5 Bites of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Where to find the best food in the 'Pearl of the Far East'
Pho is savory Vietnamese soup that is enjoyed year-round on the streets of Ho Chi Minh City.
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Ho Chi Minh City has dozens of restaurants, cafes, and street-side stands full of culinary wonders.

Vietnam’s storied past has helped create a culinary wonderland. The influence of French and Chinese is most evident in Ho Chi Minh City’s mom-and-pop storefronts, French boulangeries, and home-style courtyard-homes-cum-chic-cafés. If you only have one day in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC), make the most of it by having a foodie feast.

Breakfast: HCMC is full of French pastry shops but not all are created equal. During the Vietnam War, Givral was where many foreign journalists would gather for coffee and pastries, but locals have always come to the Le Loi location. The French-influenced brasserie has a loyal following who buy up the breads, pastries, and cookies like the crusty baguettes, blueberry pie, and gateaux. Go early for the best selection.

Lunch: Eating at Lemongrass on 4 Nguyen Thiep Street, District 1, 84-8-822-0496, is a welcome respite, especially during the sweltering summer months. The intimate restaurant is airy and light with cool tiles, wicker furniture, and candlelit tables. The traditional Vietnamese fare is based on the seasons and the emphasis is on healthy preparation. The three-course lunch special of appetizer, main, and dessert is one of the best deals in town.

Snack: Pho is Vietnam’s national dish. When former President Bill Clinton visited HCMC, he pulled up a plastic stool and ate at Pho 2000, a chain of pho restaurants that offer cheap bowls of piping hot pho. The no-frills outpost at 1-3 Phan Chu Trinh, 84-8-822-2788 is near Ben Thanh Market, which sells fruit, souvenirs, and clothing to locals and tourists alike.

Dinner: One of the most memorable meals to be had is at Quan An Ngon on 138 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia, Quan Mot, 84-8-825-7179. Located across from the Reunification Palace, this rowdy, bustling courtyard restaurant serves a wide range of Vietnamese specialties, from pho to bun cha (vermicelli noodles topped with marinated pork and veggies) to sides like spicy green papaya salad and cool spring rolls. It’s best to book a table, as there’s always a line. While the alfresco ambiance and harried though well-intentioned service isn’t fine dining, the food certainly is — they don’t call it nong (delicious) for nothing.

Dessert: No matter the time of day, Kem Bach Dang Ice Cream at 26-28 Le Loi, 84-8-829-2707 is packed with locals sampling their dozens of flavors of kem (Vietnamese for ice cream). The requisite chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry varieties are here but so are the more exotic durian, lychee, and green tea. Try the coconut ice cream, which is served in a coconut shell and topped with seasonal fruits like strawberries, dragon fruit, and longan.