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Hẻm Gems: The Porcine Pleasure of a D2 Cơm Tấm Outpost

What comes to mind when you hear the words 'District 2'?

Expensive brunches? Snooty expats? Craft beer? Possibly Saigon's worst infrastructure? As a resident of the area, I can confirm that we have all of those things, but I think the district's bad rap (among my colleagues, at least) comes from it being synonymous with Thao Dien.

In fact, District 2 is massive, spanning far more than just that neighborhood which sticks out in the Saigon River like a hitchhiker's thumb.

Take Thanh My Loi Ward, for example. Judging by Google Maps, this ward is roughly double the size of Thao Dien, but be honest, have you ever heard of it? The riverfront stretch of Thanh My Loi features more open space than you'll find almost anywhere within Saigon's geographic borders, as well as very little traffic.

Meanwhile, Nguyen Thi Dinh Street, located elsewhere in the ward, is as 'local' as you can get it, and there isn't a western hipster in sight. This lengthy, two-lane road zigs and zags as if a cartographer got drunk while drawing it, and features numerous Vietnamese restaurants covering a broad range of cuisine.

As with many urban streets in Vietnam, the longer you drive on Nguyen Thi Dinh, the more it all looks the same, so keep an eye out for Com Tam Ut Muoi at address number 480.

You don't come here for the ambience; it's a typical aluminum table/plastic stool joint with self-serve trà đá, though the friendly resident dog is a nice touch.

The focal point, therefore, is the prodigious cơm tấm cart at the front. All of your usual friends are surely here: grilled chicken, grilled pork chop, various fish dishes, etc. The star of the show, however, is the cơm tấm heo quay, featuring a mound of crispy pork fat, a generous helping of pork skin, several hearty slices of cucumber and tomato, and a delightful side soup. Get there early though, as if you wait, it'll be gone.

Behold, pork! Photo by Michael Tatarski.

Heo quay is obviously a stalwart of Vietnamese cuisine, but I hadn't discovered it in cơm tấm form before, and it was a revelation; the crispy yet fatty pork morsels explode with flavor, and the pork skin holds true to the adage I just made up that you can never have too much pork in a dish.

My friends who introduced me to this place are adamant that the cơm tấm heo quay is the best com tam in Saigon. I'm not sure I would go that far, but it's well worth a visit, at the very least to expand your District 2 horizon beyond what you're probably envisioning. 

To sum up:

Taste: 5/5

Price: 5/5

Atmosphere: 3/5

Friendliness: 5/5

Location: 3/5

Michael has almost no sense of smell and was an on-screen extra in Jurassic World. You can usually find him with a craft beer in hand.

Cơm tấm

480 Nguyen Thi Dinh, Thanh My Loi Ward, D2

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