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Saigon Grill

Posted by YAR 12 Apr 2009 42 Comments


Saigon Grill (2929 N. Roxboro St.) is very hot right now.  We were looking forward to its opening after driving by for weeks, and we’ve since heard about it from multiple sources (emails, friends, chowhound).  We’re glad that a new local restaurant has inspired so much love!  This buzz may have been kicked off by an email on the Duke Park neighborhood email list–we definitely saw a lot of familiar faces there.

So we eagerly stopped by on one of its first days open. It was packed, very possibly to the owners’ surprise, and as others have pointed out, the service was a bit slow.  I didn’t mind that though–the servers were clearly working their butts off (I don’t think I saw one who was walking instead of running from the kitchen to the dining area) and were extremely friendly despite their rush.

We started off with a traditional Vietnamese crepe, which was not bad, but not memorable.


Next was the Tho Xoa Lan, rabbit with curry and coconut sauce.  The curry sauce was nice and sweet, but be warned that the dish was pretty difficult to eat because all of the chunks of meat included bone.  We understand the concept of cooking with the bones in (and the meat was good, for sure) but you should probably be prepared to get your hands extremely messy, or go hungry, if you order this dish.  I also would have preferred a bit more of a kick to the sauce.


Our other entree was from specials board–a big bowl of vermicelli and duck.  Unfortunately it smelled fairly unappetizing–never having had anything like it, we didn’t know whether this was because something was done poorly or whether it just wasn’t our style.  Despite the fact that I’ll eat almost anything, perhaps the duck dish just wasn’t right for my palate?  Either way, it kind of marred the meal for both of us.


So we decided we had to go back to give them another chance.  The second time, we went just before the lunch rush–the restaurant was nearly empty and the service was fine (super friendly, again).  This time, we decided to stick with foods we knew we liked.

We started off with spring rolls (with grilled pork), which we thought were just ok…a bit bland, even dipped in the sauce they came with, but helped out with the addition of some healthy dollops of hoisin.


Then we got Pho (pho tai, with eye round steak). I’ve never had a pho I didn’t like, and this was no exception, but it was also not one of my favorites.  I kept piling on chiles and hot sauce, only to decide in the end that what was seriously missing was some salt.  I think that 9N9 will remain my go-to pho spot in the Triangle.


I liked the Banh Mi Bo Kho better.  The baguettes were soft, warm and crusty, and the beef chunks were tender, making for a comforting dish.



The menu also included a long list of interesting drinks (nonalchoholic) and I loved both of the ones I tried (dried longan, and sweet red bean).

Although our second trip was better than the first, a consistent theme was that the dishes lacked any of the flavor and richness that I love in Vietnamese food. So, while we’re glad this friendly place is getting so much buzz, when we’re in the area we’ll probably stick with Super Taqueria across the street for now.  What have people had at Saigon that they loved?  Maybe things are still spotty what with their recent opening–report back in the comments to give us your take!


  • Ross Grady said:

    I couldn’t decide, and someone else was having pho, so I went with the pork 3 ways & was very happy:


    I also liked the fried rolls, although they were kinda non-photogenic:


    I only had two spoonfuls of the pho, but the taste I had was pretty good — different from 9N9, but not necessarily worse. And it’s worth mentioning that I eat pho at 9N9 at least once a week & their broth varies a *lot* from week to week, so I wouldn’t be surprised if that were also true at Saigon Grill.

    I enjoyed the whole meal a great deal, but then there were only 4 tables filled when we went, so we didn’t experience anything other than speedy & attentive service.


  • nick said:

    i’m confused. aren’t banh mi sandwiches? the pictures suggest that you had bread and stew. are you sure you didn’t have bo kho?


  • YAR (author) said:

    Yup, sorry…they’re actually Banh Mi Bo Kho. I’ll update that in the post.


