Where are the best bars and restaurants for expats in Ho Chi Minh City? The honest answer is “everywhere.” From the tiniest street stall to the ritziest 5-star skybar, Ho Chi Minh City offers a seemingly neverending supply of excellent eating and drinking options. There are thousands of restaurants across the city offering a huge range of local specialities and international cuisine for every budget. My husband Tim and I have taken friends out for dinner—with copious amounts of beer—and paid as little as $25 for us all. At the other end of the scale, an all-you-can-eat seafood buffet in a 5-star hotel, with views of the city can set you back $80 per head (still small change compared to a similar deal in Australia).
As disposable incomes rise for a new generation of Vietnamese professionals, the line between expat and locals has blurred. If there’s good food and a great atmosphere you’ll get a good mix of patrons across the board. An increasing number of expats come to the city, love the lifestyle, see a niche opportunity and decide to stay and start a business means there are new and exciting places all the time. A quick glance at the pages of Oi , Saigoneer, AnyArena or Word Vietnam , magazines will highlight the latest and greatest.
Districts 1 (the centre of town), 2 and 7 are popular suburbs for expats to live, but Districts 3 and 4, plus Phu Nhuan also have some gems. Therefore, that’s where the greatest concentration of restaurants aimed at the expat market are.
So, here’s a short list of our favourites. We like to try out the newbies, but these are the ones we’ve returned to time and time again.
Located in the heart of District 1, Malt was not the first craft beer establishment in town but it quickly cemented its place in our hearts. Unlike some of the other tap rooms around at the time, Malt was one of the first to offer a selection of brews from the different brewers and provide the opportunity for new players to get their wares out. Teamed up with a very reasonable bar menu and the best shuffleboard table in town, we made this our regular haunt and it’s one of the first places we take any friends and family when they come to visit.
Secret Garden is one of those places that’s a little hard to find but worth the effort. And because of its great food and atmosphere, it’s no longer a secret. Located on a terrace up five lung-busting flights of stairs, this small restaurant serves up authentic, home-cooked Vietnamese food. The best way to enjoy it is to go with friends, order a selection of small dishes and share, just like the local families do at home. If you’re overwhelmed by the menu, let the friendly staff help you out.
Another Vietnamese restaurant we love to take guests is Quan Ngon 138 which serves up a huge range of Vietnamese cuisine in an elegantly, restored colonial villa. The ambience and service are lovely and the prices very reasonable for the location and quality of food. Less than $50 will get you dinner for four with lots of different dishes and drinks.
In the mood for incredible barbecue and beers, then look no further than one of the city’s two Quan Ut Ut restaurants. Huge portions of delicious smoky barbecue ribs with all the sides, burgers and bar snacks teamed up with a great selection of craft beers make this another of our favourites.
If you’re looking for a more Australian experience and maybe watch a game of footy, then there are a number of Australian owned establishments around town. Game On, Universal Bar, Phatty’s Bar and The Orient are just a few that can oblige with a cold beer and a decent feed on a hot day.
If you’re looking for more international fare you’re in for a treat. There aren’t too many national cuisines that aren’t represented here. Baba’s Kitchen in District 1 serves up awesome Indian curries, Rico Taco has extraordinary Mexican, Ciao Bella exquisite Italian and Saffron dishes up fabulous Mediterranean cuisine.
For a seriously ritzy night out you can’t go past Bistro Song Vie in the exquisite Villa Song, perched majestically on the Saigon River. Or perhaps a dinner buffet on the newly restored Bonsai Dragon Boat .
Our favourite cafes include Loft, L’Usine and The Workshop . All have great coffee in stylish surrounds with a good range of food and deserts. But there are literally thousands of other great places to grab a good coffee and while away some time.
I could go on for days and there are always new places springing up around town. Ho Chi Minh is changing rapidly, but if there’s one thing you can count on is there’ll always be somewhere awesome for expats (and locals) to get great food, have a few drinks and enjoy themselves. This city loves a good time.