An American brings some classic diner food and barbecue to Saigon. By Chris Mueller. Photos by Fred Wissink.

Sometimes you just need a taste of home. And for Charlie Ta, that taste comes from American diners and restaurant chains like TGI Friday’s. Tired of all the American options around Ho Chi Minh City not tasting quite right, Ta opened his own version of a diner down an alley in District 1.

But Chuck’s doesn’t look like your average American diner. Instead, it resembles a typical hole-in-the-wall quan readily found throughout the city. The front of the restaurant is open to the alley and the white walls have four cities — Saigon, New York, Paris and Los Angeles — stenciled in black. The only other decorations are the “house rules” and menus pinned to the wall.

This bare-bones set-up was intentional and serves multiple purposes. “I wanted a place where you can eat and just hang out and not worry about being pretentious,” Ta says.

It also keeps the prices surprisingly low. The standard hamburger with fries costs VND 100,000. If you want cheese, that’s an extra VND 10,000 and bacon is an additional VND 10,000. The patties are made with 100-percent imported Australian beef that Ta gets from his uncle, which means he knows exactly what he’s getting, and so does the customer.

I challenge anyone to find a hamburger in Saigon for cheaper while still being this tasty. These certainly are not gourmet burgers, and they aren’t meant to be, but they are exactly how a good American-style diner burger should be.

Chuck’s is also becoming well-known for its breakfasts. We tried the stack of three pancakes (VND 60,000), which were light and fluffy. The syrup isn’t real maple syrup (that stuff costs a fortune in Vietnam), but Chuck’s homemade syrup does the trick.

Last month, Chuck’s began a Sunday barbecue from 5-10pm. It’s then that the restaurant’s open-front design really becomes useful. Tables are set up outside under strings of fairy lights, and the cul-de-sac-like alley turns into a backyard barbecue. In addition to their normal menu, there are also ribs and fries (VND 175,000), bbq chicken with fries (VND 150,000) or a rib and chicken combo (300,000). All of this can be washed down with some cold beer for as little VND 15,000 a can.

Ta says he’s not just trying to attract customers with things like the Sunday barbecue, but rather create a place for people to relax and have some food. “I tell people they can just come down, even if they don’t want to buy something,” he says.

Chuck’s
27/27 Tran Nhat Duat, D1
Tel: 09 02 11 95 30
10am-10pm, closed Mondays
Facebook.com/chucksamericaneatery