Cheng Heng on University in St. Paul

Kate NG Sommers / Heavy Table

I love University Avenue, don’t get me wrong — but once you’ve got it pegged as a Vietnamese cuisine thoroughfare, it’s easy to overlook when you’re craving something other than phở, bún, cơm tấm, or bánh mì. So when a friend suggested a visit to a cheap Asian restaurant on a distinctly non-phở-craving type of day, I dragged my heels a bit. My mistake.

Cheng Heng is as inexpensive as your standard Vietnamese or Thai formula menu — but while this Cambodian eatery offers some pretty solid variants of some of the same dishes (after all, food trends rarely correlate directly with national borders), it offers a few dishes that you’ve quite likely never tried before.

Kate NG Sommers / Heavy Table

Take, for instance, the Pahok Ktiss (#48, $8), which presents itself like chorizo — greasy, lightly spiced ground pork — only this stuff tastes of ginger and lemongrass. Topped with peas and served with fresh veggies (cucumber, broccoli, and the like), the dip packs a zingy punch yet offers the familiar texture of family reunion sloppy joes.

Kate NG Sommers / Heavy Table

Chean Chuen (#33, $9) is essentially a filet of fish, deep fried in a light batter and topped by a similar ground pork-and-lemongrass mixture. Though the fish was nicely cooked, the more health-conscious Pahok Ktiss offered a better balance of flavors without the additional grease. Chive Cakes (#3A, $4.50, pictured below) — crispy on the outside, gooey on the inside — are basically rice dumplings loaded with fresh chives.

Kate NG Sommers / Heavy Table

The more basic Cambodian Curry Noodle Soup (Qhob Poob — #40, $6) could easily become a new favorite comfort food. Despite the bright red color, it features a slightly sweet, mild curry flavor and giant, hearty hunks of carrot, onion, chicken, and rice noodles. Try as you might, the slippery noodles will inevitably escape your chopsticks, splashing bright orange splotches down the front of your shirt.

If you’re craving a noodle soup but are afraid of staining your clothes with splattered curry, Sweet and Sour Noodle Soup (#42) — a steal at $5.75 for a large or $7 for an extra large — is perhaps a bit sweeter than some restaurants’ versions (a personal favorite remains the Hot & Sour Soup at China Restaurant in St. Cloud), but features lots of basil, mushrooms, and silky-smooth quail eggs. Tam Yam (#44, $8 chicken / vegetable, $9 shrimp / fish) is comparable to the kaffir lime and lemongrass-seasoned broth popular in Thai restaurants, with the notable addition of quail eggs for extra protein.

The restaurant is unassuming inside and out — you may miss it the first time you drive by, and the inside is the bare bones setup you often see in delis inside Asian grocery stores — but the food is respectable and the price is right. Add a glass of Cambodian red tea (served like Thai iced coffee, which you allow to drip, stir with sweetened condensed milk, then pour over ice) or young coconut water (served in the coconut itself — no cans here!) for $2.75, and you’ve got yourself a meal without breaking the bank.

BEST BET: If you’re looking for comfort food, grab a #40 — Cambodian Curry Noodle Soup — and try not to splatter!


Cheng Heng

Cambodian in St. Paul
448 University Avenue West
Saint Paul, MN 55103
651.222.5577
CHEF / OWNER: Kunrath & Kevin Lam
HOURS:
Sun-Sat 9:30am-9:30pm
BAR: No
RESERVATIONS / RECOMMENDED: No / No
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / No
ENTREE RANGE: $6-9

Kate NG Sommers / Heavy Table

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Maja Ingeman

The daughter of an artist and a music teacher, Maja spent much of her childhood traveling the country in a rusty old van, attempting to model all of her father’s salable jewelry at the same time, and sampling the many edibles available both on the road and at the art fairs they visited. Though she now lives in Minneapolis, the coffee addiction and love for food that she picked up en route to one of their many destinations never left her. Between marketing work in the medical device industry and poring over the Harvard Business Review, she can typically be found holed up in her kitchen, baking bread every weekend and experimenting in between.

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9 Comments

  1. Yes! Can you tell me why the Hot & Sour is so dang good at the China Restaurant in St. Cloud? I have always figured I loved it because it was the first Hot & Sour I had ever had. I used to go and just get the big bowl of it. (Which was not on the menu, but they would make it for you.)

  2. The Tom Yam with the little quail eggs is my favorite in town. And their papaya salad is very different than normal, and delicious. Great place, I hope this brings them some business.

  3. Their egg rolls alone are worth the trip. Some of the best I’ve had!

  4. The folks that run Cheng Heng are also incredibly polite and accommodating. We’ve gone there for years and have enjoyed the food and also watching their little girls grow up. Excellent restaurant. Nice people.

  5. Loooove their curry noodle soup. So delish! Just had a bowl today. Yum. ^-^ Their #38, the kor koo noodles isn’t bad either but watch your tongue! It’s scalding! (But good!)Wish I had the recipes!!

  6. GuyFromChicago08/26/2014Reply

    Folks, this is not your typical Asian food place. If you are not familiar with Cambodian food, its somewhat similar to Thai food but with a lot of taste punching your mouth. Tom Yum soup and egg rolls are for those starting off to Cambodian food. If you’re looking to go authentic and need more spice and flavors – you should step a bit out of your comfort and order something that isn’t typical. I promise, everything on the menu will not kill you.

    For those wanting to live in the edge, order the more traditional dishes – Ah Mok (the curry fish wrapped in banana leaves) or the the Tuk Kreang – spicy fish paste dip that comes with all the fresh and crunchy veggies. Don’t forget to ask for the Cambodian donut…. the donut … WOW, just amazing and only 80 cents a piece.

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