Nhu Lan, SaigonIf you haven’t been to Vietnam before, or don’t have a Vietnamese grandma, get ready for food far fresher and tastier than any Vietnamese restaurants you may have tried outside the country. If you’re only in town a few days, don’t waste a meal on something Western or non-Vietnamese. Some high-end travelers cluster at high-end Vietnamese restaurants (including some I’ve not included, such as Lemongrass or Indochine). They’re fine, but you simply can’t leave without having a more basic Vietnamese meal, in a family-style restaurant with locals, cheap prices and some of the best food in the world.


Restaurants are ordered by neighborhood:

AROUND DONG KHOI covers the ped-oriented street. There are many options not included here.
AROUND BEN THANH MARKET, both north and south, are many excellent high-end and local real-deal options.
EAST OF DONG KHOI (and ‘Little Tokyo’) centers around Hai Ba Trung St and Ly Tu Trong St.
NORTH OF THE CENTER covers areas north of Ly Tu Trong St, with some ideal restaurants walking distance from attractions like the Reunification Palace and War Remnants Museum.
AROUND PHAM NGU LAO teems with traveler-oriented, budget places (English breakfasts, pizza buffets).
COFFEE is taken seriously in Saigon.
• Here’s a couple places to get GROCERIES

Best Vietnamese Meals

TUAN & TU’S – fancy but cheap Hanoi-style restaurant in ‘hidden’ villa just north of the center
NGON – everyone knows about this villa rimmed with fresh street-food vendors, for a reason
THANH BINH – plain noodle shop across from the Ben Thanh market with Hue-style mien xao cua (crab with glass noodles) for about $3.10
TRUNG NGUYEN COFFEE – skip the Starbucks-wannabe Highlands Coffee for Vietnam’s best-quality cup of coffee
SQUARE ONE – if you must go for class, the Park Hyatt mezzanine restaurant is the finest in town

Best Non-Vietnamese Meals

Breakfast: AU PARC, between Reunification Palace and Notre Dame
Brunch: OPERA, at the Park Hyatt, best on Sunday
Burger: SAIGON SAIGON bar atop the Caravelle Hotel; see Nightlife
Dong Khoi Area: JASPAS
French: AU MANOR DE KHAI, north of center
Japanese: SUSHI BAR, and many Hai Ba Trung noodle houses
Pizza buffet: PEPPERONIS, in the backpacker area
Steaks: SQUARE ONE at the Park Hyatt
Thai: LAC THAI, off Dong Khoi in the center