Pandemic Takeout 38: Cheng Heng (St. Paul, MN)


I posted my roundup of the year in pandemic takeout on Sunday and noted that I still had one full report to come. This is that report, of our last takeout meal of 2020, picked up from Cheng Heng in St. Paul (on the real “Eat Street”, where else?) on Saturday.

Cheng Heng—in case you live in the Twin Cities metro and still don’t know—is our premier Cambodian restaurant. This may seem like damning with faint praise as there may only be one other Cambodian restaurant (the smaller but also worthy Kolap) but it’s not meant to be. The food at Cheng Heng is very good and they are a true Twin Cities treasure, and at almost 25 years of age, also an institution. Of course, we hope for the best for all restaurants in this challenging time which has seen minimal true support from the federal government for restaurants—especially small, truly independent restaurants—or their workers; but I particularly hope that restaurants like Cheng Heng will manage to survive.

I’ve reported on meals eaten at the restaurant twice before (first in 2018 and again in 2019). On both occasions the parking lot was crammed and the large restaurant was bustling. On Saturday the parking lot was nearly empty and I was the only customer who had yet placed an order—I arrived at 11.30 for pickup. This may not be typical but people: I know we’re all stretched thin and there are many, many favourite restaurants we’re all trying to give our custom to but if you haven’t ordered from Cheng Heng recently, please consider doing so. If you haven’t eaten there before there are recommendations and descriptions of dishes in the previous reviews in addition to this one.

On this occasion we actually mostly—though not entirely—ordered things we hadn’t eaten at the meals covered in the two previous reports. What did we get?

  • Larb Salad with Roasted Pork. This was just excellent. Bright, hot (but not crazy hot), perfectly balanced.
  • Papaya Salad. Not as funky as the Lao/Hmong versions, not as hot as the Thai versions but also excellent.
  • Lot Chha. The classic Cambodia stir-fry of plump, stubby rice noodles. We got it with just veg and it was lovely, with the wok hei surviving the drive home in the car.
  • Roast Pork over Rice. This was for one boy and he loved it.
  • Roast Chicken over rRice. This was for the other and he loved it too. Both came with pickles and a light soup.
  • Machu Angkor. This is a classic sweet and sour Cambodian soup with lotus stems, tomato and pineapple. It was a bit too sweet for the missus’ taste at first but with a big squeeze of lime she liked it almost as much as I did. We got it with fish.
  • Beef Saramman. Beef saramman is a classic Cambodian curry similar to the Thai massaman and based on descriptions I’d read and videos I’d seen of it being prepared I was expecting something between Thai massaman and Indonesian rendang in texture but this ended up being altogether soupier. This may well be a variation, of course, but I enjoyed it more the next day after cooking it down quite a bit on the stove top. The beef, by the way, was wonderfully tender.
  • Green Curry with Pork. This too was soupier than I was expecting and also became more to my taste with some cooking down.
  • Sngor Chruck. Another bright soup, this time featuring lemongrass. It was very good but I wouldn’t advise getting this and the machu angkor at the same meal. They’re far from identical but quite similar in profile.

A lot of rice came with a lot of this.

For a look at the food, launch the slideshow below. Scroll down to see how much it cost and to see what might be coming next.

All of this plus a big tip came to just over $120. We ate a big lunch and are still eating the leftovers. I’d call that a steal of a deal: enough food for 8 adults to eat well. As I’ve said before, they should charge more: it’s not like there’s Cambodian food to be had around every corner in the Twin Cities.

Anyway, I do hope I may inspire/remind a few of you to give them some of your takeout business before 2020 ends. I’m not sure where my first report of 2021 will be from but it wouldn’t surprise me if it ends up being another Grand Szechuan extravaganza. It seems appropriate to start the new year in eating “out” with food from our favourite restaurant in the metro.

Stay safe, stay distanced, stay masked. And if you’re not likely to be back here for the last whisky review or recipe of the year, I hope the end of your 2020 will be a good one.

4 thoughts on “Pandemic Takeout 38: Cheng Heng (St. Paul, MN)

  1. I wish Cheng Heng wasn’t such a “hidden treasure” after all these years. We’ve eaten a few times there during the pandemic and bought a bunch of gift certificates (still sitting in the desk drawer) because we’ve always liked the food and really want them to survive. But I know from talking with one of the owners that their guest count is really low. So maybe it’s time for us to make another trip there.

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      • Well, that conversation was … oh, several months ago now. They said they stayed open because even 20% of their previous business was better than no business at all. Perhaps as more people feel comfortable getting takeout food and realize how important it is to keep restaurants like Cheng Heng alive, they’re doing better now. I’ll ask when we visit.

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