In the Mood for Gourmet Vietnamese? Try Cục Gạch Quán

The classic dishes at Cục Gạch Quán are perfectly prepared with an emphasis on fresh vegetables and never with preservatives or MSG

Eating in Vietnam is all about the search. The search to locate the best bowl of phở, mì quảng, or fresh spring rolls. The search to find a restaurant undiscovered by food bloggers and guidebooks. The search to find a place where quality food and hospitality go hand in hand. A lot of the time you end up perched on small plastic stools on the sidewalk as motorbikes fly by. But if you and your taxi driver are willing to search for a slightly out-of-the-way address the next time you’re in Ho Chi Minh City, you’ll discover some of the best Vietnamese food in the city served in a beautifully restored French colonial villa.

Our crew of expat pilots, teachers, and a lone travel writer describe the food at Cục Gạch Quán as “gourmet Vietnamese” to our visiting friends and family and for good reason- the classic dishes are perfectly prepared with an emphasis on fresh vegetables and never with preservatives or MSG. The options come in an organized, inch-thick menu that can be intimidating at first. I suggest you do as we do and ask the knowledgeable wait staff to select for you. By doing so, we’ve stumbled onto favorite dishes like the melt-in-your-mouth soft-shell crab with rock salt, tangy squid in tamarind sauce and the simple but delicious sautéed cactus. The dishes pair beautifully with selections from the wine list of all French vintages.

Besides the food, the dining rooms at Cục Gạch Quán set it apart from hundreds of other eateries in the city. You may have to cross a bridge over a lily-pad strewn pond to get to your table. You may be seated at a converted four-poster bed draped with gauzy fabric or a private rooftop table with purposely mismatched dishes. It’s clear owner and architect Tran Binh and his wife Thai Tu-Tho had fun designing their restaurant and the result is a romantic oasis with an elegant yet relaxed vibe. They followed the lessons of Tran’s grandmother during the restoration process and used recycled materials, especially wood, whenever possible. It’s taste-great food served in a feel-good space.

Cục Gạch Quán is HCMC’s rapidly growing secret. When actors and humanitarians Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie ate here in 2011, reservations suddenly became a must-have. Happily the attention hasn’t negatively impacted the food or service. Consider the search for high-end Vietnamese cuisine over.

Cục Gạch Quán, 10 Dang Tat, Ward Tan Dinh, District 1, Saigon, Tel: (84.8) 38 48 01 44 // (84) 01 657 10 10 10.

Images courtesy of Cục Gạch Quán (top); Ryan Goheen and Melissa Arrends (foods)