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City Heights Bites: Thanh Tinh Chay

The Banh Mi at Thanh Tinh Chay features fresh bread and "meat," made from plant-based proteins. Photographed on May 17th, 2021.
Matthew Bowler
The Banh Mi at Thanh Tinh Chay features fresh bread and "meat," made from plant-based proteins. Photographed on May 17th, 2021.
For long-standing businesses, the COVID-19 pandemic has been brutal. One new City Heights restaurant that is not only trying to survive, but thrive, as it shakes off losses from the past year.

Ingenuity can not only help a business survive the worst climate for restaurants in recent history, it can also be delicious, when it’s in the hands of Trang Nong and her co-conspirators at Thanh Tinh Chay, a Vietnamese restaurant that serves only vegan and vegetarian fare.

“The Vietnamese traditional (food), it usually come with the meat, the pork,” Nong said. “They don’t provide much of an option for vegetarian and vegan diners.”

Video: City Heights Bites: Thanh Tinh Chay, Vegetarian Vietnamese Restaurant

The restaurant opened right before the pandemic, quickly amassing regulars, who then switched over to pickup and delivery once indoor dining had to shut down.


That gave the owner and workers at the restaurant more time to perfect recipes — not trying to just replicate standard Vietnamese dishes, but create their own versions — hinging on creative uses of soy, tofu and other vegetable substitutes.

Take their Banh Mi for instance — they not only make their own bread every day, they make their own, quote un quote, “meat,” complete with fat dripping over the side of the plant-based protein.

Nong, who immigrated from Vietnam a decade ago, says that people looking for Vietnamese food without meat didn’t have any options in San Diego. Now, they have one of the most cutting-edge culinary experiences in City Heights, giving even those who grew up eating traditional Vietnamese food a pleasant surprise.

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“At first they’re really shocked, because it tastes exactly like the meat one, the flavor of the broth,” Nong said.


Customers are free to also choose a variety of sides and meat-substitutes to supplement dishes they can make at home.

“A lot of the time, people don’t have enough time to wait for a little bit for us to make the food,” she said. “So, they’re just on the rush, and they grab some of the items, and they go home and heat it up. Have it with rice they can make there.”

While business is still way down from before the pandemic, Nong hopes that as indoor dining resumes this month in the restaurant, there will be way more regulars, looking for food that pushes boundaries, while still feeling very much at home in the dynamic food scene of City Heights.

City Heights Bites: Thanh Tinh Chay
Listen to this story by Max Rivlin-Nadler.