Authentic Ethnic Cuisine in Unexpected Places

By Jimese Orange
Photo courtesy of Doan’s.

Few things allow you to experience a culture the way food does. In a bite, you can taste layers of history and influences. The access that Charlotte’s diverse multicultural community gives to authentic ethnic cuisine from all over the world is a gift. Charlotte foodies tend to have short attention spans as shiny, new restaurants stay in the fast-moving spotlight. “New” is exciting foodie territory, but it’s worth exploring some gems that are off the beaten path and have stood the test of time.

Our Asian and Indian neighbors in the eastern hemisphere customarily prepare flavorful, healthy food deliciously by using fresh herbs and spices infuse their cuisine. Want to take a culinary trip to South India? A drive down Albemarle Road to Woodlands Pure Vegetarian Indian Cuisine will transport your palate there. Since 2001, Woodlands has earned a reputation for authentic and fresh vegetarian Indian food that people drive from all over town to enjoy. Quality ingredients are sourced as local as the owner and chef Leslie Lobo’s garden and as far as India for authentic spices. “Everything here is fresh,” says Lobo. “Nothing is made from frozen [ingredients].”

Leslie has created a vegetarian menu featuring more than 100 Indian and Indo-Chinese fusion dishes. “[We feed] all kinds of people [with] all kinds of choices. Nobody’s sad. Everyone is welcome,” says Lobo, who is originally from Bombay, India (now known as Mumbai). He speaks with exuberance, love and pride about the restaurant and the community that has supported his passion all these years. That passion and love is palpable in the food and presentation. A signature dish such as the “Paper Masala Dosa” is plated like a sculptural work of edible art. You almost don’t want to break the large rice and lentil crepe filled with Indian spiced peas and potatoes. The aromas from the dosa accompaniments of vegetable and lentil soup, coconut sauce and potato masala beg you to dive right in, though. The “Chana Batura” is another delicious and visually impressive dish of chickpea curry seasoned with cumin and fennel seeds, black pepper and an array of Indian spices, served alongside a large hollow sphere of tasty puffy bread. Lobo’s family has been in the restaurant and catering business for more than 30 years under the name Woodlands. You can taste that experience and history in the food.
Woodlands Pure Vegetarian Indian Cuisine is located at 7128-A Albemarle Road.

Another culture that makes healthy eating delicious is Vietnamese. Thanks to the popularity of pho – a Vietnamese rice noodle soup dish with thinly sliced beef or chicken in a rich beef or chicken broth simmered with herbs and Asian spices – Vietnamese restaurants are flourishing in Charlotte. Superior freshness and authenticity are at the forefront of Doan’s, located on South Boulevard, tucked away in an unassuming shopping plaza. The atmosphere is cozy, clean and inviting. Popular dishes such as pho and Singapore noodles are delicious, but expand your authentic experience with signature dishes such as the spicy lemongrass shrimp, beef or chicken. The stir-fried curry shrimp, beef and chicken dishes are favorites of Andy Pham, the owner’s son and restaurant manager. Andy works the front of the house while the owner; his father, Hai Pham, cooks up authentic Vietnamese specialties in the kitchen. Their popular fresh summer rolls are prepared by his mother, Nga Thai. She triple-washes all the produce for maximum vibrancy, since fresh cilantro, basil, mint, lettuce, cucumbers, bean sprouts and carrots are staple accompaniments of many Vietnamese dishes. The family has been dedicated to serving authentic Vietnamese cuisine since its restaurant’s doors opened in 2010. “Authentic Vietnamese cuisine is exactly what we put out for our customer. I eat the food here every day and the reason why is to make sure it stays consistent,” says Andy who is originally from Vietnam.
Doan’s is located at 5937 South Boulevard, (704) 773-9077.

Don’t let the fact that both of these gems are tucked away in unexpected places keep you away. The Grade-A cleanliness of their cozy interiors and reasonable prices for authentic and fresh food more than make up for the lack of fancy décor and ambience.