There is something truly irresistible about a spot that combines mouthwatering food with a laid-back, unpretentious vibe. The kind of place you could justify dining at more than once a week (if you wanted to) and leave feeling totally satisfied every time. Well, the newest addition to Ponsonby Central’s diverse stable of eateries is offering just that, as Chao Vietnamese Canteen brings its utterly flavoursome fare to Ponsonby’s discerning locals.
Having opened his first Chao Canteen in Mission Bay three years ago, Owner Ben Huh (also the driving force behind The Kimchi Project on Lorne Street) explains that the original concept was born from his love of fresh, Vietnamese cuisine. Huh together with his friend and business partner Isaac Yim, combined their passions and skills to create something that reimagined the casual Vietnamese eatery as we knew it. For Huh, the opportunity with Chao was to take what he loved about traditional Vietnamese food and fuse it with other Asian flavours, from Korean barbecue to Sichuan Chinese (a formula that had already proven popular at The Kimchi Project).
The result is a menu of moreish, Asian-fusion dishes with a definitively Vietnamese twist, each one born from hours of work undertaken by Huh and his chefs, who extensively researched ways that they could improve on Vietnamese staples, soups and sauces. A thorough and meticulous process, he tells me.
One of the highlights of Chao Canteen’s tasty offering is its pho, with a broth that, Huh explains, is made by simmering 20 whole chickens, massive beef briskets and an array of herbs for half a day. “It’s something we’re incredibly proud of,” he says. Elsewhere, the meats in dishes like the Banh Mi, the BBQ Pork Rice and the 2-Ways Chicken have been specially marinated using the Korean barbecue method, which renders them particularly tender and bursting with flavour. Chao also offers housemade Asian sodas like Yuzuade and Green Plumade alongside its popular Pineapple Slush — made from and served in whole pineapples.
Now, with its second outpost open in Ponsonby Central, Chao Canteen’s flavoursome fare is available to a fresh group of discerning diners, who are sure to welcome this new spot with open arms. Ultimately, even if you head along to Chao for its casual atmosphere and laid-back vibe, you’ll stay for the exceptional food. As Huh says, “Once you try our food, you’ll be hooked… it’s an experience you won’t soon forget.”