The bottom line: Traditional and fresh Vietnamese food plus awesome peanut sauce!
For a city Charlotte is pretty sprawled out and there are various areas of town that I simply hardly ever find myself in. However, there’s one thing you should know about this girl…I will almost go anywhere for good food! Beyond the glitz of uptown and other popular neighborhoods there are restaurants that definitely might not be as posh but are worth a visit anyways. Ben Thanh in Central Avenue is most certainly one of those places.
While planning a dinner with a couple of friends we all decided that we were in the mood for Vietnamese food and Ben Thanh came out as the preferable choice. Now my previous experience with Vietnamese food hadn’t been that awesome so I have to say I went on this visit with a bit of hesitation. On top of that Ben Thanh is very unassuming in its decor so if you are expecting something grandiose then this is not your place. However, off I went on a culinary adventure! One that didn’t disappoint.
I started off my night by ordering a bottle of Tsingtao. For it being that I hadn’t had this Chinese beer before I have to say that I enjoyed it. It has a light body and is part of the pale lager kind. Also, although it is made with hops the taste wasn’t too “hoppy”. Of course it didn’t become my favorite beer of all kind (FYI craft beers, Yuengling, and Heineken take that place) but it was a good refreshing drink after a long day of work.
Something that else that immediately caught my eye were the Fresh Summer Rolls (Goi Cuon) mainly because they are served with peanut sauce (I know…I’m still caught up on that sauce). The fresh rolls were your typical ones consisting of shrimp, mint, bean sprouts, lettuce, and rice noodles, rolled in rice paper. Much to my delight I loved how the restaurant did not skimp out on the shrimp. Each fresh roll came out with 3 big and succulent pieces of shrimp. None of that dime sized pre-cooked shrimp here! All the ingredients were of course fresh and the rolls themselves were big. The peanut sauce was simply amazing! I feel like the 6+ years worth of waiting for peanut sauce were not in vain. The sauce was smooth, plus you enjoyed the sweet/savory combination of its ingredients like soy sauce and peanut butter. The fresh rolls would not have been the same without it!
After pretty much devouring my fresh rolls I moved on to my main meal. I really was torn here because Ben Thanh’s menu is very extensive and it took forever to pick one thing. However, I was in the mood for tofu that evening and that helped to narrow my choices down. I ended up with the House Special Hop Pot made with stir fried tofu, broccoli, cauliflower, carrot, celery, and onion, served over baked tomato flavored rice. One thing that stood out to me about this dish was the freshness of all the vegetables. They were all fully cooked but still maintained that crispness to them. The tofu was also flavorful and the edges crispy. The rice was also good but I will say that I didn’t find much of the tomato flavor to it. To me it was more like your normal white rice only that it had more of a reddish tint to it (possibly from the tomato). I will also point out that the dish is served with some type of sauce that covers the rice and if you leave if for too long then your rice will get soggy.
All in all whenever I have a craving for Vietnamese food Ben Thanh will be one of my top choices. The dishes are big and the food is fresh and full of flavor. There are just so many other things I want to try that I can’t wait to be back. In fact, I have my eye of some of those spring rolls, they looked delicious!