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Jul 26, 2008 07:07 PM

MSP: The Fall of Saigon

I am sad to report that I have gone to Saigon Restaurant on University and Dale in St Paul for the last time. It used to be my favorite pho restaurant--my go-to for Vietnamese and where I would send friends for a good meal. They used to have the best broth on University, they're the only place I've found spring rolls with sizzling grilled (rather than roasted) pork inside, and at certain times of the day you could get sandwiches and pastries there too. I probably started going in '99 or '00.

Now though, it is dismal. Their service is competent, if a bit brusque, and food arrives quickly, but that's where the good ends. The last time I went the broth was still OK but there was hardly any meat. I know food prices are insane, so I was like, fine...I'll just get extra meat next time. This time my BF and I both got pho tai, large, with extra meat. They have increased their prices by 75 cents for all entrees (a long-due change), so I figured that with the increased price and extra meat it would be a hearty meal. Nope :(

The amount of meat was less than on my previous visit, and sliced so thin the pieces balled up and stuck to each other. The broth was completely bland, no matter how many sauces and garnishes I added, and had a disturbing dishwater-esque cloudiness. It just didn't seem right. Even my beloved spring rolls were a flop--the pork was overcooked and charred on the edges.

The disappointment got me to looking around and I realized what a dump the place is. The floor was completely filthy and so were the lower walls. There was a mysterious vat of brown sauce sitting out on top of a pile of newspapers and phonebooks by the backdoor. The staff were eating and drinking behind the counter, and coming and going from the building willy-nilly, many of them in flip flops. My BF ventured in the men's bathroom and he came back saying it had the worst smell he'd ever encountered, and every other guy who came out of there did so with a sour look on their faces (and you could hear everyone spraying air freshener when they went in). I didn't even try the ladies' room.

I know Saigon is suffering--they keep increasing the minimum credit card charge and no longer accept checks at all. The prices are going up while the quality goes down and they no longer seem to offer bakery goods. They've started offering boba tea, which smacks of the last desperate act of a restaurant trying to branch out into overpriced drinks. I was amazed when Hoa Bien on Lexington & University expanded into its swanky new building after being a dingy shack in a cracking parking lot for so long. It could be that they've grabbed all the customers seeking Vietnamese on Univ. Ave, and it can snag them before they head all the way east to Dale. Hoa Bien's broth doesn't match what Saigon's was in its heyday, and their staff seem more befuddled and unwelcoming, but at least it's clean and has many dependably good restaurant items.

At this point I couldn't take a friend to Saigon or ever recommend it. I'm sorry to say that Saigon has fallen.

Anyone else with similar or contrasting experiences in recent months there?

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  1. I've been systematically working through all the pho shops in the Twin Cities. Pho 79 on Nicollet and 25th has the best flavored soup - IMO of course.


    1. Tasmonia, glad to see that I'm not the only one dismayed and disappointed with the decline of Saigon. We used to be HUGE fans about 5 years ago and have stopped going at all the last two years because of the filth, the service and the downhill slide of their food. Used to be that you could depend on Saigon for rich, well flavored pho and well prepared bun with grilled meat and egg roll but no more...

      Trieu Chau, on the other side of the street, has in my opinion, actually improved on their food - we find ourselves there for the pho and bun (check out the #150 on their menu). Quality seems much better than it used to be.

      1. I haven't been to the Saigon for about a week, but when I was last there, my sandwich was as lovely as ever. I haven't dined in for about a month, but the food was great and the service was typically brisk-but-friendly when I was last there. Sure, the place shows some signs of wear - especially the walls and floor, and the cash-register area is cluttered, but the tables and dishes are clean, so I'm fine with that.

        I'll risk my tastebuds to try them again soon, as I need to know if they're on a slide. I know that the owner is very involved with finding a new location for the restaurant - that end of the block is due to be torn down this fall - so perhaps there's less supervision than before. I hope it was just a fluke, though. Life without Saigon's amazing grilled-pork spring rolls would be very sad indeed.


        6 Replies
        1. re: AnneInMpls

          That end of the block is going to be torn down? I had no idea! I've moved several times in the past few months and I'm out of touch with what's going on in that area. I noticed that Foodsmart is getting pretty freaky too. Is this to do with the Lightrail?

          1. re: tasmonia

            Nope, not light rail - a developer is building a multi-use residential building (townhouses, I presume). Saigon was offered a spot in the building, but they'd need to be closed for a year, and the owner felt that wouldn't work. (I agree - that would be a killer for a small restaurant.)

            I really wonder what's going to happen to Big Daddy's and the police station - both are essential services for the area!


            1. re: AnneInMpls

              The police station has already been torn down..... I just noticed the other day. I hadn’t heard about the plans for that corner. I was wondering what had happened......

              Uncle Ira

              1. re: Uncle Ira

                Frogtown Square will have 20,000 sf of retail on the main level and have housing for 50 low income units on top. Big Daddy's has until Spring of '09 to leave, at which time that building will be demolished (as will Saigon).

              2. re: AnneInMpls

                Hey all,
                I work for the Greater Frogtown Community Development Corporation, one of the partners in the new Frogtown Square building that will begin construction in 2009. A few more details and drawings are available on our web site. The police station got a new building on Hamline, and our development team bought the rest of the site. Big Daddy's may move in to the new building, but as has been reported, Lysa Bui at Saigon is looking to move in the next few months. Happy to answer any questions anyone may have.

                1. re: Boland

                  I was eating lunch there just yesterday - Bahn Mi was great, as usual. Noticed that they had a sign up by the register announcing they would be moving in Nov. to the following address: 704 University Ave. West. I paid attention on my way home, and that is the storefront where Thai Bazil was located. So Saigon has their new home, and hopefully some of the original poster's concerns will be addressed once they move into their new digs. My thought is not that Saigon is struggling - they are busier than ever. (And just check out the Hummers and Escalades parked directly behind the building), but with their uncertain future, and with the economy being what it is right now, of course prices need to be increased. I can also understand placing a minimum on credit card orders, as that is a huge, huge cost to a small business. But as to the cleanliness, run down shop, well, if they knew they were leaving, and the place was being torn down, I am sure they were not planning on spending a lot of time or money to keep it fixed up. Hopefully they will have a more secure feeling in their new place, and that will be reflected in how they take care of it and run it.