Saigon Café in Driggs

Published in Chef Notes, Jackson Hole News & Guide, September 7, 2011
Shared by Chef Joseph Byers
Saigon Café

260 N. Main Street, Driggs, Idaho
Serving lunch M-F and dinner M-Sat


Chicken Skewers with Sweet Chili Glaze

Makes about 20 skewers

2   pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts

2   tablespoons fish sauce

2   tablespoons soy sauce

2   tablespoons light olive oil

2   tablespoons honey

3   teaspoons sesame oil

3   cloves garlic, minced

2   green onions, chopped

1   teaspoon fresh ground pepper

½  teaspoon salt

20 bamboo skewers

½  cup Asian sweet chili sauce (mix with 1 tablespoon peanut butter– optional)


Cut meat in strips about ½ inch thick by 1 ½ inch wide. Combine all ingredients, except the sweet chili sauce, in a bowl. Add chicken and mix well. Refrigerate for one hour. Meanwhile, soak the bamboo skewers in water for 30 minutes or more. Remove meat from refrigerator and put on skewers. Grill skewers on the barbeque over medium-high until done.

After remove from the grill, brush with Asian sweet chili sauce and serve.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

A quiet little surprise has appeared behind the Potato Curtain. It’s the Saigon Cafe. Who would ever have guessed that a Vietnamese Grill serving delicious food would one day open in Driggs, Idaho?

We experienced some exciting tastes and had a lovely evening there. We learned from our friendly conversation with Joseph Byers, the owner and executive chef and his wife, Crystal, who runs the front of the house. They opened July 2 with enough business that Byers sought help. Luckily for them they found Don Nguyen, a Vietnamese native and trained chef in Salt Lake City. He has moved to Driggs where he cooks side by side with Byers.

Byers cooking inspiration was his mother’s Saturday dinners for the family in Lewistown, Montana where he was born. The family moved to Southern California when he was young. Citing his Italian aunt’s influence on his tastes,  he started his kitchen experience as a teen at Godfather’s and La Cucina Italian Restaurants in Costa Mesa.

Amid diverse cultures and cuisines Byers discovered and pursued his interest in Italian, American and Vietmanese. With its layered influences of both French and Chinese the complexity of Vietnamese drew him to study for twenty-five years until he has become fluent in speaking and writing the language. He worked in a friend’s Cafe Arnold in Ho Chi Minh City, the former Saigon.

Upon his return to the United States in 2006, Byers moved to Jackson. He has cooked at Triangle X, Lost Creek Ranch and 3 Creek Ranch. It was while working at the Triangle X that he met his beloved wife Crystal. The sheriff officiated at their wedding exactly one year later. Now they have a daughter, Cheyenne and a son Westley.

Byers creativity has earned him an award in the 2008 Jackson Hole Chili Cookoff with key ingredients of buffalo meat, fire roasted peppers, fish sauce and Snake River Lager. Last year he won the Grill Master Beef Challenge in Driggs flavoring with oyster sauce and Greek yogurt.

Even though our chef has longed to open his own his own place, he gives much credit to his wife. “Crystal pushed me into taking the leap to open the restaurant,” Byers shared. “I tend to wait until the stars are aligned just right, and everything is perfect before doing something. I had been working on the idea and business plan for a year or so. Crystal came home one day after telling some friends about our idea of starting a small Vietnamese restaurant in Teton Valley, Idaho. She said, ‘We are going to open it. This is one of your dreams, so let’s just do it.’ ”

Ravenous upon arrival, we were offered some delicious appetizers to regain balance. The tender spring rolls of rice paper were filled with grilled chicken and shrimp plus greens, cucumber, cilantro, mint, carrots and rice noodles accompanied by a hoisin peanut dipping sauce. Delicately golden egg rolls with pork, shrimp and wood ear mushrooms, vegetables and mung bean noodles came with a sweet chili lime dipping sauce. We devoured them all in short order. The chicken wings were also quite delectable enhanced with roasted garlic in chili sauce. We didn’t get to the pot stickers, but there will be a next time.

Moving on to entrees we honored our vegetarian guest with a huge bowl of Pho, the popular broth dish rapidly gaining popularity in our country. Sometimes it contains beef and usually the broth is seasoned with roasted onion, ginger, star anise, cinnamon, cloves and smoked cardamom. Sides to add include basil, bean sprouts, lime, jalapeno, hoisin and Sriracha sauces. It is a satisfying deep mix of flavors.

The menu is small, which is appropriate for a tiny restaurant in its infant stages. Don’t do many things, do few things very well. This allowed the four of us to sample everything but the banh mi baguette sandwich that is served at lunch. We like leftovers and there were plenty. Each sandwich is served with mushroom onion pate, a choice of grilled chicken, lemongrass pork or grilled ratatouille of fire roasted squashes and tomatoes, topped off with cucumber, daikon, cilantro and jalapenos.

There is something inadequate in my vocabulary to describe in all of these dishes the complexity and pungent subtlety of the five elements of flavors. Each is a unique blend of sweet, sour, bitter, spicy and salty. All are vibrant. I’ll tell you about the dishes, but you better go try them for yourselves.

The chicken, shrimp and cabbage salad comes with masses of crispy vegetables, honey lime chili vinaigrette, topped with roasted peanuts and fried shallots. The rice vermicelli salad has grilled chicken, lemongrass pork or tiger shrimp over rice noodles. As with the others, mounds of fresh vegetables and herbs augment the experience. I am now a big fan of lemongrass pork. Beef stew with baguette from 460° bakery brings out the French side of the cuisine. It is savory and wonderful.

Broken rice comes with a cup of pho. The meat choices already mentioned plus a slice of Vietnamese meatloaf, unusual and pleasing, accompany the broken rice. Great tastes. A tart green papaya salad samples a recipe from across the border with Laos made using a mortar and pestle to crush garlic, palm sugar, chiles, and grape tomatoes. Lime, shredded papaya, crab paste, fish sauce and ground dried shrimp complete the blend. It comes with grilled chicken and sticky rice.

As they await a liquor license you are welcome to bring your own refreshing beverages. They serve Jasmine tea, traditional iced coffees and sodas. Go visit and enjoy the nourishing feeling it gives you.


Leave a Reply