I read somewhere recently that love makes for a good photograph. I committed this phrase to memory because quite simply, it is such a beautiful notion. This past weekend, we found ourselves at our favorite Vietnamese haunt enjoying plates and mugs of what we know best. We always start our meals with two ice cold Tsingtao's and an order of the spring rolls. They comprise fresh lettuce, sprouts, herbs, vermicelli noodles and boiled shrimp wrapped in rice paper. It is served alongside peanut sauce for dipping. The sauce is so delectable it is not atypical to eat it directly from the bowl with a teaspoon. The contrast of warm sweetness against that of the texture of the chopped nuts is simply sublime. Trust me on this one.

As our meal was nearing and we were awaiting the check, I looked to my right and for five marvelous minutes, was transfixed. Matthew saw it too. Time stopped. We were mesmerized by a wonderful, endearing scene that was unfolding just one booth away. A Vietnamese father was preparing a steaming bowl of Pho for his young son. First we saw him tenderly remove a handful of fresh mint leaves from the stalks, which he carefully dropped into the bowl. Then he squeezed a generous amount of Sriracha into the bounty, which was followed by Hoison sauce and finally a calculated squeeze from a wedge of a lemon. He then dipped his chop sticks into the bowl and proceeded to carefully lift and dunk noodles in and out of the bowl. A selfless taste with the oversized spoon and it was ready. He pushed the plate over to his boy and began to eat his own meal. The boy’s eyes grew big as he moved steaming noodles to his spoon and began to eat. It was a quick moment that lent the ultimate demonstration of love and we were somehow part of it. We spoke about it throughout the afternoon

I first came upon Ben Than sometime last Fall almost by pure chance.  Back in early October, my family was in town for the wedding of a dear family friend. Come Monday, everyone save for my mom and brother had returned to their respective corners of the Earth. For dinner, we had a hankering for Vietnamese. It was mathematical, we would meet at our then go to spot. You can imagine our disappointment when our three cars pulled into the parking lot to discover that the restaurant was closed. There is another outstanding spot said my mother, down the street. Are you sure, we asked. So we checked our Smartphones, learned it was open, secured an address and we were on our merry ways. 

On this evening, we hummed and hawed over the very extensive menu and the waitress made the process very simple. Do you like chicken. Yes. Will you eat shrimp. Of course. How about noodles. We don't discriminate. Beef? We are Breyer's, come on now. A couple of rounds of Tsingtao's and multiple courses later, we were on cloud nine. The foods and flavors were incredible. We all raved. When on a date, order the spring or summer rolls. If you more than two, I recommend starting with the build your own rolls. A large platter includes lemongrass seasoned skewered chicken, vermicelli noodles, cucumber, fresh mint, bean sprouts and peanut sauce. You heat your own rice paper in hot water and get to work. All should be enjoyed family style. Vietnamese yellow pancakes, noodle dishes, hot pots. This is just the beginning.

You honestly cannot go wrong with any choice on the menu. In doubt? The wonderful people of the restaurant will choose for you and rest assured you will not be disappointed. Last month I was in hot pursuit of harissa, which Google informed me I could find in a Middle Eastern grocer on Central Avenue. It just happened to be next door to Ben Thanh. Luck or chance? I think not. We ordered the Number 39, which is a curry coconut cream sauce with lemon grass, white potatoes, sweet poatoes, white onion and your choice of meat. It is very similar to massaman curry and the golden saffron color is ever tempting. Matthew, who almost always orders the tripe pho, deviated from the course and ordered the grilled chicken with sesame seeds. A number 43 if memory serves. He reported that it was sublime. On this day however, we ordered another plate to share; the lemongrass curry chicken. Lucky number 79. The year of my birth. Incredible. Served on a bed of shredded lettuce and sprouts. Nowadays, this is my go to dish. I order it medium heat. You can usually find as at Ben Thanh enjoying a weekend meal and the occasional week night. Yes, it is that good.  Hope to see you in a nearby booth sometime soon.

Ben Thanh Restaurant
4900 Central Ave, Charlotte, NC 28205


  1. I'M SOLD! This sounds outstanding! This restaurant is just down the street from us, and I can't wait to try it after hearing your review! What would you recommend for first timers? Love chicken, love curry, love shrimp, love noodles!