The Cafe Quarter, Saigon
There are thousands of great independent coffee shops in Saigon, but Phú Nhuận District – just north of downtown – is the city’s unofficial ‘café capital’. Within this district there’s an area I like to call the ‘Café Quarter’. Bounded by the Thị Nghè Channel to the south and Phan Xích Long Boulevard to the north, a small grid of leafy streets plays host to a collection of trendy cafes. Graced by the attractive villas of Saigon’s nouveau riche and hung with bougainvillea, the streets in the Café Quarter are all named after flowers: Hoa Lan (orchid), Hoa Đào (peach blossom), Hoa Hồng (rose), Hoa Sứ (frangipani) and many more. The success of two corner cafes – Mộc Hi-End and Ghế Đẩu – at the intersection of Hoa Mai (apricot blossom) and Hoa Phượng (flame tree blossom), has led to a recent boom in cool cafes here. Travel to Vietnam
THE CAFE QUARTER:
Address: Hoa Mai Street, Phú Nhuận District, Saigon
The Cafe Quarter, SaigonAll the following cafes are located on Hoa Mai Street. Shaded, reasonably-priced, and popular with Saigon’s rapidly expanding community of young professionals and entrepreneurs, these cafés make for a relaxing afternoon out. Most of the cafes have a theme that defines their décor and design: retro-chic, urban-arty, sleek-modern – it’s fun to pop into several of them to sample the atmosphere. Vietnamese and Western-style coffee is available, as well as smoothies, sodas and lite bites. The best time to ‘café hop’ is on the weekends, when the Café Quarter hums with the caffeine-fueled chatter of Saigon’s youth. Below I’ve reviewed seven of my favourite cafes, all with contrasting styles. They are all plotted on my map. There are many more cafes around the ‘flower streets’ in this area than the ones listed here, so it’s worth taking some time to explore.
STREET TALKS CAFÉ: 38 Hoa Mai Street
Open sided, bright and airy, Street Talks has white-washed bare brick walls, light wooden furniture, and colourful decorations, such as painted bottles, hanging mobiles, and lanterns. Classic 1960s and 70s Italian Vespers adorn the café, and Italian sodas feature on the menu. There’s a pleasant, calm and fresh ambience here.
PETIT JARDIN CAFÉ: 34 Hoa Mai Street
A boutique-style café with beautiful crockery and soft, lounge-like furniture on a tiled floor, Petit Jardin feels like a northern European tea rooms. Obscured from the road by the arcing branches of two trees, there’s outside seating on attractive garden chairs on a patio in dappled sunlight. Inside, some of the décor borders on the kitsch: rococo picture frames, floral wall paper, and elaborate ‘antique’ clocks. But the overall effect is cosy and comfortable. Coffee is very good.
MỘC HI-END CAFÉ: 29-31 Hoa Mai Street
The catalyst for the Café Quarter boom, Mộc Hi-End is a popular retro-chic coffee shop with a penchant for vintage stereo equipment. This corner café is completely hidden from view by foliage. Inside, old gramophones, cassette players, speakers, and recording apparatus sit like museum pieces among the soft seats. A mixture of bare brick walls and wooden floorboards are lit by old-fashioned hanging lanterns. Coffee is nicely presented, with ice served in pretty ceramic bowls.
GHẾ ĐẨU CAFÉ: 28 Hoa Mai Street
On the opposite side of the intersection from Mộc Hi-End Café (and under the same ownership), Ghế Đẩu – which means ‘stool’ in Vietnamese – is a leafy, outdoor café occupying a shady corner. Seating is exclusively on low wooden stools of the kind that has become trendy over the last few years. In a casual atmosphere under a tropical almond tree and three small Bodhi trees, this place attracts a young crowd, especially in the evenings when it’s a hive of well-dressed youth chattering together or consumed by portable technologies. At this time of day it’s irresistible: you can’t help but want to be a part of it.
AN NHIÊN CAFÉ: 27 Hoa Mai Street
A stark, sleek, minimalist corner café, An Nhiên is simple yet stylish. A large, open-fronted ground floor is dotted with small tables and stools under a high ceiling, from which oversized naked lightbulbs hang like tentacles. Upstairs is an attractive open-air terrace that’s far too hot during the day, but perfect during the evenings, when it’s a good spot for people watching.
XOAY CAFÉ: 15 Hoa Mai Street
Cool, urban and arty, Xoay Café features graffitied walls, tiled floors and shelves loaded with canisters of spray paint. There’s a fun and informal vibe here, especially on weekends, when the café buzzes with the overflow of customers from the popular buffet at Thị next door.
DEVON CAFÉ: 17 Hoa Mai Street
Taking its name from the English county, Devon Café is styled to look like a British seaside villa. The outside patio – with birdcages, a quaint fish pond, and small water features – is a better bet than the rather dreary interior decor.