4900 Central Avenue
Owners: Phung Nguyen and Mai Duong
Ben Thanh on Facebook
The dining area and stainless-steel kitchen of the Ben Thanh Vietnamese restaurant is brought to life by a variety of fruit and vegetables almost as colorful as the lighthearted chatter heard as they prepare the food they serve to customers.
Like a paint-by-numbers, Ben Thanh offers an assortment of meals customizable to omnivores and vegetarians alike.
“Anything we eat, or our family eats, we can put on our menu,” said Phung Nguyen, co-owner of Ben Thanh, the restaurant he manages with his family.
Menu items such as Sautéed Spinach, Ginger Stir Fry, or a guest favorite – Pineapple with Pecans, can be prepared with chicken, shrimp, beef or flavored tofu and include a variety of fresh fruits, vegetables and spices. All meals are served with white rice – a staple in most Vietnamese meals.
Over fifteen years ago, Phung Nguyen’s sister opened Lang Van Vietnamese Restaurant on Central Avenue. Nguyen, his parents and wife, Mai Duong, moved to Charlotte from South Vietnam and have since operated restaurants together.
“I like Charlotte, its quiet,” Nguyen said. “Much less than New York, and the weather’s not bad.” After the success of their first venture, the family decided to expand and opened Ben Thanh, not too far from Lang Van.
A few years later, Nguyen’s sister moved to California, leaving the family business to Nguyen and their parents. Nguyen said running two family-restaurants became arduous, so they determined it was best to concentrate their efforts on one place.
“We sold that restaurant after she left, and focused on this one,” he said.
Today, the family continues to manage Ben Thanh Vietnamese. Intricate meals like Cary Tom, Ga Dau Hu – a mix of curry sauce in coconut cream with lemon grass chili, white onions, sweet potatoes served with steam rice, vermicelli or fresh bread – can take more than six hours to create. But even with the extensive effort put into meals served at Ben Thanh, Nguyen says patrons aren’t limited to items on the menu.
The family will do their best to make any traditional Vietnamese food requested by guests. “If you want it, we can do it,” he said.
– Profile written by Ayofemi Kirby