Feb 132012


Đông Hoa Xuân
49 No Trang Long
Binh Thanh District


First, my legal  “potential conflict-of-interest” disclaimer 🙂  Đông Hoa Xuân is Hai’s restaurant.  Therefore, you might think I would be pre-disposed to give him a great review. And you might be right.

BUT, the truth is in the eating! I speak from my tastebuds, when I say that anyone who has time for only one meal in Saigon would be very well-advised to have that meal at Hai’s place.

[Eating Tip:  Everything  is cooked fresh daily … so when they run out, they run out! TRY TO ARRIVE BETWEEN 11:15 am -Noon FOR THE BEST FOOD SELECTION!]

The past few week’s have been busy ones and I haven’t had time to take the bus from my apartment over to the Binh Thanh District.  Today, the last day before Hai closes his doors to celebrate the Tet holiday week, I thought I’d venture over to see how his business was doing.

A local favorite for years

All the tables were full at lunchtime.  Always a good indication of how the neighbors feel about the food. I sat beside a young Vietnamese couple and exchanged smiles and  “Chuc Mung Nam Moi”s (Happy New Year – Tet).

I decided to try 3 dishes today – cá kho tộ, bao tử, and canh khổ qua.  If you have a chance to enjoy only one meal in Saigon, breakfast or lunch, I’d consider ordering these exact 3 dishes at Dong Hoa Xuan.  It turned out to be a delicious and memorable sampler of classic Saigon food!


Amazing Cá Kho Tộ at Hai’s place – Fish Steak in a Spicy Caramelized Sauce

First, cá kho tộ. Fish simmered in a rich spicy sauce.  The fish steak was perfectly done.  Presented in individually simmering small black ceramic pots, the fish steak was moist and meaty – with only a few bones. (Remember, in Vietnam, if it doesn’t have bones,it’s not fish!) The sauce was smooth, salty, a bit spicy and mostly, amazingly delicious.  Small bits of green onions and bits of pork bacon floated in the caramelized sauce. I began by spooning sections of the fish and the sauce over the rice that was served with the cá kho tộ. Major yummy!  I couldn’t quite stop eating and move on to the next dish before hitting bottom.

But the surprise of the meal was the bao tử pork stomach!

Pork Belly

Pork Stomach in Hai’s Special Sauce

To tell the truth, I’ve tried pork belly before. After years of avoiding this questionable-sounding food item, some months ago Hai convinced me to try his version of his grandmother’s specialty.  One morning, I broke down and gave it a try.  I remember thinking, “Oh, okay, I see – not bad … a bit squid-like in its texture, but more flavorful — so what else do you have?”  Obviously, okay, but it was not my first choice.  BUT, this morning, after Hai told me that his bao tử had now become the #1 demand of his customers, I thought maybe I had missed something before.  Clearly, I had.  Hai had tweaked his sauce recipe into something amazing and mouthwatering! The bellies were cooked to perfection – tender, yet firm – and the sauce, now a “secret” blend of flavors from the pork, tomatoes and yet-to-be unveiled herbs and spices, was the highlight of the entire meal!  This is a must-try Vietnamese specialty.

So maybe that would have been enough for lunch ~ but I needed my veges for the day. 🙂  And again, my choice for this third dish, canh khổ qua, was superb.  It helped put this meal and this restaurant over-the-top!

Khổ qua is a uniquely Asian vegetable, uniquely shaped and flavored. First and foremost, it’s bitter.  Deliciously so. Here it was presented in a soup.  The firm and tender melon is filled with a ground pork and mushroom stuffing and sits in a broth that subtilely bursts (yes- that’s possible) with the combined flavors of the pork, the green onion, and the bitter melon. I thought the broth itself could have been an excellent soup for lunch.  But, the stuffed khổ qua is incredibly “easy and mild” to eat. Somehow it’s  very comforting to the belly as it completes the meal.

Canh Khổ Qua

I left Đông Hoa Xuân very impressed and very happy. As I walked back to the bus stop I thought – this is the meal, the 3 dishes to eat – cá kho tộbao tử, and canh khổ qua – if you have a chance to enjoy only one meal in Saigon. Again,  a delicious and memorable sampler of classic Saigon food.

POSTSCRIPT:  I had a late morning meal at Đông Hoa Xuân today and enjoyed yet another amazing food trio!

