Vietnamese Food: 25 Must-Eat Dishes in Saigon (and Where To Try Them)
This is more a list of dishes I really enjoyed eating and trying during my trip to Saigon, and I think it’s a start, or a beginning, to exploring delicious things to eat in the city.
Are you ready to start eating?
1. Bánh mì (banh mi)
If you’re even the slightest bit into Vietnamese food, you’ve probably eaten numerous banh mi sandwiches.
Along with pho, easily the most exported Vietnamese speciality is banh mi. Although banh mi can mean a variety of different things, and in Vietnamese it actually just means bread, sometimes the term can be used to refer to any type of the beautiful Vietnamese personal baguette sandwich.
Walking around Saigon you’ll see dozens of carts with signs selling banh mi – it’s actually hard to go more than a block without seeing one – so it’s never hard to find.
There are many different varieties of banh mi, and here’s a good resource for seeing the different types, but the basic sandwich starts with a crusty baguette that’s sliced in half (sometimes using a scissors) and stuffed with layers of pork, luncheon meats, shredded cured pork skin, pâté, mayonnaise, Vietnamese radish and carrot pickles, a handful of sliced cucumbers, sprigs of coriander (cilantro), and last but not least, an optional, yet in my opinion necessary, scoop of fresh pounded chilies.
The sum of these ingredients together is what really makes banh mi such a glorious sandwich. Coming from Bangkok, where I can’t remember the last time I ate bread or a sandwich for that matter, I was pretty happy to devour as many banh mi as I could when I was in Vietnam.
Here are the three main restaurants I ate banh mi when I was in Saigon.
Bánh Mì Huỳnh Hoa (Banh Mi Huynh Hoa)
Mention banh mi in Saigon, and it won’t be long before someone brings up Bánh Mì Huỳnh Hoa (Banh Mi Huynh Hoa), what is easily the most famous place to eat banh mi pate in the city.
During just about all business hours, Bánh Mì Huỳnh Hoa (Banh Mi Huynh Hoa) remains busy and hectic, and if you go in the evening, you’ll actually need to be on the aggressive side to place your order and get your sandwich.
The banh mi was absolutely stuffed with multiple layers of different luncheon meats, pate, and mayonnaise, but there were less pickles, cucumber, and cilantro than on other versions I ate. So this is really a meat lovers dream come true.
For myself, the sandwich at Bánh Mì Huỳnh Hoa (Banh Mi Huynh Hoa) was actually almost too heavy, and packed with too much fatty meat, but then again, I have to admit it was pretty tasty.
I can sure see why it’s so famous, and if you’re a banh mi lover, this is a place you don’t want to miss.
Address: 26 Lê Thị Riêng, Ben Thanh, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Open hours: About 3:30 pm – midnight daily
Price: 30,000 VND ($1.40), more expensive than others, but worth it for the amount of meat
Bánh Mì Hồng Hoa
I was just walking around Saigon one morning when I stumbled into a restaurant called Bánh Mì Hồng Hoa.
I noticed there were quite a few motorbikes rolling up, ordering sandwiches and fresh bread, and some motorbikes loading up big bags of baguettes. That was enough of a sign for me to need to eat there.
I ordered just the standard bánh mì, a fresh and crusty baguette filled with slices of pork, luncheon meat, pate, mayonnaise, some nicely flavorful chillies, and a handful of freshly sliced cucumbers, and fragrant cilantro.
What I especially loved about their version, was that it was heavy on the herbs and fresh veggies.
The family running the business were all very nice and helpful, and they were excited that I was eating there. It turned out to be one of my favorite banh mi sandwiches of my time in Saigon.
Address: 62 Nguyễn Văn Tráng, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Open hours: I think open in the morning, I arrived at 8 am, and they seemed to be at their peak serving, so good place for breakfast
Price: 17,000 VND ($0.80)
Banh Mi 37 Nguyen Trai
Another banh mi favorite, located right in the heart of Saigon, and pretty popular with both locals in the neighborhood and tourists, is a stall that sets up in the late afternoon, known as Banh Mi 37 Nguyen Trai.
