Saigon street sushi? Raw fish on the roadside sounds like a recipe for shitting your soul out at 3 am.
And I have to agree with you. That’s why I was skeptical of Sushi Ko, an outdoor restaurant in Saigon’s District 4.
But everything about Sushi Ko is a (happy) contradiction.
Sushi is supposed to be expensive. Sushi Ko is not.
One should enjoy sushi in a quiet indoor establishment, perhaps seated on one’s knees upon a tatami mat while a brook babbles into a serene koi pond. Sushi Ko is fish al fresco—its background noise is the never-ending din of motorcycle horns.
The road is a backdrop of roasted chestnut peddlers, karaoke belters and fire breathers, all trying to make a quick dong off their captive audience.
Sushi should be served in a clinical setting, with sparkling clean tablecloths and a crystal clear glass of sake. Sushi Ko is nothing but dirty wooden tables and battered chairs unaccustomed to western asses, but at least the plates are clean.
And so is the sushi.
The interesting thing about sushi is the level of snobbery it triggers in people around the world.
If you make the mistake of venturing into the toxic cesspool of Yelp or other online review sites back in America, you’ll run into a review like this every single time:
“Sushi was pretty good, but doesn’t compare to the creations of our master chefs in cosmopolitan New York City!”
Then right after that:
“Service was great, sushi was good. But coming from California, I have to say it can’t hold a candle to the fresh fish at XXX Sushi Bar in San Francisco.”
“Yes Cheri, XXX Sushi Bar is alright! Sometimes I go there to pick up a snack for my adorbs cat, Bruno Paws. But having lived in Japan for a semester while I studied abroad, Cali sushi just tastes like Bumblebee tuna compared to the ocean-to-table cuisine in Tokyo!”
“I am Japanese. The sushi here is very good for the price. Cheri and Bruno Paws can eat my ass. You aren’t food critics.”
Sprinkled in between are reviews complaining that the sushi “was a little bit raw,” or that the sushi chef should go back to Taiwan if he can’t speak English like the rest of the world.
My point is, people seem to have abysmal tolerance for sub-par sushi. Sushi is held to such a high standard that even “pretty good” sushi restaurants get unfavorable reviews because the parking spots were too small.
That’s why I put off coming here for a month after I landed in Saigon, even after reading favorable reviews of the place.
But Sushi Ko is now one of my all-time favorite restaurants in Saigon.
This probably won’t be the best sushi you eat in your entire life. This is Vietnam and not Japan, after all. But it’s very, very good.
$2.25 for a tuna roll. $4 for a three-color roll. That’s how cheap.
The only thing that comes close to western prices are the unagi rolls, which might be an issue if eel if your favorite (like me).
But we shall persevere.
My guilty pleasure is actually Ko’s fried pork and cheese rolls. I know, I’m a bad person and I should feel bad. But this place is legit, I swear! Every time I visit, there is at least one Japanese businessman pondering a silly backwards book. If it’s good enough for the Japanese, it’s good enough for you.
If $15 for 6 or 7 rolls is out of your price range, don’t forget that Sushi Ko has punch cards for returning customers.
That’s 10% off your 4th visit and 20% off your 8th.
Don’t mind if I do.
If you’re in Saigon, be sure to stop by and gorge on some traditional Vietnamese Japanese food before you head back to the the safety of McDonald’s and Popeyes.
Pro tip: I don’t much care for excessive sauce on my sushi. If you’re like me, just say “không sốt.” No sauce.
Address: 122/37/15 Vĩnh Khánh, District 4, Saigon
Phone: 01222568152 Hours: 4:15 pm to 10:30 pm
Would you ever eat sushi made in the great outdoors?