  • B said:

    I can’t recall the name of the dish off the top of my head, but I had some meatballs of the “house specials” section of the menu on opening night that were spectacular. My wife had a seafood-based soup that was also very good. One of our companions had a duck soup (different than what you had) that looked and smelled fantastic.


  • georg said:

    I’ll second that. Those meatballs were excellent!


  • apathy said:

    Is 9N9 the best Vietnamese in Durham or the Triangle? Having moved from somewhere with a large Vietnamese population the quality of the food here hasn’t seemed that great. Is there some other restaurant I should try? I miss having bahn mi and pho available to me on almost every corner.

    Don’t even get me started on missing the Vietnamese/French bakeries.


  • YAR (author) said:

    I wish I knew of better Vietnamese around here! Does anyone else? Do you guys think Saigon is the new best around? I haven’t fallen in love with Kim Son (on Guess Rd.) the couple of times I’ve been.


  • Tooth said:

    There’s a Vietnamese place in Greensboro at the corner of Freeman Mill Rd and Florida that makes an outstanding bahn mi. In fact, it only sells bahn mi, papaya salad and bubble tea. Its called Pakse Cafe. It’s only about 3 minutes off of I-40 and definitely worth the stop when you’re in the area.


  • Mike said:

    Just reviewed on Chowhound, but with respect, my wife and I had a very different experience at Saigon Grill than what is described above. Our food was top to bottom fantastic. The service was slow, but the waitresses informed us that everything is made to order, which explains a lot. We had Canh Chua Ca (fish soup), the crepe, a grilled pork rice plate, and spring rolls– everything was uniformly fantastic, and the crepe and soup were particularly excellent. Go. By all means.


  • Ross Grady said:

    The Banh Mi at Dalat in Raleigh (Mission Valley Shopping Center) were the first in the Triangle and used to be the best (and may very well still be). They used to have a separate “Dalat Sandwich Shop” just for the Banh Mi, 2 doors down from their main restaurant, but they wound up closing it. For a while the sandwiches were only available at the main restaurant if you knew to ask for them. I think they eventually wound up back on the proper menu.

    I moved away from Raleigh more than 10 years ago & my trips back are infrequent (yes, I just live in Durham, but why go to Raleigh? :-) ), so maybe a Raleighite can confirm whether Dalat’s Banh Mi are still worth the trip. The one thing I *do* know is that they are, or were, 1000x better than those at 9N9.

    Pho followup: Pho at 9N9 on Monday was pretty-darn-salty — still fully edible, delicious even, but a wee bit saltier than their average, even. (oh, and when confronted with a broth that’s not working for me, I reach for the fish sauce first . . . it’s basically liquid umami)

    Finally, upon re-read of your original post: next time you go to Saigon, get the salty lemonade. It seems to be made with preserved lemons. Yes, it basically tastes like fresh-from-scratch Gatorade, but that’s kinda fascinating in its own right . . .


  • Ross Grady said:

    p.s. RE: Pho — I forgot to mention that Akashi (highway 54, RTP, excellent sushi) has added Pho to their menu. I’m told it’s better than 9N9, but I haven’t managed to try it yet. I *tried* to try it today at lunch, but the place was a total madhouse & I was on a tight schedule.


  • marsha said:

    I think the food at Saigon Grill is really fantastic. Having just spent the better part of a month in Vietnam eating and drinking, I am very happy to have Saigon Grill in Durham to scratch my itch for excellent Vietnamese food.


  • brandon h said:

    The best Vietnamese food I’ve had in the Triangle was at Pho Cali in Raleigh http://bit.ly/XFzFw . It’s been a LONG time since I was last there, though, so I don’t know if the place is still around. I’ve been to 9N9 several times and had the rice dishes every time I was there, but didn’t think the food was very good.


