Saigon’s confusing July weather—rainy yet viciously sunny—led us on a search for a spot in town to enjoy a cold refreshment or a two. Incidentally, I was reminded of a new cafe at the end of Dong Khoi street called Ca Phe Co Ba, a stone’s throw away from Saigon river and its new waterbus station. We decided to give a shot.
We parked our motorbikes in an alley, which probably used to function as a residential entrance to the old yet gorgeous building. A quick chat with the parking attendants informed us that the French built the structure in the 1940s.
Interestingly, the unassuming parking alley used a touch-card system which most locals and expats would normally associate with newer condominiums and malls… a sign of change in a fast developing city?
Pre-war Saigonese vibes were apparent, somewhat adding to the excitement, as we ascended an antiquated flight of stairs before reaching Ca Phe Co Ba, located at L1. The cafe’s tiny, vintage hardwood door showed aesthetically pleasing signs of ‘wear’, and even resisted and creaked a little as I pushed it.
The interior of the cafe is predominantly hardwood and filled with numerous cushioned coaches and vintage round tables. Every turn and corner is lined with cabinets, which are in turn filled with aged articles from a nearly forgotten past, including vintage books, typewriters and oil lamps.
Modernity itself is a feature too, and is incorporated seamlessly into the vintage-style Vietnamese word art posters. A vinyl turntable complete with a pristine golden horn distracted me almost immediately too. These quickly became my favourite visual feature at Ca Phe Co Ba.
You could probably spend a good ten minutes admiring the innards of this small but comfortable cafe, including an adorable 80s Honda Cub scooter displayed in front of a hand-painted wall mural of Ben Thanh Market.
By the time we finished admiring images of pre-war Saigon, fashionable teens and office personnel glued to their iPhone screens, I had pretty much ascertained that the cafe scores very high in terms of ‘intagrammability’!
It was time to make my order. The menu at Ca Phe Co Ba is extensive, featuring standards such as pho, chicken and rice and sandwiches alongside drinks such as Vietnamese coffee, ice blends and teas. Most drinks at Ca Phe Co Ba range between VND45,000 - VND55,000, very reasonable considering the cafe’s ultra-central vicinity. Food ranges between VND35,000 - VND60,000.
A Banh Mi with a Bite
I opted for the lemongrass lime drink and the cafe’s popular banh mi with barbequed meat. The banh mi sandwich was interestingly served with a small accompaniment of savoury red sauce, excellent for people who prefer a moister sandwich!
Apart from the well-marinated and tender chunks of pork, the loaf itself had a nice bite and was denser than the usual airy banh mi commonly served on the sidewalks of Saigon. And kudos to the refreshing combination of lemongrass and lime for saving my soul on a hot afternoon. Ca Phe Co Ba’s paper cups are also a highly ‘instagrammable’ feature, which were likely designed for selfies!
Ca Phe Co Ba combines respectable food and drink with a beautiful and casual vintage interior. We’re pretty sure most visitors will spend at least an hour or two here considering the comfy seats and affordable menu.
For foreigners and locals who ride a motorbike, do note that the first two hours of parking is VND5,000 followed by VND3,000 each consecutive hour. That said, the parking means you have the liberty to leave your bikes for another hour or so to take a stroll in the surrounding vicinity after lunch at Ca Phe Co Ba!
Image source: Ca Phe Co Ba