Ben Thanh Vietnamese Dining

Tucked away amongst the urban sprawl of Central Avenue, you will find Ben Thanh, a Vietnamese restaurant. Their non-descript, low-rise building fronts a parking lot riddled with broken concrete and potholes. On this particular rainy evening, dirty brown puddles lay all around.

The room was unpretentious, functional and busy, the clientele almost entirely Asian. The Vietnamese host, with broad smile and chatty conversation, showed us to our table. We were five, including our three children, ages 9, 7 and 3. I was hesitant about the evening; Vietnamese has never been a regular on our child-friendly restaurant schedule.

I was clueless as to what to order — our previous London-based experiences of this cuisine were now a distant memory. With prompting, the helpful server suggested myriad possibilities. We started with fresh summer rolls containing shrimp, fresh mint and bean sprouts rolled in a transparent rice paper and served with a peanut sauce; also, skewered sliced chicken, seasoned with lemon grass, and served with rice paper, vermicelli, lettuce, cucumber, bean sprouts and mint leaves. The entrees came. A chicken coconut cream curry, stir-fried beef/squid/shrimp noodles, and special fried rice.

With the exception of our moody 9-year-old, our fickle kids were enjoying the experience, and eating the food. Parents are able to relax here. There are no opulent surroundings begging irrevocable damage by your hyperactive son. Should your vivacious 3-year-old daughter flick a sticky noodle that clings to the ceiling, there will be no furor. Calmness will emanate from your every pore.

My preference has always been for affordable restaurants that produce absolutely sublime food, and yet possess one or two endearing ragged edges; the dining chairs, for example, may not all match, the table may rock a little on an uneven floor, or perhaps, the toilets maybe be woefully shy of pristine. Color could be one way to describe it. Yes, Ben Thanh has color! Fantastically fresh vibrant Vietnamese cuisine presented to you in a simple, unassuming, slightly tatty environment. Go, and you will go, and go, and go again.

The Chow Down

Dollar deal: Appetizers $3.50-$14.95; Entrees $6.95-$12.95
Kid-friendly: My kids loved the chopsticks.
Noise level: Not an issue
Décor/Atmosphere: Traditional Asian — simple and functional
Kiddie fare: Most entrées can be prepared mild so there are loads to choose. My kids love rice and noodles, plain or stir-fried.
Anything healthy on the kiddie menu?: No kids’ menu
Parent fare: A fairly wide menu caters to most tastes.
Bathroom amenities: Could be better
High chair/booster cleanliness: OK
Got milk/juice?: Yes
Address: 4900 Central Avenue in Charlotte
Phone: 704-566-1088
Web site: www.benthanhcharlotte.com
Overall rating: Out of 5: 5