You can find Rice Paper Restaurant on Greensboro Road as you’re leaving Jamestown, past City Lake Park, heading toward High Point. From the exterior, the Vietnamese restaurant looks like a fast food joint. This is partly because of the drive-thru window, and partly because this stretch of Greensboro Road isn’t exactly known as a culinary or cultural destination. But once inside, you’ll discover an inviting atmosphere. The dining room is enhanced with greenery, linen tablecloths, modern lighting and a small bar/counter area.
What makes Rice Paper exceptional for this part of town is its elevated and extensive menu. The woman behind it is a mother and entrepreneur who loves food, especially the traditional Vietnamese dishes of her childhood. Triad diners can become acquainted with both the restaurant and its owner at the next Ethnosh dining event. Ethnosh dinners introduce the community to ethnic food options in the area by sharing the stories of restaurant and business owners and hosting meals prepared by them.
About the Owner
If you ask Rice Paper owner, Emily Hoang, why she opened a restaurant, the answer is pretty simple: “I love to eat,” she says.
She recalls girlhood family gatherings in Vietnam, where food was always abundant and present. “My dad cooks really good,” she says.
These days, he’s often in the kitchen at Rice Paper, alongside her younger brother. Her father taught Hoang how to cook. She came to High Point from Vietnam in 2011 to help take care of her aging grandparents, who immigrated as refugees after the Vietnam War. Her grandfather has died, but her grandmother and others on her father’s side of the family remain.
Hoang is used to living in larger cities, like Vancouver, where she attended school for two years. But she likes the size of the Triad. Her family owned small retail businesses in Vietnam, so when Hoang arrived in the U.S., entrepreneurship seemed a natural progression. She opened a nail salon in High Point first. Her desire to open a restaurant was driven by an intense longing for the traditional Vietnamese food she grew up with. While she has tried, and likes, Korean food and other cuisines, her palate still yearns for home.
“When I go to another country, I’m still missing my (traditional) food,” Hoang says. “We use fresh taste and the way we cook is different. It’s good and healthy. I want to share with people how good it is.”
She’s also the mother of two- and three-year-old sons, and she wants to cook Vietnamese food for them. She says it’s hard, as a business owner, to find time to cook for your family. Unless you have a restaurant.
Hoang says she couldn’t run two businesses without support from her family. She and her husband, Ryan Truong, were best friends in high school. They reconnected once both were in the U.S. They also share a love for food. He asked why she created such a big menu for the restaurant.
“I want to try different things. I really love to see people come in here and feel like they’re in Vietnam,” she says.
About the Food
While the Jamestown-High Point area has a number of Thai and Thai/Lao restaurants that include items also found on Vietnamese menus, Rice Paper focuses on traditional Vietnamese dishes. It’s not to say there aren’t similar dishes found elsewhere. There are chicken wings, chicken satay, dumplings, spring rolls and curry - but the flavors here are distinctly Vietnamese.
There are also some dishes that aren’t found elsewhere, even in local Vietnamese restaurants. Like grilled shrimp on sugarcane. Pressed noodles, or Banh Hoi, which are fine rice noodles, thinner than angel hair pasta. This Southern Vietnamese staple is served with your choice of meat, herbs and vegetables.
And crispy crepes (remember Vietnam was a French colony for 70 years ). The vegetarian option is a turmeric and rice flour crepe filled with tofu, jicama, sprouts green onions. The meat option includes shrimp and pork. A side of lettuce and herbs are for wrapping the crepes before eating.
France’s culinary influence on Vietnamese cuisine is also evident in banh mi - sandwiches made with baguettes, slow-dripped iced coffee, and pho (pronounced fuh), a meat broth-based noodle soup. There are 14 pho noodle soup options at Rice Paper. The house special includes beef brisket, tripe, meatballs, tendon and rare steak. Chicken, ham, seafood and vegetarian options are also on the menu.
In addition to pho - Rice Paper serves Hu Tieu (pronounced hoo-tee-u) regional specialties. It’s the Southern Vietnamese version of pho. So think of pho as a North Vietnamese specialty, and Hu Tieu as its Southern cousin. Even Vietnamese culinary experts have difficulty pinning down the difference between the two. It seems to boil down to its Chinese-Cambodian influence - chewier noodles and Chinese herbs. Rice Paper also offers Hu Tieu noodles described as “dry,” which means the noodles are cooked, but the toppings and broth are served separately. The dish is dry until you add broth.
To quench your thirst, there’s the expected Thai iced tea and Vietnamese slow-drip iced coffee, but there aren’t too many places in High Point to try young coconut and juice in a hollowed out coconut. There’s also fresh lime or salted lime soda. Or try a Vietnamese beaten egg soda, made with club soda, condensed milk and egg yolk. It tastes like a soft, sweet custard, with a lingering fizz that tickles the tongue. Finish your meal with sweet red beans and ice cream or fried bananas with ice cream or a fresh, made-to-order milkshake. Options include the familiar, like strawberry, pineapple or mango. For the adventurous palate, there’s also avocado, jackfruit or durian.
At Rice Paper, the menu allows its diners to play it safe with dishes that are familiar to Americans used to casually eating Vietnamese fare. For Hoang’s Vietnamese regulars, she satisfies their cravings for pork served a variety of ways, dry noodles and curry, which is more like a stew and incorporates more fish sauce. It’s a menu that’s comprehensive, yet unintimidating. It would take many return visits to try everything.