Ever since Anthony Bourdain visited HCMC in 2009, Nguyen Thi Thanh, better known as The Lunch Lady (23 Hoang Sa, D1, from 11am daily, VND40,000), has become a local celebrity. Her cart, at the edge of a clearing not far from the Saigon Zoo, serves up a different soup every day, from spicy bun bo Hue (soup with beef and rice noodles) to pho or Cambodian-style hu tieu (rice noodle soup). Around noon the sidewalk becomes a mess of diners hoping to get a bowl. The Lunch Lady has no set closing time and sells her soup until it’s sold out. Get there no later than mid-afternoon or you may find that she’s done for the day.
A deft waiter will rush over with a pile of fresh greens, fish sauce, and pickled vegetables, and from there it’s up to you.Just north of the massive Tan Dinh Church is Tan Dinh Market (Hai Ba Trung and Nguyen Huu Cau, D1, tel. 08/3829-9280, 6am-6pm daily, VND20,000-75,000), which houses several food stalls along Nguyen Huu Cau. A variety of local dishes are available, including vegetarian fare, as well as juices and smoothies. One of its best offerings is banh canh cua (crab soup with thick, rope-like rice noodles).
The namesake specialty at Banh Xeo 46A (46A Dinh Cong Trang, D1, tel. 08/3824-1110, 10:30am-9pm daily, VND60,000-100,000) is the star here. Cooks crouch over piping hot pans, dishing up large banh xeo (southern-style Vietnamese pancakes). A deft waiter will rush over with a pile of fresh greens, fish sauce, and pickled vegetables, and from there it’s up to you. Roll your pancakes up in the accompanying lettuce leaves, throw in a few herbs for flavor, dip in fish sauce, and enjoy. The pancakes come in regular and large sizes and can be easily split between two people. The restaurant offers a handful of other items, like fresh and fried spring rolls and barbecued meat.
Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Vietnam.