At a time when travel restrictions during COVID-19 make it difficult to fly from Charlotte to your favorite location for the perfect dish done right only in a particular region of the world, the idea of eating authentic, international food may seem out of reach. The owners of a new restaurant in the Pineville area have us covered, however. When you are craving traditional Thai street food, all you have to do is travel along Pineville-Matthews Road to find a piece of Thailand.
From the handmade street cart that doubles as a hostess stand to genuine Thai fixtures lining shelves that divide the restaurant, Rice & Spice Thai Street Food is passionate about having customers experience every element of Thailand without ever having to leave Charlotte. Flavorful street food just like what you would get at a market in Thailand is a top priority for co-owner and chef Peter Sripan, who has been in the restaurant industry — in Thailand and the United States — for 30 years.
When Sripan creates a dish, it’s customary for the team to taste the food to ensure the flavors are reminiscent of home. Customer feedback is just as important, co-owner Tip Hongchindaget said.
“When people come in and comment about the food, we give that feedback to the chef,” she said. “He adjusts, as needed.”
Flavors get you in the door, the environment makes you want to stay
If the chili tamarind dipping sauce for the moo ping or the homemade spicy Thai herbal sauce in the angry cowboy isn’t enough for the taste buds, the restaurant allows you to choose your spice level — medium, hot or Thai hot. Customers also have the option to add flavors in some of the dishes, like Sripan’s award-winning Khao Soi. A lime wedge and chili oil is served on the side, with the option to manipulate the taste, as needed.
“The recipes are unique for this area,” Sripan said. “I try to incorporate original Thai flavors in every recipe.”
With three menu options — main, vegan and gluten free — the restaurant promises something for everyone with hopes of creating an environment where people feel like they are at home, Hongchindaget said.
“We wanted to have a restaurant that was trendy but could also be a place people could go to as a family and for date night,” she said. “I want people to come out, eat, drink, talk and have a good time.”
Challenges of opening during a pandemic
The restaurant’s concept was created earlier this year with the idea of offering Charlotteans street food that could be eaten every single day. What was not anticipated was how severely COVID-19 would impact the progress of the opening and marketing, Sripan said.
“Before the pandemic, all restaurants were so busy,” he said. “There has been a shift since the pandemic. We have 99 seats. We can only seat 55 now. Some people thought we were the same restaurant as before, but we are a new restaurant.”
As part of COVID-19 protocol, the restaurant adheres to social distancing by placing signs on unavailable seating, which allows plenty of space between tables. Customers are expected to wear masks when they are not eating or drinking and limit party size to 10.
If takeout is a preference, customers can order online for pickup or receive delivery through DoorDash. Online ordering allows you to estimate pickup time to limit the number of people waiting. There’s also an option to receive a phone call when orders are ready for pickup.
All employees are required to have temperature checks and wear masks. QR codes for menus are available, and all surfaces are regularly sanitized. Sanitizing stations are placed around the well-ventilated restaurant.
Rice & Spice Thai Street Food is one of the latest restaurants to open during the pandemic but the owners — Sripan, Hongchindaget, Mimi Charalkiattikul and Lek Kongchainamsakul — are optimistic about the future.
“People really love the food,” Sripan said. “We’ve been open for two weeks, and I have a customer who has been in five times.”
What to order on your next visit to Rice & Spice Thai Street Food
Highlight: chicken seasoned with curry powder and the cucumber relish
Highlight: tender, grilled pork and the chili tamarind dipping sauce
Thai Fish Cakes
Highlight: sweet chili dipping sauce
Highlight: served with crispy pork rinds
Highlight: made with fresh coconut
Highlight: spicy lemongrass
Crab Fried Rice
Highlight: large quantity of lump crabmeat
Highlight: maple roasted duck
Highlight: curry noodles and sauce
8314 Pineville-Matthews Road, Suite 901
Hours: Open Tuesday through Friday from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. and from 5-10:00 p.m., Saturday from noon-10 p.m., Sunday from noon-9 p.m. Closed on Monday.
Vegan and gluten free menus are available upon request.