Tucked away on the second floor on a nondescript building in the heart of Ho Chi Minh City, lies the wonderful L’Usine, a bar, cafe, restaurant, and shop that has everything from Bahn Mi, to handcrafted Vietnamese textiles. It’s been years since I’ve been in Vietnam, but one thing that I know is that this place is still a must see. In fact, our managing editor Olivia here at Interior Monologue, returned from a recent visit and was kind enough to bring us back a suite of photos to use for our story! I can take a bit of credit for this “report from the field” in that I was the reason Olivia went to L’Usine in the first place. This magical destination is owned by one of my dearest friends, Thai Nguyen, and his equally dear wife Tib. I remember when they were first opening this little cafe and now L’Usine has grown into a full blown restaurant and market experience, with two outposts in the capital city of Vietnam! I had the good fortune of visiting my friend Thai in Vietnam many years ago, long before L’Usine or Tib were even a blip on the horizon. Ho Chi Minh City is a bustling vibrant, crazy, amazing city and this cafe is the respite you need to know about when you are visiting it. Wish it existed when I was there, but now I think I just have to go back to see it for myself!
Like much of the south, Ho Chi Minh (formerly know as Saigon) still holds many influences from the French occupation, mainly food, like the bahn mi sandwich, which takes the classic Vietnamese grilled meat and fresh greens, puts it in a French baguette, and voila! The restaurant and cafe are both full of French influences mixed with traditional Vietnamese flavors and ingredients. If you have a sweet tooth, you can get a famous Vietnamese coffee, or try one of Vietnam’s newest craft brewed beers.
The cafe is beautifully designed, playing off of the black and white check cafe theme, along with grand old windows with custom ironwork. It’s always buzzing with people working, chatting, and meeting. And just beyond the cafe you’ll find the fabulous shop, which features almost exclusively contemporary artisans and makers from Vietnam and other regions around Southeast Asia. Really, they have it all – from beautiful traditional textiles and blankets, to hip contemporary clothing. Oh, and did I mention locally sourced chocolate and coffee? Two of my absolute favorite things! Fun fact: many of the Vietnamese coffee beans are actually roasts with cacao, which gives it that rich, chocolaty flavor.
Ho Chi Minh has a bustling, international culture, and L’Usine has managed to carve out within it a place to meet, eat wonderful food, and find amazing crafts and goods from local and up-and-coming designers and makers. It’s so amazing to see how they’ve grown in the past few years, and I can’t imagine them slowing down anytime soon!