Saigon Grill

saigon-outside

Saigon Grill (2929 N. Roxboro St.) is very hot right now.  We were looking forward to its opening after driving by for weeks, and we’ve since heard about it from multiple sources (emails, friends, chowhound).  We’re glad that a new local restaurant has inspired so much love!  This buzz may have been kicked off by an email on the Duke Park neighborhood email list–we definitely saw a lot of familiar faces there.

So we eagerly stopped by on one of its first days open. It was packed, very possibly to the owners’ surprise, and as others have pointed out, the service was a bit slow.  I didn’t mind that though–the servers were clearly working their butts off (I don’t think I saw one who was walking instead of running from the kitchen to the dining area) and were extremely friendly despite their rush.

We started off with a traditional Vietnamese crepe, which was not bad, but not memorable.

saigon-crepe

Next was the Tho Xoa Lan, rabbit with curry and coconut sauce.  The curry sauce was nice and sweet, but be warned that the dish was pretty difficult to eat because all of the chunks of meat included bone.  We understand the concept of cooking with the bones in (and the meat was good, for sure) but you should probably be prepared to get your hands extremely messy, or go hungry, if you order this dish.  I also would have preferred a bit more of a kick to the sauce.

saigon-rabbit

Our other entree was from specials board–a big bowl of vermicelli and duck.  Unfortunately it smelled fairly unappetizing–never having had anything like it, we didn’t know whether this was because something was done poorly or whether it just wasn’t our style.  Despite the fact that I’ll eat almost anything, perhaps the duck dish just wasn’t right for my palate?  Either way, it kind of marred the meal for both of us.

saigon-duck

So we decided we had to go back to give them another chance.  The second time, we went just before the lunch rush–the restaurant was nearly empty and the service was fine (super friendly, again).  This time, we decided to stick with foods we knew we liked.

We started off with spring rolls (with grilled pork), which we thought were just ok…a bit bland, even dipped in the sauce they came with, but helped out with the addition of some healthy dollops of hoisin.

saigon-spring-rolls

Then we got Pho (pho tai, with eye round steak). I’ve never had a pho I didn’t like, and this was no exception, but it was also not one of my favorites.  I kept piling on chiles and hot sauce, only to decide in the end that what was seriously missing was some salt.  I think that 9N9 will remain my go-to pho spot in the Triangle.

saigon-pho

I liked the Banh Mi Bo Kho better.  The baguettes were soft, warm and crusty, and the beef chunks were tender, making for a comforting dish.

saigon-baguette1

saigon-banh-mi2

The menu also included a long list of interesting drinks (nonalchoholic) and I loved both of the ones I tried (dried longan, and sweet red bean).

Although our second trip was better than the first, a consistent theme was that the dishes lacked any of the flavor and richness that I love in Vietnamese food. So, while we’re glad this friendly place is getting so much buzz, when we’re in the area we’ll probably stick with Super Taqueria across the street for now.  What have people had at Saigon that they loved?  Maybe things are still spotty what with their recent opening–report back in the comments to give us your take!

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Published in: on April 12, 2009 at 7:53 pm  Comments (26)  

26 Comments

  1. I couldn’t decide, and someone else was having pho, so I went with the pork 3 ways & was very happy:

    Grilled Pork, Shredded Pork, Egg Cake, Fried Egg - Saigon Grill, Durham

    I also liked the fried rolls, although they were kinda non-photogenic:

    Egg Rolls - Saigon Grill, Durham

    I only had two spoonfuls of the pho, but the taste I had was pretty good — different from 9N9, but not necessarily worse. And it’s worth mentioning that I eat pho at 9N9 at least once a week & their broth varies a *lot* from week to week, so I wouldn’t be surprised if that were also true at Saigon Grill.

    I enjoyed the whole meal a great deal, but then there were only 4 tables filled when we went, so we didn’t experience anything other than speedy & attentive service.

  2. i’m confused. aren’t banh mi sandwiches? the pictures suggest that you had bread and stew. are you sure you didn’t have bo kho?

    • Banh mi refers to the bread, specifically those little baguettes. Banh generically refers to bread or cake (there are rice cakes called banh chung).

