Home Style Vietnamese Food at Saigon’s Secret Garden
It was the rhythmic sizzle and pop of the woks that convinced us to stay. After four grimy flights of stairs, we were starting to question our Vietnamese friend’s recommendation. There were so many great places to eat in Saigon. We were starving, but we considered turning back. Then we heard the music of the kitchen. Instantly we imagined piles of meat and veggies swooshing around the woks. A few more steps up and we inhaled more tempting aromas than we could name. Now we were hooked. We hurried up the last few steps, excited to try out Saigon’s Secret Garden Restaurant.
We loved the Secret Garden Restaurant. It’s now one of our top recommendations in Saigon’s District 1 for 5 reasons:
- The Secret Garden Serves up Vietnamese Home Cooking (or as close as it gets in a restaurant).
- The Secret Garden has a Rooftop Garden Terrace.
- The Secret Garden is Authentic and “Foreigner-Friendly.”
- The Secret Garden has a Central Location.
- The Secret Garden has great prices.
The Secret Garden Serves up “Home Cooked” Vietnamese Food
OK, it’s not exactly “home cooking,” but the Secret Garden offers traditional “home-style” Vietnamese food and is highly recommended by locals. It’s the kind of traditional Vietnamese food passed down by Vietnamese grandmothers. Our friend said it was a great place for all the poor travellers who don’t have a Vietnamese granny to cook for them.
Just like in grandma’s kitchen, don’t be fooled by the apparent simplicity of the dishes. There’s no “gastronomy” at the Secret Garden, but the food pops with flavor and freshness. It’s not fancy food, but it’s delicious.There’s no “gastronomy” at the Secret Garden, but the food pops with flavor and freshness. Click To Tweet
Goi Du Du Tom Thit
“Goi” means salad and “du du” means papaya. (Yes we still giggle every time we order “du du.”) Goi Du Du is a classic and one of our favorite Vietnamese salads. Young, un-ripened papaya is julienned it into so many shreds of freshness and mixed with different toppings like chicken or beef. At Secret Garden, they sprinkle their Goi Du Du with dried shrimp (Tom) and dried pork (Thit). The dressing ties the salty shrimp, savory pork, and fresh, tart papaya together into a mouthwatering delight.
If you want authentic Vietnamese food AND love a good stir-fry, we have great news. Dishes like this beef and green pepper stir-fry have been an important part of Vietnamese food for centuries! Bo Xao Ot Xanh reflects the Chinese influence on Vietnam, which dates back to 110 B.C. After all that time, it’s fair to consider these dishes authentically Vietnamese.
The most amazing thing about the dish was just how familiar it smelled and tasted. Much of the food and culture of Vietnam is so exotic and unexpected. This dish surprised us when it wasn’t. Ironically, this Chinese inspired food reminded us of home in the USA. It was a “small world” moment to find such a delicious point of commonality.
The biggest testament to the quality and authenticity of the food is the strong presence of Vietnamese customers. The Secret Garden is growing in popularity with foreigners, but the majority of guests are still locals.
The Secret Garden has a Rooftop Garden Terrace
The terrace was a wonderful setting for our meal. We love the hustle and bustle of Saigon’s hot, busy streets, but the cool, breezy garden was a welcome break. The traditional “homey” character of the food extended to the informal rooftop garden. It wasn’t fancy, and that’s the point. The garden terrace was a cozy place for friends and family. The atmosphere was mellow and peaceful but also cheerful and fun. It was very pretty but also had some quirky imperfections that gave it personality.
The view from the rooftop wasn’t spectacular, but it was an interesting glimpse at Saigon’s diversity. From our table, we could see the Bitexco Tower, the Vincom Center, and the lush Caravelle Hotel. These iconic symbols of the prosperous new Saigon formed a dramatic backdrop for the humble apartments next door.
