Red Lotus - Dinner Under $20 in Chapel Hill

Posted May 16, 2007 4:57 p.m. EDT
Updated May 22, 2007 10:02 a.m. EDT

When Charlie’s Chinese Restaurant closed last summer, legions of loyal patrons were distraught. Charlie’s was one of the last of the old style Chinese restaurants in town—its predictable hot and sour soup, crisp egg rolls, and mu shu pork were classics of the genre. Its takeout line often overflowed to the sidewalk outside.

Red Lotus has proven to be an apt replacement. Its clean-lined black and red dining room features an attractive bar—now takeout customers can take a load off and sip on a Tsing Dao or glass of wine from a succinct, well chosen, and moderately priced list (most glasses in the range of $5.) The menu, a balance of familiar Chinese and Thai dishes with a couple of nods to Japan, appeals to both Charlie’s traditional patrons and a new generation of Asian food aficionados spoiled by the plethora of Pan-Asian eateries in the Triangle.

Not that Lotus is perfect. Entrees are under-spiced for most Thai food fans, and pre-cooked skinless white meat subtracts character from chicken dishes. The kitchen, though it has improved over the months, can’t compare to the chef-driven loftiness of Chapel Hill’s Lantern or Cary’s An. But for a weeknight supper on a budget, Lotus satisfies. Good bets are: Thai Basil (a mild curry) with chicken or shrimp, Fantasy Duck, and Singapore Noodles. Appetizer standouts are Hot and Sour Soup, Goyaza (melt-in-your-mouth pork dumplings), and Salt and Pepper Calamari.

Delegate a portion of your budget for the best part of the meal: fried ginger ice cream. It’s not often I’d choose dessert over a glass of wine, but this luscious hot/cold concoction is worth the sacrifice if you’re trying to stay under twenty per person.

The restaurant’s best flavor is free—a tasteful décor that creates the illusion that one is dining at a more expensive place. So settle in, split the large portions, and save room for that amazing ice cream.