Saigon is not a place where you will easily go hungry, regardless of your budget. A glut of foreign business people with expense accounts has created plenty of elegant, albeit overpriced restaurants. You will find everything from enchiladas to dim sum here, although I can not imagine why anyone but terminally bored expatriates would even bother. Many of these places are pretentious and offer only passable food.
Most of the Vietnamese restaurants which cater to the business community are quite Westernized. If you insist on a crisp, white table cloth, the best of these is Blue Ginger, housed in a former journalists club at 37 Nam Ky Khai Nghia. Viet Nam House upstairs at 4 Nguyen Thiep Street is under the same ownership. Both are magnificently decorated. You can expect fabulous service and live music.
Lemon Grass, at 93-95 Dong Khai Street, is a bit more modest and relaxed, but still fairly good. On most nights, a string quartet entertains diners.
But for those who want to enjoy real Vietnamese food and contemporary Saigon living, forget about all the tourist restaurants with their white linens and bloated prices, and instead dine where the Vietnamese do. . Thanks to cheap food and local whisky everyone makes merry in Saigon every night.
Don’t leave Ho Chi Minh City without trying one of the banh xeo (pancake) places on Dinh Cong Trang Street, one of the most unusual eating experiences in the city. About one block down this little alley you will find hundreds of people eating outdoors around an open-air kitchen. While you may receive a menu which includes a variety of banh xeo and other specialties, it’s just as easy to look at what other people are having and point. Except for some seafood dishes, the food is very cheap. Just keep ordering one dish at a time until you have had enough.
The small and sumptuously decorated Phu Xuan offers the traditional culinary specialties of Hue, Vietnamese cooking’s equivalent of Imperial court cuisine. Unlike most Saigon, flavors are rich and subtle, and dishes are beautifully presented. Although a bit more spendy than street food, Phu Xuan is a wonderful and relaxing place for a romantic supper or a small party. In District 3 at 128 Dinh Tien Hoang.
A final culinary curiosity is the Binh Soup Shop at 7 Ly Chinh Thang, in District 3. Before North Vietnamese tanks rolled down the streets in 1975, Viet Kong infiltrators used this little dive as their secret headquarters. While serving up helpings of noodle soup to thousands of unsuspecting Vietnamese and Americans, cooks and waiters here plotted sabotage, and ultimately, the fall of Saigon.