  • TSQ75 said:


    Pho cali noodle palace is still around, it’s one of the few reasons we go to raleigh. we love it, some others dont, but whatever.

    i LOVE sitting in front of s bowl of pho in there, fresh herbs and chilies and veggies and extensive condiments…mmm


  • rebekah.ann said:

    I forget the name of what I ended up choosing, but it was a specially made vegetarian dish with lemongrass tofu and rice noodles. I thought the dish was fantastic… very fresh, flavorful and came with it’s own vegetarian sauce (no fish) that was also delicious. Bonus: It’s better than Bahn’s tofu (not as salty), you can get it everyday, and it’s cheaper!! I also had veggie spring rolls and thai iced tea, the former was just like ones I recently had at the Vietnamese Tet celebration (fresh & authentic) and the latter was pretty run of the mill.

    Overall, the meal was fantastic, the staff was very kind, and the atmosphere was pleasant. They’re looking to getting their alcohol permits, but since there are so many other interesting drinks on the menu, I don’t really see the point.


  • quazi said:

    I’ll second tooth on Pakse – great banh mi and occasionally have vietnamese/lao specialties such as salted fried beef, and different sauces. definitely a hidden treasure


  • Ross Grady said:

    Went to Saigon Grill again last night, and this time I had the Pho. It was definitely less salty than 9N9, which for my girlfriend is a plus, as she has a lower salt tolerance level than I do. I thought it was pretty close to right, and a couple of dashes of fish sauce put it where I wanted it. Overall I might give the edge to 9N9, but luckily I don’t have to pick just one ;-)

    @Brandon H, I rarely stray from the Pho at 9N9 because my non-Pho experiences have been kinda meh there.

    I have to put in another plug for the salty lemon soda at Saigon Grill. I think it’s actually my favorite thing on their menu.


  • Sant said:

    Thank you Carpe Durham for the heads up about this place! 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 buts kept getting stuck. We 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.


  • Phil said:

    Preserved plum is the magic ingredient (and the little dark thing at the bottom of your glass).


  • L said:

    We have gotten take out several times and always had excellent food. I find their pho to be better than 9N9 (to my taste). We recently got the catfish cooked in a hotpot and that was excellent (although very salty). We also were impressed with with shrimp soup off of the house specials. Very interesting flavor combination with pineapple, celery, okra, shrimp and what I think were lardons– overall delicious. I think I am also addicted to the sweet mung bean drink– awesome!


  • Ross Grady said:

    Here’s a photo of the aforementioned special shrimp soup; one thing L didn’t mention is that it is GIANT. M. ate quite a bit of hers & we still took home 1 1/2 quarts of leftovers.



  • Viet Dude said:

    My experiences at Saigon Grille have been consistently good; my wife and I are both Vietnamese and consider the food quite authentic. The prices are fair-to-cheap, the service is as expected for Vietnamese restaurants that don’t necessarily cater to non-Vietnamese patrons, and the food is good-to-great. I’ve had the pho at Pho Cali and Pho 9N9 and it’s better than both of those places. The Canh Chua and ca kho are excellent.

    My suspicion is that if you gave a Vietnamese person the option to eat at Pho 9N9, Pho Cali or Saigon Grille, that the majority would pick Saigon Grille. If you gave that option to non-Vietnamese people, the results might be more variable.


  • Carpe Durham/Reasonably Prudent Person said:

    Thanks for the recommendations. If you have any others, I would love to hear them. I really want to like this place, but I must always be ordering the wrong things.


  • Brendan Love said:

    Saigon Grill is awesome. I’ve had the number 26, like… twelve times. Everyone should check this joint out at least once. I live about four doors down, so I would like to see it stick around for a long time.


  • Joe said:

    Banh mi refers to the bread, specifically those little baguettes. Banh generically refers to bread or cake (there are rice cakes called banh chung).


  • barry said:

    the really amazing thing is that, 2 months after opening, Johnny is still getting the runaround from whoever needs to approve his ABC permits. It’s almost as if the city doesn’t want to see successful businesses in this stretch of Roxboro St.



