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Hẻm Gems: Handmade Noodles Hidden Amid the Mayhem of Hang Xanh

The traffic-choked wastelands of Hang Xanh are one of the last places you'd expect to find an incredible meal of noodles.

If you're like me, you've driven near Mi Nguyen Loi countless times without ever realizing it exists. The small restaurant just north of the horrific Dien Bien Phu-Xo Viet Nghe Tinh roundabout, is easy to miss, but it should be firmly on your food radar.

The noodle spot has been open for over 60 years which its faded sign can attest to. You'll need to keep an eye out for the cart out front, where the delicious bowls are assembled.

Inside, a few tables and chairs fill out an equally ancient-looking dining room, though the space is elevated by the beautiful old-school tile flooring. One wall is inexplicably covered in phone numbers written in chalk.

The compact menu posted on another wall is all business: just seven items; three types of mì and four types of hủ tiếu.

We went for the mì hoành thánh and the dry hủ tiếu thập cẩm. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the restaurant's name, the mì was the star, and easily rivals anything I've had in Cholon, where you'd expect to find such dishes.

The plump dumplings didn't fall apart when picked up with chopsticks, a common problem that can make for an unpleasant dining experience, in my opinion. The noodles, made with decades of experience by the middle-aged proprietors (who were all smiles), were a true revelation. I honestly didn't think you could find a dish like this in this part of Saigon but was I ever wrong.

The hủ tiếu was very good as well, though the noodles were on the chewy side, but completely overshadowed by the mì. These two, along with two glasses of trà đá, totaled VND90,000.

Perhaps most importantly, for me at least, this eatery shows how easy it is to build up misconceptions about Saigon. I regularly pass through this part of Binh Thanh on my way to or from home, and I had always assumed it was a food desert. Indeed, Mi Nguyen Li is sandwiched between two nondescript shops, across from a backpack store and random tạp hóa, while relentless traffic streams by on what must surely be one of the city's most-used roads.

Little did I know, however, that this true gem, which can go toe-to-toe with anything from districts like 5, 6 or 10, was hidden among the chaff.   

This can be a lesson, then, to give neighborhoods a second look, as you never know what you'll find. And did I mention that it's open 24/7?

To sum up:

Taste: 5/5

Price: 5/5

Atmosphere: 3/5

Friendliness: 5/5

Location: 4/5 (though you'll have to drive in the wrong direction to get back to Hang Xanh)

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.

Hủ tiếu

333 Xo Viet Nghe Tinh, Ward 24, Binh Thanh District

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