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Hẻm Gems: Korean Comfort Food in Binh Thanh for Hungover Heads

One of the great joys of dining out is coming across the unexpected.

For some, this may come in the form of wild inventions at high-end restaurants. While I enjoy a molecular infusion of sea bream in ossobuco from the Basque region as much as the next person, some of my most enjoyable meals have been at low-budget eateries with some combination of location and cuisine that doesn't really make much sense.

Take Quán Cơm Trộn 2 Cô, for example. Nestled in the back streets of Binh Thanh District between Dien Bien Phu and Xo Viet Nghe Tinh, a neighborhood I had never driven through in a decade here, the narrow business is easy to miss (and don't get confused by the grungy cơm tấm spot with the same name directly across the street).

Despite being far from any of Saigon's traditional South Korean areas, the menu focuses on dishes from that Northeast Asian country. The name, cơm trộn, is a bit of a giveaway for those who know the translation: bibimbap.

The dish, a favorite of mine in Korean cuisine, features a white rice base topped with sautéed vegetables, kimchi, gochujang, and a fried egg, though there are other varieties as well.

Additionally, the menu features a full page of kimbap, or Korean rice rolls, a number of other rice and noodle dishes, pork tonkatsu and, perhaps most surprisingly, tteokbokki (VND45,000). It's a popular snack or side dish made of long, cylindrical rice cakes doused in gochujang or other sauces.

I had tteokbokki for the first time about eight years ago at a market in Seoul on a frigid late December night, and I can confirm that this is an incredible dish to help warm you up on a winter evening.

Of course, we don't have cold winter evenings in Saigon, but we wanted to try the tteokbokki. Sadly it did not live up to my memories of Seoul, and included slices of the cheap convenience store sausage that can probably survive a nuclear holocaust. Twinkies, cockroaches, and Circle K sausages: they will rule the barren landscape left behind once humanity finally destroys itself.

Fortunately, the rest of the food more than made up for thetteokbokki's shortcomings.

We split an order of maki chiên xù (VND50,000), or kimbap with fried pork, the titular bibimbap (VND45,000), pork tonkatsu (VND59,000), and fried chicken cutlet with cheese and spaghetti (VND55,000). In case you're wondering: yes, this was a carb-heavy meal.

The plump kimbap rolls were an instant favorite, and they came up with some sort of spicy mayo sauce that made for an excellent flavor combination.

The bibimbap, while probably not up there with Saigon's finest Korean restaurants, was eminently respectable, and the gochujang added a healthy kick of heat that I really appreciated. If you're a purist, you may find some knits to pick here, but for the price you can't go wrong.

Both the chicken and pork cutlets were beautifully fried: delightfully crispy on the outside, and tender and juicy on the inside. The pasta that came with the former was on the sweet side, but I had to laugh at the slice of American cheese melted on top of the chicken — it reminded me of childhood grilled cheeses in the US.

I assumed the tonkatsu was just another hair-brained addition to the somewhat wacky menu, but a former colleague who lives in Seoul assured me that Koreans have actually adopted tonkatsu nationwide and put their own mark on it.

Shared among three people, these dishes were more than enough, leaving each of us quite full by the end, and the bill was extremely wallet-friendly.

Quán Cơm Trộn 2 Cô has actually been around since 2014, though I had never heard of it before, so they've obviously struck a chord. The food is very good and, to quote our photographer, perfect weekend hangover food. The interior is as delightfully unexpected as the menu, featuring fake license plates from a bunch of US states, photos of their food, and an adorable painted mural of bibimbap with a couple of mini-chefs putting it together.

Many discussions of food these days revolve around the concept of authenticity, and frankly I'm tired of those debates. Is a Vietnamese-run restaurant in the side streets of Binh Thanh serving "authentic" Korean cuisine? Probably not, but when it's this delicious, who cares?

Note: there is another Quán Cơm Trộn 2 Cô location at 250 Le Van Sy, Tan Binh District.

To sum up:

Taste: 5/5

Price: 5/5

Atmosphere: 3/5

Friendliness: 5/5

Location: 5/5

Michael was an on-screen extra in Jurassic World and can usually be found with a craft beer in hand.

Korean-inspired fast food

294/63 Xo Viet Nghe Tinh, Binh Thanh District

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