Saigon is in the midst of a burger boom that includes major corporate chains as well as small endeavors specializing in burgers.
They’re even finding their way onto the menus of some of the finer eateries in town.
Soul Burger (4 Phan Boi Chau, D1), the first restaurant owned by Gabe Boyer, a veteran of Saigon’s fine dining scene, is the city’s newest addition to its burgeoning burger culture.
“Burgers are in my blood”, explains Chef Gabe. “My grandfather owned Goldy’s, a famous burger joint in the suburbs of Chicago, but it was sold before I had the chance to be a part of it.”
Now, Gabe’s long awaited foray into burgerdom has come to fruition. His testament to passion dwells in a second floor nook on Phan Boi Chau, opposite the southeast corner of Ben Thanh Market. The exposed brick walls and demure lighting invite you to wade into an atmosphere steeped in music by luminaries such as Charlie Parker, Aretha Franklin and James Brown.
An eclectic array of starters inhabits the menu. We sampled three of them: chipotle hot wings (VND120,000), Mexican-style corn on the cob called elote (VND75,000), and the steak poutine supreme (VND175,000). The zesty hot wings, served with sour cream sauce on the side, are a departure from the traditional buffalo style.
* Chicken hot wings
I enjoyed them and found the sour cream sauce a refreshing change of pace from ranch or blue cheese dressing. However, my dining companions didn’t share the same level of appreciation for the break in convention. The elote is delightful. Grilled with butter and dusted with Parmesan cheese and chili powder, then served atop lime mayo and finished with cilantro, they are cause for celebration. Many times corn is filler, but this concoction will have you devouring it with glee.
* Corn on the cob
The menu’s inclusion of poutine is a revelation. John Tuzi, Director of Global Café and Gabe’s partner, is a native of Toronto, Canada, and made it his mission to include his homeland’s culinary calling card and ensure its impeccable execution. It consists of a bed of french fries with grilled slices of imported steak, Phu Quoc pepper gravy, melted cheddar cheese, confit tomatoes and pickled shallots.
* Steak poutine
If ever a dish existed that embodied the cliché “you don’t know what you’re missing,” this poutine has a legitimate claim.
Stop! In the Name of Burgers
Soul Burger is about the burgers, however, and they don’t disappoint. We zeroed in on two, the Little Richard (VND195,000) and the Diana Ross (VND230,000), both served with hand cut fries. They arrive on pretzel buns of Gabe’s own recipe, baked and delivered daily. The patties are 200g of fresh USDA Choice beef from Kansas, hand ground in an 80/20 lean-to-fat ratio, and cooked to your preference. They aren’t scared to cook it rare, and for the less domesticated among us, they’ll send it out blue! Furthermore, a different burger of the month appears on their blackboard to keep things novel.
* Lillte Richard burger
The Little Richard is served with sharp cheddar cheese, bacon, grilled onions, and an egg, sunny side up. If you’re hankering for a classic burger experience, with an egg on top, look no further. The Little Richard is built to sate even the most voracious burger craving (for those with gargantuan burger needs and looking to double down on ‘wrong,’ the signature Soul Burger (VND345,000) is the Little Richard times two, meaning two 200g patties and double bacon). The Diana Ross is nothing short of sublime. Covered in sautéed mushrooms and drenched in a creamy Cognac sauce and then sprinkled with fresh horseradish, the memory of this burger will kick your salivary glands into overdrive on a random afternoon. And to round out your experience, Gabe and John are curating a selection of bourbon to quaff during your post-burger bliss. You will leave with your fix, a full belly, and the hook firmly set.
* Diana Ross burger
Whether you’re an American expat longing for a taste of home, or one of the hordes from around the world that embrace burgers as comfort food, Soul Burger will thrill you. They have attained a profound understanding of burgers… if you’re gonna do something wrong, do it right.
* Images by Ngoc Tran.