    TSQ75 replies on June 20th, 2009 at 7:10 pm:

    Good observation, barry


  • David said:

    The food was OK, nothing special. Our most notable memory will be our waitress, who literally ran from table to table, and to and from the kitchen, the entire time we were there. The poor woman was obviously covering too many tables but, in any case, it was difficult to enjoy the meal while feeling you were at a track meet.


  • JIY said:

    I have not yet been to Saigon Grille but my goto Vietnamese restaurant is Bahn’s on 9th St. Wednesdays and Saturdays they have Vietnamese specials. Its not a big selection but always good! Very low key, no alcohol license, closes at 8p but it’s definitely one the best bargains especially for lunch around!


  • eliza said:

    i had their catfish dish, the one that comes in a clay pot, it was crazy awesome.


  • TSQ75 said:

    Stopped in for a bowl of Pho on a raw and cold rainy afternoon. EXACTLY what i needed. delicious broth, fresh and plentiful meats and garnishes.


  • Sus said:

    I used to go to 9N9 fairly regularly, but I think Saigon Grill’s pho is better by a bit. Neither place is a a particularly cozy place to go have dinner, but my one 9N9 dinner experience made me never want to go back. Need to try Saigon Grill for dinner sometime and give some of their other dishes a shot.


  • merp said:

    Saigon Grill was the first restaurant I discovered in Durham when I arrived last summer, and what a relief it was – there *is* good Asian food in the South! Unfortunately, since then I haven’t found any other Asian food in town that measures up, but at least we have Saigon Grill.

    I’m from Seattle, where Vietnamese food is about as common as BBQ is here, and I’ll add my voice to Viet Dude’s (above) – this place is authentic and good.

    Definitely do consider the possibility that if you don’t like a particular dish, it might be that you’re just not used to Vietnamese flavors. Also remember that it is *expected* that you will use the provided condiments liberally. So use them. Liberally.

    Last night, my husband had the pho and I had the marinated duck in egg noodle soup. Both were just right – rich and flavorful (esp. the duck soup, which just about knocked me out with richness). The duck was on the bone, chopped up, so it takes some dextrous chopstick work to suck all the meat off the bone, but that is as it should be. The noodles were perfect. We also had the grilled pork spring rolls, which were very flavorful (with appropriate condiments, of course), but the rice paper hadn’t been soaked long enough and was still a little chewy – my only complaint.

    Service was very friendly and fast, but the place wasn’t nearly busy enough for a Friday night. We’ll have to make a point of going back more often!


  • TSQ75 said:

    we were in on friday night and were happy to see them doing such a brisk business! all but 3 tops were full, mostly of locals we knew.

    on a recommendation, i had seared pork and shrimp on vermicelli. delicious! pork was perfectly seasoned nd nicely blackened around the edges. noodles were perfectly cool and light without feeling as if they just came out of the fridge. and a HUGE bowl that i thought as all noodle, only to happily find a cluster of fat fresh mung sprouts and pickled veggies at the bottom. lovely spicy vinegary sauce.

    my husband had a basic stir fried shrimp and veggies with rice, something that often falls short in asian places for being just too basic. the sauce on this was key, spicy and flavorful. a nice assortment of veggies…

    LOVE this place


  • halfbakedcake said:

    very We’ve eaten at Saigon Grill three times, and it has been good each time. The grilled pork/rice is very tasty, but I wish I hadn’t listened to the salty lemonade recommendation. It was pure, unadulterated evil (and I’m an adventurous eater). As far as banh mi go, I’ve given up on the hope of finding a good one in the Triangle. Forget Dalat. When I first started going to State (2004), I would stop in to their sandwich shop at least once a week. My classes were on that side of campus, and the sandwiches were great. Once they closed the shop and only started selling them at the restaurant, the quality gradually went way, way downhill. I stopped in just before graduation and wished I hadn’t because it made me sad. I just make my own at home now. I have a good recipes for Vietnamese pate and pork meatballs, and I use Gugelhuph’s baguettes. A road trip to Pakse in Greensboro is in my foreseeable future, though. I get tired of having to make my own all the time. Merp, there are a ton of really, really good Vietnamese restaurants in G-boro (MORE common that BBQ restaurants there, by a lot). The city has the largest Montagnard community outside of Vietnam, and the drive is well worth it.


