It’s hard to go hungry in Ho Chi Minh City. You can find food on practically every street corner and narrow alleyway, from makeshift eateries around a single street stall to old shophouses that have been making the same dishes for generations. You even have the option of dining in high-end restaurants that reimagine classic local specialties.
Indeed, Vietnamese cuisine is so diverse and so widely available that you do yourself a disservice if you come to the city without ever trying it for yourself. As such, the next time you visit Ho Chi Minh City, make sure to keep a list of the city’s best bites handy. To save money, consider booking a Ho Chi Minh City combo package (see: https://www.traveloka.com/vi-vn/packages/vietnam/region/ho-chi-minh-city-10009794), and splurge instead on the wide variety of gastronomic delights to be had in the city. Keep on reading to find out what these are and where you can find them.
The bánh mì is one of Vietnam’s greatest inventions, hands down. What’s so special about a sandwich, you ask? In Ho Chi Minh City, they make it with a light and airy Vietnamese baguette made with rice flour, pickled local vegetables such as daikon and cilantro, and an assortment of charcuterie and condiments. It’s a portable meal that you can have anywhere, at any time of the day.
Locals can’t say enough good things about Bánh Mì Huỳnh Hoa and their famous bánh mì: the pâtés are always made fresh in-house, the meat slices are thick and juicy, and the vegetables are bright and crispy. If the crowds and long queue deter you, however, there are equally excellent sandwiches to be found at Bánh Mì Hồng Hoa. The best part is that you can have your bánh mì on the go here—motorbikes frequently roll up to the unassuming roadside stall, order up, and are swiftly on their way once they receive their food.
Most people are introduced to Vietnamese food eithet by way of bánh mì or by way of phở. The rice noodle soup is one of the country’s most well-known cultural and culinary exports, but there’s nothing like having this famous bowl at its place of origin. Choose between phở bò, made with beef, or phở gà, made with chicken—or go deeper and discover the subtle differences between phở from Northern Vietnam (phở Bắc) and Southern Vietnam (phở Nam).
Pro-tip: you can easily differentiate the two depending on what condiments and garnishes are offered. In places that serve phở Bắc or Hanoi-style phở, they offer diced green onion, chili, cilantro leaves, garlic and quẩy, a kind of deep-fried bread. Meanwhile, Saigon phở joints offer slices of lime, bean sprouts, hoisin sauce and Sriracha sauce to dress your bowls with.
While it’s hard to recommend one place to get your phở fix, you can have it from practically anywhere, and it will be amazing every time. Try Phở Phượng 25, a restaurant that specializes in beef phở. It’s run by a Northern Vietnamese family and is one of the more famous names in the game when it comes to making this iconic dish. For Saigon-style phở with all the fixings and trimmings, head to Phở Hòa Pasteur, one of the city’s oldest institutions, or Phở 2000, where the bowl is president-approved. As a matter of fact, former US president Bill Clinton famously had a bowl here when he visited Vietnam in 2000.
Bún bò Huế
If you want to eat like a king in Vietnam, you can do so in a very literal sense by seeking out a steaming bowl of bún bò Huế, which originates from the city of Huế in central Vietnam. It is a place that is associated with the style of cooking that was practiced in the former royal court. This is the other famous bowl of noodles in Ho Chi Minh City, made with rice vermicelli and beef in a broth that is flavored with lemongrass and seasoned with fermented shrimp sauce, sugar, and chili oil for heat.
Bún bò Huế is a favorite of the late, great Anthony Bourdain, who sampled a bowl at the Dong Ba market in Huế on one of his visits to Vietnam. You, too, can have the same transcendent experience he’s had: check out Bún Bò Huế Chú Há, where they add ox tail chunks to the bowls, or Bún Bò Tây Lộc, where the dish is as close to the one at Huế as it gets. The owner is a native of the famed city, and she’s brought her family’s secret recipe all the way to Ho Chi Minh City.
You may not have heard of bánh xèo yet, but trust us, you’ll love it at first bite. This golden Vietnamese crepe is made with a rice flour batter and derives its color from turmeric powder. It’s traditionally fried over coals that give it a distinctly smoky aroma and topped with all sorts of good things: sliced pork, shrimp, onions, scallions, and bean sprouts. The entire thing is then folded onto itself before serving with a side of greens and herbs. Wrap your bánh xèo in these leaves, dip it into the provided dipping sauce, and enjoy.
The swarm of people around Quán Bánh Xèo 46A is a testament to how good the food at this street-side eatery is. Expect to wait in line for up to an hour or more. For a more easily accessed option, Bánh Xèo Ăn là ghiền is a chain restaurant with branches all over the city that serves a respectable version of the dish.
This list only scratches the surface on the various culinary delights that you can find in Ho Chi Minh City, but we think it’s a pretty good starting point! We do encourage visitors to steer clear of the tap water and only drink bottled or filtered water, and to make sure that their dishes arrive piping hot when dining out to have the best experience possible. Happy eating!