On a chilly, grey Sunday, I was seeking warmth and heat in the form of a cozy restaurant with spicy food.
I found it at Red Stix Asian Street Food on Hillcrest across from SMU. The enticing and intoxicating scents consumed me when I entered the restaurant, which was busy. A strikingly beautiful woman was bussing tables, wiping down chairs, and
chatting with guests.
“I have to tell you,” this 30-something man said to her, “that is the best fried rice I’ve had in my life.”
“Oh, thanks,” she said as she took his empty serving containers from him. “I’m so glad you liked it.”
“Loved it,” he emphasized.
Reviewing the menu, I considered the beloved “Crack Lin” Fried rice with big chunks of wok-seared beef tenderloin, shrimp, vegetables, crispy chicken skin all gloriously topped with a fried egg but opted for a Báhn Mi sandwich, shrimp Rangoon, and sweet and spicy chicken wings.
Once my order was placed, the glamorous lady cleaning the tables reappeared at the counter, and I recognized her – chef Uno Immanivong: the chef who has appeared on several cooking shows, the chef who was mentored by Anthony Bourdain, the chef who started her professional career as a banker and now has a viable brand name and a loyal fan base.
I introduced myself – we have many mutual friends but haven’t met in person before – and I found a new friend and a new inspiration.
Uno isn’t defined by her past, rather shaped by it.
She was born in a Thai refugee camp run by the United Nations Organizations to Laotian parents, who named her Uno in homage to the UNO for its support and protection of her family.
When she was a baby, her family settled in Houston before finding permanence in North Texas.
Uno earned a business degree and spent 16 years in banking before starting her culinary career at the now-closed Chino Chinatown in Trinity Groves.
Uno is self-taught as a chef and got most of her learning through her mother, who catered Laotian and Thai weddings. Uno and her sister were their mother’s sous chefs and learned the art of cooking and the heart of hospitality. She mastered both.
Red Stix opened on Dec. 21 on Hillcrest, around the corner from the shiny new Park Plaza Development.
She learned about the site, formerly part of the sprawling Compass Bank building, through a guest who had enjoyed Red Stix at Legacy Hall. The banker and businesswoman in her recognized the value of the site’s proximity to SMU and a well-traveled, affluent community. She ultimately left Legacy Hall and opened in University Park. Lucky us.
When Uno isn’t at Red Stix, she’s working with Carrollton-Farmer’s Branch ISD to revamp its lunch menu to make healthier, fresher Asian food for the district’s 26,000 students. She has a teenaged daughter, Epicurious Emma, a food blogger with the beauty and personality of her mom and a future as bright as her smile.