MY 15 FAVORITE CAFES IN SAIGON (HO CHI MINH CITY)
Vietnam is the 2nd largest producer of coffee in the world. Surprisingly, domestic consumption eats up only 8% of the beans produced here. Unlike in North America, the Vietnamese rarely grab coffee to go. When they do caffeinate, they tend take a break from the heat and relax in one of the country’s ubiquitous cafes dotted throughout the city.
There are thousands of great cafes spread out over the city. My favorites are all located in Districts 1 and 3, which offer the best collection of historic buildings from which a great cafe can be built within. You can find me any day of the week in one of these. If you visit, be sure to check out our other post on how to order coffee like a local in Vietnam. It would be impossible to say these are the 15 best cafes in the city. It would take a lifetime to visit them all. Anyway, here are my fifteen favorites:
15. UP CAFE
269 Nguyễn Trọng Tuyển ph: 84 0928 269 269
Up Cafe’s second floor is well-known for it’s ceiling decor, which consists of a piano, table and chairs hung precariously upside down overhead. However, they’ve recently made a huge flaw on the actual second floor by adding those huge, awful couches that create private partitions and ruin the space. Also, the music is overly sappy. You will hear “My Heart Will Go On”. If you don’t, I will buy your next coffee here.
A lot of effort went into this place and it could be so cool with just a few small changes. However, due to the drawbacks, I would file this under “go once and see” rather than as a consistent place to meet or work.
14. THUC COFFEE
156B Pasteur Street, District 1
*open 24 hours a day*
Though this local chain shop doesn’t have the warmest, most relaxing atmosphere, Thức has one great thing going for it: it’s always open. Also, espresso is 20,000 vnd (just under $1). Thức is a great place to finish up work or a conversation once everything else has closed. Also great for a quick, strong takeaway iced coffee. The location on Pasteur Street allows for some good people watching. The music tends to thumpy, loud asian pop, so bring headphones if you’re working.
13. LA TAMIA CAFE
80 Duong Ba Huyen Thanh Quan, District 3
La Tamia is my favorite of the tiny little local cafes spread out all over the city. I first sat down here after a nearby meal when I was walking by and heard Sinead O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares 2 U”. The wall is draped with old cassette tape decks that still function. What’s great is that the music doesn’t go beyond the early 1990s, when cassette tapes became obsolete. So, there is plenty of Michael Bolton, Sade, REM and Jon Secada to go around. The clientele are friendly locals and the owner/operator is a super nice guy. The noise from the road can be loud, so it’s not the most relaxing place. Great fresh juices for 25,000 vnd ($1.20). Vietnamese coffee for 15,000 vnd ($0.75 usd). Espresso and Cappuccino are on the menu for 20,000 vnd ($1), but both times I’ve been here the machine wasn’t functioning.
12. DU MIEN CAFE
48/9A Hồ Biểu Chánh, Phường 11, Quận Phú Nhuận
Du Mien is a huge, terraced cafe with lots of falling water and some pools. It is in need of some refurbishing, but is still impressive and relaxing (on weekdays, at least). The place is hidden and difficult to find, but that’s part of what makes it special. Also, the foreign crowd never seems to come around here and so it feels exotic and local.
11. CA PHE BAN SONATE
52 Dang Dung, Tan Dinh
ph +84 8 6290 6004
Another huge, sprawling local cafe. It is more intimate than Du Mien, but just as local and just as huge. The place has a musical feel and I generally don’t have to resort to using my headphones while working here. The canopy of trees makes for a nice atmosphere in the rain.
10. THE FIG
15 Nguyen Thi Huynh, Phu Nhuan District
ph +84 8 6674 3565
A relaxing cafe with a Thai style, The Fig is hard to find, but worth the effort. The music is exotic and unpredictable- ranging from minstrel songs to sitar to new age. The Fig feels a bit like a garden. The greenery gives it a fresh scent and it’s amazing to sit under an umbrella on a rainy day, listening to the sound of the rain in the elevated pool. Vietnamese drip coffee and espresso both at 35,000 vnd ($1.75). Meals around 70,000 vnd ($3.75).
9. CUC GACH CAFE
79, đường Phan Kế Bính, Quận 1
ph: 84 8 3911 0120
The Cuc Gach Cafe is another Southeast Asian-rural feeling cafe. Wood abounds. The music is soft and exotic. Sugarcane is used for straw. The chairs are comfy and the wifi strong and consistent. Good, quiet place to work or meet up.
