The tourist-friendly food court near the famous Ben Thanh Market has always caught a mixed reputation with locals. We wanted to show how far along this smorgasbord of international cuisine has really come since its inception. Honestly, it might be one of the best places to grab a quick bite in the city right now. Photos by Vinh Dao.

Gringo Tacos

Gringo TacosDoug Stratton, owner and head chef of Gringo Tacos, first came to Vietnam in 2005, on a visit with a Vietnamese chef from the culinary school he was studying at. Like many before and many since, he fell in love with the country and started planning his return. Ten years later, he bought a one-way ticket and hasn’t looked back.

Initially hired as an executive chef for one of the city’s fine dining restaurants, plans didn’t work out as expected, so one day, out of the blue, his girlfriend suggested he open a taco restaurant. Eighteen days later Gringo Tacos served their first burrito.

Coming originally from southern California, Stratton has strong opinions about what ‘traditional’ Mexican food is, and serves up the genuine flavours of the food he’s enjoyed since childhood. On the menu are a choice of street tacos, burritos, tostadas and quesadillas, served with a protein choice of chicken, beef, pork or fish.

A popular choice among tourists and locals is his Baja fish street taco (VND40,000), made with beer battered Basa and served with a creamy lime dressing made with Mexican crema and topped with cabbage and Pico de Gallo. If you’d prefer chicken, the Pollo Asada is made from citrus marinated grilled chicken breast, topped with cabbage and sliced radish, and served with a spicy salsa roja or ranchero sauce. The dish comes in at an incredible VND45,000 apiece.

Gringo’s best seller is their pork carnitas taco, made from pork shoulder slow cooked for six hours and served up with diced onions, cilantro and a choice of sauces and also comes in at just VND45,000.

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Got Bun

Got BunSat centre left of the food court is Got Bun, serving up bao, Asia’s version of the Mexican taco, and accompanied by an oyster bar selection shipped in daily from Long Son Island. Fresh ingredients and hygiene standards are top priority here, with even the toothpicks washed and sun dried before being used to fasten your bun.

Daniel Phan, owner and head chef of Got Bun, cut his culinary teeth in Nevada before honing his skills in the kitchens of Las Vegas and Macau. Returning to his homeland, Phan launched Got Bun at the food court in September 2016, and his selection of fresh, home-cooked bao have proved a hit among tourists and locals.

Phan’s oyster bar sits proudly at the front of the stall, covered in ice and accompanied by bottles of white or sparkling wine. A raw half shell will set you back VND25,000, grilled is VND35,000 or served in a fried bao with October sauce and Sriracha mayo, VND80,000. A larger selection of sauces are offered for free.

Speciality of the house is Phan’s five spices pork belly bun (VND60,000), which comes cooked in fresh herbs and spices, and served with pickled carrot and daikon. Beef (VND90,000) and chicken (VND60,000) options are just as tasty, prepared Korean BBQ style and marinated with pear and apple juice. Home-made fishcakes, served with fresh cilantro and green chili sauce come in at VND80,000 a pop, and vegetarians can enjoy a deep-fried tofu bun at VND60,000.

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Mr. B’s Philly Cheesesteak & Italian Sausages

Mr.-B’s-Philly-Cheesesteak-&-Italian-SausagesMr B, Bruce Nguyen, hails from Philadelphia so he knows his stuff when it comes to putting together a cheesesteak. Originally a contractor back home in the States, Mr B decided to set up his food stand after meeting his Vietnamese wife and realising nobody was selling his favourite food from back home.

Philly cheesesteak is a sandwich made from thinly sliced pieces of beefsteak and melted cheese, presented in a long hoagie roll.

Taking the idea from popular businesses back in the States, Nguyen took a place in the food court just four months ago and is already doing a roaring trade among the tourists who visit daily.

Mr B gets his hoagie roll baguettes special order from a local bakery, half fresh, half cooked, and uses flat iron steak seasoned with salt and pepper and cooked on a griddle to stuff them. Cheese Whiz is then spread on both sides of the hoagie before the steak goes in with accompanying onion and more cheese. 150 grams will set you back VND129,000.

Also served up fresh are his homemade Italian sausages, seasoned with seven spices including fennel, garlic, parsley and cayenne pepper and stuffed in a bun with more onions. 150 grams of Italian sausage will set you back VND89,000 and for the less hungry there’s 90 grams coming in at VND59,000.

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Mr Kebab

Mr-Kebab-Ben-Thanh-MarketTucked away in the centre of the food court is Mr Kebab, the venue’s only halal outlet. Owned by Richard Liebmann and his partner Bui Diem Nhi, Mr Kebab offers Arabic fast-food, blending traditional Moroccan and Tunisian recipes to offer a menu that is both familiar and unique.

Originally from Marseille in Southern France, Liebmann grew up around North African and Arabic communities, enjoying their local cuisines and approach to cooking from a young age. When a Tunisian friend opened a small kebab shop, Liebmann jumped at the opportunity to help out, keen to learn how to make this popular dish.

On arriving in Vietnam, he was surprised how kebabs were made locally so decided to open his own shop and make them the way he had learned as a young man in Marseille. He initially opted for lamb as a base for his kebabs, but finding it hard to source at a quality he was happy with he now uses halal chicken, bought from a local mosque.

Also on the menu is shish taouk (VND60,000), a traditional dish of marinated chicken, tomato and onion, popular throughout the Middle East, especially in Tunisia. The kofta kebab (VND75,000) combines seasoned beef with mashed potato, onions and tomato, based on a traditional Moroccan recipe he learned many years ago. The beef and chicken kebabs (VND75,000 and VND60,000 respectively) are served with fresh, home-made pita bread.

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Sher-E-Punjab

Sher-E-Punjab--Thanh-MarketPunjabi cuisine is known for its distinctive, rich, buttery flavours and as home to tandoori cooking. Now famous the world over for the distinct style of sauce, less spicy and oily than Southern India, Sher-E-Punjab serves up a welcomed selection of our favourite vegetarian and meat dishes from this gastronomically delightful part of the world.

Bikram Singh, founder and owner of Sher-E-Punjab, has many years of experience in preparing traditional Punjabi dishes. He is accompanied by two very experienced Chefs, Mr. Kulbir Singh and Mr. Hans Ram Han as they prepare hot, fresh North Indian cuisine in the open kitchen. Popular among visiting tourist, eager for a chicken tikka masala or mango lassi, the restaurant is now attracting many locals keen to try out the flavours of India.

Their Butter Chicken (VND100,000) is outstanding. Tomato, onion, garlic and ginger are boiled, ground into a paste and then fried in oil to make the delicious gravy that covers the chicken. Turmeric is then added to create the familiar yellow colour, along with garam masala, coriander, cumin and chili, and left to cook for a further eight hours. Once ready, the BBQ chicken is added and cooked in the traditional Indian oven.

Other familiars on the menu include a selection of nans (from VND30,000) and chicken tikka masala (VND100,000), a dish of chunks of roasted marinated chicken served in a spiced, creamy, orange coloured curry sauce of yogurt, cream, ginger, chili and coconut. Vegetarians are well catered for, with a light, fluffy vegetable biryani (VND80,000) served as a full meal, rather than a side dish.

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