Another delicious food trio at Hai’s place

POSTSCRIPT #2:  If you’re not already too full after enjoying a great meal here, immediately next door you can try some delicious chè chuối for dessert.  Slightly fermented bananas (or a host of other ingredient choices) topped with a delicious coconut milk creamed sauce. Absolutely delicious – and filling!

che chuoi

Chè chuối – bananas and rice cakes (about to be smothered in coconut cream sauce) for dessert?


Trip Advisor

OPEN 7 a.m.until 2 p.m.


IMPORTANT NOTE:  Everything  is cooked fresh daily … so when they run out, they run out! TRY TO ARRIVE BETWEEN 11:15 am -noon FOR THE BEST FOOD SELECTION!!

Đông Hoa Xuân
49 No Trang Long
Binh Thanh District
08 35101771

View Dong Hoa Xuan ~ Hai’s Place in a larger map

 February 13, 2012

  28 Responses to “If you have just one meal in Saigon – EAT HERE !”

  1. […] ran out of time before I was able to eat at Đông Hoa Xuân, but I really wanted to go, so if you have the time, you could make the trip. I’m hoping to eat […]

  2. […] One of the best com tam’s I’ve been to is Hai’s place, who is the co-author of Eating Saigon. […]

  3. Hi Joe,
    Since I arrived in Saigon 3 days ago I have always eaten to your recommended places.
    Everytime it was perfect ! 🙂
    Especially yesterday when I went to Dong Hoa Xuan.
    I just realise now that it’s Hai’s restaurant and that was him who served me 🙂 Such a friendly guy !
    A BIG thanks for all your work,
    Cheers !

  4. Hi Joe,

    We visited the place yesterday for brunch…in fact, we walked for more than an hour from our hotel at District 1 to this lovely eating place.
    We had cá kho tộ and YES, it’s really lovely!!
    It’s really fun walking the streets and discover all the lovely eating places. Glad that we discovered your blog and will definitely visit Saigon again.

    We discovered a lovely noodle place called Quan Mi Cat @ District 1, 62, Truang Dinh (didn’t get the entire address) , check it out if you have the time.

  5. Joe, you have made our saigon trip truly awesome! We went to almost all the food places you recommended and they never disappointed even once! Marvelous fooooood!!! Thank you for this blog! Keep up the awesome work.

  6. The pics look amazing. I will bring my best friend here to eat

  7. Thank you for using Eating Saigon! as a resource for your upcoming travel. My best estimate of cab fare from Hotel Sonouva to Dong Hoa Xuan would be about 100,000 vnd ($5 USD) each way & likely would take about 15 minutes. I’m not sure of the nature of the shopping you want to do? “Upscale”? 5-Star shops? (These would be in District 1 for sure).

    A short cab ride from the Dong Hoa Xuan restaurant (about 1/3 mile) is Cho Ba Chieu, one of the more interesting and larger local Vietnamese markets – with local foods, fruits & veges, clothing & crafts. (Far more authentic and less expensive than the “tourist trap” Cho Ben Thanh in District 1.)
    Happy travels, Joe

  8. I had lunch here a couple of weeks ago with a friend while visiting Saigon and LOVED IT! Thank you so much for the suggestion.

  9. Hi, We ate here this morning, and loved the food!
    I loved the pork stomach and caramelised fish.
    One of the best places we have eaten at in Saigon and we would definitely eat here again!

    • Thanks so much for your comments – really glad to hear you loved the food at Hai’s place (Dong Hoa Xuan). The Ca Kho To (caramalized fish steak) is my favorite there too!

  10. Just ate there yesterday. The food really was outstanding. I don’t know if it’s the best in Saigon, but the carmel fish was the best my wife has ever had, and she grew up here. Certainly much better than anything I’ve had in the US. The service was also excellent. We have recommended this place to family who live near Cho Ba Chieu, as they had never eaten there.

    • Wow! Cam on nhieu(thank you so much). So glad you enjoyed our food. Ca kho to (caramelized fish steak) is also one of my favorites. 🙂 Now for a shameless request – if you have time for a thumbs up on Tripadvisor.com , Dong Hoa Xuan restaurant (Hai’s place) would really appreciate it. Thanks, Joe.