The Secret Garden is Authentic and “Foreigner-Friendly”
The Secret Garden welcomes foreigners, but the food and atmosphere remains authentically Vietnamese. They have just the right mix. The Secret Garden is very “foreigner-friendly” and ordering is easy. Much of the staff speaks English, and picture menus with English descriptions are available. But don’t expect to see only foreigners; most of the guests are Vietnamese locals who come for the delicious authenticity of the food.
The Secret Garden has a Central Location in District 1
The restaurant is an easy walk from many of Saigon’s major hotels and attractions. For example, you can walk from Ben Thanh Market, the Reunification Palace, the War Remnants Museum, the Opera House, the Notre Dame Cathedral, or the Post Office in about 10 minutes or less.
The Secret Garden Has Great Prices
We know. Almost every restaurant in Saigon has great prices, but there are some that try to gouge tourists. The prices at the Secret Garden are more than fair for such a great garden setting. Beverages are $1-$2 USD. Appetizers and salads are $3-$4 USD. Entrees are $4-$7 USD.
How to Find the Secret Garden Restaurant on Foot
Address: 158 Pasteur Street, Ben Nghe Ward, District 1, HCMC
The Secret Garden Restaurant can be tricky to find. It’s located on the top floor of an old apartment building. This apartment building is tucked away in a little alley off the main road. We had to walk around the block twice before we found the right alley. But these walking directions will get you there with no problem.
First, find the intersection of Pasteur and Ly Tu Trong streets. Face away from Ly Tu Trong and stand on the right side of Pasteur Street. Walk about 150 feet and look on your right. You will see this sign.
Enter the alley, walk about 30 feet, and look left. You will see this sign.
Enter the building, disregard the grime and stink, and take the stairs all the way up to the Secret Garden Restaurant.
This massive Banyan tree is right around the corner from the Secret Garden restaurant. It’s almost 200 years old and is too cool to skip. At the intersection of Pasteur and Ly Tu Trong, turn right on Ly Tu Trong and walk about 150 feet. This gigantic old tree is in a little park on the right.
Across the street from the Banyan tree is the historic Gia Long Palace, current home of the Ho Chi Minh City Museum. The palace is a beautiful example of 19th-century French architecture, and the museum houses exhibits dating back to the earliest history of Vietnam.
KallsyPosted at 04:17h, 07 November
This looks like such a fun place to dine at! Not to mention the prices are incredible. I know you said that the view wasn’t spectacular but to me, I didn’t think it was that bad. The terrace was certainly quaint! Will definitely check it out if I’m in the area.
The Travel NinjasPosted at 04:30h, 07 November
Kallsy, Most definitely! The prices were unbelievably low for such great quality food. The ambiance is nice and being surrounded by locals is a good sign that the food is delicious. 🙂
Nomadic FootPosted at 05:38h, 07 November
Food looks so delicious. Home made food always attract me. i would love to go there.
The Travel NinjasPosted at 06:06h, 07 November
Nomadic Foot, It was delicious indeed. Homemade food is the best. You can see the staff cooking the food right in front of you. It’s pretty cool.
CoraPosted at 14:13h, 07 November
I ♡ banyan trees 🙂 Thx for the lovely post
The Travel NinjasPosted at 14:30h, 07 November
Cora, banyan trees rock! 🙂
AnaPosted at 14:43h, 07 November
Vietnamese food is defiantly the best!
If someone isnt sure of this, they should read your post as it was informative and great.
I love all the pictures and everything you told.
Super cool article
The Travel NinjasPosted at 15:15h, 07 November
Ana, we agree Vietnamese food is the best! Thanks for stopping by. 🙂
GarethPosted at 16:16h, 07 November
I absolutely loved the Secret Garden in Saigon and having just returned from spending a year in Vietnam, I can honestly say I crave that food almost more than any other. Totally agree about the atmosphere, it was a really nice blend between authenticity and the kind of thing foreigners are more comfortable with. You did a great job capturing the deliciousness with your photos too!
