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1. Vạn Kiếp Street (border of Phú Nhuận & Bình Thạnh districts)
Vạn Kiếp Street straddles the border of two of Saigon’s most vibrant districts, Phu Nhuan and Binh Thanh. Neon signs prick the night, illuminating the slanting rain as they announce the specialities of each food and drink outlet: phở, bánh canh cua, bánh mì, bánh xèo, bún mắm, bún bò Huế, bún chả, nem nướng, chè - there must be at least fifty different dishes available on this street, and over a hundred eateries to choose from.
Quán 104 (230 Van Kiep) is a small, trendy place specializing in grilled octopus (bạch tuộc nướng), which is very popular with Saigon youth at the moment. The spicy, marinated octopus is grilled over a coal barbecue on the sidewalk; the scented smoke wafts into the street, enticing all who pass to stop and eat, like a vaporous Siren. Van Kiep has more than its fair share of bánh canh cua outlets – a stodgy, slippery, fishy, noodley southern classic: try it at 63 Van Kiep. Near the intersection with Phan Xich Long Street there are a couple of good bún mắm stalls.
2. Sư Vạn Hạnh Street: District 10
Sư Vạn Hạnh is a long, lively street in general, but the section between Ngô Gia Tự and Nguyễn Chí Thanh streets is partiuclarly frenetic and jam-packed with excellent street food. This street’s speciality is bánh xèo (savoury crepes filled with pork and bean sprouts). Dozens of places serve small bánh xèo cooked on circular trays over flaming, coal-fired barbecues. The famous 004 Lô H (literally ‘Block H’), where the family have been in the bánh xèo business on the same spot for 14 years.
At the corner with Hòa Hảo Street there’s a good Chinese-style noodle outlet called 'Tai Phát'. Try the mì vịt tiềm (egg noodles with duck in a deeply aromatic broth). The noodles are sold from a classic xe mì (noodle trolley) decorated with painted dragons and scenes from Chinese mythology. Right at the southern end of Block H (Lô H) there’s an outstanding Vietnamese dessert stall on the corner.
3. Vĩnh Khánh Street: District 4
Once a favorite spot of notorious gangster Năm Cam, Vĩnh Khánh Street is an ốc paradise. The place is abuzz with hundreds of groups grubbing up on seafood. A soundtrack is provided by the curbside entertainers that include not only motorbike karaoke singers, but fire-eaters and Michael Jackson impersonators (I’d like to see MJ do the moonwalk through motorbike traffic).
The most famous joint on the strip is Ốc Oanh (534 Vĩnh Khánh Street) which is renowned for its ốc hương ràn muối ớt (fried sea snails with salt and chilli) and sò điệp nướng mỡ hành (grilled scallops with spring onions and peanuts).
If seafood’s not your game, Quán BBQ Lúa (33 Vĩnh Khánh Street) offers grill-it-yourself barbecue with your choice of beef, pork, goat and fish.
4. Phan Văn Hân Street: Bình Thạnh District
Located just across from District 1’s gleaming skyline is an inconspicuous narrow street that is frequented by university students looking for a cheap meal.
Try the bột chiên at the corner of Phan Văn Hân and Xô Viết Nghẹ Tĩnh streets where the vendor has been selling the specialty for 20 years.
There’s also a great noodle place, Lương Ký Mì Gia, (1 Huỳnh Mẫn Đạt Street) at the eastern extreme of Phan Văn Hân Street which serves up a number of Vietnamese noodle dishes, the best of which may be the mì vịt tiềm (fresh yellow noodles with marinated duck). But be sure to arrive early as it quickly sells out.
5. Cô Giang Street: District 1
Perhaps the best collection of street food nearby the backpacker area, Cô Giang is far enough away from it to keep up its local feel. On the corner of Cô Giang and Đề Thám streets is a collection of places that specialize in hủ tiếu xào, a type of Chinese-style fried noodles.
The bò lá lốt at Hoàng Yến (121 Cô Giang Street) is not only delicious, but cheap at VND 20,000 per person.