Confronted by a mountain of meat, we sit, shocked into silence. The smell of pork ribs, tangy, charred and sweet, taunts us: can we finish this meal? I settle a napkin over my lap, and loosen my belt. My stomach growls. My date shakes her head.
“American barbecue,” I tell her, knowing this is a battle we cannot win.
Who cares? Going down fighting is good enough.
Welcome to Zombie BBQ in District 2, where going home hungry takes sincere effort. Ho Chi Minh City’s newest American barbecue spot goes by a few crucial US rules: offer tonnes of food at good prices, watch your customers waddle home, and profit.
It’s but one of a number of American BBQ places spreading like grave-mould; the (relatively) venerable Quan Ut Ut with its excellent beer is opening a second location, and of course TNT BBQ rallies on in District 4. Restaurants from Al Fresco’s to Skewers offer American-style BBQ ribs, landing all over the map in terms of quality and style. Zombie, however, seems to strive for the middle ground, balancing expat and local tastes atop a mountain of grub. In my opinion, good food at good prices — good meat, especially — transcends borders, however you slice it.
Vegetables Need Not Apply
Zombie’s menu bulges with burgers, chicken, tacos and ribs; in a nod to local tastes, it goes beyond standard beef, pork and chicken, offering local delights like pork belly and alligator, as well as resurrecting local favorites such as Willie Woo’s southern fried chicken and waffles.
What’s a food guy to do? After sampling the pots of house-made BBQ sauce slyly offered at the start, we bowed to the inevitable, ordering the sampler platter Plane Crash (VND350,000) with Carolina sauce, whose sausage, ribs, chicken and pork belly could have fed us both. But no, we also had to cram in the half-rack of ribs (VND230,000) with Kansas City sauce, the smoked rabbit (VND180,000) with Devil’s Dream sauce and Mexican Street Corn (VND30,000). Sides also attended each entrée — cornbread, baked beans and coleslaw. You name it, we couldn’t finish it. For dessert, we gorged on the Rice Krispy Treat S’mores (VND80,000), a crispy, sticky concoction oozing with melted marshmallow and chocolate sauce. Just to put the nail in our over-indulgence, we topped it with a scoop of vanilla ice cream (VND39,000). We cleared that plate alone, and I still feel my pancreas crying.
Pleasures of the Flesh
Trying new western BBQ places has been a recent hobby, and Zombie stacks up well. Zombie cooks the ribs just right — fatty meat redolent with woodsmoke not quite falling off the bone, offering just enough resistance to remind yourself that you’re tearing into animal flesh. The chicken is more tender, the rabbit smoky-sweet and low priced. I wish the sauce came a bit thicker, or sides of it came with the entrees, but I truly appreciate the authentic slow-cooked style. It’s a rarity, but Zombie has it.
Meat may dominate the menu, but the range of sides complements it well. Grilled corn, cornbread, mac n’ cheese, baked beans, coleslaw — all the expected accompaniments — plus onion rings, fries, potato salad, nachos and authentic hush puppies.
The drinks menu is fine, though cocktail options are limited; really, though, if people come for BBQ, then chances are they’ll be chugging brewskis. Teetotalers can sip on the array of fresh juices and smoothies.
Service was prompt and friendly, but a warning about the sheer volume of food we unwittingly ordered would have been nice. Still, the servers did their job, carrying out platter after platter, and packing up our leftovers with amused smiles.
Judging a restaurant’s look right before a move to new premises is a bit odd — how does one judge decor when it’s barely present? The old French villa is certainly nice, with a clubby, cabana-like atmosphere in the courtyard. The specials signage seemed like a rush job, hard to read and awkwardly designed. Overall, it felt like a place in transition. Even the old McSorley’s sign still hangs outside.
I can say the pictures of the new place in Parkland look nice, and I will want to see it for myself. Regardless, a BBQ joint’s soul resides in its food, and Zombie has that covered.
Ultimately, we’ll have to see what Zombie BBQ does after their move. That doesn’t answer my most heartfelt question: why aren’t there brains on the menu?
Zombie BBQ has now moved and is located at Parkland, 628A Vo Truong Toan, Q2, HCMC. Parkland is on the same road as Riverside Apartments and International School of Ho Chi Minh City (ISHCMC)
Food, Decor and Service are each rated on a scale of 0 to 15.
13 — 15 extraordinary to perfection
10 — 12.5 very good to excellent
8 — 9.5 good to very good
5 — 7.5 fair to good
0 — 4.5 poor to fair
The Word reviews anonymously and pays for all meals