Elijah Ferrian knocks on heaven’s door at this sleepy, compact farmstead restaurant on the Saigon river, The River Cafe Restaurant. A newcomer to Thao Dien. Photos by Vinh Dao.

The River Cafe Restaurant opened on their beautiful, waterfront property on 20 September 2016. Mr. Vuong, owner, wanted to make a place that is comfortable for locals and expats to come and hang, listen to some great live music and enjoy traditional Vietnamese dishes.

Nguyen Truong Sinh, manager, designer and lead marketer for the business, has been a busy man.

“We tried to do, in one restaurant, a very classic, open Vietnamese style of dining,” Nguyen explained. “We wanted to serve traditional Vietnamese cuisine to everyone in Thao Dien, but make it unique to the area.”

When you walk onto the property, down a dirt road off the beaten path, one can’t help but feel that they have stumbled onto something that is a bit of a secret, nestled cozily up to the river’s edge.

“We wanted to do everything,” Nguyen continued. “Farming, retail, restaurant, and in the future we will create one more small farm area for kids, complete with a sandpit to play around in. We are very kid friendly here.”

Not only does this place appeal to folks with rugrats running around, but it’s mindful of the popularity, and necessity, of supplying a product that appeals to cleanliness, health and environmentally-friendly practices as much as possible.

“We use the vegetables from the farm to ensure the high quality of the vegetables and produce we use in our restaurant,” Nguyen proudly says.

Food started off with a platter of various seafood and vegetable appetizers (VND250,000). Lotus salad with shrimp and pork, “River Cafe” spring rolls with seafood, vermicelli and shrimp cakes, steamed vegetables in fish sauce, and a delectable fried squid in a chilli and fish sauce marinade. A great introduction to some standby favourites.

Perhaps one of the finest beer snacks was discovered on this visit: smoked buffalo meat (VND170,000). It’s a speciality from Northern Vietnam, and it puts snails to shame. Salty, fire-smoked, pull apart buffalo meat surrounded with fresh herbs, and a tantalising pepper sauce with lime. We could not for the life of us figure out exactly what this pepper mix was, but we do know that it’s expensive if you can find it, and sends this shareable plate from great, to another planet.

For our final dip into the menu, we lined up an ornate bird. Not what you’re thinking. Out comes a tinfoil-molded swan on a platter, filled with a delectable combination of tofu, shrimp, mushrooms, and a medley of vegetables (VND125,000). Piping hot and flavoured well, it was a lot of food, and the craftsmanship behind the artistic display was endearing. It’s not a duck! It’s a swan.

As if the setting of this restaurant isn’t enjoyable enough, there’s a band of lovely Vietnamese men every Saturday Sunday afternoons around 5pm, that play fantastic music together, and had everyone in the place taking out their phones to record the moment.

199 Nguyen Van Huong St, Thao Dien, Ho Chi Minh City
Tel: 0907 65 66 67
7am to 10pm Everyday