bowls of pho that we’ve ever found in Ho Chi Minh City! The Pricetag The prices at Pho CONG are a bit more than your average street-side bowl of pho bo, 72k – 120k (~$3 – 5 USD) depending on the cut of meat that you order and the size of the bowl. However, the quality of the ingredients and the restaurant setting make it worth spending a little extra to get your pho fix. The well-done Australian brisket pho that we swear by is 75k VND for a regular-sized bowl and 85k for a large bowl. Our Recommendation We would recommend that you visit Pho CONG on a cool evening in Ho Chi Minh City. Not just because a hot bowl of pho will really warm you up, but also because they don’t have air conditioning. Get a regular-sized bowl of the well-done Australian brisket pho and an order of fried spring rolls to share (they come 10 per order!). Throw in some of the fresh herbs they’ll bring on the side and enjoy! Location: 142 Lê Thị Hồng Gấm, Phường Nguyễn Thái Bình, Quận 1, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam More Info: Website | TripAdvisor | Facebook
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Shamballa Vegetarian Restaurant: Beautiful but UnderwhelmingShamballa Vegetarian Restaurant and Tea House is one of the top-rated restaurants on Tripadvisor in District 1. So after reading all of the glowing reviews, we decided we had to try it for ourselves. Unfortunately, we found Shamballa to be overpriced by Vietnam standards, especially considering the small portion sizes. And while the four dishes that we tried were decent, none of them were outstanding. Considering just how many amazing and inexpensive restaurants there are in District 1, this one can definitely be skipped. The Ambiance One thing Shamballa Vegetarian definitely has going for it is an elegant setting and peaceful atmosphere. When you enter the restaurant you will get the friendliest greeting from everyone on staff. The restaurant is airconditioned (so much so that I was wishing I had a sweater), the decor is beautiful, and it will make you feel like you’re having a fancy night out in Ho Chi Minh City. The servers are very friendly and attentive and speak very good English. The Menu Shamballa offers a vegetarian take on classic Vietnamese dishes; you won’t find any meat dishes here. The menu is quite large so you’ll have plenty of options, but making a decision can be difficult. The descriptions are in English and they have photos of the dishes so you’ll know exactly what you’re ordering. We ordered 4 dishes and assumed that it would be a massive amount of food, but we ate everything and neither of us left feeling stuffed. Of the items we ordered, we thought that the banana curry (cà ri chuối sáp) and the Shamballa wellness salad (gỏi phúc lộc thọ Shamballa) were good, but that the three-layered tofu (đậu hũ ba tầng) was bland. And the Shamballa fried rice (cơm chiên Shamballa) is one of their signature dishes but it’s just fried rice covered in melted cheese. The Pricetag As mentioned, we felt that Shamballa Vegetarian Restaurant was overpriced and underwhelming. Dishes cost at least 100k VND (~$4.50 USD) for a small portion. You’ll need to order at least three dishes to be shared between 2 people, and probably a few more. So expect a $20 USD bill at a minimum, not including any beverages. It might not sound like much, but $20 USD goes a long way in Vietnam. Our Recommendation There are so many amazing restaurant options in District 1 that are far better and less expensive than Shamballa Vegetarian Restaurant. Unless you are a strict vegetarian and looking for a fancy night out, this restaurant is skippable. Location: 17-19 Trịnh Văn Cấn, St, Quận 1, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam More Info: Website | TripAdvisor | Facebook
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Bun Bo Nam Bo - Ba Ba: Fast, Fresh, Authentic Vietnamese CuisineBun Bo Nam Bo (Bún Bò Nam Bộ) literally translates to “beef noodles from the south” as it is most commonly found in southern Vietnam. It’s a dish that you must try during your trip to Ho Chi Minh City and our favorite spot in the city is Bun Bo Nam Bo – Ba Ba (Vietnamese: Bún Bò Nam Bộ – Bà Bà). This classic Vietnamese dish is made of 21 different ingredients including fresh rice noodles, herbs, beef marinated with lemongrass, garlic, shallots, toasted peanuts, and sweet & sour papaya. The sauce is in the bottom of the bowl and is made with hot fish sauce. Once you mix all of the ingredients together, it’s an incredibly delicious dish! The Ambiance The ambiance of Bun Bo Nam Bo – Ba