By James Walker
Road Warriors is back and is celebrating its 15th anniversary with the new 24th edition. The column, a long-standing feature in the Workers’ Compensation Section newsletter, Course & Scope, focuses on lunch eateries around the state. This special anniversary and celebration of Road Warriors revving up its engines again is devoted to my all-time favorite, Ben Thanh Vietnamese Restaurant. All the tips and comments from our membership have made Road Warriors possible. Please email me at email@example.com with your favorite lunch stops and they may appear in following editions. If you take a moment to write a review, we’ll put it in the next edition if possible.
Ben Thanh Vietnamese Restaurant
1806 Windsor Square Drive
Matthews, NC 28105
Ben Thanh has been a perennial favorite Asian restaurant in the Charlotte area for many years. And no wonder. The very best of Charlotte’s Vietnamese presence is on display at my all-time favorite restaurant. It’s like a journey through time to another era and to an exotic, mysterious tropical destination.
Ben Thanh’s family owned restaurant has its roots in the former Saigon of then South Vietnam. The culture and food are vastly different from the North, being a tropical region in the Mekong River Delta. The popularity of the flavorful, healthy food from this region has spread wildly around the world, with the beef and rice noodle soup phó having legions of followers.
Phó is seductively simple: rice noodles in an herbal/spiced broth, topped with various cuts of beef in different stages of doneness. When served, the patron garnishes the bowl with Thai basil, lettuce, bean sprouts and cilantro. Hot peppers are optional. Careful here, especially with the little red, nuclear tipped Thai chilies. Try Ben Thanh menu item No. 24 to have phó.
To be great phó, the broth takes nearly 24 hours to prepare. No mixes or instants here. Bones are boiled with the spices to give a rich, savory body to the broth. Star anise, cinnamon, herbs and flavors blend together for a unique and wonderful creation. So use the soup spoon provided to enjoy noodles, meat, vegetables and broth.
There are sauces that enhance the phó experience. A dash of Hoison sauce, Sriracha (hot!) sauce or a red vinegar called giấm đỏ (pronounced yam dow) on the bite adds a little extra flavor and zip.
In addition to phó, another favorite soup is menu item No. 37, seafood and wonton. I usually get half egg noodle and half rice noodle. It comes with the same vegetable condiments as the phó. The broth, however, tastes different and has a reddish hue. The flavors are magnificent and each bite has a changing flavor variation.
Try the Vietnamese iced coffee for a nice side drink, brewed at your table with a special device made by the Vietnamese. Café Du Monde and sweetened condensed milk make this beverage one of the world’s best. The exotic fruit smoothies are a must: jack fruit, avocado and durian are the best. Durian is a powerful smelling tropical fruit people love or hate, with no middle grounders! I love it – it tastes like a peach and pineapple collided.
If you are really adventurous, try the dish with the misnomer Big Yellow Pancake. It is not a cake, nor is it sweet.
The Vietnamese call this fantastic specialty banh xeo. It is menu item No. 17. Made of rice flower, bean sprouts, pork and shrimp, it is fried crispy in a special pan. It is served with Thai basil, mint leaves and lettuce leaves. Diners cut portions and roll those portions up in the lettuce leaves like a burrito, then dunk each bite in a fish sauce.
Ben Thanh offers several other Vietnamese specialties, too numerous to cover here. Vegetarian is also available.
Ben Thanh is as good as it gets in my book. What a special place to have lunch or dinner!
James Walker is a full-time attorney-mediator in Charlotte, concentrating in workers’ compensation.