  3. Yup, sorry…they’re actually Banh Mi Bo Kho. I’ll update that in the post.

  4. I can’t recall the name of the dish off the top of my head, but I had some meatballs of the “house specials” section of the menu on opening night that were spectacular. My wife had a seafood-based soup that was also very good. One of our companions had a duck soup (different than what you had) that looked and smelled fantastic.

  5. I’ll second that. Those meatballs were excellent!

  6. Is 9N9 the best Vietnamese in Durham or the Triangle? Having moved from somewhere with a large Vietnamese population the quality of the food here hasn’t seemed that great. Is there some other restaurant I should try? I miss having bahn mi and pho available to me on almost every corner.

    Don’t even get me started on missing the Vietnamese/French bakeries.

    • I wish I knew of better Vietnamese around here! Does anyone else? Do you guys think Saigon is the new best around? I haven’t fallen in love with Kim Son (on Guess Rd.) the couple of times I’ve been.

  7. There’s a Vietnamese place in Greensboro at the corner of Freeman Mill Rd and Florida that makes an outstanding bahn mi. In fact, it only sells bahn mi, papaya salad and bubble tea. Its called Pakse Cafe. It’s only about 3 minutes off of I-40 and definitely worth the stop when you’re in the area.

  8. Just reviewed on Chowhound, but with respect, my wife and I had a very different experience at Saigon Grill than what is described above. Our food was top to bottom fantastic. The service was slow, but the waitresses informed us that everything is made to order, which explains a lot. We had Canh Chua Ca (fish soup), the crepe, a grilled pork rice plate, and spring rolls– everything was uniformly fantastic, and the crepe and soup were particularly excellent. Go. By all means.

  9. The Banh Mi at Dalat in Raleigh (Mission Valley Shopping Center) were the first in the Triangle and used to be the best (and may very well still be). They used to have a separate “Dalat Sandwich Shop” just for the Banh Mi, 2 doors down from their main restaurant, but they wound up closing it. For a while the sandwiches were only available at the main restaurant if you knew to ask for them. I think they eventually wound up back on the proper menu.

    I moved away from Raleigh more than 10 years ago & my trips back are infrequent (yes, I just live in Durham, but why go to Raleigh? :-)), so maybe a Raleighite can confirm whether Dalat’s Banh Mi are still worth the trip. The one thing I *do* know is that they are, or were, 1000x better than those at 9N9.

    Pho followup: Pho at 9N9 on Monday was pretty-darn-salty — still fully edible, delicious even, but a wee bit saltier than their average, even. (oh, and when confronted with a broth that’s not working for me, I reach for the fish sauce first . . . it’s basically liquid umami)

    Finally, upon re-read of your original post: next time you go to Saigon, get the salty lemonade. It seems to be made with preserved lemons. Yes, it basically tastes like fresh-from-scratch Gatorade, but that’s kinda fascinating in its own right . . .

    • Preserved plum is the magic ingredient (and the little dark thing at the bottom of your glass).

  10. p.s. RE: Pho — I forgot to mention that Akashi (highway 54, RTP, excellent sushi) has added Pho to their menu. I’m told it’s better than 9N9, but I haven’t managed to try it yet. I *tried* to try it today at lunch, but the place was a total madhouse & I was on a tight schedule.

  11. I think the food at Saigon Grill is really fantastic. Having just spent the better part of a month in Vietnam eating and drinking, I am very happy to have Saigon Grill in Durham to scratch my itch for excellent Vietnamese food.

  12. The best Vietnamese food I’ve had in the Triangle was at Pho Cali in Raleigh http://bit.ly/XFzFw . It’s been a LONG time since I was last there, though, so I don’t know if the place is still around. I’ve been to 9N9 several times and had the rice dishes every time I was there, but didn’t think the food was very good.

