Think you know Thao Dien? Ruben Luong hunts for hidden treasures along the street that anchors District 2. Photos by Nguyen Nguyen.

Along Thao Dien Street, high terra-cotta villa rooftops peek from behind staggered palm trees in District 2. The day is bright, and the street twinkles from the lights of restaurants, supermarkets, and cafes. Thao Dien is actually more of a boulevard than a street. The first section of the road thrives with commercial business and gives way to two of the city’s popular international schools, before it connects to Nguyen Van Huong.

It’s hard to believe the area used to be one of the poorest parts of the city. But over recent years, Thao Dien has attracted expats to notable restaurants, such as Mekong Merchant and Buddha Bar, and popular grocery stores like Annam Gourmet and An Phu Supermarket, all within a 20-minute drive from the city centre. But a new and exciting crop of contemporary, sustainable, or locally-oriented shops continues to surface in the An Phu and Thao Dien wards, many of them sure to keep a healthy expat following.

Thao Dien District 2The Loop
49 Thao Dien
“The Loop” is known by runners and bikers as a 5km circle in An Phu that spans Nguyen Van Huong and Thao Dien. Naturally, it now serves as the moniker for a cool, recently opened cafe and eatery at the corner of Thao Dien and Le Van Minh. The Loop is a perfect pitstop on a morning jog, afternoon work break, or evening stroll for healthy, trattoria-style dishes. The interior is clean and crisp with the aroma of Italian Hausbrandt coffee at the open kitchen bar. A large family-style table stands at the back, and a corner with toys and coloured pencils is a great place for children. Take a seat in any of the mod white chairs near the window and order from four types of bagels and six cream cheeses, such as honeywheat with sun-dried tomato (VND 99,000 for one bagel and coffee). If you’re around for lunch or dinner, the summer salad with strawberry, mango, and chicken (VND 139,000), ham and cheese panini (VND 119,000), or steak and bleu cheese (VND 149,000) will keep you coming back.

100%
26B Thao Dien
At this Vietnamese-French grocery store, all products, including fruit, milk and cheeses, breads, teas, and spices, are sourced and manufactured in Vietnam and are guaranteed safe, natural and traceable. Everything is labelled with the producer and the place of origin, such as the rural district of Moc Chau, Vung Tau, or Hanoi. You’ll find its selection of Panga fish, the first fish fed with 100 percent vegetal feed, particularly impressive. There are also a variety of ready-to-go meals available at the food bar. Try slices of smoked salmon (VND 89,000/100g) paired with a stuffed pepper or zucchini (VND 95,000/piece). Before you make your way out, add a container of thin cookie crisps (VND 40,000-45,000) sourced from local bakery Belle and Doree, and a jar of pineapple cinnamon jam (VND 95,000) for midnight snacks.

Agnes Cafe
11A-B Thao Dien
This coffee and flower shop, which brews freshly grown coffee beans from Da Lat in the Central Highlands, is quaint and cottage-like from the outside. There’s a casual, comfortable atmosphere when you walk in, with a simple table layout, suede couches, and framed travel photography available for purchase on the walls. It’s a convenient go-to for coffee (VND 40,000-70,000). But it’s also a great stop for some hearty American-style diner food, like Trudy’s melted meatloaf sandwich, accented with Swiss cheese and basil-garlic mayo on toasted bread (VND 130,000). And even though it’s a cafe, guests can get their fix of margaritas, mojitos, Tequila Sunrises, Irish coffee, and more, during the Agnes daily happy hour from 3pm to 7pm, and a buy one get one free special every Friday.

GIGI In Style Living
21 Thao Dien
Contemporary pops of fuchsia, lime green, and purple make GIGI’s recently opened showroom on Thao Dien stand out. GIGI, a Saigon-based furniture brand, specialises in high-end outdoor furniture and garden décor using wicker, rattan, and a synthetic fiber called VIRO. Outdoor ottomans, armchairs, coffee tables, sofa beds, and more are hand-woven at the company’s factory in Cu Chi by artisans who are trained by experts in the Philippines. The snazzy tables and beds from its current collection could easily be used for lounges and family game rooms. Large family-friendly ergonomic bean bags (called Sunbuns) created by Suniture company were especially comfy, available in a variety of colourful stripes (VND 6,000,000-VND 7,000,000).