Secret Garden is one of the most popular tourist joints (though they say it’s popular with locals too) in central Ho Chi Minh, located along Pasteur Street but tucked away into an alley, and up an unassuming flight of stairs. Or rather, 5 flights of stairs. That’s right, they certainly make you work for your meal in an old and a little rundown yet quaint apartment building with a broken elevator. Arrive at the top and you are certain to be greeted with a crowd of tourists trying to get a seat at one of the most picturesque restaurants in the city: a rooftop garden teeming with color and life.
Patterned tiles, colorful lanterns, hanging plants and their very own herb and spice garden, with waiters in matching silk kaftans in soothing pastel tones, Secret Garden may be a traveling Instagrammer’s wet dream. But to us, it was our dinner venue on a Wednesday night at 8PM where we still had to wait for over half an hour to be seated when it was too dark and certainly too crowded to whip out our phones and block the waiters’ narrow pathways. Tummies grumbling in the waiting area where we were seated next to a caged chicken, we were thankfully served flavored cold water to battle the humidity by the smiling waiters who spoke near perfect English. It is no wonder this place has more tourists than locals, but we wonder if that is something that works to its advantage or not.
Finally seated beneath the hanging plants, we ordered a number of dishes from the menu ranging from the safe papaya salad to the unusual escargot stuffed with pork, but two dishes stood out to us the most.
Fried in batter and rolled in sesame seeds, the prawns are one of those dishes that instantly attract you on the menu and are as delicious as they sound. The kind of dish that every member of the family can enjoy, it is an instant hit in a predictable way. But if you are looking for something for a little more depth, we suggest…
Pot-Braised Basa Catfish
The catfish’s soft and tender meat finds home in your mouth where it gently melts over your tongue. Swimming in a sweet-ish, sour-ish red sauce (that, in true Pinoy fashion, we suggest pouring over an order of fried rice).
is it worth it?
A nice break from the endless street eats we tend to stuff our faces with while on vacation, Secret Garden brings with it a sweet charm. It is an enchanting experience, from ducking into an alley and locating the entrance to the old French building, to winding up the stairs and wondering if we really are going the right away, to arriving at the rooftop garden, and finally being seated. Though the restaurant is visibly very busy, once you are seated, you feel tranquil and comfortable in the atmosphere that they have created.
SECRET GARDEN, Ho CHI MINH
Secret Garden is one of the most popular restaurants in Ho Chi Minh, serving traditional and advertised as “homemade” Vietnamese food.