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Fans flock to New Saigon for the food, not the service

More photos: In the kitchen at New Saigon

Fans flock to New Saigon for the food, not the service
Mark Manger

What's your favorite shrimp dish?" my friend asked our waiter.

He'd been standing beside our cramped booth, shoulders slumped, holding a small notepad in one hand and studiously avoiding our eyes while we studied the huge menu and sucked down the sugary, freshly made lemonades he'd slid across the table. Now, as he opened his mouth to answer, he looked away completely, as though he were about to leak a secret onto our table."7SH," he said quickly, making a mark on his pad.

"7SH?" my friend repeated, searching for it on the menu.

New Saigon's massive menu and loyal customers keep the kitchen busy. More photos: In the kitchen at New Saigon.
Mark Manger
New Saigon's massive menu and loyal customers keep the kitchen busy. More photos: In the kitchen at New Saigon.

Location Info

Map

New Saigon

630 S. Federal Blvd.
Denver, CO 80219

Category: Restaurant > Vietnamese

Region: Southwest Denver

Details

New Saigon
Sai Gon Dac Biet $39.95
Tom kho tieu broccoli $12.95
Bun cha gio thit nuong $7.95
Ech rang muoi $15.95
Spring roll $1.50
630 South Federal Boulevard
303-936-4954
www.newsaigon.com Hours: 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday

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"7SH," he said, scribbling more notes.

"Okay, I guess I'll have that," she said, and he gave a sharp nod, eyes finally darting in our direction.

"And you?" he asked me.

"3FL," I said hurriedly. "And 5N."

He nodded again, jotted down another note, then turned sharply on his heels. He hadn't gotten more than three steps when my friend called after him, "And could we get some spring rolls, too?"

Another quick nod, and he was off.

For me, a Vietnamese meal invariably starts with an order of spring rolls. The ones at New Saigon are fat and fresh, with thinly sliced pork, whole shrimp, thin rice noodles, lettuce and julienned carrots stuffed inside rice wrappers. They're perfect for waking up the palate — and also as an excuse to slurp up excessive amounts of the sweet peanut sauce that comes as a side and is even better than eating spoonfuls of peanut butter straight from a jar.

Before we'd finished the rolls, our waiter returned with a tray full of dishes. Seeing that our table was littered with straw wrappers, as well as the remains of our starter, he freed one hand to make a sweeping motion — indicating that we had to clear away our mess before he'd hand over the food. Laughing nervously, we obliged and shoved the dishes to the side — at which point he plunked down the plates, then turned on his heel and took off again.

The waiter's behavior might have been odd, but his recommendation was solid: 7SH turned out to be tom kho tieu broccoli, a pile of onion-flecked shrimp crisped with garlic in a sauté pan, then mixed with stalks of steamed broccoli and tossed in a buttery, peppery sauce that packed a subtle, dry heat. Vietnamese food is a smart marriage of French and Chinese influences, and that balance was on beautiful display here: French cooking technique (and, um, butter) applied to ingredients common to Chinese cooking.

More photos: In the kitchen at New Saigon

Those influences also flavored 3FL, ech rang muoi. After the French extended their reach into Indochina, frog's legs became prominent in Vietnamese cooking. I love frog's legs, which are dainty and delicate, the meat like a cross between white fish and chicken wings. New Saigon offers them done six different ways; in this preparation, they'd been sautéed with garlic, butter and black pepper, which augmented — but did not overpower — the slightly sweet meat. I used my hands to get every bit of flesh, smearing butter across my face in the process. And then I used rice to sop up what was left of that delicious, simple sauce.

After that, I finally turned my attention to 5N, the bun cha gio thit nuong. My love of Vietnamese food really began with bun, a happy combination of spindly vermicelli noodles, grilled meats or egg rolls, fresh lettuce, slices of cucumber, shreds of cilantro, peanuts and nuoc cham, a thin sauce of lime juice, fish sauce and sugar studded with bits of serrano chile. Although some of Denver's many pho shops also make bun, the bun at New Saigon could be my favorite in the city. This time, I'd opted for a version that topped the noodles with grilled pork sweet from a marinade of garlic, sugar and pepper, as well as pork-stuffed egg rolls. I dumped in the sauce, squirted on ribbons of sriracha and mixed everything together into an addictive mix of savory and sweet, spicy enough to make my nose drip.

Midway through that bowl, though, I ran out of water to put out the fire — and I began searching for our server, who was nowhere to be seen. Suddenly, he burst into our corner of the dining room as if rounding a baseball diamond at top speed, then disappeared just as quickly, with tables still calling out their needs and one woman even chasing him into the kitchen. Still, somehow he managed to get the message, because not even a minute later, a busboy had filled my water glass.

