Food & Drank: Saigon Restaurant and Bakery

By Abbie Shain

I love restaurants. I agree, it is frivolous, especially if you are a first-year, and on a 19-meal a week plan. One could always talk oneself down from the tree of eating out, and one would probably be right. But, it is such a delicious and fun thing to do! Food is a great way to begin to interact with the amazing amounts of cultural diversity that the Twin Cities offers. Without further ado, I present, Saigon Restaurant and Bakery on University Avenue. Readers, do not expect white tablecloths. Saigon offers good food fast, and has a very relaxed atmosphere, without much attention to frills or fine china. For a restaurant like this, the charm comes from eating at a tiny restaurant in the middle of a largely ethnic Asian business district and eating delectable food, not from cloth napkins or wineglasses. Every variety of ethnic food offers a different flavor palette. Vietnamese food is known for being sweet and salty, with a myriad of textures in every bite. Saigon is a University Avenue Vietnamese establishment famous for its sandwiches on fresh French bread. Starting at $1.50, each sandwich is topped with lightly pickled carrots, fresh cilantro, and mayonaise. There are a wide variety of fillings, including perfectly fried tofu, paté, meatballs and grilled chicken. All sandwiches are made to order and can be customized. The Banh Mi, or Vietnamese sandwich, offers a specific and delicious balance of flavor and texture that I haven’t found elsewhere. The crunch of carrot and cucumber, mixed with the freshness of cilantro, and the flavor of meat or tofu creates a great sandwich with a price that cannot be beat! If you trek all the way to University Avenue, you may want more than a sandwich. In this case, I recommend Bún, my absolute favorite dish on their menu. This is a cold rice noodle salad with lightly pickled carrots, peanuts, and a special sauce. You can order Bún with any meat, I always do so with fried tofu. Each bite is jam packed with sweet and salty, crunchy and soft, and it is delicious in every season. They serve you an enormous bowl of Bún for only six dollars, the lowest price I’ve found in the Twin Cities, after a thorough investigation of tiny Vietnamese establishments. As the winter slowly tucks itself in, you may be feeling something warm. Something…dare I say…soupy? Saigon has the answer. Pho (pronounced ph-uh) is Vietnamese noodle soup. Saigon is famous for their take on this classic, served with Vietnamese basil, mint, lime, and bean sprouts. This is the epitome of comfort food, a huge bowl of rice noodles, tasty broth, and something crunchy to top it off. I imagine that by this point in the year, life has brought you to University Avenue, whether for a class or a Target run. However, it bears saying or repeating that University Avenue business can always use our help. Eating at small, locally owned businesses like Saigon is a choice that demonstrates our support during tough economic times, that are only exacerbated by construction on the Light Rail project. Directions to Saigom: Campus Center to 704 University Ave W; take the 84 North towards Rosedale and get off at Snelling and Shields (essentially Snelling and University, made more complicated by Light Rail Construction). This will be a 5-ish minute bus ride. Walk to University and Simpson, and get on the 16 bus headed West for 12 minutes. Get off of the 16 at Dale. Saigon is located in a pink-ish building that also has a donut shop and Sibley bike depot as some landmarks! Recipe for Vegetarian Banh Mi Ingredients 1 package extra-firm tofu 3 Tablespoons (or more) peanut or olive oil Salt Garlic Powder, for sprinkling 3 carrots 1 Tablespoon rice wine vinegar 3 Tablespoons soy sauce 1 Tablespoon sugar 2 teaspoons water 1 teaspoon sesame seeds Rolls, typically Baguette style 1 bunch, cilantro handful, mint leaves 1 cucumber, peeled and sliced Red onions, peeled and sliced thinly Jalapeño peppers, sliced Scallions, chopped Mayo Hoisin sauce Directions 1. For carrot salad: Peel carrots, and grate them in a food processor or with a hand grater. Toss carrots with vinegar, soy sauce, sugar, water, and sesame seeds. 2. To prepare tofu: Remove tofu block from package and cut into 8 slices. Using a paper towel or a kitchen rag, carefully sponge off each piece of tofu. (This is to remove the water, to help the tofu cook more evenly and fry more evenly. This is the speedy method of tofu preparation, I will write about a more complicated and complete method at some other point.) Heat a skillet, add the oil, and fry the tofu slices turning every 3-4 minutes until the tofu is golden brown. Sprinkle with salt and garlic powder. 3. To make your sandwich, add tofu, carrot salad, and whatever other ingredients I listed that sound delicious to you. Experiment! Variations: Substitute the tofu for any other meat product, especially grilled chicken.