1. Begin early with happy hour drinks and snacks at Renkon, a modern izakaya in Saigon, Vietnam. Renkon is a tip of the hat to the city’s Japanese neighborhood restaurants, but the hip-hop playlist and understated design by Sean Dix (renowned American architect and designer) give it a modern edge. The open kitchen serves kushiyaki (charcoal-grilled skewers; from VND45,000 or about P105) alongside unique cocktails, shochu, sake, beer and wine. 74/10A Hai Ba Trung;
2. Leave room for dinner, because at Nhau Nhau, chef Peter Cuong Franklin has an ambitious goal — to serve up the best pho in Vietnam. The retro 18-seater is a celebration of nhau (eating and drinking with friends for no particular reason) culture. The elevated pho dac biet (VND275,000 or about P640) consists of noodles in umami broth, rare wagyu, black truffle, cured quail egg and marrow-filled bone. When you’re done slurping, retreat to the balcony or the sixth-floor rooftop, which offers a lookout over the time-honored Cho Cu wet market. 89 Ton That Dam; fb.com/letsnhaunhau
3. A stone’s throw from Nhau Nhau is the aptly named Drinking & Healing. The exterior of the rugged, characterful building conceals a classy cocktail and wine bar on the second floor. The bar is often full but rarely crowded and the mixologists possess a master’s flourish — they can customize drinks to match your mood. Ask for their secret signature cocktails (from VND140,000 or about P326) to test their mixing chops. 25 Ho Tung Mau; fb.com/drinkingnhealing
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Check out Nguyen Hue pedestrian street
After overhauling a big main road in the CBD, Nguyen Hue pedestrian street was reopened in 2015 as a 670m-long modern boulevard. Today, the road, which stretches from Saigon City Hall and the prominent bronze statue of Ho Chi Minh to the Saigon River, is a relaxed hive of activity on weekday evenings. On weekends, stages are often set up for music and fashion shows. Midway along the street, look out for the striking nine-storey 42 Nguyen Hue building — the façade reveals a mosaic of cafés, dessert shops and boutique fashion stores — a once-grimy, utilitarian apartment block that’s gained character thanks to its new, exciting tenants. While there, look for Saigon Oi, a cute café and dessert shop and Hayho Concept, a new boutique with basic and minimalist unisex apparel.
This article first appeared in the November 2018 issue of Smile magazine.