Chicken Cashew Stir Fry at Lam Cafe.

I generally try to avoid Bui Vien (the backpackers district in District 1) but occasionally you just want a good, cheap, quality meal. I’ve got just the place.

For my money, Lam Cafe is the best all-purpose restaurant on the strip. Enormous portions, quick and friendly service, and consistently high-quality meals add up to the a meal that lets you enjoy the vibrant atmosphere of the Pham without taking a gamble on touristy places that may or may not deliver for more money.

Officially it’s at 175 Bui Vien, Pham Ngu Lao Ward, but in reality, you can also eat at Chao Saigon (Burger Crazy, 222/2 Bui Vien) across the street (it’s owned and operated by the same family/kitchen). An odd setup, but given the limited seating at the original site it works out well. (Protip: there is also upstairs seating at Lam with a good view of Bui Vien. Ignore the mini-second floor. Avoid the bathroom.)

Plus: they have a guinea pig that runs around. True Story. Click through for my favorite dishes, and pics of some of the cheapest, tastiest eats on the block.

Though Bui Vien has calmed down a little bit in the past six months following a police crackdown, it’s still the most hectic place in the district – taking all those pop-up restaurants off the sidewalk has dissipated the energy somewhat, but it remains an interesting people-watching site.
The menu is one of the phonebook types – a little bit of everything, covering pages and pages. Usually this is a sign that everything is mediocre. With no focus, a menu like this tends to devolve into lowest common denominator foods, with a few hits but many more misses.
Papaya Prawn Salad
Somehow, and I have no idea how this happened, Lam Cafe has largely managed to avoid this pitfall, offering scores (SCORES!) of dishes – everything from Vietnamese, Thai, and Singaporean to Western European, Mexican, and Indian.
Miraculously, it’s consistently amazing. This is baffling, but let’s take it in stride, eh? I’m not about to start counting this gift horse’s teeth! Honestly, if friends hadn’t vouched for this place in terms that would make award-winning Michelin star restauranteurs jealous, I probably never would have bothered.
The meats are always cooked to perfection, the food is always hot, and the drinks come out fast and furious. It’s hard to find much fault with consistency – it’s hard enough for the big pro restaurants to do, and when you encounter it in a family joint like this, it should be noted and celebrated.
Chicken Jungle Curry. My ABSOLUTE FAVORITE comfort food in Vietnam. Order this.
They also offer a number of vegetarian options for those among us who prefer our fuzzy friends alive. The tofu dishes are outstanding (again, difficult), and the salads are gigantic.
Green Curry with Pork
I think the only disappointing thing I’ve had here was a Mexican breakfast. It wasn’t awful, but by this time I’d been conditioned to expect amazing from the kitchen every time. Perhaps my expectations were a bit high – but they are high for good reason!
As you can see, I’ve delved deep into the curry selections. They offer green and yellow curries, as well as an Indian “Jungle” curry (I’ve never figured out the name) that I would eat every day if it was closer to my house. (As I’ve mentioned before, carrots are enormous here. I’m not really sure what they’re putting in the ground in Da Lat, but good lord, they’re huge.)
Prices are absolutely rock-bottom. Stupidly, absurdly cheap. A typical dish is about 50-60k VND and ridiculously enormous. There is no reason not to get that extra smoothie, coffee, or cocktail (they also offer local rice wine, which is good but I’m a little gunshy of the rice wine/vodka here).
FOOD LOVE FISH YES

Their English translations might leave a little bit to be desired, but they’re also good for a laugh, and, thankfully, have zero effect on the tastiness quotient of the dishes presented.

Vietnamese Styyyyyyyyle
Roasted Chicken with Mashed Potatoes
Still… I’d probably avoid pork sweat.
If you’re into the kind of Western meal that will stick to your ribs, they can deliver. The mashed potatoes are fluffy and well-seasoned, and the roasted cuts of meat are tender and juicy. The fried chicken and fish are scrumptious. Onions are cooked to perfection every time. Sautéed veggies never miss.
One thing I’ve never tried is the pizzas. However good they are, I already have a favorite pizza place in HCMC and that’s unlikely to be dethroned by a kitchen like this. But who knows? Maybe I’m missing out. Their track record is pretty damn impressive.
Perfect people watching spot.
The Pad Thai is good. The Singapore-style dishes are excellent. The fried fish is Friday-Night-in-Wisconsin good (which is PRETTY DAMN GOOD). I sound like a broken record, but it’s hard to write a review when virtually everything you order gets a “Wow, this is exactly what I wanted/expected!” It’s unusual enough to get exactly what you expected, but to have it be well-prepared, too? That’s almost fantasyland stuff, right there.
I really could just go on and on, but I’ll let you decide for yourself if you’re ever in the mood for a relaxing, delicious, home-cooked (literally) meal for half the cost of a McDonald’s combo meal (and a whole lot healthier).
GUINEA PIIIIIIIIIG

Oh yes. And the guinea pig. It runs around Burger Crazy, the second dining room, and it’s the cutest, weirdest thing. Weird, because it is a guinea pig and guinea pigs are just naturally bizarre creatures, but also WHY IS IT HERE. WHAT IS IT DOING. We may never know.

I have to thank my friends Kasia, Marta, and Maciek for introducing me! A debt that won’t be easily repaid… at least not anytime soon, as they’re all back in Europe (all the sads… miss you, guys).

If you’re in HCMC and want a reliable place that’s easy on your wallet, check out Lam Cafe. You’ll be pleasantly satisfied, I guarantee.