August 17, 2007
138 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia Street
District 1, Ho Chi Minh City
Our colleague Mimi invited us to lunch last Friday and suggested we dine at Quán Ăn Ngon. According to numerous guidebooks and tourist websites, a trip to Saigon isn’t complete without eating here at least once. The restaurant serves spiffed-up of versions of traditional street food in a tropical space resembling a Hollister store. Quán Ăn Ngon’s chief diners are Pepto-Bismol popping tourists and Vietnamese residents with cash to burn. The restaurant opened in 2001 and is always packed during peak dining hours.
Word on the street is that the restaurant’s owner, a Viet Kieu (overseas Vietnamese), scoured the streets of Saigon and recruited the best cooks in town to prepare their dishes at Quán Ăn Ngon. Without a central kitchen, these “chefs” cook up their specialties along the perimeter of the eatery for the viewing pleasure of diners (see video below).
Similar to Vietnamese-American Restaurants, Quán Ăn Ngon’s menu is extensive. I felt like Barry Schwartz shopping for jeans at the Gap while trying to narrow down what to eat. I eventually settled on the bo bia (10,000 VND) and banh tam bi (20,000), while The Astronomer ordered com thit nuong (25,000 VND) and banh tom ho tay (20,000 VND). Mimi suggested we share a plate rau muong xao toi (22,000 VND) and I agreed.
The best thing I had at the restaurant was the rau muong xao toi, which is water spinach sautéed in garlic. Even though I had stinky breath for the rest of the day, it was totally worth it! The Astronomer agreed that the rau muong was awesome. The rest of my selections were ho hum. If cleaning up street food means taking away most of the flavor, then I’ll pass. The Astronomer liked his dishes, but didn’t think they were any tastier than what he’s eaten on the streets or in grimy establishments for half the price.
Eating Vietnamese food in a Hollister store is pretty cool, but we’ll stick to the streets next time.