1. Biker Shield
Previously a French colonial shophouse, this bistro and retail space selling motorcycle accessories has become a local institution. The owner, Nguyen Phi Linh, has one of the best Cold War-era motorcycle collections in Vietnam, with some of them on display here. By day, Biker Shield offers a relaxing respite from the heat and a quiet place to tuck into Vietnamese set lunches, including black tiger shrimp stir-fry, fish curry and stewed pork ribs with apple. By night, things liven up with bands and local Te Te craft beer – and the odd motorcycle rally attracting a young, hip crowd dressed top-to-toe in leather. Biker Shield is located in an up-and-coming area, inside a narrow courtyard that’s easily accessible from the city centre.
Spanning two floors in a beautifully appointed building, with a balcony that overlooks the bustling street below, Mekong Kitchen offers delicious lunch and dinner menus served up by friendly staff. It’s touted as the first restaurant in Ho Chi Minh City to specialise in dishes from the southwest region of Vietnam (around the Mekong Delta). Diners are treated to everything from fish wrapped in lotus and tamarind leaves to freerange claypot chicken and fried river shrimp cakes. The food here offers a refreshing contrast to the city’s ubiquitous com tam (broken rice) and pho dishes.
3. Salon Saigon
This restored heritage space acts as a private museum and library dedicated to contemporary Vietnamese culture by way of art exhibitions, performances, conferences and educational programmes. Once belonging to the American ambassador to South Vietnam between 1963 and 1967, it is now owned by a local who wishes to preserve Ho Chi Minh City’s cultural and architectural heritage. Salon Saigon’s permanent art collection contains works by contemporary Vietnamese artists. Their art, which reflects their heritage in original and personal ways, aims to redefine Vietnamese culture both locally and beyond.
4. Rabbit Hole
Founded by young advertising executive Leon Le Chi Nguyen – who has turned his dream of owning an avant-garde cocktail bar into reality – Rabbit Hole is a classy underground establishment just minutes from the Reunification Palace. Perfect for pre- or post-dinner libations, it offers live jazz on selected nights, with cocktails carefully curated to fit its Alice in Wonderland concept. The floral Rabbit gin fizz, a twist on the famous Ramos gin fizz, is made using butterfly pea flower, chamomile-infused gin, lemon, lime, cream, egg white and Lebanese orange blossom water. The drinking den’s experienced bartenders have worked in some of Asia’s and Europe’s best-known cocktail lounges, including Mr Fogg’s Residence in London.
This locally owned pub is a rare find in a scene dominated by brewers from abroad, and is dedicated to owner Trang Nhat Tuan’s love of locally brewed craft beers, such as 7 Bridges’ golden ale, which has gained acclaim for its floral, citrusy bouquet and amber hue. There’s also an extensive bar menu with Western favourites such as burgers, wings, sausages and pasta, alongside local selections like grilled shrimp with chilli salt, pan-fried duck breast and grilled pork with honey. This spot also has one of the best happy hour deals in the city.
This article was originally published in the October 2018 issue of SilverKris magazine