They specialize in banh mi filled with little grilled minced pork sliders. The pork was seasoned and freshly grilled, and when I ordered, the baguette was filled with grilled pork patties and lots of cucumbers and herbs, and sauce that was almost like teriyaki.
Overall, very good, and if you’re in the area, it’s a definite must-stop to eat snack.
Address: 37 Nguyễn Trãi, Ho Chi Minh City (though the address is 37, it’s right at Hem 39)
Open hours: From around 4:30 pm – 7:30 pm each day
Price: 16,000 VND ($0.75)
2. Ốp la (op la)
A beautiful alternative to the banh mi sandwich is a Vietnamese dish called op la, or eggs cooked in a littler personal pan, often supplemented by slices of meat like ham, onions, and served with those wonderful crusty Vietnamese baguettes.
Just like some other dishes on this blog, op la offers a bit of a fusion of Vietnamese and Western ingredients and cooking methods, all blended into a single meal.
Although there are many variations of op la, to me what really makes it good is if the eggs are sunny side up, so the yolk is extra runny, and what makes it even better is if it’s served topped with caramelized onions and peppers.
Banh mi op la makes a favorite breakfast for many locals in Saigon, and it most definitely hits the spot before a long day exploring the city.
Bánh Mì Hòa Mã
When I was in Saigon, one of the places I was really excited to eat at was Bánh Mì Hòa Mã, which a few of you recommended, saying I needed to try it.
After doing a bit more research, I found out another great blog, Eating Asiahad already written about this spot.
It’s a popular breakfast place, and, although they had a few different things on their menu, their main dish is banh mi op la, fresh toasted baguettes with eggs fried in a personal pan.
Just a few moments after I ordered, my flaming hot (you can literally hear the sizzle as it’s brought down the alley to your table) personal pan of fried eggs was rushed to my table, with an aroma that made my taste buds water immediately.
I ordered two runny eggs, which were topped with a handful of assorted fried luncheon meats (they taste similar to SPAM), and a handful of caramelized onions and green peppers.
Along with serving wonderful food, another great thing about eating here is the open air, side of the street dining atmosphere. The kitchen is located on the corner of the main Cao Thang road, but little plastic tables and chairs are set up along the quieter side of the alley, lined up in a row.
Eating a delicious breakfast of banh mi op la, sitting next to the cool shaded wall, could hardly get any better for me.
Address: 53 Cao Thắng, District 3, Ho Chi Minh City
Open hours: 7 am – 10 am or so, until they sell out
Prices: For a full banh mi op la the price is somewhere around 30,000 – 40,000 VND, our total bill for two of us, with two meals, tea, bread, and pate came to 91,000 VND ($4.21)
3. Phở (pho)
No matter if you’ve been to Vietnam before or not, you’ve likely heard of pho, if not already eaten it many times before.
The noodle soup didn’t become so famous for nothing – it really is one of the most common dishes in throughout the country, and it makes the Vietnamese food menu at nearly every sit-down restaurant too.
Pho is the combination of soft rice noodles in a soup broth, normally prepared with either bo (beef) or ga (chicken) – both of which can be extremely delicious, but I’m normally more of a beef kind of guy.
The noodles are flash boiled until soft, topped with your choice of meat, and often finished with a sprinkle of chopped green onions and sometimes sweet onions as well.
But what I really love most about eating pho in Vietnam is the fresh plate of herbs, typically including sawtooth herb, mint, and Vietnamese coriander, along with house-made chili sauce, that’s on your table for self-service when you eat it.
While I did enjoy a bowl of pho from time to time when I was in Vietnam, I think pho is sort of the pad thai of Vietnamese cuisine, in that, yes it’s very good, however there are also so many other delicious dishes to try – perhaps it has a little undeserved fame, when compared to so many other delicious Vietnamese dishes?
Pho So 1 Ha Noi
After visiting the cathedral of Notre Dame and walking around the park for a while, I continued walking along the street, and all of a sudden I felt myself getting extremely hungry.
I looked up, and there was a pleasant looking restaurant called Pho So 1 Ha Noi.
It was a nice open air eatery, with clean metal tables, and stashed piles of herbs and condiments. I ordered pho bo (beef pho ) and Ying had the pho ga (chicken pho), both of which were simple, and flavorful.
