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We Like It Spicy

Meet the Faces Behind Some of Huntsville's Best Asian Cuisine

Thai Garden, Rainey Rattanapan

“My first time visiting Huntsville, I fell in love with the city. I have been to many places but Huntsville is always my number one,” says Thiyanee Rattanapan (known as Rainey because she was born when it was raining outside) owner of Thai Garden in Five Points, Huntsville’s first Thai restaurant. Even though Rainey is the second owner, for 13 years she has been working to keep the restaurant evolving and thriving.

Born in Nakhon Si Thammarat province, in southern Thailand, whenever she returns home she enjoys visiting the spice markets with her mother. “I love to cook Thai food. I especially love to cook my employees their favorite Thai dishes.” She says #36 Chicken with Cashews is probably the most popular dish. If she must choose her favorite, “it is #27 Catfish Pad Prig, fried catfish with red curry stir fry. When you eat it hot at the restaurant, it is so good.” 

Coming out of Covid, Rainey believes the restaurant would not be thriving without its strong customer base. “The people here are so nice.” Rainey has seen Huntsville go from a quiet town with not much to do to the growing metro it is today. “There is so much more to do here than when I first came.”

One of the best lessons she's learned in the restaurant business is that there is always a challenge. “Nothing can’t be fixed. You just have to deal with it and be bold.” Rainey encourages, “Be disciplined, be humble and always be willing to learn. Work harder than everyone else.”

Oshi Poke Bowl & Sushi, Maggie Reese

Born in China, Maggie Dong Reese opened Oshi Poke Bowl & Sushi in downtown Huntsville in 2017 with her partners. “Since I first came to Huntsville in 2004, there have been a lot of changes. Yet even as the city grows, the one thing that has remained the same is Huntsville is a great place to raise a family, as well as conduct business.” Maggie believes in leaving a legacy of healthy food. That's a passion that drives her to open not one but many restaurants in Huntsville. “The food in my restaurant is fresh and healthy and made from love! Customers love our sushi, however, our poke bowls and ramen are very popular too.”

Outside of the restaurant, Maggie puts the highest priority on family time with her children. Her favorite place to eat outside of Oshi Poke is Stone Age Korean BBQ.

“It is truly a blessing to be doing business in Huntsville. I tell people to never quit, follow your dreams, treat people with dignity and love what you do.”

Ding How, Holly Hau

For over 30 years, Ding How has been a staple in the Huntsville community and the woman behind this mainstay is Holly Hau. Born in Haiphong, Vietnam, Holly and her family were living in Atlanta when the opportunity to buy Ding How in Huntsville came along. “Our recipes have been the same for over thirty years. All of our entrees are made in-house and are made-to-order,” says Holly, adding, “Customer favorites are Mongolian Beef, Sesame Chicken, and Dim Sum which we offer Saturday and Sunday from 11-2.” Holly’s favorites include Pan Fried Flounder and Salt & Pepper Shrimp.

Holly grew up in a fairly large family and remembers cooking with her mother with ingredients hand-picked from the garden. Outside of the restaurant, she enjoys her own garden and hanging out with her grandchildren. “Food is a big part of our family and the dishes we cook are dishes my family has enjoyed since they were kids.”

In five years, she hopes to still be in Huntsville doing what she has done for the past 30 years. “I hope my legacy leaves Huntsville a little more worldly by offering authentic Chinese.”

Viet Cuisine, Ngoc 'Han' Vu

Ngoc Han Vu, known as ‘Han’ by her patrons, was born in Saigon, Vietnam. Her brother was a refugee after the Vietnam War and sponsored Han to come to the United States for college at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. After studying finance at UAH, she opened a Bahn Mi shop that lead to opening a small space off of Jordan Lane which eventually led to a larger space across the street where the place stays packed during lunch hours serving up traditional pho and stir fry dishes. Han says, “The best moments are when customers bring in their friends and family. We want our customers to feel like they are in their own dining room.”

Han knows “running a restaurant is hard, but as long as you work with a passion you will receive love and support from the community. The Huntsville people are so friendly. At the end of the day, it is a lovely city I call home.”

Kamado Ramen, Jim Xue

After working in restaurants in Tennessee, New York, and California, Jim Xue wanted to open his own business. He had a friend in Huntsville that wanted to collaborate, so he moved here to open Huntsville’s first I Love Sushi. Born in Fuzhou, China, Jim has loved watching Huntsville grow and is grateful to be a part of that growth owning Kamado Ramen, I Love Sushi Madison, and Chop N Fresh.

Jim believes in creating healthy options for Huntsville and introducing new concepts to expand the city’s cultural reach. “My restaurants help people find love for different foods. This really makes my job enjoyable and more successful,” smiles Jim.

Looking around the decor at Kamado, he continues, “We create an atmosphere. From the design to the music to the art. We design our space to invite the customer to share an experience with us.”

Growing up, Jim loved making hot pots with his parents and grandparents. His favorite dish (besides ramen) comes from another one of his restaurants - the Sweet Bowl Alabama from Chop N Fresh. When he’s not at one of his establishments, Jim loves supporting other local businesses. Viet Huong is among his favorite places to patron.

Jim has experienced challenges. “I opened three restaurants before I Love Sushi. Even trying to get a loan took a lot of effort. I went to bank after bank and finally was accepted. I’ve learned that perseverance is critical for success. Failure only means that you haven’t succeeded yet. My failure taught me to work harder and to keep trying.”

Outside of the restaurant, you will find him playing golf or spending time with his daughters.

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