As it celebrates its second birthday, La Fiesta Tex-Mex diner is clearly still a hit. Simon Stanley tucks in. Photos by Vinh Dao.
With Scott Marquis at the controls, La Fiesta was always going to be good. A veteran of the local restaurant scene, this is the same Scott of ‘Scott & Binh’s’, the District 7 institution that closed in 2015. It was there that La Fiesta was born. “We used to have a special menu each year for Cinco de Mayo,” says Marquis, “but, come June 1st, everybody was crying, ‘What? I have to wait a whole year to get fish tacos again?’ So we decided to fill the gap.” La Fiesta arrived in September 2014, offering authentic Tex-Mex grub to backpackers, expats and, now more than ever, the local Vietnamese population.
La Fiesta’s simple yet spotless dining room sits on a quiet backstreet downtown. You won’t find any sombreros or maracas hanging from the walls here. Regular customers don’t come for the novelty, they come for the food.
Brandishing our first course, Marquis emerges from the kitchen, greeting a table of newly arrived tourists like old friends. “Hey, how’s it going? Thanks for coming out.” Then, boom! Our table is filled with an enormous chicken nacho sharing platter, piled with huge chunks of meat, lashings of guacamole and sour cream, a homemade black bean and corn salsa plus a thick layer of cheese, all sitting on a bed of locally-made tortilla chips (VND160,000). “We make everything in-house,” explains our host, “even the nacho cheese sauce. The only things we don’t make are the salsa verde, the chips, and the tacos and tortillas. They come from Robert at Saigon Tacos. He’s the tortilla king of Vietnam.”
I’m still frantically scraping the plate as our next course arrives, but the old-school nacho cheese tater tots with crispy bacon (VND95,000) are an ample distraction; a classic comfort food combo spiked with fiery rings of fresh chilli. A frozen mango margarita arrives just in time to quell the heat. It’s large, it’s lethal, and costs just VND85,000.
Next come the deep-fried fish tacos (VND170,000), bursting with colour, authentic flavours and morsels of chunky white fish wrapped in crispy batter. The light, zingy flavours become the refreshing appetisers to the last dish of the day, and it’s a hefty one.
When asked what his favourite item on the menu is, Marquis rarely gives a firm answer. Push him hard enough though, and our final course (and best-seller) is what he’ll choose: Chipotle braised lamb shoulder enchiladas (VND235,000). Made with corn tortillas in the traditional way, the rich, mouth-wateringly tender lamb sends these enchiladas off the scale. They’re out-of-this-world-good, and proof of the chef’s creative side.
With a recent entry in the latest Lonely Planet book, and a growing number of local fans, La Fiesta’s reign as one of the city’s top (Texan) Mexican eateries looks set to continue for a long time yet.
33 Dang Thi Nhu, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City
Tel: 08 3914 4696
11am – 10pm, closed Mondays