One of only three Vietnamese places in Dayton, Little Saigon is the most centrally located and convenient to find. While the restaurant design could definitely use an update — or, you know, a complete makeover from the ground up — you’ll also find it’s an economical, quaint and friendly little restaurant with some great things to offer. I hate to judge a book by its cover, but in this case, that cover can be so distracting that it really takes away from the overall experience.
Little Saigon has a relatively short menu; it’s the basic Vietnamese dishes; pho noodle soups, rice vermicelli Bún dishes served with fried, spring roll-like Chả Giò. The hot soups are especially satisfying here; some are complementary and served with lunch, while others are appetizers. I’m not talking about the noodle soups; there are interesting rice-based soups too. Vermicelli dishes are great, and Little Saigon really hits the nail on the head. They’re delicious. Good Vietnamese really lacks a loud, dominant flavor in the food; it’s more about mixing the subtle tastes of the vegetables, noodles, and meats together. The end product isn’t reinventing the wheel, but it’s great basic Vietnamese.
The best thing about the food is that it’s so cheap. Most lunch entrees are six bucks, and not “plus tax and gratuity and a bunch of other nonsense” six bucks. The restaurant is a little off the beaten path in Dayton; it’s near a lot of business parks and a few businesses, but not really a major hub of activity in this city. Such a cheap meal makes it more than worth the detour. What’s better is how well they manage the incoming crowds. You’ll get in and out in an hour despite the lunch rush, no problem at all.
The unfortunate elephant in the room for Little Saigon is that the humble restaurant is just frankly unattractive. The sign is easy to miss (I certainly drove right past it) because none of the outside markings are apparent, while the teal-and-pink windowless exterior aren’t great. The inside is also uncomfortable. Assorted junk and phone books sit on shelves in plain view; while there are nice shelves with decorations on them, the place really looks like a mess. The tables are too close together and the entire dining room needs a repaint. And some windows. I understand, a restaurant like this one probably has to work with limited resources, but the restaurant is so unappealing visually, it distracts from the experience. If I wasn’t on a mission to try all of the Vietnamese in the city, I would never have considered coming here. Not with so many other, nicer looking restaurants in the area. Presentation tells a lot.
Little Saigon has room for improvement. But in spite of its flaws, It’s worth a try.
- Come in for lunch; the staff speeds through the mealtime rush very well.
- The meals here are decent, cheap food. Definitely tasty.
- Specifically, I suggest the bún noodle bowls and the soups.