September 24, 2014

The Foodie’s Guide to Saigon Kitchen

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Saigon Kitchen easily tops my list of favorite restaurants in Ithaca. I first dined here when I revisited Cornell as a senior in high school. I’m not going to say that this restaurant influenced my decision to attend Cornell, but it definitely didn’t hurt. While Saigon Kitchen doesn’t have an overly extensive menu, it does have alot of genuine and unique Vietnamese dishes that can be hard to navigate if you aren’t familiar with the cuisine. As a Saigon Kitchen regular (the staff recognizes me and has my favorite order memorized) I’ve pinpointed some of the restaurant’s best dishes that every customer should try at some point.

Avocado Bubble Tea

Along with the dining menu comes a drinks menu that features a selection of wonderful, authentic Asian drinks. Specifically, I refer to the bubble tea smoothies. Of the list of different fruit smoothie options, I highly recommend one incredibly unique flavor, avocado. Yes, I know avocado is used in guacamole and salads, but I promise you this smoothie doesn’t taste like a guacamole slushie. The smoothie consists of avocado, milk and sugar — pure simplicity that is also excessive deliciousness. The avocado enhances the creaminess of the milk and thickens the texture so that the drink is more like a milkshake. To top it all off, fresh tapioca balls sit at the bottom of the drink. Saigon’s tapioca balls are the perfect balance of chewy and sweet. I know an avocado bubble tea smoothie sounds strange, but it’s definitely worth a try. Everyone I have suggested it to ends up loving it.

Shrimp Summer Rolls

As for appetizers, you can’t go wrong with the summer rolls. The restaurant offers three filling options: shrimp, chicken and tofu. My favorite is the shrimp because it adds a hint of sweetness to the fresh veggies. The rice paper in these summer rolls is the softest, chewiest rice paper I have ever had, which clearly indicates fresh ingredients and preparation. Inside the rolls the veggies are just as fresh and crisp.

Moreover, the peanut dipping sauce with crushed peanuts served with the rolls is absolutely incredible. Every time I finish my rolls, I finish the peanut sauce with it. Saigon’s peanut sauce isn’t too sweet and has a hearty peanut butter taste that adds a savory flavor to every bite. Together, the peanut sauce and summer rolls make a dynamite appetizer that cannot be passed up.

Tai Gau Soup

I’ve dined at Saigon Kitchen many, many times, and although I’ve tried to explore the menu, I always find myself ordering the Tai Gau soup. Saigon makes a dynamite broth that is simultaneously savory,  sweet and salty for all of the pho soups. The broth itself is incredibly hard to describe, but there’s no denying that it is absolutely amazing. The rice noodles used in the soup are soft with just the right amount of chewiness. I prefer the Tai Gau over other meat options because the tendon is chewy and lean, contrasting with the soup’s fatty brisket which seems to almost melt in your mouth. Throw some bean sprouts in there for a little crunch, and you have one delicious bowl of soup that is perfect on a cold winter day or a sweltering summer day. It’s that good.

Sesame Balls

A trip to Saigon is not complete without an order of sesame balls — deep-fried pastries filled with a sweet red bean paste — for dessert. The shells are  crispy on the outside, but  chewy and soft on the inside. They’re filled with red bean paste that isn’t overly sweet. Although red bean is definitely an acquired taste, everyone I have suggested these sesame balls to has greatly enjoyed them. So, before you grab the check, make sure to order some sesame balls to complete your experience at Saigon’s Kitchen.

RECIPE | Vietnamese Iced Coffee


Vietnamese iced coffee tastes delicious, even to non-coffee drinkers. You can find the drink at Saigon Kitchen, and now at Franny’s on campus, but it’s also simple and inexpensive to make yourself.


1 cup coffee

2 tablespoons condensed milk

1 glass of ice


Start by brewing the  coffee. Traditionally, Vietnamese iced coffee uses drip coffee but feel free to use any method. Stir condensed milk into the coffee. Finally, pour the mixture over ice, stir and enjoy!