Ba is nothing special. In fact, it looks like pretty much every other inexpensive Vietnamese restaurant in the city with plain metal tables lining the walls and plastic red and blue stools for seating. The small kitchen area churns out bowls of bun bo nam bo from the front of the restaurant. Bun Bo Nam Bo – Ba Ba is buzzing with activity, with the service staff running around, taking orders, and delivering food. The menu is small so you’ll only have to wait a few minutes to get your delicious meal. The Menu The menu at Bun Bo Nam Bo – Ba Ba is quite small. The appetizer options are fried spring rolls, either with meat or without. Your options for a main course are, of course, bun bo nam bo or 3 other options that look quite similar to the items already listed above. Combo options include a starter, a main, and a drink (or all of those with dessert as well). Since the bun bo nam bo is really the highlight of the restaurant, best to stick to the classic. The Pricetag Prices at Bun Bo Nam Bo – Ba Ba are quite reasonable. The starters are 25k-30k VND (~$1 USD) and the mains are 55k-60k (~$2.50 USD). The combo meals are 100k VND or 120k VND if you want to add a drink and/or dessert. You’ll leave stuffed and satisfied, all for under $10 USD! Our Recommendation Combo 1 is our go-to at Bun Bo Nam Bo – Ba Ba. We choose the vegetarian fried spring rolls to start, the bun bo nam bo for our main, and a coconut water or Saigon beer for dessert. It’s a delicious meal and one of the best deals around! Location: 76 Nguyễn Thái Bình, Phường Nguyễn Thái Bình, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam More Info: TripAdvisor | Facebook
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Poke Saigon: Fresh Ahi Made Just The Way You Want It!We had the unique opportunity to live in Hawaii for a year and a half and it was there that we absolutely fell in love with poke! This traditional Native Hawaiian cuisine consists of fresh raw fish that has been diced into large chunks and then seasoned. You’ll normally see Poke made from ahi (tuna), salmon, octopus, or various types of shellfish. And the most common seasoning in simple shoyu (soy sauce). In Hawaii, you can find delicious Poke anywhere, even at the corner markets in town. But outside of Hawaii, good luck. It’s not at all common and when you do find it, it’s generally way overpriced or the portions are tiny. Which is why we were absolutely shocked to find some of the best Poke outside of Hawaii in Vietnam! Poke Saigon has 2 locations in District 1 in HCMC. They are both cute spaces that are perfect for a quick lunch. Their fish is amazingly fresh and their portions are massive! Don’t miss this one during your visit! The Ambiance As mentioned previously, the ambiance of Poke Saigon is really darling. The restaurant is small but has large windows and a lot of natural light. Small wooden tables with padded benches and colorful pillows line the walls. And there are fun murals painted on the walls. There is no cooking involved (other than the rice) so all of the ingredients are behind glass at the counter. So you can see everything you’re about to eat. It makes ordering really easy and the helpful staff can give you some recommendations as well if you’re stuck. Don’t forget that neither Poke Saigon location is on the ground floor so it can be difficult to find them! The Menu A chalkboard on the wall behind the bar of ingredients explains how to build your Poke bowl. You’ll start with a base which can be sushi rice, brown rice, salad, or half and half. Then you choose which cut of fish you want – salmon, ahi tuna, spicy tuna, or shrimp. Then you pick your sauce and your toppings which include daikon, mango, avocado, pineapple, and more! They will fill a bowl up to the brim with delicious fish and a ton of extra toppings. You’ll leave feeling full and happy. And everything is relatively healthy! The Pricetag Whereas Poke is generally sold by weight, the pricing structure at Poke Saigon is really simple. You’ll pay 150,000 VND (~$6.50 USD) for 2 scoops of fish and all the other toppings, and an additional 30,000 VND if you want one extra scoop of fish. It’s far less expensive than any Poke restaurants that you’ll find in the US. Our Recommendation We would definitely recommend stopping at Poke Saigon during your trip to Ho Chi Minh City, as long as you love raw fish. Start with a half and half base of brown rice and salad, and opt for the ahi tuna or spicy tuna (which is essentially the same thing, just mixed with spicy mayo). Then load up on all of the fruit and veggies that you love! Location 1: Second floor, 42 Nguyễn Huệ, Bến Nghé, Quận 1, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam Location 2: First Floor, 42 Bis Ly Tu Trong, Bến Nghé, Quận 1, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam More Info: TripAdvisor | Facebook
