Ho Chi Minh City Food Guide: Where and What to Eat (An Intro to Vietnamese Cuisine!)

Let me just start by saying this.

Vietnamese food is downright delectable. Off the chain. Chopstick lickin’, bowl sippin’, noodle slurpin’ deliciousness.

The Vietnamese cuisine is complex, yet simple. The layors of flavors are intricate, yet the ingredients are pure. These are the juxtapositions that make that Vietnamese dish you’re about to devour a perfect display of ying and yang. Its the ideal balance of bold and simple flavors: fresh cilantro complimented with spicy chili oil, salty fish sauce paired with the smoky grilled meat, chewy rice noodles swimming in the robust soup broth. Ahh yes, I think I’m gonna eat just fine this year. Don’t worry mom, I won’t go hungry!

My introduction to the Vietnamese cuisine happened fast and furious in Ho Chi Minh City (aka Saigon) and natural to AWC form, I took this extremely unfamiliar city by storm, how else, but through its food. They say the only way to teach a bird how to fly is by pushing it out of the nest. Well, the only way to learn the mean, green food-filled streets of Vietnam is by eating street food in Ho Chi Minh City. Every alley, every corner of the chaotic city is filled with the aromas of street food cooking away around the clock.

Enough of me blabbering.

Here’s where to get the best of the best food in Ho Chi Minh City.

1. Pho Lé. It’s pho real!

When you think of Vietnamese food, the first thing that comes to mind is probably pho (pronounced “fuh”). But what is pho ?? It’s beef noodle soup, plain and simple. But it’s so, so much more. It’s beef broth that has been simmering for over 24 hours, stacked with fresh onions, scallions, cilantro, thinly sliced beef, lime, fish sauce, bean sprouts, hoisin sauce…it’s downright phonomenal.

So obviously, the first meal I had to have after stepping off the cross-Pacific plane was pho. I got into convo at the HCMC airport with a foodie who has been living in the crazy city for 5 years now (god bless him). He gave me the pho low down. His advice? YOU MUST GO TO PHO LÉ. The problem? It set my pho standards way, way to high. I’m phorever ruined!

Find it: 413-415 Nguyễn Trãi, Phường 7, Quận 5, Hồ Chí Minh

Price: $2 /per person

Type: Street food

2. Chi Tuyen for “Bun Thit Nuong”

I had no idea what it was, but I was told by locals that I had to try it. And they were right. Bun thit nuong is a dish with rice vermicelli noodles,  char-grilled pork, peanuts, scallions and shredded cucumber and carrots with the added bonus is a crispy spring roll! Throw some of that famous salty fish sauce in there, and MMMMMM! Chi Tuyen, another local no-frills street food spot, does it best. I know, because I’ve hunted down this dish down at other places since, and none of them quite compare.

Find it: 195 Cô Giang, Hồ Chí Minh

Price: $2.50/ person

Type: street food

3. Ngo 8 to eat dinner with the locals

Ho Chi Minh City Food

I met up with a Vietnamese friend living in HCMC, who insisted we go here. (I actually met her first in Granada!) Vanessa is her name, and she knows her local spots. She said “if I want to try everything, and try it good, we’re gonna go to Ngo 8.” And man, she was right. Unlike the classic street food spots that specialize in one dish, Ngo 8, less of a street food and spot and more of a local restaurant, has it all. You’ll find the place bustling with young locals sitting in big groups of friends. We ordered fried octopus with a sweet n’ spicy sauce, crispy marinated tofu, steamed pho noodle spring rolls and a shredded cucumber peanut salad. YUM.

Find it: 35 Trương Định, phường 6, Hồ Chí Minh

Price: $3.50 -5/ person

Type: cheap local restaurant

4. Baozi for Taiwanese fusion

It's PHOnomenal! (3)

You can pretty much eat your way around the entire continent of Asia right in HCMC. So, when it came to experimenting with Asian food I’ve never tried before, why not Taiwanese food?! A local recommended this Taiwanese Vietnamese fusion spot, and his recommendation was SPOT ON. A super local, trendy and cheap hidden gem in the heart of District 1, Baozi calls itself a “Steamed Bun Bar. A “bao”, is a Taiwanese steamed bun, stuffed with all sorts of goodies. Choose from smoked pork belly, duck confit, chili shrimp tempura, soft shell crab…the list goes on. My recommendation? Get ’em all! And if that’s out of the option, go for the succulent soft shell crab.

Find it: 165 Nguyễn Thái Học, Phạm Ngũ Lão, Hồ Chí Minh

Price: $5 -6 / person

Type: Trendy & cheap restaurant

5. Den Long for that much-needed sit-down meal

Ho Chi Minh City Food

Sometimes, ya’ just need a break from street food. Sometimes, ya’ just need to sit back in a comfortable chair in an air-conditioned restaurant, with English-speaking waiters and hundreds of rainbow lanterns. And sometimes, ya’ just need some freshly squeezed passion fruit lime juice, caramelized pork spring rolls and a smiling owner who greets you at your table and gives you a personalized list of everything to see in the city. Too much to ask? Not at Den Long! All of the dishes are homemade Vietnamese cookin’, created personally by the fabulously hospitable owner. Anything and everything is good, so go crazy and splurge a little!

Find it: 130 Nguyen Trai, Ben Thanh, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City

Price: When I say “splurge”… our total came out to $10 / person

Type: Restaurant

Ho Chi Minh City Food

VietNOMNOMNOM. Now, who’s hungry? Have you tried any spots in HCMC that deserve to be on this list?! Sharing is caring!

Read my previous post about my first impressions in Vietnam!

5 thoughts on “Ho Chi Minh City Food Guide: Where and What to Eat (An Intro to Vietnamese Cuisine!)

  1. Oh to be with you in Vietnam – I do believe I told you that from the first time I had Vietnamese food. it was instant passion. Everything you’re describing I could “taste” – not only because I love the food, but your incredible descriptions!! You do good my Casie!!!! Keep it coming!!! xox

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