  13. brandon…

    Pho cali noodle palace is still around, it’s one of the few reasons we go to raleigh. we love it, some others dont, but whatever.

    i LOVE sitting in front of s bowl of pho in there, fresh herbs and chilies and veggies and extensive condiments…mmm

  14. I forget the name of what I ended up choosing, but it was a specially made vegetarian dish with lemongrass tofu and rice noodles. I thought the dish was fantastic… very fresh, flavorful and came with it’s own vegetarian sauce (no fish) that was also delicious. Bonus: It’s better than Bahn’s tofu (not as salty), you can get it everyday, and it’s cheaper!! I also had veggie spring rolls and thai iced tea, the former was just like ones I recently had at the Vietnamese Tet celebration (fresh & authentic) and the latter was pretty run of the mill.

    Overall, the meal was fantastic, the staff was very kind, and the atmosphere was pleasant. They’re looking to getting their alcohol permits, but since there are so many other interesting drinks on the menu, I don’t really see the point.

  15. I’ll second tooth on Pakse – great banh mi and occasionally have vietnamese/lao specialties such as salted fried beef, and different sauces. definitely a hidden treasure

  16. Went to Saigon Grill again last night, and this time I had the Pho. It was definitely less salty than 9N9, which for my girlfriend is a plus, as she has a lower salt tolerance level than I do. I thought it was pretty close to right, and a couple of dashes of fish sauce put it where I wanted it. Overall I might give the edge to 9N9, but luckily I don’t have to pick just one 😉

    @Brandon H, I rarely stray from the Pho at 9N9 because my non-Pho experiences have been kinda meh there.

    I have to put in another plug for the salty lemon soda at Saigon Grill. I think it’s actually my favorite thing on their menu.

  17. Thank you Carpe Durham for the heads up about this place! We went last Saturday and had a very enjoyable meal. For drinks my wife got the basil seeds drink (tasted like banana Now-n-Laters, remember that candy) and I got the bits of young coconut and coconut jelly with coconut milk– tasty but hard to drink through a straw because the buts kept getting stuck. We shared one of those crepes as a app. So lovely with all the fresh herbs. For entree my wife got the vermacilli with a couple of grilled shrimp, two small fried spring rolls, and grilled pork. I got the pan fried vermacilli with grill pork, fried shallot and green onions. Siagon Grill has to be one of the best values in the Triangle. The crepe was $4.95, my wife’s dish was $6.95, and mine was $11.95. We will be returning soon to try more of their intriguing choices– and often.

  18. We have gotten take out several times and always had excellent food. I find their pho to be better than 9N9 (to my taste). We recently got the catfish cooked in a hotpot and that was excellent (although very salty). We also were impressed with with shrimp soup off of the house specials. Very interesting flavor combination with pineapple, celery, okra, shrimp and what I think were lardons– overall delicious. I think I am also addicted to the sweet mung bean drink– awesome!

  19. Here’s a photo of the aforementioned special shrimp soup; one thing L didn’t mention is that it is GIANT. M. ate quite a bit of hers & we still took home 1 1/2 quarts of leftovers.

    House special shrimp & vegetable soup - Saigon Grill

  20. My experiences at Saigon Grille have been consistently good; my wife and I are both Vietnamese and consider the food quite authentic. The prices are fair-to-cheap, the service is as expected for Vietnamese restaurants that don’t necessarily cater to non-Vietnamese patrons, and the food is good-to-great. I’ve had the pho at Pho Cali and Pho 9N9 and it’s better than both of those places. The Canh Chua and ca kho are excellent.

    My suspicion is that if you gave a Vietnamese person the option to eat at Pho 9N9, Pho Cali or Saigon Grille, that the majority would pick Saigon Grille. If you gave that option to non-Vietnamese people, the results might be more variable.

    • Thanks for the recommendations. If you have any others, I would love to hear them. I really want to like this place, but I must always be ordering the wrong things.

  21. Saigon Grill is awesome. I’ve had the number 26, like… twelve times. Everyone should check this joint out at least once. I live about four doors down, so I would like to see it stick around for a long time.

  22. the really amazing thing is that, 2 months after opening, Johnny is still getting the runaround from whoever needs to approve his ABC permits. It’s almost as if the city doesn’t want to see successful businesses in this stretch of Roxboro St.

    Unfriggin’believable.


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