It was the last leg of our Indochina trip and with money running low, we wanted to stay in an area that wasn’t expensive. Which is why any decent place around Bui Vien Street made sense. It is, after all, the backpacker quarter district in Saigon, Vietnam.
We also wanted it to be in District 1, which is what most reviews recommended. We chose a hotel next to Bui Vien Street. It’s where all the action is, we were assured by some well travelled friends. On hindsight, we should have asked what kind of action it is that they had in mind.
Sure enough, the street lived up to its reputation. It is, after all, Saigon’s backpack quarter. Expect everything to be cheap, including hotels and hostels, food and beer.
If there’s one word that describes this street, it’s ‘Madness’. It’s loud. It’s bright. It’s seedy. It can get aggressive. And it goes on till the wee hours of the morning. It’s got to be one of the craziest streets I’ve ventured into.
However, one single night is all I could handle. After that, I craved for a bit of peace and quiet, far from the mad crowd. Thankfully, there’s one such place. And it’s just about 50 meters from this madness. It’s called NAM Vietnamese Kitchen, BBQ & Beer.
You will need to look up to spot the restaurant. However, let that not deter you. On the ground floor is a fresh fruit juice bar called Aloha Boys. Walk in, and up the stairs, you will feel like you have stepped into a different, far more pleasing world.
It’s an open-air restaurant that prides itself on serving authentic southern Vietnamese home cooking along with table-top BBQ and Hot Pot. They also have a selection of beers including craft, draught and pint bottles.
However, with an eye on my wallet, it was mostly draught beer that I opted for. And when they ran out of draught beer, then pints it was. Their Happy Hour rates more than made up for the fluctuating price of beer elsewhere, while their food is deliciously simple and clean fare. While my friends tried out some of the other dishes on the menu, I stuck to my bowl of pho. Pronounced as fe (like in fern), it is a hearty, flavorful soup with broth, noodles, herbs and chunks of meat. It’s comfort food at its best that I can have for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
However, it’s not the food or the beers that got my attention. Because it is an open-air restaurant on the first floor, it allows you as much privacy as you want. If you want to watch the action from afar, then simply shift to the table along the open side of the restaurant, and you get a bird’s eye view of what’s happening on the street down below.
It became our favourite go-to place to hang out, either as the last stop after a day of sightseeing, or simply to chill and have a peaceful meal.
Their staff are also super friendly, obliging us with all our useless requests. Be it plug points to charge our phones and laptops, the fans to face us in that sweltering December heat, or simply making sure that we were always comfortable. They were very generous with the nuts and other side snacks, ensuring it was replenished without being asked. And each time, they did it with a smile. By the end of it, we had become such regulars that they knew where we were going to sit, and what we were going to order. And just like that, they had made our visits to the restaurant a pleasurable one, every time.
Now, if only all places I walked into for a drink or to eat were like that. Wouldn’t it be something!