By Patrick Newson

In a large strip-mall parking lot just north of the Beltline in Santa Clara Square, the small restaurant almost defies its name. Same Same, a newly established brick-and-mortar operation, at first seems out of place surrounded by a wide variety of chain restaurants and retail establishments. But for owner Tony Ngo, that setting is part of what he hopes to see more of in the community: a dynamism centered around delicious food, accessibility, and a wide array of dishes that are underrepresented in this city. “I want it to be like an amusement park for foodies,” he says.

The complex aromas emanating from the kitchen certainly suggest a roller coaster of culinary exploration. And the clever menu — with sections like “Pre-Funk,” “Too Fresh and So Clean,” and “B-Sides” — offers a lighthearted and casual approach to a dedicated dining experience based on a wide variety of influences, primarily from Southeast Asia. The Weeping Kitty Salad, with spicy greens, rare steak, fried shallots, and peanuts, pairs beautifully with the chili-lime prawns: big, lemongrass-buttered shrimp, served in a hot but manageable house-made citrus sauce. The deep, rich flavors in these dishes — sweet, spicy, and acidic — are balanced to the point of integration, where nothing is in competition.

Ngo draws inspiration from years of traveling (and eating) in Vietnam and adjacent countries. He has a particular interest in Peranakan cuisine, a food culture based on the use of Chinese ingredients that migrants brought to Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore and cooked using local techniques. The result is tangy, herbal, aromatic dishes like the Laksa, a spiced coconut tofu soup with rice noodles and mushrooms (a delicious vegan and gluten-free option at Same Same). Similarly, Ngo’s Henny Ribs is a deeply flavorful take on the classic dish, first smoked, then braised, then glazed in a sweet(ish)-savory sauce and practically falling off the bone.

Ngo also owns and operates Da Nang Vietnamese eatery, a food truck now parked at Thinking Tree Spirits. The cart’s popularity ultimately presented a fork in the road for his business.

“We knew that we were ready to take it to another stratosphere, but we didn’t want to ruin something beloved,” he says. Luckily, Ngo was able to open Same Same in his own neighborhood, along what he calls the “food corridor of Eugene,” a thoroughfare stretching along River Road from the various organic farms at the north edge of town down to the city center.

Same Same’s interior features a bright, wall-sized mural and an amusing and vibrant painting series depicting crocodiles, frogs, and snakes, done by local artist Rae Matagora. “We let this location and this space really dictate what we wanted to do here,” he says.

The name Same Same is a reference to a Southeast Asian phrase that means something like “similar but different.” The restaurant is able to thrive and innovate due in large part to the diverse backgrounds and talents of the staff, says Ngo. “We’ve got people trained in French, Japanese, and Italian cooking traditions, as well as Southeast Asian techniques.” Along with offering regular menus, which change frequently to accommodate the availability of seasonal local produce, Ngo and his collaborators have been producing pop-up dinners and special events. Recent dinners have included fusion takes on Italian food featuring Chef David Lucht and Thirst Club sommeliers, and a sushi night for the “Omakase Posse” with chef Michael Zito.

“We want to do more and more stuff like this,” says Ngo, “to see what it looks like to bring in Latin, Korean, and French influence to this restaurant.”

At the end of a delightful and delicious meal tucked into a comfortable corner booth, capped off with a glass of vouvray and a hibiscus creme brûlée, Ngo laughs his way toward the real impetus for sharing his food.

“We’re doing it right,” he says, “and this community has been so responsive because even more than fine dining, this is fun dining.”

Same Same

45 Division Ave., Suite E