2696 Pembina Highway Winnipeg, MB
If you do not recognize the name, “Saigon Jon’s”, you must not use social media. They had one of the smartest and most effective local marketing schemes I have ever seen: the chance of splitting the winnings of any of 100 potential Lotto Max lottery tickets! The catch? “Share” a picture and “Like” them on Facebook. Even before the establishment had opened their doors to customers for the first time, they boasted thousands of “likes” on Facebook as well as thousands of followers on Twitter.
Located south on Pembina, a few short minutes from the University of Manitoba, Saigon Jon’s is difficult to miss. An enormous bright white sign with bold lettering spans the entire length of the establishment, already erasing any preconceptions you may have about it being a Vietnamese restaurant. Unlike many of the other places in the city that are family-owned, Saigon seeks to separate itself from the traditional and instead attempts to modernize the experience of Vietnamese cuisine. It’s contemporary “fast-casual” concept is apparent when you go to order; whereas other Vietnamese restaurants have huge delicious menus that you spend minutes flipping through, Saigon’s has trimmed it down significantly to a concise selection of tasty items.
Each main dish brought out was packed full of ingredients along with the pleasing aroma of freshly charred meat off the grill. The Hot Honey Hoisin Chicken was my favourite – it was the perfect mouthwatering combination of sweet, spicy and savoury flavours finished off with a touch of smokiness from the grill and piled on top of a chewy whole wheat bun. The shrimp salad rolls served with peanut sauce were also delicious. Juicy pieces of shrimp along with rice noodles, iceberg lettuce, basil and mint were tightly wrapped in rice paper and paired with the tastiest peanut sauce I have ever had. Thicker and slightly darker in consistency than usual, its mild peanut flavour nicely complimented the crisp freshness of the wraps. Another great dish was the Hoisin Garlic Steak, AAA/AA sirloin beef marinated in a delicious house-made garlic hoisin sauce sprinkled with a generous amount of crushed peanuts on top. The only item that I was disappointed with were the spring rolls, which seemed to lack a certain luster after trying the other dishes. The sweet Vietnamese coffee I had afterwards quickly took my mind off of it.
The employees, with the knowledge that many individuals walking in to the restaurant may be new, are quick to inquire if you need any help and happily guide you through the restaurant’s process. Everyone is friendly and patient towards newcomers while also warm and appreciative towards Saigon regulars, creating a comfortable environment.
It does not seem to make a difference that there is little competition in the South end for Vietnamese cuisine – Saigon would do just as well.