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Goc Ha Noi: The Cutest Egg Coffee Shop in SaigonGoc Ha Noi (Vietnamese: Góc Hà Nội) means “little Hanoi” in Vietnamese and for all the right reasons. Egg coffee (cà phê trứng), which originated in Hanoi, is served in a cute little 3-story cafe that will make you feel like you’re sitting in your grandmother’s living room. That is if your grandmother was Vietnamese and had a house full of tiny furniture. The only downside to visiting this cool cafe is having to brave the backpackers and touts of Bui Vien street. Even given its location in the backpacker ghetto, a cup of delicious, frothy egg coffee at Goc Ha Noi is 100% worth it! The Ambiance Goc Ha Noi is probably the cutest coffee shop in Ho Chi Minh City, but it’s not necessarily easy to find. First, you’ll have to look for the sign on Bui Vinh Street in the heart Ho Chi Minh’s backpacker quarter. Head down the narrow alleyway and just when it takes a tight turn to the left you’ll find Goc Ha Noi. There is nowhere to sit on the ground floor, just enough room for the owner to brew up her delicious egg coffee. Place your order at the counter before heading up the steep staircase to the second floor where you’ll find a darling sitting area with just two small tables surrounded by squat chairs. Head up another floor and you’ll find a couple more tables and some cool wall murals. We actually prefer the third floor if you don’t mind the stairs. How the employees handle the steep staircases with trays full of egg coffee is a mystery. The Menu Goc Ha Noi serves up traditional Vietnamese coffee and a handful of teas, but the reason you came here is for the egg coffee, so don’t get distracted. The egg coffee is made by blending egg whites with condensed milk into a thick frothy mixture and then pouring it over a strong shot of Vietnamese coffee. When the drink arrives at your table take a few sips and savor the rich creamy egg mixture on top. But then stir your egg coffee thoroughly to combine the creamy top layer with the coffee on the bottom. Otherwise, you’ll wind up drinking up all of the egg froth first and finding yourself with just a boring old shot of espresso at the end. It’s much more delicious to mix it all together. On the third floor, you’ll also find a giant glass jar of sugar cookies. The cookies are made with the egg whites leftover from the endless cups of egg coffee. The cookies are free, but donations are welcome and used to provide clothes and school supplies for children. The Pricetag The price is one of the best things about Goc Ha Noi. A cup of egg coffee will only set you back 35,000 VND (~$1.50 USD). Our Recommendation Goc Ha Noi is, in our opinion, the best egg coffee shop in Ho Chi Minh. Not only is the egg coffee delicious and inexpensive, but the setting is also so quaint and unique. You’ll totally fall in love with this hidden gem of Saigon! Location: 165 Bùi Viện, Phường Phạm Ngũ Lão, Quận 1, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam More Info: TripAdvisor | Facebook
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Chilango Tacos: Authentic Taste from Mexico CityThere is no shortage of delicious, fresh, and authentic Vietnamese food all over Vietnam. From small roadside stalls to fancy fusion restaurants. But what you won’t find very often is quality Mexican food. Which really should come as no surprise since we are half a world away from Mexico. But if you are staying in Vietnam for a while, you’ll undoubtedly get tired of eating the same food, all day, every day. And when that happens, you’ll want to head to Chilango Tacos in District 1. This small, nondescript restaurant is hardly visible from the street as you’ll need to climb a small set of stairs to the second floor to reach it. Once inside, you’ll meet the owner, Louis, who is originally from Mexico City but has spent 6 years living and working in SE Asia. The Ambiance Chilango Tacos is a small, one-room restaurant with an open kitchen in the back. There are just a few tables with sombreros slung over the backs of the chairs. The front of the restaurant is open and a large fan in the corner cools down the space. So a hot day in Ho Chi Minh City combined with the spicy food is bound to have you sweating in your seat! The Menu The menu at Chilango