The next time we saw our waiter, he abruptly delivered our check, then headed off on another quick lap of the dining room. Although all that was left of our feast was shrimp tails and frog bones, we were in no hurry to go and leaned back in our booth, chatting. But as he finished that lap, he circled back to our table, picked up the plastic tray holding our tab and tapped it on the table a couple of times. "Okay, thank you!" he said. "Have a good night! Time to pay!"

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13 comments
Sarah S
Sarah S

I LOVE New Saigon. My family has been going there for 20 years. Now that I am older, I introduce friends and others to this place and they all keep coming back. Of all the Vietnamese places I have been, nothing beats New Saigon. Who cares if they aren't kissing your ass the whole time. I just want to eat!

TramD
TramD

I love NewSaigon. My dad is American, my mom is Vietnamese. We equally all love it here.

If you drop the ignorance and understand the language barrier, than maybe you wouldn't be so miserable coming to New Saigon. My mom once ordered muc mam ruoc, which is a very strong distinctive dish. Not everyone can eat it. My dad Instantly reacted to the smell of the strong fishy smell. He cringed, while my mom and I found the smell so captivating that we dug our faces in.

So you must understand why they would say it's only for Vietnamese people. Maybe if they were born in America than they would kiss your feet and speak fluent English and say, " I highly don't recommend this dish because it has a very strong taste and smell, due to different palets and taste between Vietnamese people and American." Your ignorance forgot to remind you that, they are not fluent! My mom is not, but she would probably say,"Don't order that, it's only for Vietnamese People!" why? Because that's the best she can do.

I want to see any competition try to measure up with New Saigon's Saigon Special, it's as good as the picture looks!

I'm so not over New Saigon, I'm still Head over Heels.

Sigh
Sigh

I'm fine with brusque service, particularly from Asian restaurants-- New Saigon can be worse-- condescending.I've been denied trying to order a certain menu item "No--just for Vietnamese people", and another time pressured into pedestrian Lemongrass Chicken "It's the best, I'll order it for you" when I didn't even as for a recommendation.There's too many good places in town (and just down the street) to pay their prices and be profiled/belittled/ignored.

Mantonat
Mantonat

"I'm fine with brusque service, particularly from Asian restaurants"What exactly do you mean by this?

Sigh
Sigh

I don't expect any restaurant where there is/can be a language and culture barrier to be chummy/confident/engaging. The experience is often intimidating for them, and for me, and that's fine.I reject other's (Yelp!) expectation on family Asian eateries to provide 4 star European service standards.With Asian restaurants in particular, I've found the more chummy and salesman-like they are the more likely they might be peddling crap.This isn't strictly true, but overall I like the pho at Pho Duy a bit better (with distant service) than the embarrassingly fawning service and no better pho at Pho 95.Again, this isn't always the case, and sometimes falls to the individual servers.Vietnam Grill has very friendly service and tasty authentic food.

Noah Nethero
Noah Nethero

New Saigon is not what it use to be Da Lat has the old chef that made New Saigon in the past. Da Lats menu is bigger and they do a way better job that New Saigon has done as of late. Goat in a Clay Fire Pot was perfect in Da Lat and tough bordering on inedible at New Saigon. I am convinced the only reason New Saigon still carries on as being the best is because of their past.

pete
pete

agree 100%

Mantonat
Mantonat

I've never had bad service at New Saigon and I've never had anything other than great food. I'd like to have seen a few more dishes reviewed; the seafood hot pots are excellent and some of the salads have ingredients not familiar to most Western palates but are a great way to experience something new - thread beans, chicken feet, snails, jellyfish, pig ears, shrimp crackers, etc.

Denversnowflake
Denversnowflake

I LOVE New Siagon!!!! my mom who doesnt even live in Denver showed me this place a few years ago, I kind of forgot about it, and I just recently started going back. AND I just moved into the neighborhood so it is just up the street!!! Unfortunatly the service is not so great but at least they are friendly and the food is fantastic, my only beef is that the egg rolls in the noddle bowls can be stale sometimes, but otherwise it is great!!!

Davelovelace
Davelovelace

You hit the nail on the head Laura. Service has sucked there for as long as I can remember but the food is spot on. Great review.

ADCampbelle
ADCampbelle

I found myself coming here every month, as a family reunion dinner type of deal. I had problems with the service, but found that the food made up for it. I'm not their for the service, but every so often I am, if I get the right waiter. Veebo is my favorite. He cares and takes the time to help me out with my dinner decisions. Other waiters and waitress on the other hand? I had to try to understand and drop my ignorance to understand their sarcasm or jokes. That can sometimes lean towards rude. The less ignorant I am, the better the food, ambiance, and service becomes. I love New Saigon. I encountered the owners and their daughters here and there and love them. Unfortunately, due to their servers and this article, I'm sure will upset them. If you're reading New Saigon, just know, this article should not affect your business, because I am still coming back.

Fran_Chesco
Fran_Chesco

I`ve had poor service there also; drinks & food served at different times.

 
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