Ready for Laotian food in Charlotte?

Roger Kongkham, owner of Hibiscus, grew up in one of Charlotte’s longest-running restaurants, Thai Taste in Dilworth.
By Tom Hanchett

Is Charlotte ready for a restaurant featuring Laotian food? That’s the question that Roger Kongkham and his brother Robert asked themselves when they opened Hibiscus across Woodlawn Road from Park Road Shopping Center in 2016.

“My family started Thai Taste in Dilworth,” says Roger Kongkham. “They are from Thailand and also from Laos. My mom was born in Laos.”  Back then, in 1988, Thai flavors were just starting to gain traction with U.S. diners. Laotian food seemed too risky for a restaurant.
Laotian pork sausages come with sticky rice and optional dipping sauce.

“Lao food is a little more spicy and salty,” Kongkham muses. Less of the sweetness of Thai; “more umami, bolder flavors.”

Even when Hibiscus opened, the brothers held back. But as Robert moved on to another restaurant this spring, Roger finally added a “Lao Street Food” section to Hibiscus’s pan-Asian offerings. Together with an inventive cocktail program — some aficionados call Kongkham one of the city’s most under-rated mixologists — the new menu is attracting a growing stream of customers.

Grab a lettuce leaf and fill it with the minced chicken dish called larb — sort of like filling a tortilla.

Like spice? Get the larb, a signature dish of Laos. Minced chicken, flavored with mint, lime, onions, chili and roasted rice, is served cold. It comes with lettuce leaves that you can use sort of like tortillas: scoop and munch.

Less interested in zing? Go for the nam khao. It’s a comforting mix of rice, onions, cured pork sausage, peanuts and cilantro, served hot. Like the larb, nam khao arrives with lettuce leaves for scooping.
 
Whatever your main dish, don’t miss the Lao sausages. I first discovered them at Laotian New Year festivals. They’re small, plump and fatty (in a good way) — popping with flavor. Now at Hibiscus I can order them any time of the year.
 
Hibiscus
Monday, Wednesday, Thursday 12 p.m. – 3 p.m., 5 p.m. – 10 p.m.
Friday 12 p.m. – 3 p.m., 5 p.m. – midnight.
Saturday  12 p.m. – midnight.
Sunday   12 p.m. – 9 p.m.
 
To find Hibiscus, head down to the lower level at the Park Towne Village shopping plaza on Woodlawn Road.
1600 E. Woodlawn Road #150
Charlotte, NC  28209
(980) 256 – 4380

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