We owe a huge shout-out to Jodi from Legal Nomads for unfailingly steering us to terrific eateries in Ho Chi Minh City. Her Guide to Saigon Street Food is an absolute must read for anyone serious about exploring the best of South Vietnamese cuisine. But at nearly 10,000 words, Jodi’s guide is a little more than a mouthful. We did the hard work of chewing through her recommendations as well as some others to give you this more bite-sized take on our favorite places to eat in Vietnam’s largest city.
The name of Chi Thong’s signature dish, Bun Thit Nuong Cha Gio, says almost everything you need to know. Bun Thit Nuong loosely translates to “rice noodles with grilled meat,” which in this case is pork. And Cha Gio is a type of spring roll packed with seasoned meat, mushrooms, and diced vegetables all wrapped in moist rice paper before being fried into golden, crispy tubes of deliciousness.
What the name doesn’t tell you is that all of those ingredients are saturated in a sweet fish sauce and topped off with fresh herbs, pickled carrots, and roasted peanuts. The result is an outrageous combination of textures and flavors. Every bite is a medley of silky noodles, crunchy peanuts, and crispy spring rolls accented by sweet broth, savory meat, bitter herbs, and vinegary carrots. It’s like a symphony in your mouth.
Where to find Chi Thong: 195 Co Giang
Pho So 1 Ha Noi
In all honesty, I’ve never been that impressed by Pho. Whenever I had it in the U.S., where the dish has become synonymous with Vietnamese food, it has never been anything more than a weak noodle soup. The various places I tried it throughout Vietnam where somewhat better but not by much. There’s a reason that neither of my previous posts about Where to Eat in Hanoi or Where to Eat in Hoi An mentioned Pho.
Sorry, Pho, I’m just not that into you. And at first I didn’t think Pho So 1 Ha Noi’s version would do anything to change that.
Sitting at plain stainless steel tables we were served big bowls of white noodles swimming in a nearly clear broth. Topped with generous portions of fresh chicken and scallions it looked like any old Pho Ga. And then the aroma hit me. It wasn’t at all what I expected. It certainly wasn’t the smell of grandma’s chicken noodle soup. This was vaguely floral and totally intriguing. The taste confirmed the smell. Delicious.
Alongside the big bowls we were offered an array of condiments. Lemons that are more like limes, a plate overflowing with herbs, bean sprouts, fresh chilies, and the all-important chili paste.
One of the things that we love about food in Asia is how often it is served with a bunch of condiments on the side so you can tailor your dish any way you like. I poured on the chili sauce to the point where my broth became red in color and fiery to the palate. Shannon doctored hers up with basil and lime.
We both ordered the Pha Ga and both of us enjoyed two different dishes. We also both agreed, this really was chicken soup for the soul.
Where to find Pho So 1 Hanoi: 25 Nguyen Thi Minh Khai
Quan Ut Ut
As much as we love Asian food in general, and Vietnamese food in particular, I guess we’re still westerners at heart. And that might explain why we enjoyed the American Barbeque joint Quan Ut Ut more than any other place we ate in Vietnam.
Now we’ve had our fair share of American BBQ while we ate our way from coast to coast during a four year long U.S. road trip. So trust us when we say that Quan Ut Ut doesn’t just serve up good barbeque for Vietnam, it’s honestly some of the best anywhere.
Their ribs are big and meaty, slow cooked to fall-off-the-bone tenderness and seasoned to perfection with a robust dry rub. They’re so good that they don’t even need a sauce. The meat right off the bone is drop dead delicious.
But who are we kidding? Barbeque without sauces is like sex without a partner. And we do mean sauces, plural. These days you can’t call yourself a great barbeque joint if you only have one sauce (yeah, we’re looking at you, Texas). Good? Maybe. But to be great you really need several.
Quan Ut Ut has three: a sweet and spicy traditional BBQ sauce; a vinegary hot sauce; and a terrific mustard-based sauce – something we don’t see nearly enough. Mixed with the ribs, every bite became a bit of greasy poetry.
And if that isn’t enough, Quan Ut Ut also has a surprisingly good craft pale ale. That’s right, a freaking craft beer in Vietnam! No weak ass Biere Larue or Tiger with this meal. Instead we enjoyed their crisp and citrusy Platinum Pale Ale. It’s a little like an American style IPA without the bitterness.
The one thing we’d quibble with about Quan Ut Ut is the size of their sides. A $15 plate of ribs comes with two. And while our rack ‘o ribs was big enough to satisfy us both, we were left wanting for a bit more of something on the side. We ended up getting an extra order of their Cajun spiced fries. With that addition: perfection.
Where to find Quan Ut Ut: 168 Vo Van Kiet