Saigon offers the widest array of restaurants in Vietnam, and virtually every world cuisine is represented. The area around Dong Khoi is home to many fine-dining choices; ask locals where to eat, though, and they'll point you to the outdoor stalls in places like the open market area that opens in the evening just adjacent to Ben Thanh Market, or to a small neighborhood storefront. Saigon's famous street stalls serve up local specials like mien ga (vermicelli, chicken, and mushrooms in a delicate soup), lau hai san (a tangy seafood soup with mustard greens), and, of course, pho (Vietnam's staple noodle soup, popular everywhere).
Snacks & Cafes
Local dining in the evening in the open areas around the Ben Thanh Market is the best opportunity to try real local dishes (from after 6pm until 10 or 11pm daily). These restaurants are quite clean, and most have full-size plastic chairs around large tables for those who don't jibe with squatting low at streetside. Try pho (Pho 2000 restaurant is just adjacent) or banh khoi (Vietnamese pancakes).
Also note the many riverboat restaurants at the terminus of Dong Khoi Street, near the river ferries and high-speed boats to Vung TauTau. Ben Nghe (at quay-side Ben Bach Dang; tel. 08/3823-1475) is typical of the Christmas-light-draped live stage (or loud karaoke) riverside barges with long tables shared by big groups. The seafood and big fry-ups make for a fun night.
Note: Unless otherwise specified, cafes in Ho Chi Minh City open at 8 or 9am and close, as does most of the city, at 9pm.
Quest for the Perfect Noodle
Pho, or Vietnamese noodle soup, has become a popular dish in the West, but it's a national obsession in Vietnam, eaten any time of day. The simplicity of this dish is the attraction: beef stock with rice noodles garnished as you like, with meat and herbs, all ingredients left to speak for themselves. You can eat pho on any street corner and in any market, but here are a few especially good places in Saigon with English menus and a high standard of cleanliness:
Pho 2000 -- Set on Tran Hung Dao just cater-cornered to the Binh Thanh Market, Pho 2000 is a Saigon institution and a beehive of activity day or night. Former U.S. President Bill Clinton even made a visit here, and if Bubba liked it, it must be good.
Pho 24 -- The most popular outlet of this growing Vietnam chain (they have numerous shops in Saigon and Hanoi) is on Nguyen Thiep Street, a little restaurant row off of busy Don Khoi. They serve a busy crowd all day in a cool, clean storefront. Also look for Pho 24's other shops in town: at Diamond Plaza, at 67 Hai Ba Trung, and at 89 Mac Thi St., among others.
Pho Tezuka Katsuyoshi -- On Don Khoi, across from the Grand Hotel, look for the large PHO sign and Japanese characters at 37 Don Khoi St.; inside, the place is covered in woodcarvings and serves great soups -- popular with Japanese tourists and endorsed by a sign that reads YOU DON'T LIKE IT, YOU DON'T PAY.
The Peace Noodle Shop -- Otherwise known to locals, and on the sign, as Pho Binh, this little noodle storefront at 7 Lo Chinh Thang St., in District 3, is a good place to sample some real local pho while you visit a piece of Vietnam War history.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.