Friends and Food
Great coﬀee, great food and great live music—Lêla Saigon has something for everyone
The Vietnamese expression “lê la” is best translated “to go somewhere and hang out with friends.” But for its new namesake in the heart of Pham Ngu Lao in District 1, a more apt description might be “something for everyone.” Serving coffee 10am, fine dining until 11pm, and live music and cocktails until 1am, there’s always something going on at Lêla Saigon (138 Le Lai, D1).
Lêla Saigon is the combined vision of its two founders: the chef and restauranteur behind Saigon Grill and Ngoc Chau, and a local artist and drummer with a love of vintage-retro style. These two influences, like yin and yang, shine through at every turn. The ground floor hosts the performance stage and a bar serving snacks, the dining room on the first floor is a quieter atmosphere serving both Vietnamese and Western favorites.
A great night starts with a great cocktail. Try the signature Lela Mojito or a Tiki Taka (both VND150,000) while you drink in the decor in this post-modern mashup. The first-floor dining area is a spacious, breezy balcony adorned by classic works of art, updated to fit the speakeasy theme (think geisha woman with AK-47). Tables are broken up by full-size trees and, somehow, a re-modeled classic car. At the far end, a row of tables looks over Pham Ngu Lao park, and there’s a pool table in the back next to the bar.
The Western menu includes such favorites as Deep-Fried Calamari and Onion Rings (VND80,000), Fried Chicken Wings in Garlic (VND149,000) and Smoked Pork Rib & Fried Potato (VND195,000). The non-adventurous guest will be more than pleased with these bar favorites, delivered hot and fast and perfect with a draft beer or signature cocktail. The presentations are modern and considered, with colorful garnishes and Vietnamese-inspired dipping sauces, and the chef spares no expense sourcing fresh meat and seafood.
For the those interested in local cuisine, the chef behind Saigon Grill has compiled an extensive menu of Vietnamese favorites with ample portions, lovely presentations and creative twists.
To start things off, don’t miss the Salmon and Apple Salad (VND80,000), which comes in four small tins, each with a bite of crispy-seared salmon on a bed of fresh fruits in a tart juice—a crispy start and a clean finish. Follow this with the Shrimp Crab Spring Rolls with Herbs and Sticky Noodles (VND195,000). For the uninitiated, this dish does require assembly: grab a piece of fresh lettuce, load it with rice noodles, some local herbs and a hot, crispy fried spring roll, wrap served beautifully in a pair of baskets and does justice to the well-loved traditional dish.
For your main course, the Mushroom Stuffed Chicken Breast with Black Pepper Sauce (VND150,000) comes at the chef ’s recommendation. Served on a bed of steamed vegetables and doused in a well-seasoned cream sauce, there will be more than enough for everyone to try a bite, even after you’ve had your fill.
After dinner, head downstairs where the party is just beginning. Rock ‘n Roll favorites from the ‘60s and ‘70s are cranked out nightly by the house band and other local acts (and on occasion, I’m told, by the co-founder himself). A full bar and a wide selection of craft beer on tap will keep your spirits high, and the influx of foot traffic from Pham Ngu Lao Park will keep the conversation fresh. The ground floor is both air-conditioned and well-ventilated, so smokers and non-smokers are free to mingle without breaking a sweat. With plenty of room for sitting, standing, dancing or whatever else you’re in the mood for, Le La keeps the party going until late every night of the week.
Lêla Saigon has struck a mighty chord since their re-opening in February of this year. This open-air oasis on the city’s liveliest corridor offers coffee and breakfast in the morning, fine dining from a renowned local chef in the evening, and live music welcoming guests from around the world nightly. So the next time you’re in the mood to lê la, you know where to go.
Images by Vy Lam and Lêla Saigon