I am sad to report that I have gone to Saigon Restaurant on University and Dale in St Paul for the last time. It used to be my favorite pho restaurant--my go-to for Vietnamese and where I would send friends for a good meal. They used to have the best broth on University, they're the only place I've found spring rolls with sizzling grilled (rather than roasted) pork inside, and at certain times of the day you could get sandwiches and pastries there too. I probably started going in '99 or '00.
Now though, it is dismal. Their service is competent, if a bit brusque, and food arrives quickly, but that's where the good ends. The last time I went the broth was still OK but there was hardly any meat. I know food prices are insane, so I was like, fine...I'll just get extra meat next time. This time my BF and I both got pho tai, large, with extra meat. They have increased their prices by 75 cents for all entrees (a long-due change), so I figured that with the increased price and extra meat it would be a hearty meal. Nope :(
The amount of meat was less than on my previous visit, and sliced so thin the pieces balled up and stuck to each other. The broth was completely bland, no matter how many sauces and garnishes I added, and had a disturbing dishwater-esque cloudiness. It just didn't seem right. Even my beloved spring rolls were a flop--the pork was overcooked and charred on the edges.
The disappointment got me to looking around and I realized what a dump the place is. The floor was completely filthy and so were the lower walls. There was a mysterious vat of brown sauce sitting out on top of a pile of newspapers and phonebooks by the backdoor. The staff were eating and drinking behind the counter, and coming and going from the building willy-nilly, many of them in flip flops. My BF ventured in the men's bathroom and he came back saying it had the worst smell he'd ever encountered, and every other guy who came out of there did so with a sour look on their faces (and you could hear everyone spraying air freshener when they went in). I didn't even try the ladies' room.
I know Saigon is suffering--they keep increasing the minimum credit card charge and no longer accept checks at all. The prices are going up while the quality goes down and they no longer seem to offer bakery goods. They've started offering boba tea, which smacks of the last desperate act of a restaurant trying to branch out into overpriced drinks. I was amazed when Hoa Bien on Lexington & University expanded into its swanky new building after being a dingy shack in a cracking parking lot for so long. It could be that they've grabbed all the customers seeking Vietnamese on Univ. Ave, and it can snag them before they head all the way east to Dale. Hoa Bien's broth doesn't match what Saigon's was in its heyday, and their staff seem more befuddled and unwelcoming, but at least it's clean and has many dependably good restaurant items.
At this point I couldn't take a friend to Saigon or ever recommend it. I'm sorry to say that Saigon has fallen.
Anyone else with similar or contrasting experiences in recent months there?
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