Simon Stanley searches for the best lunchtime bargains in District 1. Photos by Jonny Edbrooke.
If you’re chained to a desk or simply trying to save cash – or, in my case, both – making lunchtimes count can be a chore. Since the day my favourite bun cha wagon disappeared from outside our apartment building, my midday ritual has become a lacklustre cheese sandwich eaten at my desk over YouTube videos. Whether time or money is your enemy, I fear I am not alone in my solemn routine. Here are five affordable lunch options that beat watching cats do the ‘Thriller’ dance any day.
79/2/5 Phan Ke Binh, Dakao, D1
08 62 710 115 // Lunch Mon to Sat 12pm – 2.30pm
Decibel and its weekly movie screenings, open-mic nights and free food events may be the worst-kept secret in Dakao but its two lunchtime deals are news to the evening crowd. The VND 90,000 Western menu offers either a sandwich, a salad or a pasta dish with a soft drink thrown in, while the real bargain lies in their popular daily rotations of homemade Vietnamese cuisine, priced at VND 49,000. Poached pork in coconut juice and caramelised chicken with ginger are among the highlights but bun thit nuong cha gio is always on the menu. Order up and you’ll be presented with a giant bowl of noodles and beautifully grilled pork, fresh greens and piping hot spring rolls, a worthy rendition of the dish.
26 Ngo Thoi Nhiem, D3
08 39 300 233 // Set lunch Mon to Fri 11am – 3pm
With its killer margaritas, party-like atmosphere and some of the best Mexican food in town, you may well have promoted Khoi Thom to the ‘only for a special occasion’ list but its weekday lunch menu could change your mind. Thirteen dishes are available across three price levels, starting from VND 110,000. Freshly-made tacos are a highlight – the Baja-style fish quickly ranks among my top five meals in Saigon. Alternatively, opting for a plump burrito or torta will set you back VND 125,000 with a salad included. For the ravenous, four main-course favourites come in at VND140,000 each. At these knockdown prices you’re onto a winner already, but Khoi Thom also throws in free flow soft drinks, including homemade lemonade, and a choice of Mexican desserts or fresh fruit.
1st Floor, 77B Ham Nghi, D1
09 09 368 201 // Lunch Mon to Fri 11.30am – 1pm
Blending Parisian cafe stylings with old Saigon charm, La Rotonde could be one of the prettiest spots in the city. This cool, breezy loft space of whitewashed brick, tropical greenery and antique photography is the ideal place to lose yourself for a few hours. But visit during a weekday lunch hour, however, and things are a little livelier. With a buffet lunch on offer for VND 65,000, it’s not surprising that La Rotonde is packed to its extremely high rafters. In addition to ‘all you can eat’ salad, rice and vegetables, one main meal is included from a rotating list of up to eight, including shrimp in chilli sauce and a Chinese sausage omelette.
Robata Dining An
15C Le Thanh Ton, D1
08 38 225 329 // Lunch 11am – 2pm
In terms of quality, portion size and variety, Robata’s extensive lunch menu is one of the best deals you’ll find on Le Thanh Ton. With most dishes hovering around the VND 100,000 mark, this authentic Japanese open-kitchen diner serves everything you could think of, from a mixed tempura and rice (VND 90,000) to steaming bowls of pork ramen (VND 100,000). At VND 150,000, the beautiful 13-piece assorted sushi platter is a steal. Overflowing with generous morsels of freshly prepared seafood, everything on the platter is flown in each morning from Danang. A long wooden bar allows for a relaxed atmosphere, ideal for solo diners, while the private booths upstairs provide a more intimate experience.
Truong Dinh Lunch Lady
Corner of Truong Dinh & Vo Van Tan, D3
Lunch 11am – finished
Escape the air-conditioning and lunch al fresco like a local. Every weekday morning, two local ladies build a sprawling Vietnamese buffet restaurant right on the pavement of Truong Dinh. With a beaming smile, the proprietor offers a plate heaped with rice, inviting diners to construct their meal from a series of roughly 15 metal serving trays, each containing a separate dish. Several varieties of fish are lined up alongside potatoes, green beans, cabbage, mushrooms and grilled tofu but it’s their speciality fried chicken that really makes this spot worth a visit. Meaty and flavoursome with a crisp skin and plenty of seasoning, it’s obvious why the tables are soon full and a line of hungry office workers has formed up the street. Plates start at VND 25,000, with each portion of meat or fish costing an additional VND10,000. Arrive early or it may all be gone.