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I quickly dug out my credit card: No way did I want to hurt my chances of returning to New Saigon. This restaurant may have one of the strangest servers in the world, but I don't go to New Saigon for the service. I go for the incredible food.

Thai Nguyen and his wife, Ha Pham, who does the cooking, bought this restaurant in 1987 from the owners who'd opened New Saigon two years earlier. It's not the oldest Vietnamese spot in Denver — that designation belongs to T-Wa Inn, which beat New Saigon by just a year and is only a block away on Federal Boulevard — but it's aged well, as long as you're not judging things by appearances. The space is wide, dark and slightly cramped, divided at the entry into two distinct parts, the result of an early expansion. It's filled with furniture that's seen better days, and there's not so much a decor scheme as a random collection of stuff that looks like it was stuck on the walls over the years. I loved New Saigon from the first time I ate there, nearly a decade ago. But after visiting Vietnam, I gained a new appreciation for it. While Denver has dozens of ridiculously good pho shops, here you can taste the full spectrum of that country's culinary canon. And I mean full: It might take a lifetime to eat your way through New Saigon's massive menu — and no matter what you order, it's likely to be on par with what you'll find on the streets and in the restaurants of Vietnam, one of the best countries in the entire world for eating. But there's a critical difference: While many of the eateries in that country focus on just one or two specialties, New Saigon features dozens.

On a recent visit, I discovered a convenient way to sample much of what the kitchen has to offer: the rice paper wraps. This dish was suggested by my server, who was helpful in all of the ways that our earlier server was not. He listened carefully as my friend and I ordered, then asked if we'd rather try rice paper wraps instead, noting we'd get the noodles, spring rolls, grilled pork and soft-shell crabs we craved — plus much more — for about the same price we were about to drop on the collection of dishes we'd put together. We agreed to go for 1RW, the Sai Gon Dac Biet, and he began readying our table: dropping off a giant plate of lettuce leaves, basil, cilantro and pickled cucumbers and carrots, as well as a bowl of hot water and a dish stacked with rounds of brittle, translucent rice paper. "Keep this plate on top of the stack," he advised. "Otherwise, the papers will break."

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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Seconds later, he was back with a platter nearly the size of our table. Battered and fried soft-shell crabs glistened greasily in one section; I couldn't resist grabbing a bite, letting the savory crunch give way to the sweet meat inside. Strips of sweet, garlicky grilled pork filled another wedge. There were also piles of grilled shrimp and long, thin, crispy pork egg rolls; a mound of shrimp paste, a sort of grilled patty made from ground prawns and pepper; a bed of vermicelli noodles. The idea, our server explained, was to dip a rice paper in the hot water until it softened, then load it with whatever we wanted, rolling it like a burrito and dunking it in the scallion-spiked, sweet, vinegary sauce served on the side. We were creating our own spring rolls — but these were much better than the spring rolls I've ordered at the start of every Vietnamese meal for as long as I can remember. Even the regular spring rolls at New Saigon.

It also made for an extremely social way to eat lunch. We spent about an hour and a half rolling up bundles of odds and ends and eating roll after roll until we could no longer form intelligent sentences because all the blood from our brains had gone to our stomachs.

When our server dropped off the check, we assured him he'd made an excellent recommendation. "No rush," he told us.

Because after 25 years in very good hands, New Saigon isn't going anywhere.

More photos: In the kitchen at New Saigon

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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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