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Hẻm Gems: The Oldest Hủ Tiếu Bò Viên in Town

With only three dishes on the menu, this hủ tiếu spot has been running for more than five decades.

Even though it doesn’t have any grand name or eye-catching design, the consistency in the is the central appeal to its longstanding reputation.

Whether it is a rainy day or an extremely humid day at Saigon, Hủ Tiếu Bò Viên 153 is often packed with customers. The unchanging taste of the noodles seems to be the best selling point of the store. Thus, prior to our arrival, I was anxious whether we would have a table to enjoy our Friday after-work meal.

Luckily, we were the only ones there at the time, a surprising scene for this usually crowded place. It had been three years since my last visit, and it still looks the same as how I remember it even from ten years ago — the same chairs and tables, with a hidden aquarium along the back wall. Indeed, time seems to have stopped here.

When I was a child, my grandma would always take me here and order a portion of meatballs for my evening meal: it is my grandmother’s favorite restaurant. Despite her reputation for being a stingy grandma, in the early 2000s she was willing to spend VND30,000 for a bowl of noodle soup with only three meatballs. Over the nearly 20 years that I've been coming back, the chef still offers only three meatballs, no more, no less.

This consistency is a theme for Hủ Tiếu Bò Viên 153, even while many restaurants continuously change their menu to keep diners interested. The longstanding three dishes are noodle soup with meatballs (hủ tiếu bò viên), noodle soup with assorted meats (hủ tiếu thập cẩm), and noodle soup with beef flank (hủ tiếu tái nạm). The three dishes use the same soup base; thus, the only difference between them is their toppings.

Some might say that the menu is boring; however, the meatball is a crucial ingredient for its success. Since the meatball is the signature food of this place, the most popular dish here is the hủ tiếu bò viên. Unlike most bò viên elsewhere, these are chewy and juicy, with the signature taste of Chinese spices and herbs. Moreover, the flavor is not too strong: the cook seasons the bò viên with the right amount of spices so that you still taste the savory flavor of the beef, along with the pungent soup base.

When I asked the store’s owner about the secret that has created his 60-year legacy, he proudly said: “We just keep everything the same.” During the 1960s, the current owner’s brother founded the shop with the three noodle dishes after migrating to Vietnam from China. The spectacular taste of Chinese spices was the primary selling point back then. After the owner’s brother passed down the business to him, he vowed to preserve the taste regardless of the circumstances. As he now plans to give the business to his niece, the same preservation principle will also be passed down.

The only thing that has changed about this place is the price. To keep up with inflation, the price has increased substantially over the years, with a relatively small bowl of hủ tiếu bò viên now costing VND65,000. Hence, many online food reviewers complain about the rising price despite no changes being made to the dishes or the taste. However, for many old customers, the price increase is reasonable. They are still willing to pay extra money for their favorite dish. With more than 50 years of building loyal customers, the store has already established a strong reputation for its quality. In fact, they have even expanded their business by distributing bò viên to other vendors.

Hủ Tiếu Bò Viên 153 opens every day, but only from 4pm to 10pm. Whenever I visit, the owner is the one doing the cooking.

To sum up

Taste: 4/5

Location: 5/5

Friendliness: 4/5

Price: 3/5 — VND65,000

Atmosphere - 4/5

Tran is a milk tea addict with a weird obsession over raccoons. In her free time, she drinks milk tea while watching documentaries about raccoons.

Noodles with beef and meatballs

153 Vĩnh Viễn, Ward 4, D10

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