Scott Marquis, one-half of the successful namesake behind Phu My Hung eatery Scott and Binh’s, is branching out of the cushy District 7 neighbourhood to the heart of downtown, a couple of blocks from Ben Thanh Market. But his focus has shifted somewhat from western comfort food to the spicy flavours of Mexican fare.
“We’re a Tex-Mex place in Ho Chi Minh City,” Marquis elaborated. “We’re trying really hard. We’re aiming for people to be pleasantly surprised.”
Addressing a Need
Indeed, while other cuisines have managed to flourish in Saigon, Mexican seems to be an under-served area, and Marquis aims to fill that void. Patrons of his other venture will recognise some familiar dishes, like the meaty macaroni, although this one comes with queso cheese. Pork enchiladas should continue to be popular at both eateries.
Between a pre-opening tasting, Marquis also revealed which ingredients are produced locally, like Saigon Tacos’ locally made corn tortillas and salsa verde, whereas sour cream is an imported purchase from Australia.
“There’s not a lot of people doing [Mexican food] right,” he says. “When we did the Cinco de Mayo features at Scott and Binh's for the past three years, they were always very well received, and led to the permanent addition of certain menu items.
“As a chef, having a fresh flour tortilla stuffed with fresh vegetables, some seasoned meat, some cheese, sour cream and salsa is the ideal meal.”
Riffing on the Classics
And for anyone who’s suffered through ‘nachos’ here that were really just Doritos with some sweet barbecue sauce, La Fiesta’s version will please, with corn chips, onions, peppers — and in our case, beef for the meat option. We followed this up with grilled fish tacos and beef and bean enchiladas, with refried black beans and rice. Saying these are the most authentic I’ve come across in Vietnam is a bit of a misnomer; these are the only grilled fish tacos I’ve eaten here. But they were legit; tender and not overloaded on the condiments.
My wife enjoyed her enchiladas, but you are definitely getting western-sized servings here. As such, she took some home. We also enjoyed mole chicken on a previous visit, before the menu and prices were set. All items range from VND50,000 for drinks up to around VND200,000 for most dishes.
Marquis is also happy with the location on Dang Thi Nhu, nestled amidst a triangle between Ben Thanh Market, the backpacker enclave of Pham Ngu Lao and a big construction site for a development called The One. La Fiesta is starting off primarily as a dinner destination, open from 5pm. Marquis foresees steady demand for delivery food as the word gets out about the restaurant, and also hopes to be able to sell some of his signature sauces. The formula works well for Pizza 4P’s on Le Thanh Ton, where patrons can take home some of the cheeses made there.
“We just decided to [open this kind of restaurant] now before someone else did,” Marquis says. “We feel there is a market for it, and everyone likes good-tasting Tex-Mex food, both expats and locals.” — Harry Hodge
Drop by La Fiesta at 33 Dang Thi Nhu, Q1, HCMC, open nightly except Mondays from 5pm