Saigón

Retiro, San Telmo

  • Ambience 70%
  • Service 75%
  • Food 85%
  • Creativity 90%
  • Value 90%

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Restaurant Details
Saigón
Locale: Retiro, San Telmo
Address: Marcelo T de Alvear 818
Telephone: Unposted
Restaurant Type: Fast Casual
Cuisine: Southeast Asian, Vietnamese
Service Type: Counter Service
Price: $$$
Menu items offered: Pho
Hours:
Mon-Fri: 12pm - 3pm, 6pm - 11pm, Sat: 7pm - 12am, Sun: Closed

Review Summary
Saigón brings fast-casual dining with fairly authentic flavors from Southwest Asia in the form of spicy noodle soups and salads to San Telmo and Retiro at extremely affordable prices. One of the best choices downtown for lunch.

The full review for Saigón

Review by: Ollie O Rating: 4.1 stars Review Date: 08/21/2018

Saigón is the brainchild of a Vietnamese expat and an Argentine who have sought to bring the noodle soup, Pho, from it origins as a popular street-food in both North and South Vietnam, to the barrios of Buenos Aires. The original location in San Telmo Market, which has met with more than a modicum of success, has table service. But the recently opened location in Retiro has opted for the quick-table-turning format of a fast-casual restaurant.

In Retiro, you order at the counter from a simple menu consisting of a handful of finger foods such a small fried pork roll or a fresh spring-roll, three soups, or cold rice or noodle salads. The flavors of the pho are fairly authentic, using small, hot red peppers, spring onions, lemongrass, and loads of cilantro, characteristic of Vietnamese cooking, in a simple but somewhat spicy broth with flat rice noodles, and your choice of a few small pieces of pork or beef.

On my initial visit, they were apparently out of the flat noodle, which resembles fettuccini, and included a rice vermicelli noodle in the soup instead, a substitution which didn’t work. But on my latest visit there were no errors.

I’ll be honest. I didn’t like the small Banh Mi (Vietnamese sandwiches) I ordered on my initial visit either. They were served on simple, boring Argentine style baguettes, that were slightly stale and flavorless, rather than larger yeasty bread rolls that are more typically used for the sandwich in Vietnam. And the ratio of meat to bread was a bit on the low side for my liking.

But the Pho Bo I had on the most recent visit was good. I’d rather see a little more complexity in the broth, but it was still flavorful. The addition of a small bit of hoisin sauce and few drops of sriracha hot sauce livened up every bite.

At lunchtime, they offer a lunch special that gives you two small fried rolls, your choice of the main-course pho soups or salads, and a small drink, or a half-pint of artisanal beer. They offer a full range of beers, from blonde to stout. The cost of the lunch meal, which basically adds the beverage and small appetizer for US$1 (ARS$30) for total of about US$7.75 (ARS$230), was something even I could afford.

The time from ordering to delivery of the small appetizer was just a few minutes, with a similar wait of only five to ten minutes for the soup. If you’re in a hurry, you can complete the whole process in less than thirty minutes. During peak hours the restaurant gets busy, and there might be a short wait for a table. But on my latest visit I arrived at about 1:45 pm, and there were only a couple of tables occupied. By 2:20 pm it was getting busy, but there was still no wait for a table.

The décor is simple. The chairs reminded me of the chairs we had in elementary school as children (only slight larger). Furnishings were inexpensive and not particularly attractive. And the food is served on bright colored plastic bowls and plates. I personally prefer pottery or ceramic plates that shatter when I drop them rather than bounce. But in this fast-paced counter-ordering format, the plastic tableware is tolerable.

There were a few Asian-influenced elements in the décor. One larger colorful print on the back wall. One or two Asian “good-luck cats” with bounding paws to bring the chefs and patrons good luck.

The only Asian working in the place was the owner. The cooks were all young Latinos, but seemed have picked up on the Vietnamese cooking style.

Overall, this is a quick and flavorful meal. A great change of pace for locals that are seeking a bit of variety in their culinary calendar. It’s not entirely authentic, but it’s close enough to make it enjoyable.

I preferred the ambience, table-service, and variety at Sunae Asian Cantina in Palermo, but it’s a totally different format that can cost you up to three times what this meal cost. We think Saigón has successfully achieved the goal of providing an affordable, speedy and flavorful alternative to steaks, burgers and sandwiches in their new restaurants in San Telmo and Retiro. We’ll likely be seeing more of these and likely a few copy-cats in other barrios soon.


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