    Tooth replies on February 17th, 2010 at 10:37 am:

    Man, I really wish it wasn’t such a long drive to Pakse Cafe. I love the banh mi there. Plus, the papaya salad is crazy spicy and good. Every time I’m on I-40 near G-boro, my car can’t help but swing off the interstate for a few moments of banh mi lovin’.


  • Sarah said:

    As a vegetarian I’ve had mixed experiences with Saigon Grill. The first time I went, I ate in and enjoyed a nice meal, a dinner in the #100s. The second time I went I ordered take-out with number 25, rice noodles with vegetables. That was so so–maybe I didn’t sprinkle on the condiments liberally enough because it tasted bland. The last time I ate what I think was #46 take out, rice and vegetables, and my vegetables tasted canned, the sauce was that generic brown salty sauce you get at bad Chinese restaurants, and the rice was mediocre as well. Saigon Grill always refuses to make vegetarian spring rolls although, confusingly, one waitress told me they can make anything vegetarian. However, I think I am nearing the limits of the menu for vegetarians. My advice to vegetarians would be that they should go somewhere else. Vegetarians can enjoy consistently good vegetarian food at other restaurants that are cheaper and have a nicer atmosphere.


  • dbird said:

    Recently discovered for the first time, with your assistance. Placed my first take away order inside the restaurant, from a very considerate young hostess, who went out of her way to volunteer information about the items I’d ordered in an apparent attempt to make sure I’d like them and also offered me a beverage while I waited. I ordered again over the phone tonight, and when I arrived, the same girl was standing, stony faced, before a locked door. (They were obviously closing, and another woman was mopping up). The girl opened the door as I said, oh I’m sorry, I hope I’m not too late; I’d ordered takeaway. She stared over my shoulder, locked the door and marched off. I followed her to the counter. I’m sorry if I’m late, I said. She was standing not 2 feet in front of me, with no response, no eye contact, no signal that she knew I was there. There was no one else in the restaurant! I repeated myself and as she put the order in front of me and I produced my card, I said: I’m sorry, shall I confirm this as my order? Can you hear me? Have I offended you somehow? I looked around and the woman who was mopping gestured and said no no, you are fine.

    I managed to pay and exit with my food, with no acknowledgement from the young woman who had been so helpful and cordial on my previous visit.

    Has anyone else had such an unsettling experience there? I would like to return but feel distinctly disinvited.


    Tooth replies on January 6th, 2011 at 12:47 am:

    Saigon Grill is only open until 8:00pm, Tuesday through Sunday. I’d be interested to know what time you placed your order by phone and what time you arrived at the restaurant to pick up your order. In most cases, I feel its not good form to order at a restaurant within the last 30 minutes before they are set to close. For me, that 30 minute window grows to 45 minutes if the restaurant isn’t busy.


    tsq75 replies on January 6th, 2011 at 11:06 am:

    that girl is sweet and helpful when she’s on duty, but overall a bit socially awkward, stiff and uncomfortable. I dont fault her, she does her best, but i’m willing to bet she’s doesnt want to wait tables, and is dying to get out of there, and the minute it’s closing time, she checks out both literally and figuratively…LOL

    I’ve often noted the guy that works in there (a great Customer service/waitstaff asset) often quietly reminds her to smile or check with the customers or do something else.


    Genie replies on January 6th, 2011 at 1:00 pm:

    Maybe they were being robbed and she was trying to send you a “signal.” And you missed it. Good job. I hope they’re okay, silly Blog Commenter.


  • tsq75 said:



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