98 Asian Bistro has been a favourite within the Excessive Level eating scene since its opening in October 2014. That’s partly due to the contemporary, flavorful fare—a fusion of Thai, Laotian and Cambodian delicacies—however for the restaurant’s regulars, the gracious hospitality of proprietor Tu Sen and her husband Todd is an equally necessary facet that retains them coming again.
Sen’s story is the embodiment of the American dream. She grew up in Laos, the place her Indian father labored for the CIA throughout the Vietnam Struggle. The household lived in a refugee camp in Thailand—the place meals was usually scarce— for 3 years. In 1986, her mother and father undertook a harrowing journey throughout the Mekong River with their 12 and 13-year-old daughters (Tu is the youngest), finally making their method to John F. Kennedy Worldwide Airport in Queens, New York. Their first house within the States was a tiny New York Metropolis condo, the place Sen and her sister shared a bed room. It was right here that the sisters began their first restaurant endeavor.
“We lived in a house with a number of households,” stated Sen. “My sister would cook dinner a distinct dish each weekend, and I used to be the gross sales rep and supply particular person.” This act of bonding with different refugee households over meals got here instinctually to the sisters. “Meals has all the time been the way in which we present love,” she explains. “Cooking all the time stored us collectively.”
Finally, a few of the household made their means down south, and at 19—now a younger mother—Sen relocated to Excessive Level. “I’ve all the time labored in eating places to assist my daughter,” she stated. That’s the place she met her husband Todd, who’s Cambodian, however grew up in Lexington and was raised on a typical Southern eating regimen that included plenty of barbecue. When her sister determined to open a restaurant in 1998, it was a household affair, with your complete household working facet by facet to make it occur.
Sadly, Sen’s father handed away simply 4 months after that restaurant opened, however the sisters labored collectively for the subsequent 17 years to make the household dream a actuality. The restaurant grew to become a Excessive Level favourite and garnered many loyal patrons over almost twenty years.
“We had been the primary Thai restaurant in Excessive Level,” stated Sen. “Folks had been used to Chinese language meals, and for 2 years we had been in debt. I made a decision that each desk that got here in, I’d sit with them and educate them about our meals.” Through the years, her regulars grew to become rather more than clients—they grew to become real associates and Sen’s largest supporters. “When my household restaurant moved to Greensboro in 2012, it broke my coronary heart,” she stated. Having change into connected to her many regulars and the town the place she’d made roots and began elevating her daughter, Sen determined it was time to open her personal restaurant within the Worldwide Metropolis.
“I grew up with a mixture of folks, tradition, meals and music and all the time liked that,” stated Sen. “After I moved right here to North Carolina 26 years in the past, there was none of that—everybody had their very own nook. The principle goal with my restaurant was to draw all kinds of individuals.” The title—98 Asian Bistro—is a nod to the yr her father died.
It took two years to construct the house, which is magnificent. Massive, ethereal, light-filled rooms immediately transport guests to southeast Asia, beginning with the life-size tuk-tuk—a motorized three-wheel taxi fashionable in Bangkok and different Thai cities—simply contained in the entrance doorway. A colossal Buddha watches over the primary eating room, making a powerfully peaceable vibe. On the opposite facet of the bar—which is separated from the primary by a excessive wall—is one other eating space that boasts a big fountain with an elephant sculpture, colourful lanterns and plush bamboo crops. Every day, Sen blesses the house with sacred prayers that guarantee guests really feel welcome, funds are good and the restaurant is working effectively.
The meals is a mirrored image of the Sens’ numerous heritage and world travels. Sen’s father was Indian, and her mom is Thai. “Once we had been little, my dad cooked plenty of curries, and we weren’t allowed to eat except we prepped one thing,” stated Sen. Todd’s Cambodian roots, her time spent in Laos, and Chinese language influences are mirrored in dishes as effectively.
On the menu, you’ll discover Thai favorites resembling pad kee mow (drunken noodles), tom yum, tom kha, and pad Thai alongside yellow and pranang curry. Pho—a Vietnamese soup consisting of broth, rice noodles, herbs and meat—can be a well-liked merchandise. One of the beloved dishes on the menu is the larb—chopped hen with cilantro, white and inexperienced onion, bean sprouts and rice dressed with contemporary lemon juice and served with lettuce leaves for wrapping. “All of our meat and veggies are contemporary and delivered each day,” stated Sen. The couple additionally collaborates with native farmers.
Earlier this yr, the restaurant underwent an growth, taking up a big adjoining house that was previously occupied by a mattress retailer. Now, the couple can host massive events and group occasions, one thing Sen—who loves to bop and entertain—is exhilarated about. “We’ve been booked each weekend thus far,” stated Sen. “My purpose for the house is just that I would like it for use by our group. We’re internet hosting each Democrat and Republican events. And anytime we’ve music, you will note folks from 21-60 on the dance ground having enjoyable.”
Now that Excessive Level’s restaurant scene is evolving, locals have extra selections about the place to get meal, however 98 Asian Bistro remains to be a perennial favourite. Locals bear in mind when their choices had been rather more restricted, and the nice and cozy hospitality and religion that Sen had for the Triad’s “third metropolis” all alongside. In 2016, Sen received the Excessive Level Chamber of Commerce Businesswoman of the 12 months Award. She continues to be the town’s largest cheerleader and welcomes pleasant competitors as a result of she is safe in her place among the many metropolis’s culinary and enterprise leaders. “Some days, we’re busier than others, and that’s okay,” she stated. “Numerous thrilling issues are occurring in Excessive Level.”
We agree and are grateful the Sens noticed the town’s potential from day one.
Davina van Buren is an award-winning freelance journey and meals author primarily based in Excessive Level. Observe her on social media at @highpointfoodie.
98 Asian Bistro is open Tuesday by means of Thursday from 11 a.m–2 p.m. and 5:30–9:30 p.m; Friday from 11:30 a.m.–2 p.m. and 5–10 p.m.; and Saturday from 5–10 p.m. The restaurant is closed on Sunday and Monday.