One of the best things about traveling is meeting locals and being introduced to places that are hardly included in travel guides. This is one of my experiences when I reunited with an old friend and former officemate named Dolly in Ho Chi Minh City.
Dolly is a Vietnamese from HCMC who went to the Philippines in mid 2000. She got in the company I was in and we became friends. After 2 or 3 years, she moved back to her hometown to raise a family. I haven’t seen her for quite some time so it felt right to finally catch up.
After a 2-hour flight from Hanoi, Dolly picked me up at Ho Chi Minh’s domestic airport in the most authentic Vietnamese fashion: a motorbike. It is very difficult to cross the streets of HCMC with millions of motorbikes passing by like crazy, but I never thought that riding at the back of a motorbike would be crazier.
From the airport, I had to hold on to dear life as Dolly zipped through the chaotic streets of an area in HCMC far from the tourist hub of District 1. At one point, we nearly collided with a van that got Dolly laughing while I screamed P*TANG*NA (a local curse word) like a sissy.
We entered a place that was way out of my HCMC map / itinerary. It reminded me of the Buendia – Dian – Filmore area with old buildings, a few establishments, and a common grocery store.
We finally arrived at her place 45 minutes later and got my much needed rest. When it was time for dinner, she and her daughter, together with her sister-in-law, took me to a restaurant just a few blocks away from her house. I thought we were going to eat Pho but Dolly insisted that I should try local Vietnamese cuisine that doesn’t involve the word “PHO”. So we reached this open restaurant that had 3 areas filled with so many people. Luckily for us, there was ONE empty table with those tiny chairs common to most street restaurants in Vietnam.
I didn’t understand Dolly’s conversation with the waitress but she explained to me that there would be a meat noodle dish, a chicken dish, a crab dish, and a vegetable dish for the 4 of us, including her adorable 4 year old daughter.
We didn’t have to wait for too long and when the food arrived, I tasted every dish (except for the crab because I’m allergic) and felt gratified afterwards. We all know how authentic Pho tastes in the streets of HCMC, but that RESTAURANT served the most mouth-watering Vietnamese food I’ve ever tasted. The mix of flavors and colors satisfied each of my senses that have been longing for a gastronomic delight since the “almost” motorbike mishap. There was a certain kick to each dish, slightly similar to Pampangenyo cooking, but the taste is more oriental in nature. It even became more blissful after Dolly ordered a couple of ice cold Tiger Beers.
No wonder the restaurant was full. No wonder a table never goes empty. No wonder Dolly ordered alot. The best part aside from the big servings and being cheap? I was in a place that only had one foreign customer: ME (oh the vanity!).
When I got back in Manila, I tried to contact Dolly about the exact location of the restaurant. Unfortunately, certain things have been keeping her busy so I asked our common friend, Trany, who’s also from Saigon.
The branch I went to has this address:
281/2 Tan Son Nhi street, Ward. Tan Son Nhi, Dist. Tan Phu, HCM city.
The district is: TAN PHU.
Trany said it would be too difficult to give me the exact directions from the airport. She suggested that I write the address down and just show it to the cab driver the next time I’m in HCMC. And maybe you’d like that too, right? Here’s the address in Vietnamese letters:
281/2 Tân Sơn Nhì Tân Sơn Nhì, quận Tân phú, tp.HCM
And, would you believe it has a website? Check this out:
As for the restaurant’s name, Quán ốc K3 is my guess.
Here’s a photo of the menu:
And the restaurant sign:
Finally, the most priceless photo:
Have you ever been taken by a local to a place (restaurant, coffee shop, etc) that’s way out of the tourist trail? Share your story!