The Travel NinjasPosted at 16:20h, 07 November
Thanks for your kind words Gareth! It’s great to know that you had and awesome experience as well. We did get a bit lost looking for it but we’re glad that we didn’t give up because the Secret Garden was definitely a great find!
ColleenPosted at 20:59h, 07 November
Vietnam is at the top of my list!!!! Thank you so much for sharing. I’m going to save this for when I go. I’m always looking for good, authentic places to eat. The photos look amaazzzzing!
The Travel NinjasPosted at 22:07h, 07 November
Colleen, Cool! I hope you get to visit soon. Yes, this is definitely a great authentic place to eat in Vietnam!
Sara - I do what I want toPosted at 12:45h, 08 November
We love just local places! The food taste so much better!!! We aren’t planning on going to Vietnam soon but we’ll keep this in mind for sure!
The Travel NinjasPosted at 04:33h, 09 November
Sara, You’re absolutely right! Food from local places tastes better. 🙂
JeanPosted at 20:15h, 17 December
Oh I love Vietnamese food. Now I’m craving it after seeing your great photos. Thanks for the directions too. Such a huge help.
The Travel NinjasPosted at 20:20h, 17 December
Hey Jean. Your welcome. Some great saigon restaurants are tucked away in back alleys. But the food is worth it.
ADAM DOOLITTLEPosted at 21:39h, 17 December
I’ve never had Vietnamese food before but I must admit, your post now has me craving it. Great write-up.
The Travel NinjasPosted at 21:40h, 17 December
Hello Adam. Thank you. Vietnamese food is delicious and worth trying.
Jen MorrowPosted at 09:41h, 18 December
The food looks great a very low prices! I love Vietnamese food and would definitely check this out on a visit.
The Travel NinjasPosted at 09:50h, 18 December
Hi Jen. Secret Garden does have yummy food. Hope you enjoy.
katiePosted at 13:21h, 18 December
Oh this place looks fantastic! I love Vietnamese food, especially when it is cheap 🙂
The Travel NinjasPosted at 13:28h, 18 December
Hello Katie. The food here is fantastic and very cheap.
Taylor FullerPosted at 13:37h, 18 December
i ate there when i visited! i loved the ambiance. such a cool find
The Travel NinjasPosted at 13:40h, 18 December
Hey Taylor. We love the ambiance too.
LJ LEGENDPosted at 20:36h, 18 December
Nom, nom I love vietnamese food and you picture have made me hungry. Thank you for the recommendations great post.
The Travel NinjasPosted at 20:40h, 18 December
Hello LJ. You’re welcome. We love Vietnamese food too and want to share the love.
Kathy (from walkaboutwanderer.com)Posted at 01:03h, 19 December
I love the look of this garden terrace. A little place of nature in the masses of Saigon. And bonus that it is foreigner friendly and good food. Thanks for sharing.
The Travel NinjasPosted at 01:10h, 19 December
Hello Kathy. Welcome. We love this garden terrace too. The food is so good. If in Saigon, give it a try.
AllisonPosted at 01:33h, 19 December
I would love to eat here! Vietnamese food is some of my favorite in the world. Unfortunately when I went to Vietnam I only had time to see the North and Central.. I never made it to Saigon. But the food scene in Saigon is making me want to come back!
The Travel NinjasPosted at 01:36h, 19 December
Hello Allison. The food scene in Saigon is amazing. Definitely check it out next time in Vietnam.
Sandy N VyjayPosted at 19:27h, 16 March
You have unravelled the secret of the Secret Garden and visitors to Vietnam now know where to head out to when they are assailed by hunger pangs. The ambience of the place really looks intriguing in line with its name. The food looks great and authentic too. I am not too familiar with Vietnamese cuisine and hence not sure of the vegetarian options, but I am sure there would be vegetarian variants for rice based dishes.
The Travel NinjasPosted at 03:56h, 18 March
hi Sandy N Vyjay. Thanks so much for your well crafted and kind words.