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Apr 15, 2009 05:34 AM

Saigon Grill for dinner...well worth the wait.

The SO and I went to Saigon Grill in Durham last night for dinner, eager to see how our meal would stack up against the varied reviews on Carpe Durham and other Durham food blogs. In short, we were a) really glad we got there when we did (more on that in a bit) and b) really glad we went, period.

Started with some grilled pork fresh spring rolls and the traditional vietnamese crepes. The spring rolls started the meal off on the right note-- to start with, they were huge. Obviously freshly made, with really juicy marinated pork and homemade nam pla for dipping. Absolutely delicious.

Some 15 minutes later arrived the crepe, which smelled absolutely divine. As is the norm with this dish, it was served with some long leaf lettuce (romaine, i think), some mint, cilantro, and a big fat leaf of perilla (new to us-- looked like a huge serrated basil leaf, purple on one side, green on the other--upon further research, looks to be a variety of shiso.)
The crepe itself was crispy, redolent of coconut and fried shallots, and had shrimp and pork stuffed inside, as well as the requisite noodles and bean sprouts. boy was this good. Very well balanced, with no flavor out-hustling the other--great symbiosis.

For dinner, we decided to go against the grain and skip the pho, despite some misgivings at first. SO got the rice plate with chargrill pork and egg rolls (com thit nuong, cha gio). Pork was super flavorful-- lots of brown sugar and rice vin, great sear on the pork. Cha gio was crispy and delicious as well. FWIW, it was a colossal amount of food as well for less than $7.

Speaking of colossal, I got the Canh Chua Ca, a traditional sweet and sour vietnamese fish soup. This was without question the highlight of the meal. SO was super excited to see it on the menu, since she hadn't seen it on any Vietnamese menus in the area. Broth was either fish or shrimp stock based (I think shrimp), with lots of tamarind, pineapple, lime, basil, and a few other notes in there that I wasn't able to manage. SUPER fresh catfish, celery, okra, jalepenos, bean sprouts, tomato, and pineapple rounded out a very complex dish. Unbelievably wide range of textures-- it was clear that this dish, like everything else we had eaten to that point, had been made to order. The celery was crunchy and maintained its high bitter note. The broth sang with bright acidity and, despite its delicate nature, a surprising richness from the tamarind. I ate continuously for a good 25 minutes, and I still have almost a quart of leftovers.

After talking to the two sisters who were hurriedly waiting tables in the restaurant, we discovered that their mom is the only cook (with one helper to pick herbs, etc)-- and she makes *everything* to order. While this is a glorious concept to discover for someone like me, I can only hope that it can carry them forward in a tough economy. During our meal, no fewer than 10 people left after they were told before ordering that their meal would take 45 minutes to come out, despite the restaurant not being full. Interestingly enough, we were not told this when we were sat, and I wonder whether we would have stayed... certainly I would have been intrigued. Now I'm sure I would wait as long as it took to eat this excellent food. This is a real gem in what is becoming the best food town in the Triangle. Take a good book or an interesting, charming dining companion to offset the wait, and you won't be sorry.

Saigon Grill
Durham, NC, Durham, NC

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  1. Great review, Pigloader! Really well written and detailed. I'll draw an interesting parallel to Saigon Grill: Poole's Diner. Ashley Christensen and staff make everything to order and it can take a while to get your food. They seem to be doing well. I hope Saigon Grill flourishes also.

    P.S. How could you tell the catfish was so fresh?

    2 Replies
    1. re: Tom from Raleigh

      Tom-- it was just sweet, totally odorless (as catfish can get funky very quickly), and really beautiful texture.

      Interesting parallel, as I adore Poole's as well. Only difference here is I know that Ashley and Sonny have a bunch of folks in that kitchen to help with a packed house, and this literally is one person and a prep cook... pretty tall order for anyone.

      1. re: Pigloader

        Love Pooles, except for the chalk Boards. I hate standing in front of people's table trying to decide. Foods always great, atmosphere is awesome!

    2. We went last Saturday and had a very enjoyable meal. For drinks my wife got the basil seeds drink (tasted like banana Now-n-Laters, remember that candy) and I got the bits of young coconut and coconut jelly with coconut milk-- tasty but hard to drink through a straw because the coconut kept getting stuck. We also shared one of those crepes as a app. So lovely with all the fresh herbs. For entree my wife got the vermacilli with a couple of grilled shrimp, two small fried spring rolls, and grilled pork. I got the pan fried vermacilli with grill pork, fried shallot and green onions. Siagon Grill has to be one of the best values in the Triangle. The crepe was $4.95, my wife's dish was $6.95, and mine was $11.95. We will be returning soon to try more of their intriguing choices-- and often.

      Saigon Grill and Green Leaf have to be the hottest new places in the western half of the Triangle.

      1. I just had lunch there the other day, and am VERY glad I did.

        I had the pho, and it was very good; I also had the pork and shrimp spring rolls, and they were even better. Both were very reasonably priced, and the large order of pho was huge.

        I've had tastier Vietnamese food (my pho was a bit on the bland side), but not by much. I'd say SG's ingredients are some of the freshest I've ever eaten; very crisp/fresh veggies, very "fresh-tasting" meat (especially the seafood), and great service.

        They seem to feel that their business is a bit "down" right now from what I gather, so I'd say get over there and get some great food if you haven't already.

        I've always loved 9N9, but SG is much closer to me, so SG will definitely get my repeat business..

        1 Reply
        1. re: Rand

          I would love to see this local business make it, but I wish they would offer vegetarian dishes. Some of the best Vietnamese restaurants I have been to have featured inventive veg dishes, not just meat dishes that you can request meat-free.