Ethnic eateries are often the unsung heroes in a city's culinary chorus. Some are cheap, fast and good; others are predictably wonderful, while a third category takes an ethnic cuisine to a modern level. The last category is not cheap, but then you do get what you pay for. Quality costs and imported premium food items may be especially costly.
Charlotte has hundreds of ethnic restaurants. Selecting 10 was a daunting task, but the following group represents the ends of the spectrum: from innovative and expensive, to well-crafted perfunctory and cheap.
Ilios Noche, 11508 Providence Road, 704-814-9882. Hours: Monday through Thursday 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Friday 11 a.m. until 11 p.m., Saturday brunch 8:30 a.m. until 3 p.m., full menu 3 p.m.-11 p.m. Closed Sunday.
Copper, Modern Cuisine of India, 311 East Blvd., 704-333-0063. Hours: Lunch Monday through Friday 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.; Dinner Monday through Thursdays 5 p.m.-10 p.m., Friday and Saturday until 10:30 p.m.; and Sunday 5 p.m.-9:30 p.m.
3. Waldhorn Restaurant: Gitta Maier is another second-generation restaurateur, growing up in her parents' restaurant in Germany. There she decided to continue the family enterprise by going to culinary school, but emigrated to the United States to open the Waldhorn Restaurant (named for her parents' restaurant in Germany) in Pineville with her husband and chef Thomas Maier, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park and a second generation German American. Waldhorn is one of those happy dining experiences you want to repeat. If you like beer and food, you won't find a better combo than here. In addition to items that have umlauts, there's pasta pillows with meat and spinach and a selection of gilled sausages. But the best deal is Sunday brunch with dozens of items including homemade breads, omelettes, sauerbraten and spätzle, pork roast and red cabbage, house-made desserts and cheese grits -- we are in the South, after all. Brunch is $16 per person. The tent is up for Oktoberfest activities on the weekends Sept. 28 and 29, Oct. 5 and 6, and Oct. 12 and 13.
Waldhorn Restaurant, 12101 Lancaster Highway, 704-540-7047 Hours: Lunch Tuesday through Friday 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m.; Saturday 11:30 a.m.-4 p.m.; Sunday brunch 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m.; Dinner: Tuesday through Friday 5 p.m.-10 p.m.; Saturday 4 p.m.-10 p.m.; Sunday 2 p.m.-9 p.m. Closed Mondays.
4. Cuisine Malaya: A while back, Cuisine Malaya added sushi and Japanese offerings to their list, but my favorite dish is still the Roti Canai appetizer: a hand-stretched, paper-thin, grilled bread dough served with a bowl of coconut milk curry and filled with chunks of potato and thin strips of chicken. Malaysian dishes are a melt-in-the-pot blend of Asian cuisines: southern Indian, Cantonese Chinese, Thai, and Malaysian with a dash of Arabia and Portugal. Cuisine Malaya's main dining room is a nod to tropical Asia highlighted by fans and palms. The owners have set the back space for mainly Japanese offerings. But the Malaysian dishes with married flavors and bold sauces are still what distinguishes this restaurant.