Saigon is a big city so there is no shortage of options. I was really excited to find vegetarian friendly (chay) versions of pho and banh mi. I found places that were entirely dedicated to vegetarian cuisine and other places without a single chay option on their menu. There is also a little bit of everything else in between, including street food, markets and even a bunch of Indian restaurants.
Pho Noodle Soup
The first thing you need to do in Saigon is find some cheap and delicious pho. The noodle soup is served up on the side of the road, in little store fronts and everywhere else you can imagine. I like my pho best with lots of veggies, a touch of heat (in the form of a jalapeno slices or two and a few drops of hot sauce) and a generous portion of bean sprouts, fresh basil and lime juice tossed on top.
Pho Quynh came highly recommended and quickly became the meat-eaters favorite spot. There are a few spots around town but we went to the one across from the park in District 1. They don’t make pho chay so I ordered banh opla (a fried egg served with French bread). I really loved the pho chay at Phuong Mai Vegetarian Restaurant. Speaking of vegetarian food…
Phuong Mai turned out to be the best vegetarian Vietnamese option I could find. I tried their fried spring rolls on rice noodles (throw the noodles in your pho if you’re still hungry after you’ve finished the noodles already floating in there), morning glory stir fry, watermelon and papaya smoothie (a daily purchase) and noodle stir fry in addition to the pho. Everything was delicious and well priced. Dishes ranged from 32,000 to 50,000 VND (just $1.40-2.25 USD)!
On our first day, heading towards the Bitexco tower, we passed a ton of street food vendors selling all sorts of food on small side streets. Trouble is, if it can be hard to find your way back, so my best advice is to buy anything and everything that interests you as soon as you stumble upon it.
I really liked one dessert I discovered called bo bia ngot. The gentleman had a little cart set up on the back of his motorbike where he rolled shredded coconut, honeycombs, sesame seeds and condensed milk in rice pancakes. It was subtly sweet and crunchy. My mom opted for a savory, taco-like snack. The lady fried everything up on the spot and handed it over folded up in advertisements.
During the day we always bought fresh fruit from the street vendors or streetside markets to snack on.
Here’s some more info if you want to find the best street food in Saigon.
Street Food Market
If you are not so sure about street food, or too hungry to search it out, the Street Food Market near Ben Thanh is the perfect compromise. Dozens of vendors pack in each day to serve a variety of Vietnamese cuisine alongside other traditional Southeast Asian street food dishes. I really loved the Thai stand and they were so helpful in helping me get vegetarian options. They made me papaya salad without shrimp and pad thai. We also found fresh vegetable spring rolls at another vendor in the back.
The prices are higher than typical street food but the facility offers a clean, consistent option. There are also tons of picnic tables so you don’t have to eat standing up, and at night there’s live music.
My cousin loves eating fast food abroad – he says that it’s fast, easy and reliable. If that’s what you want when you’re on the go, you can certainly find fast food chains all over Saigon from KFC to Dunkin Donuts. I normally avoid these places since I don’t even eat at them at home, but this time around it was fun to take a look at the diverse menus. Dunkin Donuts sold pork floss donuts (?!) and Pizza Hut advertised mixed seafood pizzas.
All around District 1 we saw signs for restaurants serving international cuisine. One night we stopped at an Indian restaurant. It definitely wasn’t our favorite but I’m told Saigon actually has awesome Indian, so if you’re in the mood maybe do a little research and then give one of the places a try. I did notice that these restaurants were typically located in the touristy parts of town and more expensive than the local options.
Pizza. Or anywhere at the airport if you can help it. Pizza’s my favorite food and we were eating at a nice restaurant in the airport so I gave it a try. Hands down the worst meal I ate in Vietnam. I am not entirely convinced that wasn’t plastic cheese.
Have you been to Vietnam? Where was you’re favorite place to eat?