Thien Nam Restaurant
53 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia, D1 // 08 3822 3634 // 10am – 10.30pm
Only a block away from The Elbow Room is Nha Hang Thien Nam. This family-run establishment has been going strong for three generations and remains largely unchanged since opening in 1961.
Entering the restaurant is like taking a trip into the past. The decor is European-Bavarian with white-cloth tables and stained-glass windows. The walls are bare except for the chalkboard menu which offers a mix of Western cuisine such as beefsteak, escargot and pastas, and Vietnamese / Chinese favourites. Clad in bow ties, white shirts and black slacks, some of the waiters are as old as the restaurant itself.
We ordered the crispy-skin chicken and deep-fried mantou (Chinese steamed buns). Both were divine. Then came baked clams with Swiss cheese.For the finale I decided on the pan-fried pork chop with pomme frites. It was so tasty and tender. Even I have a hard time getting pork chops that tender.
Chuyen Ky Restaurant
65-67 Ton That Dam, D1 // 08 3829 0150 // 9.30am – 9.30pm
Since 1948, Tiem Com Tho Cho Cu Chuyen Ky has passed through three generations, from grandmother to mother and now daughter. The current owner, My, proudly told me that they are the oldest in the city (in truth, they are second).
The name literally means ‘potted rice place in the old market’, but to the locals it is simply known as Chuyen Ky. The signature rice with steamed ginger chicken, cooked in a little clay pot, is the popular choice. The ginger was powerful and made the dish outstanding. They’re also known for their double-boiled black chicken soup (ga ac tiem). Flavoured with traditional Chinese herbs such as ginseng root, dried red dates and wolf berries, it’s invigorating and nutritious; a great hangover cure if you can get over the blackness of the chicken.
Tan Sanh Hoat Restaurant
322 Nguyen Thi Minh Khai, D3 // 08 3834 0858 // 4am – 12pm
Tan Sanh Hoat is a modest Cantonese establishment run by Mr Phuc and his wife. Mr Phuc’s father opened the restaurant in 1934 during the French colonialist era. This makes it the oldest continuously run eatery in town. For that reason alone, it demands a visit.
The inside is crowded but clean. Don’t expect tablecloths and fine china, but instead homemade dim sum served on mini-plates upon arrival. Menu items such as steamed buns, ha cao (steamed shrimp dumplings), xiu mai (pork dumplings) and chicken feet are not bad, but they are better-known for their old-style noodle soups. These include hu tieu (white flat noodles), mi (egg noodles), mi hoanh thanh (noodles with wontons), mi sui cao (noodles with prawn dumplings) and bun gao (stir-fried vermicelli). Whichever you choose, the broth is outstanding – probably the best I have had in Vietnam. It’s a popular place so visit during off-peak hours.