17 Ngo Van Nam, Q1
Syunkato opened just five months ago but has already made its mark in the congested Japanese market. It focuses on using quality Vietnamese ingredients for its diners with a profitable group of regulars in the bag already. The eatery has a real authentic feel and is in a beautifully-designed spot.
13/1 Le Thanh Ton, Q1
Yamaneko is the premier Okinawan restaurant in town. It is a fixture on Japanese-dominated Le Thanh Ton and is nestled down a little alley, with a bar-feel downstairs and a nice eating space upstairs. Owner Tabo is in his second spell in Ho Chi Minh City and knows the local market and how to please. Besides Okinawan cuisine, it sells a rarely found sumo hotpot served in traditional style. The main flavour of the chanko hot pot is crab-flavoured miso sauce with shrimp, fish, crab, oysters, chicken, tofu and mushrooms. Well worth your cash.
Sushi Dining Aoi
Ground Floor, Saigon Pavilion, 53-55 Ba Huyen Thanh Quan, Q3
Don’t be surprised by the lack of English speakers at Aoi — just enjoy the authentic Japanese sushi experience. Lunch is recommended due to the presence of beautiful sushi and sashimi favourites and very reasonable prices. There is a VND200,000 set menu to die for prepared by Head Chef Hoshino Masaaki and more-quality-than-novelty in Vietnamese sushi chef Truong Hung. This is sushi as it would have been prepared 50 years ago.
122-124 Ho Tung Mau, Q1
The only problem with heading for the popular lunch spot Dragon Hotpot is in finding a seat, due its reasonable prices and food quality. Its sushi, tempura and sashimi and of course hotpots are fresh, good quality and a hit with customers. The downtown spot serves until 1am and is a great choice to soak up your excess before heading home.
188 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia, Q3
If you have some business clients or a group of friends arriving in town and you fancy some top food and fun, Tokyo Town is the perfect place. Winsome young ladies will show you Japanese hospitality while you grab a few beers and order as much food as you can muster in the food court-y location. It is one of those bustling places where you cannot fail to have some fun and let loose, even if it’s just with your belt holes.
35 Bis Mac Dinh Chi, Q1
Ebisu is said to have the best Udon noodles in the city, but less is heard about this authentic-feeling, woodworked Japanese eatery’s other quality offerings, such as the salads. The signature Udon noodle soups are handmade on the premises so prepare to wait for your order — but they are a must-try for a first-time visitor, as is the chicken karaage. It is also in a great location near the centre of town. One tip, Ebisu offers a monthly recommendation menu, which you should at least think about.
Hotel Nikko Saigon, 235 Nguyen Van Cu, Q1
Many places claim they are authentic Japanese but don’t walk the walk, and then there is Fuji. It does have the advantage in being located inside the Japanese-managed Hotel Nikko Saigon, but this is truly the crème-de-la-crème. Only the best ingredients from selected regions are used, such as fresh seafood and vegetables flown in direct from Japan, and vegetables from Dalat. With a relaxed environment, attractive waitresses sporting beautiful kimonos, private dining rooms accommodating four to 10 people, a sushi bar, a teppanyaki bar, a lounge and a main dining area. Just go.
Nippon Izakaya Cuu Long
63 Pham Viet Chanh, Binh Thanh
When people first see that Nippon Izakaya Cuu Long is in Binh Thanh they switch off, but it is only a bit out of the way, right on the edge of District 1. Its unique selling point is its two chicken-and-egg bowls, which are a must. One is called oyakodon while the other is the torisoboro ontama don. Of course the word izakaya means drinking establishment, so go and have a bite and a tipple.
Ramen Bar Suzuki
8/5 Le Thanh Ton, Q1
Ramen Bar Suzuki does what it says on the tin. Tonkotsu ramen was first introduced in Hakata (Fukuoka) in the 1940s. It has a white soup base and is savoured with extremely thin noodles, chashu, spring onions and black fungus. The noodles are very thin so that they can be cooked and served quickly to busy salarymen. And if you are visiting the restaurant, you are kinda obliged to try it. Don’t be shy — you might even enjoy it, as most do.
14 Nguyen Hue, Q1
The Rolls Royce of Japanese spots in town — when you walk into the stunning restaurant, see Hong Kong-inspired décor and learn that the place has three different types of sake, you will realise that you are in a top-notch establishment. When you see the bill, usually in the VND1 to 1.5 million neighbourhood for dinner for two, you’ll definitely realise it. But you get what you pay for. Top eats are tempura moriawase, which is basically seafood and vegetables, or sushi-wise go for cal sake tataki maki, sencha gohan unagi maki and dragon avocado maki. For dessert opt for chawan mushi, egg custard with seeds of ginko.