I especially loved the all-you-can-eat herbs, pickled garlic, and chilies. The owner, was quite a friendly man as well.
Pho So 1 Ha Noi is a great simple restaurant to eat pho at if you happen to be in the area. After eating here and looking this place up, I found Jodi also loves this place.
Address: 25 Nguyễn Thị Minh Khai, Saigon, Vietnam
Open hours: All day and night – they are open 24 hours
Prices: 28,000 VND ($1.29) for a bowl
Phở Phượng 25
There are countless restaurants in Ho Chi Minh City to devour a bowl of pho, from the tiniest of street food stalls, to indoor air conditioned restaurants.
I think probably the best versions of pho (and possibly the best versions of many dishes throughout southeast Asia), come from the restaurants that are somewhere in-between – the open air, family run establishments – sometimes in shophouses, sometimes in the front of homes, and sometimes at the bottom of apartment buildings.
I was browsing through Vietnam Coracle, when I found Phở Phượng 25, and I was in the area one day, so decided to try it. I ordered the pho tai, the rare beef version of pho.
The broth was a little on the sweet side for me, but it was nicely balanced, just slightly oily, but rich and flavorful, with a subtle hint of spice. The beef, after dipping it in the roasted chili sauce, was delicious.
Address: 25 Hoàng Sa, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam (it’s located very close to the famous Lunch Lady of Saigon)
Open hours: 6 am – 9 pm daily – great for any meal
Prices: 40,000 VND ($1.85) for my bowl
Other suggestions for pho in Saigon I received but wasn’t able to eat at (yet):
4. Bún riêu (bun rieu)
Vietnam is a land of noodle soups, and many enjoy at least one bowl of noodles a day, some, maybe even a few.
After trying many different types of Vietnamese noodle soups during my stay in Saigon, I “think – and I say that because I change my food mind quite often” I can say my favorite is bun rieu.
The broth is made from a crab base stock, and another key ingredient are tomatoes, which create a broth that’s slightly seafood tasting, yet has a beautiful natural sweet and tartness from the tomatoes. I think there’s also often some rice vinegar included in the recipe to give it a lovely sour and well-rounded flavor.
Along with the wonderfully flavorful broth in a bowl of bun rieu, the noodles are often similar in shape and size to spaghetti noodles, except soft rice noodles.
Topping the noodles are pieces of golden fried tofu, sometimes meatballs, hearty chunks of pork, squares of congealed pig’s blood, and finally a slab of rich crab paste.
The dish reminded me of a few similar Thai dishes like northern Thai nam ngiao, a tomato stew.
To eat bun rieu, you normally garnish it with shrimp paste or crab paste, then load it up with chili sauce, a squeeze (or I like multiple squeezes) of lime juice, and then devour it with a small mountain of herbs and shredded vegetables.
For noodle soup in Vietnam, I really think it can’t get much better than a steaming hot bowl of bun rieu cua.
Bún riêu Nguyễn Cảnh Chân
Another recommendation from the YouTube video, was a restaurant called Bún riêu Nguyễn Cảnh Chân.
It proved to be an insanely delicious restaurant, that not only served an excellent bowl of bun rieu cua, but the staff were all friendly, and I like that the restaurant was located on a pleasant wide side road in Saigon, shaded by nice big trees.
My bowl of bun rieu cua at Bún riêu Nguyễn Cảnh Chân was perfectly balanced, with a gorgeous crab flavor, a hint of bitterness, and a light sweetness from the always simmering tomatoes.
The meat and other ingredients in the soup were generously added, and the condiments were pungent and flavorful. This was indeed one of my most memorable bowls of noodles during my trip to Vietnam.
Address: 18/5 Nguyễn Cảnh Chân, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City
Open hours: 11 am – 7 pm daily
Prices: 45,000 VND ($2.08)
Here are some other recommended places:
5. Bún mắm (bun mam)
Graham Holliday, an author and expert on Vietnamese food labels bun mam, despite its pungent smell, as his wholly favorite Vietnamese noodle dish.
Bun mam is specifically a southern Vietnamese dish, and just like most other noodle soups, you’ll find it at both sit down restaurants and portable street food stalls around town – though it’s not nearly as common to spot as some other noodle dishes on this blog.
