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Eating good sushi in Saigon needn’t burn a hole in your pocket. The last couple of years has seen an explosion of good-quality yet reasonably-priced sushi joints all over town. In many cases, the standard and freshness of food is on a par with the city’s more established (and pricey) sushi restaurants. Décor is often (but not always) cheap and cheerful, ambience is informal and fun, and customers are young and convivial: welcome to Saigon’s budget sushi scene.
BUDGET SUSHI IN SAIGON
5 of My Favourite Places for Raw Fish at Rock-bottom Prices
These days, there are dozens of places for budget sushi in Saigon, catering to a generation of young, urban, outward-looking Vietnamese, who want a taste of Japan without having to pay Japanese prices. Not all budget sushi joints are as superb as the ones I’ve outlined here, but the following five make an excellent start to your journey into the budget sushi scene in Saigon. Although I can’t claim to know about sushi, or to have had as much experience of sushi as I have of Vietnamese cuisine, I do know what I like, and I know when it’s good quality and good value:
1. SUSHI NHÍ: Binh Thanh
2. SUSHI KO: District 4
3. SUSHI HƯNG: District 1
4. MIKU SUSHI: District 2
5. BAMBOO SUSHI: Phu Nhuan
5 Great Budget Sushi Restaurants in Saigon
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1: SUSHI NHÍ
Address: 25 Nguyen Cong Tru Street, Binh Thanh District [MAP] | Open: 11am-2pm & 5pm-10pm | Price: 25,000-150,000vnđ ($1-$7)
Opened in 2014, Sushi Nhí is fabulous. Recently relocated (well, just a couple of doors up from its original location) and completed redecorated, Sushi Nhí makes a mockery of expensive, formal sushi restaurants. Right in the middle of a classic local neighbourhood food street, the quality, variety and presentation is excellent. Even since its makeover (now boasting indoor seating on comfortable, modern furniture on three levels), the ambience is pleasantly low-key. The staff and chefs are young, gracious and polite – there’s the sense that they’re proud of the work they do. Prices are very reasonable and ingredients are crisp, fresh, and melt-in-your-mouth delicious. Over the last couple years – since business has been booming – they’ve added many comforts and extras, such as air-con, a sushi bar, ink-and-water paintings on the walls, Tiger Beer on tap, and excellent carafes of Japanese-style plumb wine (unfortunately, they’ve also added sugary pop music). Hân, a chirpy, attractive, and highly organised woman in her late twenties, runs the show on the ground. Sushi Nhí is popular with Saigon’s youth, middle-class families, and, increasingly, foreign expats. It’s ridiculously good.
2: SUSHI KO
Address: 122/37/15 Vinh Khanh Street, District 4 [MAP] | Open: 4.30pm-11pm | Price: 25,000-150,000vnđ ($1-$7)
On the lively, trendy, street food mecca that is Vinh Khanh Street in District 4, Sushi Ko is in a prime position. Surrounded on all sides by well-established Vietnamese seafood restaurants, Sushi Ko’s Japanese menu has been pulling in crowds of young Vietnamese and expats for a couple of years now. It has all the buzz and atmosphere you’d expect from a Vinh Khanh establishment: the echo of blaring street-karaoke; clouds of cooking smoke drifting from roadside barbecues; and the raucous cacophony of passing traffic and excited diners. The menu is extensive but prices are higher here than other places in this list. Sushi Ko has recently expanded, and now includes two locations (Sushi Ko 1 & 2) on Vinh Khanh Street, so there’s plenty of outside and inside seating available. Sushi Ko is bigger and badder than most budget sushi joints in Saigon: the fish is richer, the soy sauce is saltier, and the wasabi is wickedly hot. However, you should try to get here early, because by 8pm the quality tends to drop slightly: the seaweed loses its crispness and becomes rubbery, and the fish loses its shine.
3: SUSHI HƯNG
Address: 15B/14 Le Thanh Ton Street, District 1 [MAP] | Open: 5.30pm-11pm | Price: 500,000-1,000,000vnđ ($25-$50)
Recently relocated to the first floor above the Blues Bar, Sushi Hưng is a cubicle of calm amid the narrow alleyways of Saigon’s ‘Japan Town’. Inside, it’s clinical, clean and minimally furnished. Behind the wooden counter, Chef Hưng slices, carves, prepares and presents all the dishes with great care and attention. A gentle but determined young man in his late twenties, Hưng learned his technique from working in numerous Japanese restaurants (he also speaks Japanese). Sadly, Sushi Hưng is no longer in the budget sushi price-range. After relocating, the prices have soared and things have changed. Previously, customers could drop in and choose from an à la carte menu, including delicious plates of tuna and salmon sashimi for a few dollars. Now, however, customers must call to make a reservation at least two days in advance (096 276 0489: English, Japanese and Vietnamese is spoken), and choose a price-range from 500,000-1,000,000vnd per person (subject to VAT and service charge), which includes a set menu multi-course meal of sushi, sashimi, tempura, soup and many other wonderful dishes. The quality is excellent, and prices are still quite low for this kind of service and standard. There’s an air of seriousness and intensity at Sushi Hưng that you won’t find at the other sushi restaurants on this list: here, the craft of sushi is earnestly pursued. Most of the customers are Japanese expats, which is quite an achievement for a young Vietnamese sushi chef. But I can’t pretend that I don’t miss the days when prices were lower, and I can’t pretend that I enjoy the sushi here any more than I do at, for example, Sushi Nhí, where prices are at least half of what they are here.
4: MIKU SUSHI
Address: 86 Số 20 Street, Tran Nao Area (riverfront), District 2 [MAP] | Open: 4pm-11pm | Price: 25,000-100,000vnđ ($1-$5)
[*Update: At my last visit, in December 2017, it seemed as though Miku may be permanently closed.]
Miku Sushi is rather different from the others in this list. The menu is smaller, the location is quieter, and décor is a bit trendier. Located under an umbrella tree, close to the banks of the Saigon River, Miku is a relaxed, al fresco spot for a light sushi meal. The black wooden furniture is lit by flickering candles, and dishes are served on black ceramic plates. There’s a handful of maki, sushi and sashimi dishes available. Quality is good and portions are surprisingly large. It doesn’t feel very ‘Japanese’ but that’s not necessarily a bad thing: it can be pretty romantic tucking into a plate of sashimi in this leafy courtyard, and then following it with a stroll along the nearby river.
5: BAMBOO SUSHI
Address: 104 Cu Lao Street, Phu Nhuan District [MAP] | Open: 10am-10pm | Price: 35,000-150,000vnđ ($1-$7)
Housed in a modern, four-storey villa in an affluent part of Phu Nhuan District, Bamboo Sushi offers pleasant décor, an extensive menu, and very good quality sushi at reasonable prices. The chef, Mr Đức, has over 25 years of experience under his belt, including time working in restaurants in Japan. Sitting on the wooden tables under a shower of white lanterns, the first thing I noticed at Bamboo Sushi was the wasabi: it’s different, better, fresher, more lethal here than any other place in this list. The food is nicely presented and the freshness and flavour are excellent. There are a lot of dishes to choose from, so take your time and explore the menu. I have a slight issue with pop music being played in the background, but that’s a minor annoyance when you’re feasting on beautiful plates of raw fish and delicately crafted parcels of rice and fish eggs.
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