Quality Cambodian Cuisine: A Review of Cheng Hung

By Olivia Provan

Good food, cheap prices, an escape from CafAc Mac, and an opportunity to try food with unpronounceable names – these were the draws to Cheng Heng, one of the few Cambodian restaurants in the Twin Cities. Cheng Heng is located on University Ave. W., an area that, to say the least, leaves something to be desired. When it came to unpronounceable names and cheap prices, Cheng Heng passed in both categories with dishes like “chean chuen” and “banh xiung,” costing as little as $5 and no more than $10, with most on the lower end.

In case the prices on the menu aren’t indication enough, the atmosphere is a constant reminder that you’re not paying a lot for your food. The building itself is mildly dilapidated – the walls have chipping paint and the tile on the floors are cracked and in need of a cleaning. However, these can be signs of a great “hole-in-the-wall” restaurant – a diamond in the rough where food, rather than atmosphere, is the focus. This was my expectation before eating – both City Pages and Twin Cities Insiders Guide gave Cheng Heng gleaming reviews.

The ultimate test of a restaurant, of course, is its food. For appetizers, I ordered the spring roll with shrimp and pork. I’ve developed the tendency to be a bit hesitant in ordering seafood at inexpensive restaurants (especially in Minnesota) but the shrimp at Cheng Heng was surprisingly good, lacking the rubbery blandness of much of the seafood I’ve had in the Cities. The thread noodles and spring roll wrappers were also surprisingly good with a great chewy texture suggesting that the ingredients were either homemade or just good quality.

For dinner I ordered the City Pages’ recommendation, chha kroeng (fortunately numbers are listed next to each dish to save customers from attempting to pronounce the names): a lemongrass scented mix of meat or tofu and thick slices of onions and peppers. The food took a while to come out; as the waitress explained, there was only one person making the stir-fry. The sense of authenticity and care this provided the food excused the wait. I smelled my meal coming before I saw it – the scent of garlic saturated the room. I’m a huge fan of garlic – lots of it – but a fair warning in the dish’s description would have been appreciated. Each order comes with a heaping plate of perfectly done white rice that was good enough to eat as a meal on its own, though the chha kroeng needed something of a sauce to flavor the rice – I had to add some soy sauce for flavor. The food was good, a little bland, but the ingredients tasted fresh. The tofu was cooked well – not too soggy, not too firm – and the garlic emanating from the plate didn’t taste as overwhelming as it smelled. Overall it was good, the ingredients were fresh and cooked well, though the flavors were a bit too understated.

The other dishes were a hit and miss. One friend I was with ordered the Cambodian salad and was quite pleased. It was flavorful with perfect proportions of vegetables, thread noodles, and sauce that could be described as a Cambodian vinaigrette. Another friend ordered a black bean and tofu stir fry that was flavorful and cooked well, though it came swimming in a vat of black bean sauce. She had to take a few minutes to build the confidence to dig in.

I would recommend Cheng Heng to those who like to experience new tastes and flavors, though ordering seems to be somewhat of a hit-or-miss. Nevertheless, it was interesting to try Cambodian food, and Cheng Heng is an authentic, family-owned example.