Tacos is a simple, one-page laminated sheet. They have a variety of tacos for 50k VND each. It’s expensive by Vietnam standards but the tacos are loaded with delicious, fresh ingredients. We would highly recommend the shrimp tacos. Further down the menu you have your choice of a burrito or quesadilla, both of which are filled with similar ingredients and then you’ll have your choice of meat. Beans, vegetables, and cheese are the main ingredients and then you’ll get a topping of sour cream and a side of guacamole. The veggie quesadilla was superb and so large that I had to take most of it home! And finally, you’ll come to the loaded nachos and the chips with guacamole. The nachos are quite big and are topped with gooey cheese, beans, veggies, sour cream guacamole, and your choice of meat. The chips are homemade. Last on the menu is the small selection of beverages. Beers, sodas, and bottled water. The Price Tag We ordered the chicken nachos, a veggie quesadilla, and 2 tacos for a grand total of 230k VND (~$10 USD). And like I said, it was so much food that I ended up taking most of my quesadilla home with me. Our Recommendation In conclusion, we would highly recommend checking out Chilango Tacos! We really enjoyed meeting the owner and our server was so friendly and went out of her way to make sure we were having a good experience. The food was really outstanding with super fresh ingredients, 4 different salsa options to choose from at a variety of levels of spice, and the price was amazing for the amount of food that we ate. Go check out Chilango Tacos for yourself! Location: 70E Pasteur, Bến Nghé, Quận 1, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam More Info: TripAdvisor | Facebook
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Banh Mi 37 Nguyen Trai: The Perfect Pork Meatball SandwichLike most cuisine in Vietnam, the best pork meatball sandwich (bánh mì thịt nướng) you’ll find in Ho Chi Minh City comes from an unassuming roadside food cart. Banh Mi 37 Nguyen Trai (Vietnamese: Bánh Mì 37 Nguyễn Trãi) is stationed at the entrance of an alleyway off of Nguyen Trai Street in District 1. You’ll start smelling the grilled pork as you approach this tiny two-person cooking operation. And while you’re standing in line, stomach rumbling, you can watch the owner flipping and rearranging the little pork patties on her small charcoal grill. This hugely popular banh mi stand is only open for 4 hours a day (from 4:00pm – 8:00pm) and you can expect a line of at least a few hungry customers. But the wait is well worth it for one of the best banh mi sandwiches in all of Saigon! The Ambiance Banh Mi 37 Nguyen Trai is just a small food cart on the side of Nguyen Trai street, so don’t expect much in terms of ambiance. It is easy to spot, however, thanks to its distinctive pink color and the long queue of Vietnamese customers that line up in the afternoons and evenings. Most customers get their banh mi to go. In fact, some don’t even bother to get off of their motorbikes and treat the cart as a drive-through. There is really nowhere to sit at Banh Mi 37 Nguyen Trai so plan on eating your banh mi elsewhere. The Menu There is only one item on the menu at Banh Mi 37 Nguyen Trai, the pork meatball banh mi sandwich. In addition to the small succulent pork patties, you can expect a couple of slices of fresh cucumber, pickled carrots and daikon, and cilantro all topped with chili sauce and piled onto a light, flaky french baguette. The grilled pork is cooked to perfection and when paired with chili sauce and vegetables it is irresistible! Tip: Don’t want cilantro? Learn how to say “No Cilantro” in Vietnamese. The Pricetag A pork meatball banh mi from Banh Mi 37 Nguyen Trai will cost you 20,000 VND (~$1 USD). I would recommend getting at least 2 because they are so delicious. Our Recommendation In my humble opinion, if you get one banh mi while you’re in Saigon, this should be it. Sure you’ll have to wait in line but trust me, you won’t be disappointed. Banh Mi 37 Nguyen Trai is definitely a top eat in Ho Chi Minh City. Location: 37 Nguyễn Trãi, Phường Phạm Ngũ Lão, Quận 1, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam More Info: TripAdvisor
