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Hẻm Gems: Fine Dining at a Budget Price in Binh Thanh's Mai Sen Bistro

When it comes to dining in Binh Thanh District, most Saigoneers probably think of street food, or perhaps the strip of Japanese establishments on Pham Viet Chanh Street.

Around the corner from those temples to curry and sushi, however, sits Mai Sen, the only white-tablecloth restaurant I've ever eaten at in the district. The grounds, which also feature a cooking school and hotel management training center, are a pleasant oasis amid the usual chaos of Saigon's streets.

Photo by Kevin Lee.

A tree-shaded courtyard makes for a lovely setting when the weather is nice, while the bright, airy interior features large windows that do a great job of keeping out the noise of traffic.

The eatery's full name is the Mai Sen Hotel & Restaurant Professional School. Here, underprivileged Vietnamese youth are learning about baking, cooking and hotel and restaurant management through the German dual vocational training system.

Graduates of Mai Sen's three-year training program enter the job market highly qualified to work in the hospitality industry.

Photo by Kevin Lee.

Mai Sen's menu is unusual for the area - Vietnamese staples such as bủn chả and bún thịt nướng are available - but the main draw is hearty European fare such as schnitzel and steak.

Prices are very reasonable as well, with meals generally costing about half of what they would in central District 1, while portions are generous. You won't leave hungry, that's for sure. 

Accompanied by Brandon and Kevin, our resident photographers, we went for a selection of western dishes. The Munich schnitzel with fried potatoes and bacon cabbage salad (VND135,000) was an appropriately hearty helping of stout German fare.

Photo by Brandon Coleman.

I'm certainly not a schnitzel aficionado, but this one was perfectly fried, while the flavorful potatoes and cabbage salad filled out the meal well.

The breaded basa fillet with remoulade and herb potatoes (VND115,000), along with the salmon steak on spinach with yogurt dill sauce and herb potatoes (VND165,000), were hits as well. Both also highlighted Mai Sen's outstanding value, particularly the salmon, which could easily cost over VND300,000 elsewhere.

Mai Sen provides an eclectic drinks menu as well, with coffee, tea, excellent smoothies, cocktails and affordable German beer available.

The service deserves to be commended as well, as the staff is friendly and attentive, while a bakery area allows customers to take home-made treats and bread with them.

In the end, Mai Sen offers great food, welcoming service and a comfortable atmosphere, while also providing much-needed training and education to those who really need it.

Photo by Kevin Lee.

To sum up:

Taste: 5/5

Price: 5/5

Atmosphere: 4/5

Friendliness: 5/5

Location: 4/5

Michael has almost no sense of smell and was an on-screen extra in Jurassic World. You can usually find him with a craft beer in hand.

European Cuisine

56 Nguyen Van Lac, Ward 19, Binh Thanh District

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