Vietnamese overseas entrepreneur-cum-chef Charles Phan (Phan Thanh Toan), the owner of ‘The Slanted Door’ restaurant in California, the United States, has made great contributions to bringing Vietnamese food into American culture.



Overseas Vietnamese entrepreneur-cum-chef Charles Phan (Credit:




The Slanted Door in California, the United States, won the award for Outstanding Restaurant under the 2014 James Beard Award that is often considered ‘The Oscars of food’. Only one restaurant in the country per year is selected, serving as a national standard bearer for consistent quality and excellence in food, atmosphere and service.

Formed in 1995, The Slanted Door has claimed the title three continuous times and its chef Toan won the award for ‘Excellent chef’ in the US. However, the special thing is that there is not any American food ob the menu. Coming to the restaurant, guests can enjoy rustic and simple dishes of Vietnam such as braised fish, fried spring rolls, bo luc lac (Sauté Diced Beef with salad and fried potatoes) and papaya salad.

Located in the middle of the Ferry Building Marketplace in San Francisco, California, The Stanted Door, with over 800 tables, has always been full of guests despite the expensive food. According to a survey, the restaurant’s annual turnover has reached around US$16.5 million, topping the list of the private restaurants in San Francisco.

Smiling proudly, Charles Phan shared: “I only cook American food under Vietnamese style”.

Elevating Vietnamese cuisine

Charles Phan won the ‘Excellent Chef’ award of the James Beard Foundation and was the author of two cooking books; however he has not studied at any cooking schools.

He left for the US in 1975 when he was 12 years old and he has always cooked for his family of 10 people because his parents have been busy. Toan was taught Vietnamese traditional food by his mother and aunt.

Toan’s ambition to open a Vietnamese food restaurant began when he worked part-time as a waiter at the age of 15.

In the 1990s, there were a few scattered small Chinese restaurants in Mission district, San Francisco. All food were simple and cheap while Western food was served at luxury restaurants such as Chez Panisse and Zuni Café, encouraging Toan to open a luxury restaurant introducing Asian food.

The Slanted Door appeared in 1995 with a menu of under 10 dishes that have been changed constantly depending on the source of organic ingredients in California. These ingredients were only sold at a few farms with expensive prices, but Toan was determined to buy them because “fresh ingredients are the basic secret making The Slanted Door different from other restaurants”.

Indeed, fresh and clean ingredients have increased the value of Vietnamese food. For example, guests have to pay US$6 for a cup of tea that would be free in many other restaurants. Western visitors can be surprised by the unique connection between drinking western wine and eating Vietnamese food, such as raw vegetables with white wine, and sauté diced beef with red wine.

In addition to delicious and clean food, The Slanted Door has attracted a large number of guests with modern and beautiful decorations.

According to Toan, there are more and more guests to The Slanted Door because of their curiousity.

With more and more guests, Toan decided to move his restaurant to Ferry Building in 2004, expanding the area to 900 square metres. Its annual revenue rose from US$6 million to US$10 million in the first year.

American-style ‘bo luc lac’

Over the 20 years of operation, The Slanted Door has changed its position and improved the quality of services, but its food kept its remain original taste because for Toan, each dish has its history.

Toan has complied with Vietnamese cooking methods; however he has been always creative in utilising ingredients materials in the US. For example, the process of cooking ‘bo luc lac’ is preserved but the fillet steak is from of grass-fed cows in California instead of encrusted beef steak like in Vietnam. Additionally, the beef in The Slanted Door is fried rarely and cut into big bars.

‘Bo luc lac’ leaves a deepleft the deepest imprint in the heart of American people when visiting The Slanted Door as well as enjoying Vietnamese cuisine. This food has brought US$380,000 to The Slanted Door’s total revenue each year.

The current success of The Slanted Door has never made the chef satisfied because the prestigious trophies and awards have always pushed urged him to develop the restaurant. He has comes back to Vietnam at least once every year to find new unique dishes to bring the US.

It is said that the restaurant has changed American people’s views on Asian cuisine, particularly Vietnamese food.

Nhan Dan/ NCDT