70B Le Loi, District 1
ph +84 8 6674 3565
*9:00 am – 9:00 pm*
On the first floor is a smart clothing store and the cafe is upstairs. It’s a bit of a Saigon institution and attracts a mix of hip locals, tourists and expats. L’usine is hip and modern, lofty and sleek, but almost to the point where it feels a bit cold and institutional. The cafe has a back area with some great antique maps and furniture for sale, as well as an impressive chess board.
The iced coffee is pricier than most of the other cafes on this list but really flavorful and strong. You can also grab an espresso drink or a pretty tasty smoothie if you’ve had enough of the iced crack.
7. CAFE GAC HOA
92 Phạm Ngọc Thạch (access from Trung Quyen Street), District 3
ph +84 8 3507 1418
*7:30am – 10pm*
The “flower cafe” (as my friends and I call it) is hidden away down a tiny alley. Its location above a flower shop ensures that it smells clean and floral, unlike many of the smokey cafes in Ho Chi Minh City. The tight, wooden three-story cavernous attic cafe is a bit like being in a rural antique shop – it feels handmade and delicate. The place definitely has a feminine feel to it. The latte is decent (54,000 vnd / $2.75).
One downside I have experienced in the past was the wifi cut out every fifteen minutes or so, disrupting my work and causing me to stare off into the middle distance. This seems to be a better place to hang out and chat with friends, rather than work.
79/2/5 Phan Ke Binh, W.Da Kao, District 1
ph +84 8 6271 0115
7:30 am – 12:00 am (weekdays – weekends open later)
5. I.d. CAFE 2
61B Tu Xuong, District 3
I.d. Cafe in D1 is great, but the one in D3 is even better. The decor is cozy, industrial and urbane. The drinks are still always good and reasonably priced. The lighting and music create a soft, cool atmosphere. The chairs are comfy and the staff friendly and well-dressed. No complaints. Coffee w/ Bailey’s: 55,000vnd / $2.75 (go for that one, duh)
4. YEN CAFE
9 Phạm Đình Toái, District 3
ph +84 9 0714 0022
I’ve been coming to Yen Cafe consistently for years. I used to see my favorite local musician, Le Cat Trong Ly, here in the packed, intimate shows. The place is infamous for being impossible to find. And it is – you won’t find it. But I’ll show you a picture so you can see.
3. LA ROTONDE
77B Ham Nghi St, 2nd Floor, District 1, #0909368201
Very easy to find. It looks beautiful from the street. Then you go up an awesome staircase and you’re in one of Saigon’s best rooms.
La Rotonde channels the style and grace of old Saigon. The cafe boasts a lofty central space highlighted by high ceilings and a soft egg color. Southeast Asian art and photos of vintage Saigon adorn the walls, but the space feels very Parisian. Enormous windows frame a great view of the financial district.
2. LA FENETRE SOLEIL
Nam Kỳ Khởi Nghĩa, Phường Bến Thành, District 1
ph +84 8 3822 5209
This romantic and elegant bar/cafe/restaurant features a Japanese Vietnamese fusion menu and excellent cocktails and juices. You have to walk up a curious flight of stairs to reach the place, but upon entrance, it is super impressive. The high vaulted ceilings feature Tudor-like timber and the walls are exposed bricks. The textures are complimented by sensual lighting and funky furniture and art. 5-8:30pm is half off all alcoholic drinks. Thursday evenings feature live jazz.
Bourbon Old Fashioned (90,000vnd / $4.50)
Vietnamese Coffee (40,000vnd / $2)
Italian Espresso (45,000vnd / $2.25)
Avocado and Dragonfruit Smoothie (60,000vnd / $3)
1. ERA COFFEE
58C Tran Quoc Thao Street, District 3
ph +84 8 3932 0703
This cafe doesn’t even have a sign. How’s that for cool?
I’ve been coming to Era Cafe for four years now. Each time I am in Saigon, this is my second home. It’s like therapy and it’s needed at least two times a week.
Please note that this cafe has a ‘no laptop’ policy. If you’re looking to get some work done, try some of the cafes mentioned above.
Cafe Era is located on a quiet, lovely street near the Japanese Embassy. As I mentioned, there is no sign (or address posted), so come prepared with a map. Look for the candlelight in the window and listen for the sounds of Nina Simone, Leonard Cohen or Nico drifting out from the old wooden door.
The best thing about this place is that it always feels like some cool secret. Please don’t tell anyone I told you, OK?
The coffee on ice is my standard: 32,000vnd / $1.50
Good cocktails @ 54,000nvd / $2.75