Banh Mi Hyun Hoa is generally considered the best banh mi shop in Ho Chi Minh City. The shop sits in a very small space with just a couple of chairs.
It is take away only. I have heard complaints that they don’t speak English there, but I did not run into that problem. By no means was their English perfect, but way better than my three words of Vietnamese.
The banh mi here is on the more expensive side for what you can find on the street, at ~$1.30. But the banh mi is absolutely loaded with meat. Dare I say too much meat, especially for somebody who is a meat lover.
They don’t open until 3 PM, so if you’re hoping to grab one for a late breakfast or early lunch, you are out of luck.
Banh Mi Hyun Hoa is definitely a spot working checking out however.
Although Vietnam is one of the world’s top producers of coffee, their coffee culture has not always been what it is today. Yes, many Vietnamese drink coffee regularly, thanks in large part to its French influence.
One of the most iconic drinks of Vietnam is Café Su Da, or Vietnamese iced coffee. Start out with very strong drip coffee, add a very generous amount of sweetened condensed milk and pour it on top of ice. It’s almost akin to drinking melted ice cream.
I made a quick stop at Vietnamese Coffee Republic, where they take their coffee seriously.
The space is on the smaller side, as it is very narrow but long. There is a stand up coffee “bar” on the first floor with a couple of tables. There is a gradually winding staircase leading to the second floor, but I did not have a chance to go up there. The entire space is clean and modern, with bookshelves adorning the back to give it a “library” feel against the stark contrast of white.
There appears to be Japanese glassware that is used to make coffee as well.
As usual, it was rather hot and humid in Ho Chi Minh City, so I decided to go with the Café Su Da. The coffee is extremely strong, but the generous amount of ice and sweetened condensed milk instantaneously cooled me down some.
The coffee is so strong that it doesn’t fill the entire cup.
If you are a coffee lover, it is worth stopping in.
Nha Hang Ngon is located fairly close to the Notre Dame Cathedral and Saigon Central Post Office.
At night, this is one of the more popular restaurants, as it is a little more upscale. There is a large outdoor patio, and most of the guests were in their early 20’s. It appeared as if this was one of the places to “be seen”.
Once again, I started with the Goi Cuon (16,000 dong), as these are one of my favorites, but also for comparison purposes. There were three to an order, and like the rest of the spring rolls I had in Ho Chi Minh City, the rice paper wrapping was rather dry. Each spring roll contained a large prawn, pork, vermicelli noodles, and lots of fresh, crunchy vegetables. The dipping sauce had a very dark hue, was heavy on the chile and crushed peanuts, and had a rather sweet taste.
The Bo Nuong Muoi Ot (140,000 dong) was grilled beef with chili salt and seasoned toast. It was like a deconstructed steak sandwich. The steak was tender and flavorful and was hidden underneath a mountain of herbs. The toast was the kind of bread used for kaya toast, with a garlic toast theme. The combination seemed a bit odd, and didn’t really go well together.
The chili salt was rather salty, and light on the chili.
The Chuoi Cuon Nep Nuong, Nuoc Cot Dua (40,000 dong), or gilled banana with sticky rice and coconut milk was a somewhat heavy way to the end the meal, but was not overly sweet. Crispy, grilled sticky rice encased small chunks of banana. The dish had a slightly charred flavor, which added another flavor component. A heavy dousing of coconut milk covered the entire dish, along with a sprinkling of sesame seeds and crushed peanuts.
The food here is pretty solid, especially for a place that seems to be more about the scene than the food. Prices are very reasonable. Menus are in English, and most of the staff also spoke English.
Chi Hoa is an unassuming restaurant that does traditional Vietnamese cuisine with a slightly modern twist.
The restaurant sits in a small space that is four stories tall. Each room is small, and tables are somewhat close together, creating a cozy atmosphere.
The Café Su Da (32,000 dong) had a nice dark color, signifying strong, dark coffee with not too much sweetened condensed milk. Loads of ice also made the drink pleasant on hot, sweltering days. This caffeine booster would surely bring about more energy.
The meal started out with a complimentary dish of some side of fried vegetable. It was crisp and somewhat chewy at the same time. It was nice to have something to munch on while perusing the menu.
The Goi Cuon Tom Thit (Spring Rolls) (52,500 dong) came four to an order and were bursting with vibrant shrimp through the opaque rice paper wrapper. The pork was slightly on the dry side, but the fresh veggies and noodles helped to offset that. The one thing I noticed in Ho Chi Minh City when ordering spring rolls is that the rice paper wrapper was much drier than what I am used to, almost making it crunchy. The sauce had tons of crushed peanuts and fried shallots giving it a lot of texture.
The Bun Thit Bo Xao (Rice Noodles with Beef) (85,000 dong) was presented a little differently to what I am used to. The noodles were nice and springy. There were tons of onions, carrots, and radish along with some scallions, fried garlic, and mint. When I order this back home, it is more like a salad since it comes with a bunch of lettuce, beans sprouts, shrimp paste, and an egg roll. The beef was nice and tender. The accompanying sauce had a huge fish sauce flavor on the finish. This was radically different than what is served back home, but it was very good.