The base of any bowl of bun mam (bún mắm) is a dark colored broth prepared with fermented fish sauce (which I believe is similar to Thai pla ra).
The fermented fish sauce gives the soup broth a well rounded, balanced flavor, and it’s honestly not nearly as fishy as it might sound or smell.
Along with the broth, bun, or rice vermicelli noodles, are loaded into the bottom of the bowl, before the entire assortment of meats like squid, prawns, and pork are all scattered on top of the noodles.
Finally, a slice or two of eggplant, which soaks up all the broth, is another essential component of a bowl of southern Vietnamese bun mam.
In addition to the glorious fish flavor, the broth of a bowl of bun mam is usually sweetened with tamarind juice and sugar.
Although bun mam was honestly a little too sweet of a flavor for me (I’d go with a bowl of bun rieu most of the time), it is widely popular, and it’s a Vietnamese food you definitely need to try when you’re in the city.
Bún Mắm Phan Bội Châu
Recommended by both from Mark from Sticky Rice Hanoi (one of the top Vietnamese food blogs especially covering Hanoi) and Jodi from Legal Nomads, Bún Mắm Phan Bội Châu is a longstanding restaurant, located right across the street from Benh Thanh Market, that serves hot fresh bowls of bun mam.
Their broth was dark and beautiful, and along with the noodles, the mixture of goodies, like shrimp, a slice of pork belly, and a few bites of tangly squid were wonderful.
Probably my favorite bite out of my entire bowl of bun mam, was not even the meat, but it was the eggplant, which was extremely succulent and juicy.
Despite enjoying my bowl of bun mam, I thought their broth was overall much too sweet for my personal preference. I’m not sure if it’s always like this, or if this particular restaurant serves their bun mam on the sweet side?
Nevertheless, Bún Mắm Phan Bội Châu is in a great location, so if you happen to be shopping at Benh Than Market, you can easily stop by to sample it.
Address: 22 Phan Bội Châu, across from Ben Thanh market, Saigon
Open hours: Not sure exactly, but they are open for breakfast, lunch and throughout the afternoon
Price: 65,000 VND ($3) per bowl
6. Bún bò Huế (bun bo Hue)
Probably one of the dishes most mentioned that many of you suggested I should eat in Vietnam was bun bo Hue (I think there’s an entire Vietnamese culture surrounding this dish, and it may be gaining some traction against pho)!
Alright, bun bo Hue is not actually from Saigon, it originates in Hue – a city on the coast of central Vietnam, which unfortunately I haven’t been able to visit yet – but I included it on this Vietnamese street food guide because it’s one of the most beloved noodle soups in Saigon as well.
Bun bo Hue is beef based, and in Vietnam it’s known for being spicy and flavorful.
The broth, which if made to specification, should be full of beef bone flavor, and fragrant with lemongrass, has a wonderful taste, like a citrusy beef soup.
The noodles are normally rice vermicelli noodles, of the sphagetti size, and a bowl of bun bo Hue is often served with slices of beef, a hunk of either ox tail or pork knuckle, cha lua (Vietnamese sausage and ham), and a handful of green and sweet onions.
Again just like every other noodle dish, the extra herbs, flash boiled vegetables, and chilies, give bun bo Hue an added dimension of deliciousness.
i am a food blog calls bun bo Hue, a dish “you never knew you loved,” and that was true for myself, having never had it before going to Vietnam, but I loved it (by the way, check out her amazing recipe for the dish).
For myself, after bun rieu, bun bo Hue is probably my next favorite Vietnamese soup, and I haven’t even been to Hue yet.
Bún bò Chú Há
I’ve eaten noodles for years and years in Asia, and throughout multiple countries, and I have to say, Bún bò Chú Há was the first bowl I’ve ever had served in a clear see-through bowl.
It was pretty cool, like eating out of a fish aquarium where I could see what was swimming in my soup.
All jokes aside, I thought the bun bo Hue at Bún bò Chú Há restaurant was wonderful. The broth had a superb umami depth to it, was salty and just slightly sweet, with a citrus touch.
