HCMC Dining Guide

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Saigon's Food and Drink Revolution - Part 2

I'm heading home on Thursday for three weeks, so this will likely be my last post for a bit. (I know, I know, not that I've been posting much anyway.) I have mixed feelings about visiting the U.S. - it will be great to see friends and family and I'm in a wedding that should be amazing, but I'm becoming increasingly concerned about the state of the country. The news just seems to get more depressing every day, and people don't seem to realize (or care) how insane some of the things that are happening and being said look to the rest of the world. The current trajectory certainly isn't filling me with any desire to move back any time soon. Anyway, I do look forward to eating and drinking well, and in that vein, here is the second part of my posts about Saigon's evolving restaurant scene.

The array of choices available when you're hungry has changed dramatically since 2010. This is perhaps no more evident than when it comes to burgers. When I moved here, the main place to go for a burger was Black Cat. The burgers were good, but not remarkable. In the past two years, however, places like Con Bo Map, Relish & Sons and Soul Burger have opened, completely altering the burger landscape. These eateries pride themselves on quality, and the last two in particular on creative, craft burger varieties. For example, below is the Quiet American, last month's special at Soul Burger, featuring a beef patty with turkey breast, gravy, cranberry sauce, cheese and more. Such a creation would have been the stuff of dreams not long ago.
Another major addition to the dining scene is Quan Ut Ut, an American-style BBQ joint spread across three floors that has become massively popular with both locals and expats. Featuring home-made sauces and a wide selection of grilled meats cooked out front, this has become the go-to for anyone with a hankering for meat, and should satisfy even the most discerning BBQ connoisseur.
Good steaks have also become easier to find, with a highlight being Stoker, which is run by the same crew behind Relish & Sons and Racha Room (which received a mention in the previous post). After salivating over pictures posted on their Facebook page for weeks I finally had the chance to try Stoker for a friend's birthday, and it blew me away. The menu features premium steaks sourced from high-quality suppliers in Australia, New Zealand and Japan, and they are grilled to perfection.
Appetizers like the grilled bone marrow are a treat as well, as are the excellent cocktails, including New Orleans' own Sazerac. Stoker immediately jumped to the top of my special occasion restaurant list.
Other staples of western cuisine have also improved dramatically recently, including pizza (thanks to ESPY pizza, the first and only place serving East Coast-style pizza by the slice), Mexican (La Fiesta, Khoi Thom and California Burrito) and Italian (Ciao Bella). However, not all of the exciting additions have been restricted to western dishes. One top-secret location (I don't even know where it is) offers Nigerian food, an unknown to most people. I've only had this once, but it was amazing, and certainly not something you would expect to find here.

Excellent sushi is widely available as well, most notably thanks to Sushi Ko in District 4, which offers great rolls and sashimi at criminally low prices. For example, this whole boat costs just 200,000 before 7pm every day.
I've left out a number of deserving restaurants, but the list is too long to include everyone. Saigon's dining scene will only continue to evolve in the coming years, and it's an exciting time be a foodie here. I can't wait to see what comes next.

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