A pleasant downtown eatery mixing the Argentinian steakhouse theme with pork, chicken, lamb, homemade spicy sausage, skewers, burger dishes and everything that can come off a grill. The smaller downstairs and kitchen area is complemented by a no-smoking dining space upstairs replete with a bar and an outdoor terrace. Add to this bar-brick wall decor, light-wood tables and Argentinian themed photography on the walls and you have a well-rounded, popular restaurant only a stone’s throw from the Opera House.
5D Nguyen Sieu, Q1, Tel: 3825 1879 www.elgaucho.com.vn. Open 4pm to late
Singaporean and Malaysian specialities fill the menu at this friendly, authentic five-storey Lion City eatery. Think the likes of nasi lemak, mee rebus, mee Siam, roti prata, awesome chicken curry as well as the specialities of the house — frog porridge, chilli crab and fish head curry. Does an efficient delivery service and has more restaurants at 701 Ba Thang Hai, Q10, 141 Nguyen Duc Canh, Q7 and 206 Cong Hoa, Tan Binh.
45 Le Anh Xuan, Q1, Tel: 3823 8371 www.lioncityrestaurant.com. Open 7am to 3am
The work of the eponymous owner and head chef Chi Nghia, Papaya is one of the city's unsung gems. Tucked down a tangle of streets near the canal on the edge of District 1, the cuisine here is presented simply but beautifully with an emphasis on top quality ingredients. Prices are cheap, too, with mains going for well under VND100,000, and portions are also on the large side. Well worth a visit
68 Pham Viet Chanh, Binh Thanh, Tel: 6258 1508. Open 10am to 10pm.
Swathed in deep red and with dark wooden lightbox panelling, the addition of black and white Saigon street-scene photos gives this three-storey restobar an atmosphere of an upscale, sleek equivalent in New York or London. Choose between the shared-table downstairs bar area or the more traditional upstairs seating and a menu that blends small fusion cuisine style plates with larger mains and excellent gourmet pizza.
5 Nguyen Sieu, Q1, Tel: 3825 6257 www.alibi.vn. Open 10am to late daily
Bare brick walls, art-deco repro furniture and a parlour-like elegance that brings with it all the glamour of old Saigon puts La Fenetre Soleil in a class of its own. Serving up a range of cocktails, imported beer, coffee and smoothies together with a Japanese-Vietnamese fusion menu, atmosphere and the slightly-off-the-main-drag location makes this a great spot to while away those afternoon hours or catch a night-time drink. Does a set lunch menu from 11.30am to 2pm.
2nd Floor, 44 Ly Tu Trong, Q1 Tel: 3824 5994. Open 10am to midnight.
The first Vietnam branch of the well-known Australian chain, Hog’s Breath mixes hearty cuisine such as pizzas, burgers, salads and prime rib steaks with a bar-like Australian sports atmosphere. Decked out in dark wooden furnishings with a long, easy-to-prop-yourself-up-at bar space, also has an outdoor on-the-street terrace, a mainly new world wine list and a large selection of both local and imported beers.
Ground Floor, Bitexco Financial Tower, 2 Hai Trieu, Q1 Tel: 3915 6006, www.hogsbreath.com.au. Open 11am to midnight
Fridays and Saturday until 2am. Contemporary international décor blends seamlessly with local themes to create the most lavish but tastefully designed bar in the city. It may mean you have to pay five-star prices – the cocktails here go for over VND200,000 – but the monied-up punters still come in their droves. Easy listening, dance-style music plays over the sound system while drinks go from a range of Martini-base cocktails through to spirits by the bottle and 15 wines by the glass.
Park Hyatt, 2 Lam Son, Q1, Tel: 3824 1234 www.saigon.park.hyatt.com. Open 4pm to 1am.
Nestled into the block at 2 Vinh Khanh in District 4, Oc Phat should be a destination for any fans of mollusks. With short, stainless steel tables and tiny red stools it is classic Vietnamese street food dining. Office workers, manual labourers, families, couples, old and young are all clinking glasses, dropping shells on the sidewalk, and knocking empty beer bottles around, all creating a cacophony of noise serving as the background for your meal. The menu is entirely in Vietnamese, so if you don’t know the lingo, you’ll have to rely on pictures that show you what you’re ordering, if not how it’s prepared.
Surely I cannot be the only person in Saigon that was unaware until now that Long Phi is more than just a purveyor of late night libations. My nocturnal outings rarely take me in the direction of Pham Ngu Lao so my lunchtime visit is my first time to the establishment in question. It turns out to be a very pleasant surprise.
Tucked into a tangle of streets near the Binh Thanh canal (into which, it appears, neither I nor any of the city’s fine cartographers have previously ventured) you will find what must surely be one of Saigon’s most unsung gems. Papaya is a diminutive restaurant serving some of the most delicious and beautifully prepared Vietnamese food I have eaten in a long time. I spend a good half hour flailing around the ngos and hems before I find the place (the result of being both spatially challenged and armed with a map that bears no correlation to the actual roads) before some kind soul takes pity on me and shows me the way. And I am glad I persevered.