Service was friendly, and they spoke English. Nothing on the dessert menu looked super interesting so I passed on that. The entire bill for the meal was just under $9 USD, which is a great deal. I know you can eat on the street for much cheaper, but for a sit down meal this is well worth it.
Based on the reviews, I was somewhat surprised after walking into Banh Mi 362. Their banh mi is highly praised, but the Subway style set-up was not expected.
The staff is friendly and English speaking. The display case features fresh vegetables.
The Thit Nuong (Grilled Pork) (35,000 dong) banh mi comes with a thin slice of grilled pork with the juices still running out of it. Veggies include cucumbers, carrots, radish, cilantro and jalapenos. The bread has a nice thin super crunchy crust, and a soft chewy exterior.
The Thit Do (Red Pork) (30,000 dong) is the type of pork you would normally find in a Chniese restaurant, known as char sui. The pork has a nice fat content, and a slightly sweet glaze. Again, the banh mi is loaded with fresh veggies and jalapenos.
The banh mi here aren’t your traditional type sandwiches. They’re very good and fresh. My only complaint is that they are a little lacking in the meat department. But it is worth a try if you’re in the area.
Kamakura Matsubara-an is one of the more highly regarded restaurants in Kamakura. They also have a sister restaurant in the Harajuku neighborhood of Tokyo.
The restaurant specializes in soba noodles, which are handmade daily. They are also known for their duck preparations as well dashimaki tamago.
The restaurant sits in a residential neighborhood and is on the smaller side. Upon entering the restaurant grounds, there is a small Zen garden surrounded by outdoor tables. As I did not sit in, or get a very good look at the interior, I cannot provide any comments. It does appear to be on the smaller side however.
At lunch, there are set menus, in addition to ordering from the menu.
I chose the Matsubara course, as I wanted to try as many dishes as possible.
The appetizer course consisted of sashimi, vegetables, fried eggplant, fried soba, duck, tofu and edamame, and a fried rice cake.
The appetizers were beautifully and simply presented. The fried rice cake reminded me of savory mochi, as the exterior was nice and crisp, while the interior was nice and chewy. Instead of dipping it into kinako and sugar, this was sitting in a mild fish and shoyu sauce. The tofu was very soft and tender with a strong yet subtle soybean flavor. The duck breast was nicely medium rare with a slightly gamey flavor. The fried soba skin was very crisp with a slightly nutty flavor with a slightly salty miso paste. The eggplant was nice fried and not greasy. It had a nice strong eggplant flavor. The sashimi was marinated and sat atop a couple of potato slices and paired with a tomato and snap pea. Lastly, there was fried eel sitting atop a small salad. The eel had a crisp skin, and was rather mild in flavor.
The next course was thickly sliced duck. The duck had plenty of seasoning, and reminded me of roasted port when first presented. The duck was slightly overcooked and a bit on the dry side. The seasoning added a punch of flavor while the lemon added brightness and acidity.
The next course was the soba course. I chose the kake soba which is served in a hot soup. The soba noodles had a nice nuttiness and chew.
The soba was served with shaved green onion, freshly grated wasabi, and soy and mirin base. The soup was served in a separate kettle, which is flavored with bonito.
The next course was the tempura course, which consisted of shiso leaves, octopus, fish, squid, and shrimp. I paid the small upchare for the seafood tempura.
Unlike the United States which serves tempura with a soy based sauce, tempura is paired with coarse salt in Japan.
Dessert consisted of a jelly made out of agar and was topped with azuki beans in a slightly sweet syrup.
Service was very good and attentive, as you would expect in Japan. The staff spoke decent English, much better than my Japanese, LOL.
Little things have been thought of as well, such as blankets at each seat to cover your legs in case you get cold. Little baskets are provided to store your purse or belongings.
Dining outside overlooking the Zen garden also made it a more peaceful and tranquil experience. I would highly recommend this restaurant when in Kamakura.
Following my flight from Jakarta, I had a layover in Tokyo for roughly 15 hours. Since my flight was landing at Haneda instead of Narita airport, I decided to do something different on my layover and go to Kamakura and Yokohoma instead of Tokyo. As I had another trip planned almost two weeks later that landed at Narita, I decided to do more exploring in Tokyo on that layover.
The following is the list of places I visited, and will have a more in-depth post about each:
1. Starbucks Kamakura Onarimachi
2. Zeniarai Benten Ugafuku Shrine
3. Kotokuin Temple – The Great Buddha
4. Random croquette stand
6. Kamakura Matsubara-an
7. Hokokuji Temple
8. Kikuya Bakery
9. Leonard’s Bakery
10. Rokurinsha – Haneda
11. ANA Lounge – Haneda airport