Spice Bistro – simple yet delicious traditional Vietnamese food in HCM City

Update: June, 03/2018 - 09:00
Aromatic: Banana blossom salad with fried crispy eel, next to tasty herbal drinks made with radish and red apple. VNS Photo The Nomad Quynh
Viet Nam News

If you are in the mood for some good Southern Vietnamese home-style dishes in a humble and relaxing open air setting, Spice Bistro is a great option. The Nomad Quynh reports.

On the small and quiet yet very central Thi Sách Street near the Sài Gòn River in District 1 lies an unassuming Vietnamese restaurant called Spice Bistro. The exterior design may not catch your eye, so you might be surprised to learn that this is quite a popular place for both locals and expats living in HCM City. The reason is simple: Their food is good.

It took me quite a while to finally give this place a try even though I heard many people recommend it. Perhaps I thought it was just another Vietnamese restaurant among so many in town. But when I finally visited, I wished I had done so sooner.

The bistro is designed in a humble Vietnamese countryside style, with a bamboo roof and rough-hewn wooden furniture. Greeting customers at the entrance is a stall serving various versions of Sài Gòn street food.

Upon arriving, my companion and I immediately liked the relaxing open air setting. We were ushered to our table by a lovely waitress wearing the traditional clothes of village girls. The restaurant appears to have a good mix of both local and foreign customers, which I consider a good sign.

The menu is full of options, ranging from various starters to main dishes, hot pot, platters and set meals, with some interesting options that set Spice Bistro apart from others.

My friend and I decided to order different small dishes to share. Our first starter was fried chicken wrapped in pandan leaves (VNĐ100,000++). The meat was very soft, juicy and meant to be eaten with the accompanying sweet and spicy sauce in order to bring out the full taste. The sauce was a bit too hot for me, but my partner enjoyed it. As a bonus, the dish was also nicely presented.

Our next starter was Thai-style fried fish cakes with salted egg (VNĐ90,000++). This was quite well done, flavourful on its own but even better with the accompanying sweet, sour and spicy sauce. It is a good dish for sharing.

Secret garden: The more spacious new venue in District 2. VNS Photo The Nomad Quynh
Plenty of protein: Fried fish cakes with salted egg, another nice starter next to the star of the show, grilled pork skewers with sticky rice. VNS Photo The Nomad Quynh
Good starter: Fried chicken wrapped in pandan leaves. VNS Photo The Nomad Quynh

The star of the show, however, was our next dish – the main course.

For less than VNĐ100,000 you can choose a meat or fish dish with a rice of your choice: cơm nắm (rice balls), cơm nếp (sticky rice) or cơm nướng (slightly grilled rice).

We opted for sticky rice eaten with grilled pork skewers (VNĐ80,000++). The meat was flavourful and perfectly grilled, and suited the sticky rice nicely. Again, as with other dishes, the accompanying herbs and sauce are the secrets to an even better taste. The skewers came in a decent size so the price was quite reasonable. This is definitely a must-try which I myself always order every time I come here.

We also got a salad with banana blossom and fried crispy eel (VNĐ100,000), served with roasted rice crepe, called bánh đa. It was also decent, but in my opinion for this price the portion could be bigger.

Other signature dishes at Spice Bistro include hủ tiếu (a type of rice noodle served with beef or pork, very popular in the south of Viet Nam), bún trộn (noodle mixed with meat, peanuts, various kinds of herbs and eaten with hot soup on the side), as well as set meals served in the traditional Vietnamese style with a bowl of rice plus meat, vegetables and soup on the side.

Regarding drinks, their menu also offers quite a few interesting healthy herbal choices. I opted for a radish and red apple juice (VNĐ40,000) which was really delicious. Another noteworthy option is cà phê vợt – Vietnamese coffee prepared the old style, in which coffee powder is mixed in boiling water using a cloth strainer before pouring it into cups. Sitting here in this relaxing space, sipping a cup of this special coffee gives you the nostalgic feeling of being transported back decades to the old Sài Gòn-Gia Định.

Service was very fast and the staff were friendly which is another bonus point. The venue is casual and relaxing, but it does have a drawback, which is the fact that it can get a bit noisy if big groups are present. Moreover, it is an open space with fans only and no air conditioning, so while sitting here during the cool evenings is very nice, keep in mind that it might not be so ideal during hot summer days.

Recently Spice Bistro opened one more branch in the expat area of Thảo Điền, District 2. While this location cannot compare with the first one in terms of proximity to the city centre, it makes up for that as it is more spacious with an overall nicer design and abundant greenery.

If you are a vegan, also note that both branches of Spice Bistro are located next to “... hum” - their sister veg restaurant, one of the nicest and most popular veg restaurants in the city. At the District 2 branch, both restaurants are connected in the same big venue, and should you choose to sit at one place you can still order food from the other.

Overall, Spice Bistro is a good choice for casual business meals or friendly gatherings, if you like traditional southern Vietnamese food done right in a nice relaxing outdoor setting. It has earned a spot among my Top 5 favourite Vietnamese restaurants in HCM City, and I will certainly be back again in the future. VNS

Spice Bistro

Address: 2 Thi Sách, District 1 and 32 D11 Road (behind Masteri Complex), District 2, HCM City

Tel: 028 3914 7278 and 028 3519 0106

Opening hours: Everyday from 7am – 10pm

Comment: Delicious traditional Vietnamese food in a nice relaxing outdoor setting.