RESTAURANTS - Around Ben Thanh Market

These restaurants are within walking distance, north or south, of Ben Thanh Market. If you’re in the area after 5pm, and just want to get fresh food outside, try the open-air restaurants that set up on the east and west side of the market.

North of the Market

An open-front seafood noodle shop, just off Ben Thanh Market, is a great lunch spot, busy with locals. Past the display of appetizers up front, like the goi cuon (shrimp-and-pork summer rolls; 12,000D or US$0.75), are simple aluminum tables and stools where you can pick-and-point at the photo menu. A highlight is the Hue-style mien xao cua (crab over glass noodles, with red peppers and onions; 50,000D or US$3.15) and a glass of rau ma (a green vegetable drink). There’s plenty of pork dishes too.
Tel 823-2412, 140 Le Thanh Ton, open 7am to 10.30pm daily

Guidebooks point to this alley Hue-style hole-in-the-wall. Local students love it, but it can get a little steamy. The small menu (in English) includes bun bo Hue (15,000D; US$0.95) and banh canh cua (a crab, pork and shrimp noodle soup; 15,000D or US$0.95). Mitau (see below) is better.
Tel 08-825-0261; 136/15 Le Thanh Ton; open 8am to 9pm daily

West of the Market

PHO 2000
Near the popular chain Pho 24 on the west side of the market, this bright pho (noodle soup) spot plugs its most famous visitor, Bill Clinton – who dropped by in 2000. Many foreigners have followed, taking seats by the open doors facing the Tran Nguyen Hoa statue and mass of traffic going by the market. There are plenty of dishes, like bun thit nuong (grilled-pork over vermicelli, all dunked in fish sauce), but the 2000 is about pho. The big bowl isn’t that big, but it’s good (20,000D; US$1.25).
Tel 822-2788, 1-3 Phan Chu Trinh, open 6am to 10pm daily

Appealingly dated alley restaurant with a bit of a ‘mommy’ for a manager, the Mitau serves Hue-styled cuisine (something like ‘Vietnamese tapas’ – lots of dried seafood on glutinous rice rolls, meant to be shared). It’s popular for locals and missed by nearly all tourists. The manager is eager for you to like it – for everyone to like it – and lingers table-side to make sure you’re using the proper amount of fish sauce. Two people should get four or five dishes. It’s about 10 minutes’ walk west of the Binh Tanh market.
Tel 827-2856; 6/33 Cach Mang Thang 8; dishes around 25,000D (US$1.60); open 10am to 10pm Tue-Sun

South of the Market

Upstairs in an old gold-colored pagoda, this stylish restaurant/lounge is decked with antique furnishings, purple velvet sofas in the lounge, hanging lanterns and Chinese portraits on the exposed-brick walls. It’s a fine place for modern Vietnamese food – or a drink in the back. The food’s good, but the ambiance is the main attraction (or the fact that Brangelina ate here in 2006). The hostess is a bit intense. Walk west on Le Loi from the market, then turn right on Pasteur St, which leads a block south to Ton That Thiep. Fanny’s ice cream (see below) is downstairs.
Tel 08-829-9244; 29-31 Ton That Thiep St; dishes 80,000 to 130,000D (US$5 to US$8.20); open 11.30am to 11.30pm

Central and still very much real, Ngu Lan – several blocks southeast of the market via Ham Nghi – is famed for its sandwiches with pork and vegetables, made fresh all day (10,000D; US$0.65), which locals have supplied picnics with for years. Now there’s a simple but pleasant stool-n-table sitting area where you can eat your sandwich or goi cuon (summer rolls with shrimp and pork; 4000D, or US$0.25 per roll) or fruit shakes. It’s lunch for US$2 tops – and the view of five streets converging outside can detain you for a while. Also sells Vietnamese peanut butter, popcorn in a cup, rice cakes, roasted piglets.
Tel 08-829-2970; 50-68 Ham Nghi St; open 24 hours

Saigon’s best ice cream – imaginative sundaes and tropical fruit flavors – is on the open, bottom floor of an old pagoda. There’s patio seats and free WiFi. Stylish lounge/restaurant Temple Club is upstairs.
Tel 08-821-1633; 29-31 Ton That Thiep St; sundaes 40,000D (US$2.50); open 8am to 11pm

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