The slices of beef were lightly chewy, as they should be, but the real highlight was the hunk of ox tail (I think?), which was tender and juicy, and just slid off the bone.
Along with serving a delicious bowl of bun bo Hue (and those awesome transparent glass bowls), the duo of ladies who served me (whom I assume are the owners of the family run restaurant) were extremely kind.
After she dished out my hot bowl of soup, I took about 50 pictures from all angles, and after photographing my bowl, I then sat down to make a video and eat it.
But just as I was about to start seasoning my bowl, the owner ran up to me, and said something and grabbed my bowl. Next she proceeded to dump out all the broth (which was cold by then), and filled it up with brand new hot steaming broth.
She handed it back to me with a smile. Now that’s Vietnamese hospitality.
Address: 300 Võ Văn Tần, District 3, Ho Chi Minh City
Open hours: 6 am – 10 pm daily
Price: 60,000 VND ($2.77) per bowl, a bit expensive, but extremely generous on the meat
Also check out these spots:
7. Bún mọc (bun moc)
On one of my final days in Saigon, I was walking around a local neighborhood market and decided to try yet another Vietnamese noodle soup dish – this time, a dish called bun moc.
The noodles, bun, are the thin soft rice vermicelli noodles, which are so easy to eat and go down so easily as well.
The broth in bun moc is normally pork based, a simple and soothing soup, that’s not spicy at all, but just comforting. It’s the type of noodle soup you might want to eat relaxing rainy day.
Along with the rice vermicelli noodles and pork broth, a bowl of bun moc also typically includes some chunks of pork meat, maybe even a bone, meatballs, and Vietnamese sausage.
Although bun moc is said to have originated in the north of Vietnam, it’s extremely popular throughout Saigon as well.
Bun moc street food stalls
Since I had so many other Vietnamese foods to try, I actually only managed to eat bun muc once, at a small tiny little street food stall in the middle of an alley near Chợ Bàn Cờ market (I put the little food stall on the map, but this place is not worth going out of your way just to eat, because you’ll find the same thing all over the city).
The lady serving the bun moc was extremely friendly and generous, and I ordered up just her normal bowl of bun moc.
The noodles were slippery and silky, and my bowl included a nice hunk of pork, some slices of Vietnamese sausage, and what really made it for me, a handful of crispy deep fried shallots thrown on top.
I seasoned my bowl of bun moc with lime juice, plenty of black pepper, herbs, and crushed chilies, and it was a wonderful Vietnamese street food breakfast.
Price: 30,000 VND ($1.38)
8. Hủ tiếu Nam Vang (Hu tieu Nam Vang)
Yet another dish, that has a huge following of Vietnamese cuisine lovers, is Hu tieu Nam Vang.
So what does that have to do with this Vietnamese favorite food?
As I’ve read, Hủ Tieu Nam Vang is a Cambodian and Chinese pork based noodle soup, that contains slices of all sorts of organs, and a shrimp or few, plus an assortment of other additions.
Hủ Tieu Nam Vang was a little on the plain side for my personal taste buds, but I did like it when spiced up with some chili paste, loaded with chilies, and combined with that huge fresh plate of herbs and vegetables that it’s always served with.
I often saw local Vietnamese season their Hủ Tieu Nam Vang with the transparent looking chili sauce and dark soy sauce as well.
Hu Tieu Nam Vang on the street
Just a few minutes walk from where I was staying at Le Blanc Hotel in Saigonwas Cao Thang road (where there are a number of wonderful restaurants including the outstanding op la restaurant #2 on this food guide), I was walking around when I noticed a crowd huddled around a noodle stall on the street.
Dangling from a tree branch was a sign that said “Hủ Tiếu Nam Vang – 22,000” – and the price and the atmosphere made it nearly impossible for me not to sit down for a bowl.
Since it was quite a budget price for a bowl of noodles especially in central Saigon District 1, it wasn’t all that heavy on the meat, yet it was a nice mixture of noodles, pig parts, a shrimp, and a nice basket of herbs and vegetables to garnish.
It was simple, but just normal, and quite tasty, plus the street food atmosphere here was perfect.