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Pho 24: Reliably Delicious PhoWe typically try to stay away from chain restaurants and stick to local joints, but we stumbled upon Pho 24 and keep coming back. When you visit one of the Pho 24 locations you know you’ll get a big bowl of delicious pho filled with quality cuts of meat for a reasonable price. And the food always comes out super fast! If you’re hungry and looking for a bowl of pho made with quality ingredients in a sanitary restaurant, then Pho 24 is a where to go! They have locations all over Ho Chi Minh City so you won’t have to go far to find one. The Ambiance Don’t expect anything fancy at Pho 24. You’ll order your soup at the counter where they have a spread of ingredients behind the glass so you can see the soup as it’s made. Then you’ll get a number and sit at one of the simple wooden tables. Even though this is a popular chain with locals and foreigners, you’ll rarely have any trouble finding a seat. One of the best parts about eating at Pho 24 is that it’s always spotlessly clean and air-conditioned! The Menu As you can probably tell by its name, pho is the most popular dish served at Pho 24. We love the well-done beef brisket pho because it has thin slices of quality beef and well-seasoned broth. Their fried spring rolls are also a great choice if you’re hungry for more than just soup. The kumquat juice is very sour but delicious, especially when the ice melts and waters it down a bit. Keep in mind that Pho 24 doesn’t have napkins and you’ll need to pay 3k VND for a wet wipe. This is common at restaurants all over Vietnam. The Pricetag The prices at Pho 24 are a bit more than you’d pay at a roadside joint but still totally reasonable. Pho prices range from 40k – 70k depending on your meat choice and whether you get a regular or large size. They also have combo meals that come with a drink that will save you a little money. Our Recommendation As mentioned earlier, we love the well-done beef brisket pho. Get a regular-sized bowl because it’s still massive, and a side of fried spring rolls. Also, bottled water is surprisingly overpriced at Pho 24 so bring your own or opt for a glass of kumquat juice instead. Location: Pho 24 has 16 locations around Ho Chi Minh City. The locations we visit most often are at 71 Lý Tự Trọng and 85 Đồng Khởi in District 1. More Info: Website | Facebook
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Cong Caphe Coconut Coffee: The Best Dessert in VietnamCong Caphe (Vietnamese: Cộng Cà Phê) is a coffee shop chain that you’ll find all over the larger cities of Vietnam like Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi. They offer a wide range of coffee concoctions but the most popular (and most delicious) are their frozen drinks made with coconut milk. The available flavors are coffee, mung bean, green rice, chocolate, and cola. They also have interesting season flavors such as peppermint (yum!) and durian (gross!). Each is blended with coconut milk and ice to create a delightfully cold milkshake-like drink that I like to think is healthier than a typical milkshake because it’s made with coconut milk instead of dairy milk. The Ambiance Every Cong Caphe has a Vietnam War vibe as they were modeled after theViệt Cộng also known as the National Liberation Front. The barista uniform is a green, military-like get-up, complete with a matching hat. The tables are mismatched across multiple rooms, often on multiple floors. And it is almost always lively at Cong Caphe as it is a popular spot for both foreigners and locals alike. The Menu As previously mentioned, Cong Caphe has a full menu of delicious and unique coffee drinks available in a variety of flavors. But you’ll be doing yourself a disservice not to get the coconut milk coffee. The coconut milk is blended with ice and then poured into a tall glass and topped with rich, delicious coffee. It truly is my favorite dessert in all of Vietnam! The Price Tag Cong Caphe certainly isn’t the cheapest coffee shop in the country. Prices are almost on par with Western-style coffee shops like Starbucks. The coconut milk coffee that we’ve raved about is 59k VND (~$2.50 USD) whereas you can generally get a delicious cup of cà phê đá (iced coffee with condensed milk) for about $1 USD. But it’s worth the higher price, trust us! Our Recommendation When we first arrived back in Vietnam after being away for almost 6 months, we had a coconut milk coffee from Cong Caphe every day for 7 days straight. It is truly our favorite dessert in the country and one that you must try during your visit! Location: Cong Caphe has 60 locations in Vietnam including 14 in Ho Chi Minh City and 32 in Hanoi. You can find all of their locations here. More Info: Website | Facebook
