KOTO Ho Chi Minh City offering high-quality cuisine for a good causeA restaurant offering high-quality, unique food for a good cause. Photos by Chris Mueller.

KOTO started as a not-for-profit training program 10 years ago in Hanoi to teach disadvantaged youth life skills, English and how to work in the hospitality industry. In October this year, KOTO Saigon restaurant opened for business. All of the restaurant’s employees come from the street or other tough circumstances and have been trained to work in the hospitality industry, but KOTO Saigon isn’t only about them, it’s also about the food.

Located at the end of an alley off of Hai Ba Trung in District 3, KOTO has an open-air courtyard with a retractable roof in case of rain as well as downstairs and upstairs indoor dining areas. The décor in the courtyard is simple, with wood tables and wicker chairs. Inside, black and white pictures of KOTO trainees line the walls and light fixtures made from cooking tins hang from the ceiling. The kitchen themed dining room is complete with a chandelier made with drink stirrers.

The menu comprises traditional Vietnamese dishes prepared in innovative ways and some western options as well. First I try balls of sticky rice with soy caramel and fish floss, served with house made pickles (110,000 VND). The texture is amazing. The outside is crunchy, but the inside is soft and warm.

Next I’m given the KOTO popcorn chicken (80,000 VND). The chicken isn’t deep fried, which is what I would expect from something that is usually more fried batter than chicken, but is tender, tasty and served with a nice dipping sauce.

Finally I’m served two dishes at once; prawns sautéed with garlic, ginger and lemon grass with a side of homemade bread (120,000 VND), and braised pork with taro root puree and herbs on betel leaves (75,000 VND). The prawns are fresh and flavourful with a nice crunch. The marinated pork and soft taro puree go well with the brittleness of the betel leaf.

The restaurant also has lunch specials that rotate from day to day. They range from salads starting at 45,000 VND to noodles or sandwiches and chips starting at 75,000 VND.

If you want high-quality, unique Vietnamese food then KOTO is well worth considering.  The food tastes even better knowing the profit from the restaurant is invested back into the training program.

151A Hai Ba Trung Street, District 3
Tel: 08 39 349 151
Open for lunch Tuesday to Sunday and dinner Wednesday to Saturday.