Known for its garden fresh herbs, generous use of fish sauce, umami soups and French influence, there’s a lot to love about Vietnamese cuisine. There’s also an overindulgence of unique and standout dishes to sample, especially in the country’s most populous city. We’ve broken it down to nine must-try Vietnamese meals in Hồ Chí Minh City, or as the locals call it, Saigon.
Pronounced like “fuh”, this is the dish most Americans associate with Vietnamese cuisine. This popular rice noodle soup has a light, yet multi-layered bone broth combined with either beef or chicken. The comforting bowl of goodness is typically served with a side of fresh herbs, bean sprouts and a variety of condiments like fish sauce and chili to add to it. Skip the touristy Phở Hoà Pasteur and head to Phở Miến Gà Kỳ Đồng for a rich chicken pho with high-quality noodles for less than $2.50.
Vietnamese Coffee (Cà phê đá)
Vietnam is known for its dark-roast iced coffee. Smooth and satisfying, Cà Phê Sữa Đá includes a thick layer of condensed milk to sweeten up the bitter and bold taste. For a unique coffee experience, you can’t find at Starbucks, try Cà Phê Trứng or Vietnamese egg coffee. Sugar, condensed milk and whipped egg yolks are added on top, making it a frothy, sugary dessert drink. Although most popular in the capital city of Hanoi you can find it in Saigon.
You can find Vietnamese coffee literally anywhere, but, for a unique experience head to Blanc. Restaurant. Run by a deaf staff, this stunning heritage building is the perfect place to practice your sign language and cool off with an iced Vietnamese coffee. They don’t serve egg coffee here but the friendly staff will give you their local recommendations.
Shaking Beef (Bò lúc lắc)
Known in Vietnam as “shaking beef” this simple dish sizzles and satisfies. It’s a French-inspired meal made of diced cuts of tender beef with garlic, onion and red peppers stir-fried in soy sauce. It is often served with a side of tomato and lettuce or with a sunny side up egg on top. For an upscale version, head to Anan for Vietnamese street food fusion, voted #39 on the list of Asia’s Best Restaurants. Be sure to try their Đà Lạt duck pizza too.
Hot Pot (Lẩu)
Vietnamese hot pot is nowhere near as spicy as Sichuan, but just as tasty. A great outing with friends and family, vegetables like mushrooms and broccoli, meats like beef and chicken and rice noodles are added tableside to cook and marinate in the spicy broth. Then, once it’s ready, fish it out with your chopsticks and enjoy. Just be sure to blow on it first. For variety, head to Restaurant 13 and if you’re feeling adventurous, try the fermented fish hot pot.
Vietnam’s answer to a lunch sandwich (although it’s eaten throughout the day). In Vietnamese, bánh mì translates to bread. But this isn’t your classic Subway tuna melt; this savory sandwich is made with a crusty, slightly soft French baguette. It’s cut open and traditionally stuffed with a butter spread, pate, pork, cold cuts, cilantro, pickled carrot, cucumber and, of course, chili. There is no “best” when it comes to Bánh mì. It’s all about preference. My favorite was Bánh Mì Bảy Hổ for its flavor, but the rival street cart down the road was tasty too. At .$50 a pop, try them both.
Broken Rice (Cơm tấm)
For the Vietnamese, cơm tấm is the ultimate comfort food. Known as broken rice, it originated as a “poor person’s” food, made of broken white rice grains. It’s served with a piece of chargrilled, marinated pork, pickled vegetables and a tangy, fish sauce-y, garlic dipping sauce. Today, it’s one of the most popular dishes in Saigon. Operating for over 20 years, Cơm Tấm 352 is the place to try it.
Popular in Hanoi, you may remember this dish as the one Anthony Bourdain and Barack Obama sat down and shared a beer over. A piece of pork grilled marinated in a flavorful fish sauce, is grilled over charcoal and placed on top of a bed of vermicelli noodles with fresh herbs. Simple but delicious, and one of the most important culinary dishes in Vietnam. Popular with both locals and tourists Bún Chả 145 serves some of the best in the city. Just be prepared to wait in line.
Spring Rolls (Gỏi cuốn)
Although many believe the dish originated in China, I’d argue the world’s freshest spring rolls are in Vietnam. These delightful bites are often made when shrimp, vegetables, pork and vermicelli noodles wrapped up in a thin, cold rice paper roll. They not only look beautiful but taste fresh with herbs added in. Of course, they come with a bowl of chili and hoisin-style dipping sauce. You can’t go wrong with any fresh spring roll in Saigon. In fact, order them at every restaurant you go to and choose your favorite.
Vietnamese Pancake (Bánh xèo)
A Vietnamese pancake, bánh xèo, is made with a light and airy rice batter. A bit of turmeric powder gives the shell its yellow tinge. Sort of like a French crepe, savory toppings like shrimp, onion and pork belly are added on top then folded over to cook. Once served, take a piece of the bánh xèo, wrap it in lettuce with vegetables like bean sprouts and dip it in the accompanying sauce for the perfect mouthful. One of the most famous places to try is Bánh Xèo 46A. The portion size here is huge, so come with an appetite or some friends.