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Saigon Bagel: A Little Taste of HomeWhile the food in SE Asia is absolutely to-die-for, if you spend enough time in this part of the world you will inevitably crave more familiar food from back home. I personally always end up craving toasted bagels with cream cheese. And shockingly we have found an amazing bagel joint in Ho Chi Minh City that serves fresh, warm, delectable New York-style bagels with cream cheese in a variety of flavors – Saigon Bagel. The Ambiance When we initially discovered Saigon Bagel they were a tiny operation, barely big enough for one table, down a random tiny alleyway near Bui Vien Street in District 1. We attempted to go back a week later for another yummy bagel and they had vanished. I was so disappointed until I learned that they simply moved to a larger location and now offer a larger menu. Saigon Bagel is still in District 1, but on the second floor of a building on Vo Van Kiet Street along the river. There are plenty of tables to sit and they have a dedicated staff that will take your order at your table and deliver your food. It’s certainly a huge upgrade from where they started! The Menu Saigon Bagel has several different types of bagels to choose from – plain, sesame, onion, and everything to name a few. They also have different types of smears that you can top your bagel with including plain, chive, and chive with bacon. But most people who visit Saigon Bagel get one of their specialty bagel sandwiches. They are totally unique and absolutely delicious! Nick prefers the “Honey Rocket” bagel sandwich with honey, prosciutto, apple, cinnamon, arugula, and cream cheese. And I always get the everything bagel toasted with chive cream cheese but add a side of avocado and bacon. Or, if you’re looking for something a little different try the Hummus and Roast Veggies bagel sandwich. It’s piled high with roasted zucchini, eggplant, peppers, mushrooms, and sundried tomatoes then topped with a drizzle of olive oil. We also get 6 bagels and a tub of cream cheese to take home and munch on throughout the week! In addition to bagels, Saigon Bagel has fresh-squeezed juices, thick smoothies, and a wide selection of beer and wine to wash down your bagel sandwich. The Price Tag Western food in Ho Chi Minh City often comes with Western prices, and Saigon Bagel follows that trend. You can expect to pay between 70k and 165k VND for a regular specialty bagel sandwich (and a bit more to get it “loaded” with extra toppings). Smoothies are around 50k VND (~$2 USD) and craft beer is about as much as you’d pay in the US. Our usual order of 2 specialty bagel sandwiches, 2 smoothies, and a pack of 6 bagels and smear to-go runs us around 500k VND (~$20 USD); not exactly a bargain in Vietnam but worth it to get my weekly bagel fix. Our Recommendation When you’re feeling tired of Vietnamese food and need a little taste of home, Saigon Bagel is the perfect place to go. Be sure to try the Honey Rocket bagel sandwich and the Tropical Smoothie, you won’t regret it! Location in District 1: 224 Võ Văn Kiệt, Phường Cầu Ông Lãnh, Quận 1, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam Location in District 2: 38 Nguyễn Cừ, Thảo Điền, Quận 2, Thảo Điền, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam More Info: TripAdvisor | Facebook
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Banh Mi Hoa Ma: Epic Banh Mi Breakfast SetBanh Mi Hoa Ma (Vietnamese: Bánh Mì Hòa Mã) serves up one of the best breakfasts in Saigon. Stationed at the entrance to an alleyway in District 3, this Saigon institution prepares their banh mi a bit differently. Rather than eating a pre-assembled sandwich you’ll be enjoying on a banh mi “set”. Grab one of the plastic stools lining the alleyway and order the “bánh mì ốp la đủ thứ“. You’ll be served a sizzling hot skillet of eggs and pork which is used to assemble your own banh mi sandwich on a fresh baguette. You may be surprised to learn that this is actually the more traditional way of eating a banh mi in Vietnam. The Ambiance Don’t expect fine dining at Banh Mi Hoa Ma – you’ll be sitting on a plastic stool in an alleyway. But as you surely know by now some of the best food in Vietnam is served in this exact setting. You’ll also be surrounded by plenty of locals gobbling down their own breakfast which we always take as a sure sign of a great restaurant. Don’t plan on visiting Banh Mi Hoa Ma if the forecast calls for rain as there is just a small awning off the side of the building that barely covers a handful of tables. You’ll surely get soaked if you get caught eating here in a downpour. The Menu There are only 2 food options on the menu at Banh Mi Hoa Ma. The first and most popular is the banh mi fried egg set (bánh mì