Cau Ba Quan serves fresh seafood in a streetside setting. By Chris Mueller. Photos by Fred Wissink.

Cheap and delicious seafood is one of the best things about living in Vietnam. But in Ho Chi Minh City, where food handling is sketchy at best and the sea is still a few hours away, eating at a streetside seafood quan can be a shot in the dark — and one your stomach may not appreciate.

So when I stumbled across this three-month-old restaurant in District 1, it was hard not to get excited. Nikky Tran, the owner and chef, says she gets all her seafood every day or every other day directly from Phu Quoc island, where she has a trustworthy supplier who ensures its freshness.

The restaurant itself is simple: short, wooden chairs and tables are set up on the sidewalk, wooden paneling lines the walls of the small, open-air dining room inside, and a charcoal grill sits outside. The dishes too are simple, but border on fusion — they’re not quite Vietnamese and certainly not western. But Cau Ba Quan doesn’t need to be fancy. Its reputation for fresh and good food is enough to bring in the crowds every night.

While seafood is the main attraction here, there are still some other great options, such as the five-coloured beef salad (VND 79,000), which has a sweet and spicy kumquat sauce with beef, white eggplant, lemongrass, pineapple and mint. For something a little more interesting, try the popular, and very spicy, sour leaf pineapple salad (VND 70,000).

After warming up with the salad, we had a heaping plate of seafood fried rice (VND 70,000). The squid and bits of prawn were clearly fresh, while the rice was purposely fried a little longer than normal, which adds a nice, crispy texture.

Next came two dishes: the restaurant’s special cinnamon crab and a thick stingray fillet (both VND 400,000/kg). The crab was big for Vietnam and the cinnamon added a hint of sweetness without being overpowering. This was the first time I had eaten stingray, and I enjoyed it. The meat was closer to the texture and flavour of juicy chicken than fish. All of the seafood comes with a side of green chilli and kumquat juice sauce, which makes a welcome and spicy change from the typical salt, pepper and lime.

While I finished eating a plate of scallops (VND 12,000 each), Tran made sure to mention that she never adds MSG to her food and tries to keep sugar to a minimum. “If I won’t eat it, I won’t serve it,” she says.

82 Mac Dinh Chi Street, D1
Tel: 09 15 95 95 18
10am-2pm, 4pm-midnight, seven days