Three-month-old Mountain Retreat is the newest addition to the stable of mom-friendly restaurants such as Secret Garden, Quan Bui and Cuc Gach Quan, which offer simple yet tasty Vietnamese fare in a homey, unpretentious setting. Mountain Retreat’s spin is on northern Vietnamese food, claiming the Ha Giang style’ — at least according to a sign on the way in. It’s the kind of place you’d bring your hygiene-obsessed parents to if they came to Saigon and were too afraid to eat street food, but still wanted to sample Vietnamese cuisine.

“What is this sauce?” Red Door owner — and our night’s host — Hien asks.

A rattling in the distance. The restaurant stirs and shakes, dishes quivering and voices chattering. The rice wine flows and everyone takes position, ready to clink shot glasses. The train clobbers by. “Chuc suc khoe!”

Checking the TripAdvisor listing for Tapas Saigon, we ran into an eyebrow-raise. The 10 reviews produced a decent overall of 4.0, but near the top was a one-star review, which pointed out how most of the other reviewers were first-timers. Scrolling down the list, we saw this was true — until we came to two laudatory reviews at the end, both written in Spanish.

Located in what was a former furniture warehouse with a pho shop out front, Kokoïs is Thao Dien’s latest go-to restaurant — at least, judging by a Sunday afternoon visit. The place was packed. Mekong Merchant-style packed.

Hidden in the mess of alleyways behind Elegant Suites in West Lake, you can reach La Bicicleta by turning off of Quang An at the suggestion of an unassuming sign, or you can get there by turning left, then left and the going straight down alley 31 from Xuan Dieu. You can approach it a myriad of other ways, too, but I’ll spare you the confusion. The point is this: La Bicicleta can be hard to find.

The problem with French food is that it’s just so good. If you’re cutting out carbs or restricting fats, I recommend you avoid this country’s cuisine altogether. On the other hand, what’s life without the good bits?

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