From the outside, Saigon Restaurant on Bernard Avenue in downtown Kelowna seems modest and inconspicuous. However, this small restaurant can surprisingly accommodate many people. It has five beautifully decorated mother-of-pearl artworks gracing the walls with mesmerizing detail that is worth examining closely.
Manager Ching Li (pictured below, centre) has operated the restaurant for 20 years.
Saigon Restaurant boasts two cuisine menus: Vietnamese and Chinese totalling nearly 200 choices. It took Darius and I quite some time to decide because he has quite a few food allergies, but after chatting with Ching for advice, we narrowed it down.
We had the Vietnamese Salad Rolls as an appetizer. Normally, these come with shrimp and pork. Due to allergies, the shrimp was eliminated and made with extra pork. They were impressively light-tasting. The accompanying peanut sauce was homemade with a deliciously mysterious, almond-like secret ingredient that was practically drinkable.
Next was a piping hot dish of Shredded Pork and Tofu in Szechuan Style Fish Flavoured Spicy Sauce. It was love at first bite: an awesome, you-must-try-it dining experience. The spice was at first mild on the tongue, but then thrilled the back of the palate. The tender pork was in bite-sized morsels, and mushrooms were quartered, making it very practical to eat with chopsticks. The tofu had good texture that I’m certain even non-tofu lovers would enjoy. We gave this dish top marks. In fact, Darius said he would return to Kelowna, purely to eat that dish again.
The Sizzling Beef with Onion and Green Pepper was also a big hit with Darius. He’s not normally a fan of black bean sauce like I am. Unlike most, this homemade sauce was not salty or overpowering, but a light, savoury, smoky complement to the substantial slices of beef cooked to perfection. The ingredients were simple, yet it was effectively tasty. (The steamed rice was just right, too.)
Last but not least, we had to try the Buddhist Vegetables (without the corn, due to allergies). The highlight of this dish were the large, meaty Chinese mushrooms. The bean sprouts and sugar snap peas were timed perfectly, retaining their fresh, delicate crunch.
We were pleased with our fortune cookie messages at the end of our meal. Darius’s read: “Right now there’s an energy pushing you in a new direction” — just as he heads back to Vancouver this week. Mine was: “They that sow in tears shall reap in joy” — I’d had a rather emotional morning, and this meal was definitely turning around my day!
The Dining Experience
Quality of Food
The meats were cooked to just the right tenderness. All of the vegetables tasted garden fresh. The portions were ample and could have easily fed 4 people well. Unable to leave a morsel behind, we came away with a huge doggy-bag. Perhaps the key to the success of this dining experience lies in all of the homemade sauces they prepare. Saigon Restaurant has their own unique recipes for satay, black bean, peanut, and fish sauces.
We were greeted by the waitress as soon as we entered the door, and invited to choose any table that suited us. We barely sat down and already a large pot of fresh Jasmine Tea was brought to us. The food was served very quickly, piping hot. (You can see the steam still floating from them in my pictures.) We were asked how we wanted it served in terms of timing. This was a thoughtful consideration, as we wanted it all to arrive at the same time.
Lunch and dinner times are typically busy, so we arrived after 2:30 p.m. for a quiet meal. The restaurant is divided into two areas, one being more private. Somehow, the sound does not travel and even during busy times it is not as loud as many restaurants are. Mirrors on the upper part of the walls reflect the decor and give it a more spacious feeling. The lighting is mellow and there are ornamental plants which make the place feel cosy.
The restaurant was clean and tidy.
Value for money
The price of this meal was $48 (not including tax or tip). Considering this would have fed 4 people with a high quality cuisine, we found this was of exceedingly great value. Saigon Restaurant also has a popular lunch special on weekdays.
I regularly get my favourite Chinese take out from here, Singapore Style Fried Vermicelli, which is always reliably perfect. This was the first time I explored new dishes during a sit-down meal at the Saigon Restaurant. The biggest risk we took was the Shredded Pork and Tofu in Szechuan Style Fish Flavoured Spicy Sauce, uncertain of whether we’d like any of those ingredients. It turned out to be our very favourite, which we will now highly recommend to everyone. This dining experience taught me to trust that pretty much any menu choice at the Saigon Restaurant would be a good one.
If you’re in Kelowna, you must give Saigon Restaurant a try. I am certain you’ll be delighted!