When people in Western countries want to get together and talk, they often ask if the other wants to grab lunch or maybe a beer. In HCMC, the go-to activity for whiling away an afternoon is going to a coffee shop. And it’s no surprise, as the HCMC coffee shop scene is simply amazing. There are shops in every corner of the city ranging in setting from indoor restaurant-style locations to a bunch of plastic tables and chairs set out on the sidewalk. Regardless of how luxurious the shop itself is, though, the drinks are almost guaranteed to be great. The Vietnamese iced coffee is generally the first drink people think of when considering HCMC’s cafes, but most of them serve a great variety of other drinks that are just as delicious as the ca phe sua da–some of the most popular include peach tea (tra dao), fresh-squeezed fruit juice (nuoc ep) of all types, fresh smoothies (sinh to), milk tea (tra sua), and iced cocoa (socola da or cacao da).
There are probably thousands of dedicated coffee shops around Saigon, and hundreds of fantastic ones. But for this, we’ve tried to pinpoint 10 that offer a good overview of the diverse coffee shop culture while at the same time providing some of the most satisfying drinks you’ll ever taste.
Shin Coffee, 13 Nguyễn Thiệp, District 1 and other locations
Kicking this list off is the crowd favorite, Shin coffee. Shin has two very centrally located locations in the heart of the city, and it does not have any other distinct gimmicks. It is simply a clean, large, well-decorated place with really, really good coffee. Good enough that, when we surveyed the city’s expat community on their favorite coffee place, most of the respondent’s came back with the same answer: Shin Coffee.
Du Mien Garden Cafe, 7 Phan Van Tri, Go Vap District
Du Mien is definitely more authentically Saigonese than most of the entries on this list, and it is a bit of a trek for most expats, who usually establish a home base in District 1, but it is good enough to rank high on our “crowd favorites” list despite its relative difficulty to find. Du Mien’s interior is very large, and is segmented into many terraces, patios, and various other open-air nooks and crannies ideal for lounging with a drink. The outdoor areas are built among a tropical garden, complete with waterfalls that provide a pleasant cooling mist. The cafe also has several air-conditioned indoor sections for particularly hot
days. Drinks aren’t quite as cheap as most local coffee shops — you may end up paying $2 instead of $1.50 — but the experience makes up for it.
Goc Ha Noi Egg Coffee, 165/3 Bui Vien, District 1
Egg coffee is a Hanoian specialty, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get a delicious cup of the stuff here in Saigon. Goc Hanoi is centrally located, so most expats will not have to go out of their way to get there, and the frothy, creamy drink that is its specialty is well worth the visit. The coffee itself is certainly not the only taste of Hanoi you’ll get at Goc Ha Noi. The owner, who is from the northern capital herself, has made sure the decor, the music in the shop, and even the layout of the place seems transplanted right off of a street near Hoan Kiem (Hanoi’s central lake).
Ghe Dau Coffee, 28 Hoa Mai, Phu Nhuan District
Coming to this cafe during its busiest hours — roughly 5:00 to 8:00 — is one of the better ways to get a feel for Saigon’s middle-upper class youth culture. The cafe’s seating consists of rows of wooden stools and benches set under a large almond tree on a street corner, and teens or young adults love to hang out with their friends while tapping away on their smartphones at this spot. It’s tropical, it’s authentic, it’s inexpensive, and the drinks aren’t half bad. Ghe Dau is also located in a trendy area of Phu Nhuan entitled the “cafe quarter,” so the surrounding area is a great place to take an evening stroll and check out a variety of other drinkeries.
Yoko Cafe, 23 Nguyen Thi Dieu, District 3
Yoko is an excellent place to take in some live music. It has bands playing acoustic rock or jazz-pop fusion every night of the week, and, unlike many music-centered cafes or bars in Saigon, it does not rely on tourists or overpriced drinks to get by. Yoko Cafe is more of a bar than a coffee house, so it does not open until 7PM and live music does not start until 9PM. It’s one of the best places in the city for a fun night out, though.
Cong Cafe, 127-129 Bui Vien, District 1 and other locations
Cong Cafe is a Vietnamese institution — you’ll find them scattered all over Saigon and even if you take a trip up north in Hanoi. Even though its a huge chain though, it has not compromised any of the charm that made it so popular. Antique shelves and tables scattered around the shop showcase retro aftifacts, from wartime relics to first edition Super Nintendos. A visit here can feel like a trip to a movie set. The drinks are a bit expensive (the $2-3 range), but they are well-prepared and include some delightfully hard-to-find creations, like cinnamon-apple tea with lemon.
The Workshop Coffee, 27 Ngo Duc Ke, District 1
For a coffee lover, The Workshop is simply spectacular. They are a specialty roaster, so it’s not surprising that some of the equipment they have behind the counter to increase the quality of their brew looks more like something you’d see in Dexter’s Lab than in most cafes. That advanced brewing equipment is used to prepare coffees from all around the world, from Vietnam’s central highlands to the fertile soil of the Mediterranean to the fields of Peru. And the people behind The Workshop don’t want the taste of their carefully-crafted coffees to be muddled by fillers, either. For example, it is one of the only cafes in Saigon that refuses to include sweet condensed milk in its coffees, preferring for customers to bask in the unadulterated flavor. This place is not exactly cheap — $4-6 for a coffee — but the gorgeous interior and even more memorable drinks are one-of-a-kind in Saigon.
The Coffee Ship, 22/8 Tran Xuan Soan, District 7
The Coffee Ship is a cafe built on a boat docked in the river between districts 4 and 7 in HCMC, and you should definitely swing by if you are in the neighborhood. The setting is even cooler than it sounds, with old hardwood making up the entirety of the ship. There are two floors on the boat, each with a few rooms, but low ceilings and wide windows give it an intimate atmosphere. Drinks only cost around $1.50, and the place also serves delicious fresh fruit bowls. The Coffee Ship is a great place for families, date nights, or evening hangouts with friends, and it’s a wonder it is still relatively unfrequented by tourists looking for a coffee shop in HCMC.
Dolphy Cafe, 31 Thao Dien, District 2
District 2’s Thao Dien ward is one of the city’s expat havens, and Dolphy is one of the most popular local cafes there. Great customer service supplements a straightforward-yet-delicious menu of coffees, fresh-squeezed juices, and smoothies to deliver a no-frills pleasant experience. The seating is comprised of several streetfront bars (without alcohol) and an inside area for soaking up some air conditioning or spreading out for work on a proper table.
Starbucks Coffee, 76 Le Lai, District 1 and other locations
Coffee snobs and most of the expat community in HCMC may crucify us for including this one, but how can we convey the diversity of Saigon’s coffee scene without including something about the most globally diverse coffee of all? Starbucks will provide a distinctly Western experience, from the interior decoration to the Western-style coffees on the menu. It is also the only coffee shop we know of in HCMC that serves decaf.
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