Address: It’s on Cao Thang road just past Nguyen Dinh Chieu
Open hours: Open for lunch for sure from about 10 am – 2 pm or so
Price: 22,000 VND ($1) – it’s pretty cheap but didn’t include much meat
Hủ tiếu Nam Vang Nhân Quán
Another bowl of Hủ tiếu, this time a different style, was at another restaurant not far from where I stayed, at a famous place called Hủ tiếu Nam Vang Nhân Quán.
The bowl of noodles at this restaurant was more expensive than at the street food stall above, but it included at least twice the amount of meat, and it indeed was better quality.
This time around, I ordered yellow egg noodles and instead of the soup inside, I got the soup on the side. I have to admit, this was a marvelous bowl of noodles, stacked with toppings and flavor.
Address: I think there are a number of different location, but I ate at the branch on 72 Nguyễn Thượng Hiền
Open hours: About 5 pm – 10 pm
Price: 65,000 VND ($3)
Other suggestions which I haven’t tried:
9. Bún chả (bun cha)
Just like bun bo Hue, another dish on this list that’s not from Saigon, but this time rather from Hanoi, is bun cha.
The reason I included it on this Saigon food article is because I simply love it – if there’s ever a restaurant with a country wide Vietnamese food menu, I would probably jump at bun cha.
When I visited Hanoi, years ago back in 2010 or so, I had bun cha at one of the most well known spots, and it blew my mind with how good it was.
For years I dreamed about another bowl of bun cha, until finally I returned to Vietnam this time-round, and I needed to satisfy my craving.
Bun cha is a dish that uses bun, fresh rice vermicelli noodles, the same noodles used in bun thit nuong, which are soft and easy to chew.
The next component of bun cha, are little seasoned pork patties (kind of like pork sliders), that are grilled over charcoal.
A plate of bun is served alongside a bowl of grilled pork patties, which after being grilled, are served in a smokey sour soup, and finally a plate of herbs and green vegetables are served to accompany everything.
The main way I saw most Vietnamese eating bun cha, was to add a bit of rice vermicelli to the pork patty soup, garnish with garlic, chilies, and herbs, and then repeat.
Bun cha is an absolute sensational dish, and if you don’t visit Hanoi, even though that’s definitely where the best is, you can still try it in Saigon.
Bún Chả Ánh Hồng Hà Nội
From some research on many Vietnamese food blogs and websites, on one of my final days in Saigon, I finally decided to try and get a flavor for the dish I had missed for so long since my previous trip to Hanoi.
I settled on a place called Bún Chả Ánh Hồng, because it wasn’t too far, and I had tried to visit a few places closer to Benh Thanh Market that seemed to be closed.
Anyway, when I arrived to Ánh Hồng, I could smell the aroma of pork smoke pouring from the entrance. From the front it looked just like a tiny restaurant, but walk into the alley, and inside the restaurant opens up into a large courtyard with plenty of tables and staff.
The grilled pork was wonderful, extremely smoky, and the soup was salty and a little sweet. The bun and herbs were delicious.
Overall, it wasn’t as good as I remember in Hanoi, but it was still pretty tasty and definitely worth eating.
Address: 140b Lý Chính Thắng, District 3, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Open hours: 6:30 am – 8 pm daily
Prices: bowls of normal sized bun cha combinations are 38,000 VND ($1.75)
10. Bánh canh cua (banh canh cua)
Banh canh, according to Wikipedia, actually means soup cake in Vietnamese, that’s the literal translation.
That’s likely because the noodles are so hearty and so thick.
Banh canh is quite similar to Japanese udon noodles, except I thought the noodles, which are typically made with a combination of rice and tapioca starch, were more sticky and a little chewier than udon, which are typically made with wheat flour.
Although there are a few different versions of banh canh, the one I ate, and fully enjoyed was banh canh cua, the thick starchy noodles with crab.
Instead of being a typical noodle soup with a thin stock, banh canh cua is more like a hearty stew, the broth is thickened like gravy, almost like Thai cuisine style radna.
The gravy normally has quite a mellow crab flavor, but what’s really impressive are the nuggets of crab meat that come in a bowl, and the toppings, including chilies and limes.
If you’re a crab lover like I am, this is a Vietnamese dish for you.