ốp la đủ thứ) which comes with 2 fried eggs and several cuts of pork all still sizzling in a small personal skillet. It also comes with a small dish of pate and mayonnaise and a fresh French baguette. It’s up to you to decide how you want to eat your breakfast set. You can rip your baguette in half and pile everything onto it for a massive and delicious breakfast sandwich. Or you can eat the meat and eggs straight out of the skillet and then use the baguette to mop up the remaining egg yolks at the end. Regardless of how you choose to eat it, the banh mi set at Banh Mi Hoa Ma is a strong contender for best banh mi in Saigon! The second option is a pre-assembled banh mi that uses most of the same pork parts, but alas, no eggs. I am not sure why anyone would choose this option unless you were getting it for take-away. The Price Tag A hearty banh mi breakfast set from Banh Mi Hoa Ma will set you back 52,000 VND (~2.25 USD). Throw in an iced Vietnamese coffee with condensed milk (cà phê sữa đá) and a wet napkin to clean your hands before or after your meal and you’re looking at a total price tag of 67,000 VND for breakfast. Our Recommendation If you’re in District 3 before 11am you should definitely stop by Banh Mi Hoa Ma. It’s everything you could want out of an authentic dining experience in Vietnam – fresh, delicious, filling, inexpensive, and eaten on a tiny plastic stool in an alleyway. Make sure you visit in the morning as Banh Mi Hoa Ma is only open from 6am – 11am. Location: 53 Cao Thắng, Phường 3, Quận 3, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam More Info: TripAdvisor | Facebook
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Mekong Delta: A Cultural Day Trip From Ho Chi Minh CityThe Mekong Delta is an area located in southern Vietnam that is made up of a network of distributaries where local people live and work. The Mekong Delta region is approximately 15,600 square miles and the water levels rise and fall depending on the season. The local people navigate the intertwining canals on small rowboats. More than half of Vietnam’s rice and fish come from this region so the entire country relies on the land and the people farming the land for sustenance. The delta is a popular day trip from Ho Chi Minh City for tourists looking to experience a different way of life, out in the countryside. You’ll get to sample the local fruits and honey, see a floating market, experience a rowboat ride on a canal, and meet the local people. Book a Mekong Delta Tour The Excursion You can expect your Mekong Delta day trip to be a bit of a touristy affair. You’ll have an early pick-up from your hotel and then a 2-hour drive to the delta on a bus with a group of other tourists. Nearly all of the tours that you can choose from involve a boat ride through the canals (where you will undoubtedly be pressured for a tip), a live music presentation (where, again, you’ll be pressured for a tip), and a sampling of some of the local tea, fruit, and honey. Tours can be extended to two days if you would prefer to take your time, or combined with other popular activities like the Cu Chi Tunnels. What to Expect You can certainly expect your Mekong Delta tour to be rather touristy. If you are expecting to find a remote area of the country that you’ll have all to yourself, you won’t find it here. The local people have become accustomed to blatantly asking for tips for the rowboat ride and the singing performance. And, unfortunately, you probably won’t have any authentic interactions with friendly locals who just want to chat with foreigners. However, the delta and the way of life there is quite fascinating and certainly worth the trip. You’ll have a much better time if you don’t expect your experience to be 100% authentic. How to Book a Tour There are tour agencies all over Ho Chi Minh City that advertise different Mekong Delta excursions. If you would like to talk to a real person about different tour options, this is probably the best way to book. But keep in mind that tour agents often tell you what you want to hear in order to get you to book, but you find that your tour is not at all what they described. And since you must pay cash, you’ll have no recourse. If you’d prefer to peruse the excursions online and have the opportunity to read customer reviews and understand exactly what you’ll be getting, then Get Your Guide is your best resource. They have lots of different tour options to choose from and you can avoid the hassle of a pushy salesperson! Book a Mekong Delta Tour
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