      • Since you asked so nicely, I just posted a five star review. 🙂

        I’ve been back in the US for two weeks now, and although I’m still in my SE Asian-food fasting, I know by July/August when we head back that Hai’s place will be one of the first places we go to eat once we arrive.

  11. Hi, thanks for such great recommendations!
    I’m heading to HCMC in October, and I feel adventurous enough to take bus #36 all the way there as you suggested. Can I ask 2 stupid questions please?
    1. How do I get back by bus? Just hop on #36 from the opposite side of the road?
    2. How does one pay for the bus ride? To the driver upon entering?

    As I said, stupid questions.. but I haven’t taken a bus before in Vietnam. 🙂

    • After you ride a few buses here in Saigon, you’ll realize your questions were not stupid – but the answers WILL sound stupid.

      Question #2: About 70% of the time, the driver will open the back door of the bus for you to board. About 30%, the front door. If the back door opens, then you grab a seat (hopefully, it’s not rush-hour) and someone will come around to take your fare. They’ll ask you where are you going (the fare now varies by distance.) Tell them Đường Nơ Trang Long (the name of the street) & the fare will be 4,000 VND. If the front door opens, sometimes the driver will take the fare (offer it). Other times, the driver will signal for you to take a seat and the fare collector will come around. Confusing enough? At least recently the bus divers have stopped smoking (while sitting under the NO SMOKING sign :-).

      Question #2: As far as returning, YES, cross the street and take the #36 back. Bus #18 will also wind its way through parts of Saigon’s tourist center. You will walk past the RETURN bus stop about half way between the arrival bus stop (then cross the street) and Hai’s restaurant. REMEMBER – his hours are 7am- 2pm. ENJOY !!

  12. Will definitely be checking this place out and ordering the three dishes you recommend when we get to Vietnam!

  13. I ate here twice and it was great both times. Every dish was over the top. I really loved the pork and mango slices with sauce. The bao tu was also pretty tasty. Just go and point to whatever looks good and it will be.

    • Thank you Willie! Hai is so happy to hear you love his food. I’m in his restaurant right now enjoying his Ca Kho To. So Delicious! He says your “mango” was actually bamboo :-). Hope to see u again.

  14. Hi Joe,
    The food at Hai’s restaurant looks really fantastic… and would love to try it this weekend.
    We are not locals and would prob need some directions to get there… issit far from Dist 1?
    Hope to get there to try the dishes!

    • hello Charis ~ I hope you’ll enjoy your meal – please say hello to “Mr. Hai”! Click on the various icons on the Google map in this post and you’ll get more specific travel instructions. By far, the easiest way to Hai’s from District 1, though, will be by “xe om” (motorbike taxi) or auto taxi – maybe a 15 minute ride. Just jot down this address and they’ll know the street:
      Dong Hoa Xuan
      49 No Trang Long
      Binh Thanh District
      08 35101771

      And of course, bring your hotel car with you for your return.

      Remember, his lunch hours – about 11:00 – 2:00 (best food selection earlier) ENJOY!, Joe

  15. Planned trip to HCMC arriving on 28th May 2012 and will appreciate if able to taste the best food in Saigon before I leave. I have 10 persons and will appreciate some information of help. Hope that you can be of help when we are there. Please drop me an email if help can be rendered. Thanks.

    • Hello K.C., Certainly, I can recommend lots of wonderful HCMC food! Let me know what on my site most interests your group and I can expand from there. Example – authentic street foods on small stools? Sit down, a/c places with more comfort, etc.

  16. Joe,

    I enjoy reading your excellent blog about authentic Vietnamese food and restaurants in Saigon with great interest. I left Saigon in 1980 and came back to visit in 2005, but I didn’t have the opportunity to explore it as you are doing. I plan to visit many of the restaurants recommended by you and Hai next time. Thanks for the leg work. I hope you continue to enjoy your retirement (9 more years for me) in Saigon and find great new places to eat. By the way, I think one dish you ate at Hai’s restaurant is “bao tử” (stomach) not boa tử.

    A Vietnamese living South Jersey (near Atlantic City)

    • Thanks for you supportive words Michael (and for your careful editing)! I’m a New Jersey native and still hoping to find good Vietnamese food at the Jersey Shore when I return to visit family there in the future. Looking forward to meeting at Hai’s place sometime in the future.

  17. Hai oai, I like the fish clay pot you cooked so good.

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