HCMC Dining Guide

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Cafe Culture Part Deux

Just over a year ago, I wrote a post about three elegant cafes here in Saigon: http://mike-alongthemekong.blogspot.com/2010/12/cafe-culture.html. I got a lot of compliments on this post mostly, I think, because people were surprised by the fact that such businesses exist here. Last December, most of the readership of this blog consisted of my friends and family, and I was under the impression that many of them still viewed Saigon as a third-world backwater. That post definitely changed things. There are numerous amazing cafes here, and many of them are nestled down obscure alleys and side streets, so finding them is half the fun. I've been working massive amounts of hours lately, so I finally have funds to once again do some exploring in the city, and I've recently checked out a number of higher-end cafes in various areas. I'll now share three of my new favorites:

1) Up Cafe - 269 Nguyen Trong Tuyen, Phu Nhuan District. Located just off the road to the airport, Up Cafe is certainly one of the most unique businesses in the city. The exterior is an upside-down house, and inside the inverted theme continues: paintings and light fixtures hang upside-down on walls; pieces of furniture are bolted to the ceiling, which is made of wooden floorboards; and steel chandeliers sprout out of the ceiling-tiled floor. Comfortable chairs fill out the well-lit seating area, and food and drinks are a fair bit cheaper than at many of the higher-end cafes here. Last time I went there every singe customer (all of them Vietnamese) was using either a laptop, a smart phone, or an iPad. Up Cafe isn't as cozy as some of the best cafes here, but its striking appearance certainly warrants a visit.

2) Farm - 214/19/8C Nguyen Van Nguyen, District 1. Tucked away at the very end of a quiet alley at the top of District 1, Farm is an adorable little cafe that provides a wonderful respite from the heat and noise of the city. Slide open the wooden door and you are immediately ensconced by cool air-con, ambient mood music (or Christmas music, if the holiday is approaching), and dimmed lighting. The walls are adorned with various knick-knacks and odds-and-ends, such as old clocks, a hi-fi stereo system, a classic Honda motorbike, and wooden ants. Plants play a prominent role as well; not exactly a surprise, given the name. Farm's menu is only in Vietnamese, and some wonderful fresh juices and shakes are offered, along with a few simple meals - an omellete sandwich, for example. Prices are quite reasonable, and the service is efficient while being hands-off. Usually empty, Farm is a great place to spend some time relaxing with a book on the cushions that line the back wall. Not the easiest place to find the first time you go.

cookie smoothie
3) If Cafe - 38 Dang Dung St., District 1. This beautiful cafe is just a block away from Farm, and in the same relatively hidden gem of a neighborhood as Cuc Gach and Quan Bui, two of the best Vietnamese restaurants in the city. Set in an elegant old building, If Cafe's interior is all dark-wood and marble floors, as well as tasteful decorations and perfect lighting. Christmas decorations also adorned the furniture on this particular occasion. There is an outdoor seating in front that is completely shaded by both umbrellas and trees as well. A fish pond and intricate chairs invite customers to enjoy the cooler (by a couple of degrees) weather of December. If is run by a very attentive and friendly owner who speaks good English - he always makes sure you are pleased with your drinks and food.

And there is no reason not to be pleased - the fare at If is top notch. The usual fresh coffees, smoothies, and fruit juices are all offered. I had a mango smoothie and it was great - prices are around 50,000 during lunch, and closer to 80,000 in the evening.The food menu is fairly expensive, with almost every dish costing over 100,000 VND, but there is a terrific set lunch deal every day for just 65,000 - this gets you a great soup; a choice of either roasted pork, beef in hot pot, or grilled red snapper, each served with rice; and a few pieces of fruit to finish the meal. I went for the fish, and it was simply fantastic - wonderfully spiced, very fresh, and perfectly cooked. This set meal has to be one of the best values in the city, and I intend to visit If regularly, since it is quite close to the newspaper I work at.

I plan on posting about more of Saigon's best cafes and restaurants over the next few weeks, and I hope you enjoy.


  1. i am a native of saigon, and there are a lot more beautiful cafes in saigon.

    you may want to check this blog out.
    he has good knowledge of cafes in saigon.


    by the way, i like reading your blog.

  2. Thanks! I'll check that blog out - I still have a lot of cafes to explore here.

  3. Hello Mike!
    How are you? I'm Chien, do you still remember me?
    The restaurant at 38 Dang Dung, Dist 1 is very nice. I'd eaten there with my colleagues before i stopped work at Posco company in November 2011. Next time, if we have a chance for meeting, we should have a dinner there, ok?