Smack in between slimy succulent street food and indoor, air-con restaurants lies the genre of Vietnamese eateries known simply as 'quán ăn'. At these establishments you're still sitting on plastic chairs of varying heights (ranging from 1 1/2 to 3 feet off the ground), but you have a menu to order from and a waiter or waitress who'll attend to your every need throughout the evening.
The basic 'quán ăn' usually centers around drinking, with middle-aged Vietnamese men making up the majority of the demographic. The food accompanying the drinks is mostly seafood- cooked in a no-frills fashion.
My new found love for baby mussels had me ordering none other than 'Hến Xào Xúc Bánh Đa'. A dish of stir-fried baby mussels with peanuts, sesame seeds, lemongrass and chili. You're given a large toasted rice cracker to scoop up the mussels. Just divine.
Saigon Red beer with ice cubes- an absolute necessity on a balmy evening in Southern Vietnam. A good 'quán ăn' (such as this one) will have servers constantly replacing your beer's slowly melting ice cubes with new ones- keeping it chilled to perfection.
Don't expect to sit down for dinner here without at least one slightly intoxicated diner asking you to (making you?) pound beer with him. 'một trăm' means 100 in Vietnamese but is also a call to down your icy mug in one go. Who am I to reject this friendly offer of intoxication?
On the left stands a street artist who'll sketch your mug for a very reasonable price. He actually didn't try to sell me his services but..
* There's a clutch of well known 'quán ăn' restaurants on Nguyễn Tri Phương street, south of Ba Tháng Hai street (District 10), although just looks for sidewalk plastic tables with groups of inebriated men cheersing every happening of the night.*